Project Gutenberg's The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1, by Johannes Scotus This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org/license Title: The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 A Tale of George IV's Time Author: Johannes Scotus Release Date: June 17, 2012 [EBook #39982] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WEIRD OF THE WENTWORTHS *** Produced by Mirjam, Suzanne Shell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)
Obvious inconsistencies, printing and spelling errors in the original
have been corrected.
This book contains links to another book in the Project Gutenberg collection. In the endnotes of this volume, there are references to Vol. 2 of "The Weird of the Wentworths", Project Gutenberg e-book 39983, and these references are linked to Volume 2. Although we verify the correctness of these links at the time of posting, these links may not work, for various reasons, for various people, at various times.
A TALE OF GEORGE IV.'S TIME.
IN TWO VOLUMES.—VOL. I.
SAUNDERS, OTLEY, AND CO.,
66 BROOK STREET, HANOVER SQUARE
LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.
The objection may be raised that, as the major part of this Romance takes place during the Regency, such a title as:—"The Weird of the Wentworths; a Tale of George IV.'s Time,"—is inappropriate. When, however, it is considered that the Regent was king in all but name, and the manners, customs, and habits differed little after his accession, the inadvertency will be explained.
In case of exception being taken to the language and sentiments of some characters introduced into the tale, the Author thinks it sufficient to say he utterly repudiates them! Oaths and ribaldry are, unfortunately, the concomitants of a depraved mind; and, in delineating faithfully the darker side of human nature, the Author felt himself compelled to sketch much that has passed under his own observation, and much that he has gleaned from the treatment of such characters by many distinguished novelists, not omitting our northern luminary, Sir Walter Scott.
The moral of the Romance being the triumph of virtue over vice, and truth over falsehood, he trusts that those fair readers, who may indulge his work with a perusal, will avoid the dark, and embrace the bright traits of the other sex; and, marking the gradual development of rectitude in the character of his heroine, magnify their own by adhering fixedly to the path of duty and moral conduct, amid all temptations to swerve from it.
The Author trusts that those noble families, whose names he has chosen as his beaux idéals, will kindly dismiss all personal associations from their minds, and simply give to the synonyms (which his not unpardonable preference led him to select) that weight which will ever attach itself in the eyes of the world, to the great, when also good.
There is one more point which may give rise to discussion—the rapid and violent deaths occurring in one family. The WEIRD, which, though kept in the background, is the mainspring of the tale, might explain this; but that such catastrophes are not beyond the region of possibility, the Author begs to remind his readers that in more than one family of rank, whose names both his sympathy and delicacy forbid any allusion to, such misfortunes and fates have actually happened.
Some of the death-scenes, and very many of the traditions and incidents embodied in the work, are taken from real life, which often far surpasses fiction.
Portobello, near Edinburgh.
June 19th, 1862.
A TALE OF GEORGE IV.'s TIME.
The extent of parents' influence on their offspring has long been a matter of dispute; yet the fact remains incontestable that children do suffer for their parents' faults, that the sins of the father are visited not only to the third and fourth generation, but often to a distance that can scarcely be conceived. The leprosy of Naaman cleaved to Gehazi's seed for ever, and it is said many of these unhappy sufferers still trace their misery to their ancestor's mendacity. We read in Grecian history how Myrtilus, as he sank, cursed the faithless Pelops and his race for ever; and we see its dire effects in the misfortunes of Agamemnon and Iphigenia:—
We might cite the Alcmaeonidae as another instance, and it is rather a singular thing that in nearly every case faithlessness, or sacrilege, has first armed the curse with its power. English annals present not a few examples, and perhaps no "weird" ever crushed a noble race of high name and lineage so cruelly, as that which is to be found among the traditions of the Wentworths of Dun Edin Towers. Every scion of that house was born a slave and bondman to this curse; two hundred and seventy years have flown since it slew its earliest victim, and its power is still as deadly, its shaft has lost none of its venom, and in all that long series of generations no son or daughter of the Wentworths has ever attained maturity, far less old age. The crown of glory, if it be found in the right way, was denied them; and in the bloom of their beauty, and pride of their strength, one by one, they sank beneath the river of death, too often with all their sins full blown, and unrepented of. Youth, strength, valour, talent, beauty, were sacrificed at the shrine of the remorseless deity, and still unrelenting and unappeased she watched over the race for evil.
Let us trace it back to its source, and having made our readers acquainted with the origin of the "Weird of the Wentworths," we shall next narrate the short lives and untimely deaths of one generation—the brightest link in a long chain of misery; and if their lives were short, they were full of romance and vigour, like the torrent, abrupt and headlong in its course, and still reaching the same bourne that the slow and tardy river only takes a longer period to arrive at.
Retrace, then, with us the scroll of English history till we come to the sad page of the Commonwealth. It is not our intention to discuss whether the Protector was right or wrong, but merely to narrate facts, as they were.
Cromwell was about this time tolerably secure on his usurped throne—the heir to the British crown a wandering exile in his native land. Those were troublous times; days when a man's foes were often those of his household; when the nearest and dearest ties were severed; and perhaps under the same roof, dwelt the bigot republican, and the proud royalist burning to avenge his king's wrongs; each looked on his neighbour with uncertainty, each feared the other as a traitor in the camp. Cromwell himself, raised to the utmost pitch of his ambition, was on an unenviable height—his tiara was a crown of thorns—over his head hung the sword of Damocles; and, having himself been a rebel to his monarch, he now feared an assassin in every one who approached his presence, and it is said almost entirely shut himself out of society, wearing chain armour beneath his raiment. Still he had faithful supporters, staunch friends, and loyal soldiers; and of all his admirers no more burning republican existed than Sir Ralph de Vere, a general in the Protector's army, one he had himself knighted on the field of Worcester. Sir Ralph, from being an intolerant Catholic, had now become an intolerant Protestant, and—
warred against those whose cause he had once warmly espoused, and sought the destruction of the creed of which he had once been the champion. Very different from Sir Ralph was his first cousin Augusta de Vere, then, in her own right, Countess of Wentworth, and Abbess of St. Clements, a monastic pile on the Wye.
Augusta was the last prop of her declining creed; with tears of sorrow, not unmixed with anger, she beheld stronghold after stronghold of Rome's once mighty power surrender into the hands of the Philistines. More deeply still she lamented the stain in her own family, and bewailed the falling away of Ralph, the most valorous soldier of the cross in better days, now the servant of one she deemed an arch impostor and hypocrite; faithless to his name; doubly faithless to his king; and, worse than all, faithless to his religion! But Augusta's was one of those noble minds, which, while it hates the error, pities the erring, and by all the means in her power she strove to reclaim her apostate cousin. The Roman Pontiff had not only excommunicated him in this world, but condemned his forfeit soul to everlasting torments, whilst Augusta, like her Master, rather sought the wandering sheep, and ceased not night or day with tears and vigil to remember him in her prayers. Augusta was also a faithful partisan of the crownless Charles;—during all his wanderings, as far as was in her power, she provided him with food and raiment, and he had remained beneath her hospitable roof as long as prudence would permit him; and when he quitted his ungrateful country for more friendly shores till Fortune once more smiled on her favourite son, the Abbess, at the risk of her life, had herself attended him to the seaside, and blessed him ere he departed.
It was little wonder that when this became known in London, Augusta brought down all the slumbering ire of Cromwell on her devoted head, and though nearly six years had passed away since she waved her hand to the fugitive king, he commissioned Sir Ralph de Vere to punish the haughty peeress. Sir Ralph was just the man to execute his cruel designs. In his bigoted hatred of Royalist and Catholic he even forgot how he was indebted to Augusta for his very life in days when he had fought on the side he now warred against, and was glad to avail himself of the sanctuary St. Clements afforded him. It was nothing that she was his near relative and he had sought her hand ere she had become the Bride of Heaven; she was a Catholic, "and he that loveth friend more than me," said the stern presbyterian, "is not worthy of me;" it was nothing that she was young and beautiful, so was Herodias' daughter; nothing that she was good and generous—she was a Royalist, and doomed! On the 26th of August, 1658, Sir Ralph appeared at the head of an army of fierce Puritans on the banks of the beautiful Wye. Autumn had stained the leaves red and yellow, and the golden sheaf still dotted many a field: the air was calm, the scene one of peace and security, soon to be one of bloodshed, rapine, and havoc!
Ravaging the country as they went, and leaving a wilderness behind them where they found an Eden, at last the tall turrets of St. Clements appeared over the embrowned woods. The scene that followed we shall not describe; suffice to say the monks were hewn down at the altar, the helpless inhabitants that lived on the hospitality of the Abbess murdered in cold blood, without distinction of age or sex, and the fair Abbess and her nuns turned into the damp woods, there miserably to perish of hunger and cold.
It was to no account that Augusta pleaded her youth, her relationship, their early love, his debt of life due to her; with a fierce frown he bade her "begone," and threatened that, unless she obeyed, worse things might follow. With a weeping band she departed, and amid their tears she heard the blessings of those whom she had fed and clothed heaped on her as she went out not knowing where to rest her head. Meanwhile Sir Ralph, who now assumed the title of Earl, the guerdon promised by Cromwell as the price of his slaughter, took possession of his new inheritance. The gloomy moroseness of the Puritans is well known, and never was an ascetic more strict than the Earl in his ideas; he abstained from wine, and thought dancing a damnable practice, and his most common remarks were interpolated with Holy Writ, according to the custom of the times. Naturally of a harsh temperament, he never paid the tribute of a thought to his hapless cousin, far less of a sigh! His ill-gotten towers and blood-purchased coronet were, however, fated to be a short-lived possession. About a week after his entry, on the fatal 3rd[A] of September, the day that saw the conquest of Scotland at Dunbar, and England at Worcester, and which Cromwell thought a fortunate day, there appeared in the heavens unmistakeable signs of a coming tempest. During the afternoon, the gusts of wind, bearing with them showers of leaves, grew stronger and stronger. As night advanced, the scud blew wildly across the welkin, and some time after sunset floods of rain descended. Towards midnight the gale increased to a perfect hurricane—"the rain fell not from one lone cloud, but as if heaven had caved in," and the Wye came down in high flood, carrying rocks and trunks of trees in its turbid course, and overflowing all the lowlands far and near. Ever and anon a wild crash told the fall of some patriarch of the forest, and with every blast the towers shook to their very foundations. During this war of the elements a great soul was passing away; it was a fit ending to a turbulent life. The wind sung his dirge as the ambitious Cromwell yielded up his ghost. Unknowing of his master's death, Earl Wentworth lay on his sleepless couch, and listened with terror to the violence of the storm; once or twice he thought the whole abbey would yield to its rage, but the strong masonry manfully repelled the gust, and the thick foundations rolled back the flood that beat against them. The roaring of the wind through the trees precluded the idea of sleep, and the thoughts of that stern man as he lay awake were aught but enviable. Within his bosom raged a storm, wild as that which howled without. The sins of his youth—the crimes of his manlier years—like fiends "no exorcism can bind," all flocked to his remembrance at that awful hour, and as his room shook, like Felix he, too, trembled, but like the Roman governor he bade conscience go its way this time, and at a more convenient season he would listen. Just then occurred one of those fitful pauses, as if the wind rested a moment to take breath, and regathered its strength for a still sterner effort. In that hush the moon broke forth from a gap in the flying clouds; and, looking calmly on the scene of terror, her beams kissed the raging waves of the flood that hurried by, and lit up the soldier's rough, weather-beaten features.
It was then that the Earl first became aware he was not alone. Beside his couch stood a form in white—was it the vision of a troubled mind? was it some horrid dream? He rubbed his eyes—the figure still stood there, motionless as a statue! In an instant he recognized Augusta: he tried to speak—the words froze on his lips, and in speechless terror he gazed on the apparition. Hunger and distress had not robbed her eye of its light, nor her face of its strange beauty; but there was something weird in her glance,—something ghostly in her pale brow,—something unearthly in her whole appearance. Her hair was dishevelled by the wind, and dripping with the rain; her mantle torn and soiled; her small white foot bleeding and cut by the rough paths she had trod. She raised her hand to heaven, and her look was one of intense earnestness and beseeching woe, strangely blended with proud hauteur and offended majesty. She beheld him earnestly till another pause in the storm, and, in the hush that followed the blast, sung mournfully these lines:—
The sound ceased, and again the voice of the storm rose high; clouds shrouded the lady of the night, and darkness sank in treble deepness. Still something undefined, but dimly bright, shone near the renegade's bedside, and made him aware that the Abbess awaited his reply: but, like another renegade, a modern poet has so finely drawn,—
"No. Be thou living form, or fleshless spirit," he answered, "I have but one reply: I will not return like the sow to her wallowing in the mire. Having once shaken off the trammels of Rome, I will not lightly bear again her yoke, which is neither easy nor light; nay, fair cousin, methinks I have been but too merciful: to-morrow, God help me, will I raze the altar of Baal with the ground, unless this storm saves me the labour." He looked to see the effect of his reply—the dim light was gone; he only heard the wild wind.
Early next morning he rose to fulfil his threat. It was one of those beautiful mornings after a night of rain and tempest, and the sun shone brightly on the wreck left by the gale. Not a breath was stirring, and it was a strange sight to see the uprooted trees, the ruins of part of the chapel thrown down in the night, and the debris left by the Wye, which had nearly sunk to its wonted bed, lying in disjointed heaps on the sward. The silence was only broken by the robin's note, or the rush of the subsiding river, when the Earl proceeded to demolish the high altar. Rough as his soldiery were, they were not entirely freed from old superstitions, and there was not one hardy enough to obey his behest; so, after censuring them for lukewarmness in a blessed cause, he himself seized a sledgehammer from a bystander, and prepared to perform the sacrilegious act. He was a tall, stout man, of about thirty-five years, in the full strength of manhood, and he whirled the heavy instrument round his head as if it had been a withe; it descended on the altar with tremendous force, and in a moment brought down in dire destruction the marble shrine and image of the Virgin. Again he swung the hammer high—his face was red with passion, and his eye unnaturally bright. Suddenly a mortal paleness suffused his features, his powerful arm dropped down as if broken, and he fell heavily to the earth. Extreme passion had so excited him that a large blood-vessel burst, and as he lay on the earth, the red blood bubbled from his mouth. There were those who saw in his fate the retributive punishment of God for his cousin's death! He never spoke again, and after lingering some hours in great suffering, his spirit passed away, a few hours after his great chieftain's demise.
From that hour, the curse of Augusta has reigned malignantly over all his race;—the brave, the beautiful, have alike paid the debt, and one by one, but surely as the leaf falls before October's blast, have the members of that noble house succumbed to their fate. Some on the battle-field, some on the fevered couch, some in the blue lone sea, some by accidental death, some in mortal fray; but of all the many hearts that have braved life's storms, none have lived to be old in this world of sin and sorrow. They learned to love despair, ay, even to be proud of their doom!
We trust we have not wearied our reader by this introductory chapter, without which the strange fates and vicissitudes of the family whose history we are about to narrate might perhaps seem overdrawn, but whose early fall will no longer seem strange to one who knows the origin of the Weird of the Wentworths.[B]
In a comfortably furnished parlour a family party were gathered, and about to sit down to their breakfast. The urn was hissing cheerily, as if inviting them to hasten to the repast. A handsome girl, perhaps eighteen years of age, presided over the tea-making, and was apparently too busily engaged to give much attention to the assiduous addresses of a young officer who sat on her right hand. In the window a boy of fifteen was aiding his younger sister in mastering her French lesson, while the head of the family stood with his back to the blazing fire, and read the papers. A pretty Skye terrier, looking wistfully into his master's face, as if to remind him he too was waiting for his morning supply of milk, completed the picture.
"Do come to your breakfast, Johnny and Maude," said Ellen.
"In one minute, we are almost finished," answered her brother.
"No, come at once, or you will be late for your school."
Both silently obeyed, and took their seats at table.
"Is there any news, papa?" continued Ellen Ravensworth.
"No, love, none at all, except the arrival of the Earl of Wentworth at Dun Edin Towers."
"Ha! are they come?" asked the young officer. "Is Captain de Vere of the party?"
"Let's see—there's the Earl, Francis de Vere, his brother, and the Ladies Edith and Florence—no mention of the Captain; but stay, here he is—'Captain the Hon. de Vere, accompanied by the Marquis of Arranmore, is expected to join the noble family in a few days; on dit that the young Marquis is shortly to lead the beautiful and accomplished Lady Edith de Vere to the hymeneal altar.'"
"Ah! I knew that before," remarked Captain L'Estrange; "you know De Vere is my senior officer in the 7th Hussars."
"Then you know him, I suppose?" asked Ellen.
"I should think I do just, we are great chums."
"What is he like?" asked Ellen.
"Always the same question, Nelly. Well, he has a dashing, soldierly look, as fierce as a Turk; curiously enough, I am thought rather like him by some of our fellows, though I hope I am not such a wild slip."
"That's as much as to say you are a dashing, soldierly-looking man," said Ellen, smiling maliciously.
"No, no, not exactly; but talking of handsome men, the Earl is a good-looking fellow if you like it, and his sisters were quite the belles in town last season. The Prince Regent swears there is nothing like them. Are they to remain long North, Mr. Ravensworth?"
"It doesn't say, but I fancy they will stay over Christmas. But I shall be late—is the tea ready, Ellen?—let us sit down, and we can talk about them as we drive in to Edinburgh."
"Look, papa, how it snows," said Maude; "we shall have a cold drive; isn't it early for snow in November?"
"Yes, love, but eat your breakfast, and talk after."
Leaving them to do justice to their capital Scotch breakfast, we take this opportunity of making our readers better acquainted with the Ravensworth family.
Mr. Ravensworth was a tall, gentlemanly-looking man of about fifty; much anxiety had prematurely whitened his hair, and sorrow ploughed the lines deep in his brow with her "burning share." He had been born to large property, but had suddenly lost his fortune, and almost immediately afterwards his partner in life, leaving him to contend against poverty at his very door with four infant children, of whom the eldest was barely seven and the youngest an infant in arms. Mr. Ravensworth then entered the Bar, and being an uncommonly clever, and, what was more, a working man, soon began to rise in his profession, and was able to build and furnish a pretty villa on the seashore, some miles from Edinburgh, where he practised, and to educate his children well and live at least in comfort. As he had prospects too, being next heir to a fine property in Haddington, he was not without hopes of being able to raise his family to the position they had formerly occupied in society, and see his house once more on the top of the fickle wheel that had crushed him so low. He did not spend his time in unavailing lament over parted grandeur, but strove by hard and steady labour to launch on the tide, "that, taken at its height, leads on to fortune." His eldest son George entered the army when only seventeen, and was rapidly rising in his profession, when again the hand of death snatched another victim, and the father's hopes seemed once more shattered. Still beaten down, but not conquered, he lived and laboured for his family. Ellen, now his eldest child, was a remarkably fine-looking girl; she was much above the average height, and built on a large scale, with a commanding look, and seemed born, as her flatterers told her, to be a duchess. Nature had given her a lavish abundance of fair brown hair, which, confined by the frail net that scarcely held its prisoner, rolled half way down her back and contrasted sadly with the garb of woe she still wore for her soldier brother. Her blue eyes were full of soul and expression. It has been said that when a Scotch girl is pretty she is something quite unusual, and if ever there was a perfect beauty it was Ellen; whatever you looked on was matchless, whether it was her eyes beaming like the mirror of an innocent heart—or her white Grecian nose—pearly teeth—or again the well-developed contour of her form—her round white arm or well-turned and small foot and ankle. Each was perfect—nothing that we could have wished altered. Her still face perhaps gave her the appearance of being a year or two older than she really was, a fault—if we may so call it—not uncommon with Scotch beauties; but the moment she opened her lips, or smiled, the illusion vanished. Johnny, as her younger, and now only, brother used to be always called, was an open-faced, good-looking boy of fifteen, and promised to grow up like his father. Of Maude we need only say with Lord Byron, she was—
The village in which they resided was situated some few miles from the modern Athens. Seaview, as its name implied, faced the sea, and was one of many similar villas that had sprung up around them since Mr. Ravensworth had fixed on it as a residence, in order that his children might have the benefit of country and sea air, and yet be sufficiently near the northern metropolis to enable him to pursue his vocation, and give them the education of which Edinburgh afforded such first-rate means.
Seaview was enclosed in a small garden with a lawn running down in front to the terrace that overlooked the sands. From the front windows they had a fine view of the Firth of Forth—the Fife hills opposite to the right, the large bay bounded by Berwick Law and Bass amid the waters, and to the left the upper course of the Forth. The dining-room and hall door, which were at the back, looked out on the champaign country stretched between the Pentlands and Lammermoors. Arthur's Seat rose like an island from its sea of woods, or, more fancifully still, like a lion couched among the brushwood. A broad carriage road running to London one way, and Edinburgh the other, passed their door.
Mr. Ravensworth kept a four-wheel and one horse, in which he every day drove to Edinburgh, leaving Johnny and Maude at their respective schools, and, after his day's attendance at the Parliament houses, calling for them again on his way home. Accordingly, breakfast finished, he and his two children started for Town, as they called Edinburgh, leaving Ellen and L'Estrange to amuse themselves as they best could.
The peculiar circumstances of Ellen's life tended much to develop her character. Left at an early age without a mother, and thrown almost entirely on her own resources, and afterwards taken much into her father's confidence—young as she was, she already knew more of the world than many whose years doubled hers. The management of Mr. Ravensworth's house, and the bringing up of Johnny and Maude were left almost entirely to her control, and we must do her the justice to say that the manner in which she conducted herself at the head of her father's table, and the strict and excellent bringing up of her brother and sister, were past all praise. During the long hours she was left alone whilst the children were at school and her father at his duties, she was naturally thrown much on herself, and we believe these hours of loneliness were her best taskmasters.
When Israel required to be trained as a peculiar race, the desert was chosen as their abode, and some of the most lofty minds are those which are longest schooled in solitude. But it has also its disadvantages and dangers, this solitary bringing up. The mind forced to look inwards—to recall the past too much—becomes sad, and is inclined to brood over its miseries, fancied or real; and Ellen, young as she was when the smile of fortune ceased to fling its radiance, was not too young to remember that times had once been better, happier than now; that there was a day when wealth had made them many friends; a day when they had lived in splendour, with carriages and horses, manservants and maidens; and when she contrasted it with their present life it was apt to make her discontented. She had been too well brought up by her father, who was a truly excellent man, not to know how wrong this was—and she often tried to banish the thoughts from her mind: but they would recur, and every time she encouraged them they became deeper rooted and more difficult to eradicate. Poetry and romance were Ellen's favourite subjects, and neither tended much to fill the aching void. They fed, without satisfying her craving, and like water to a thirsty soul only increased her thirst.
The poems of Lord Byron, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and other stars of the Georgian era, were her constant companions; she felt how much harm they were doing, yet had not the moral strength to resist their fascination. She began to live in a world of fiction—real life was tame and insipid, and she soon created in her mind some prince in disguise, some knight of romance, destined to lift her from the low estate she then groaned in, to the scenes she was born to grace. Ellen knew—how could she help knowing?—that she was very beautiful. Proud, but not vain, of her beauty, she felt that, living in a position beneath her due, this beauty might yet raise her to her dreamland heights. It was to no purpose that day after day declined without bringing the realization of her hopes—she still hoped on, without considering that the hours most precious were stealing silently away, and yet she was tracing nothing worthy of remembrance on her sands of life. These day dreams "when nearest and most inviting" were often rudely broken by the stern realities of life, and left her more and more discontented, harder and harder to be pleased; and the proud beauty felt as feels the eagle when, with ruffled wing, he beholds through the bars of his cage that heaven he has so often soared to, but to which he can return no more.
Such were Ellen's feelings as she was roused by the voice of L'Estrange asking her to take a walk in the country, as the day had broken off fine. She felt vexed at the interruption, and hastily answered she could not—she had a headache, and wished to remain quiet. Her heart smote her as she heard him turn away with mournful step, and the word quivered on her lips which recalled him—but pride smothered the unborn sound; the old weakness returned, and she allowed her dream to run on instead of awaking herself—shaking off the fatal habit—and rising a real woman to combat the trials of life. The conversation during breakfast had awakened an old train of thought. Often had she been told she was only fit for a peeress—and now within ten miles of her was one who could raise her to the height of her ambition—young, rich, handsome. Could she catch his eye? could she make a conquest of the young Earl's heart? She looked at herself in the mirror, Pride whispered she could! But then came a chilling thought—L'Estrange. For nearly a year had he paid her the most untiring homage. Pleased at first, flattered by her powers, she had led him on—led him on till he had proposed for her hand—been accepted too—ha! dreadful truth, accepted! She had loved him once—but now—did she love him? no, no, he had her friendship—he had her affection—but not her love! And who was her love? The phantom of her mind's creation, the unreal knight of her dreams. And now the phantom of her imagination was near, she had never seen him even—but L'Estrange said he was splendidly handsome! He knew him too—why should not she? Would he come up to her model? Could she make the conquest? Something whispered "Yes." But she was engaged—again that voice said, "Never mind." Was this her evil genius? Then were sown the seeds of that blight doomed to destroy a plant bards have called "too frail to bloom below." Ellen was a well-brought-up girl, and her better thoughts recoiled from the very idea of thus jilting her first love. She was a sensible girl, and her better senses told her how foolish were her thoughts. Perhaps the Earl might not even look at her, if she saw him; perhaps, and still more likely, she might never see him; perhaps he might have some other mistress of his heart.
On the other hand L'Estrange loved her as his own soul; she knew and felt that: he had no other lady of his affections, she knew that; and here, in spite of all, she was going to chance the reality for the shadow—chance all on a wild throw, and perhaps—most probably—lose both. So spoke the still, small voice within; but pride, false pride choked its utterances, drowned its whispers, and in her heart she resolved to make the trial, and as if to aid her in her thoughts came the lines into her memory—
She would hazard all on a blind toss! she had passed the Rubicon! however foolish the step it was now too late! Such were Ellen's thoughts as she lounged on the sofa, while poor L'Estrange plodded his solitary way to Arthur's Seat through the snow, thinking on Ellen, and wondering at her changed behaviour of late.
A few doors from the Ravensworths lived a gentleman named Lennox. As his name argued, he was descended from a good stock, but his family had gradually sunk in the scale of life till he was glad to accept a situation in His Majesty's Revenue Office at Edinburgh. Mr. Lennox was certainly gifted in his personal appearance, but this was in a way much lessened by his intolerable conceit. It is not often that we find big men consequential, but Mr. Lennox was the "exceptio regulam probat." He was conceited of himself, and his height, and looks. He was conceited of his name, being distantly connected with the Duke of Richmond. He was conceited of his family, which consisted of several rather dashing girls, the rear brought up by an infant "son and heir," as he rather ostentatiously informed the world through the papers. He walked as if the ground was not good enough for him, he spoke as if his word must be law: and, like all his class, though dogmatical in the extreme, was not often right,—when he did happen to be so, one never heard the end of it. Still with all his foibles he was gentlemanly, and had long been a friend of the Ravensworths; he liked, too, to have an occasional tête-à-tête with the fair Ellen, whom he fancied as much pleased by his assiduous court, as he was by her lightest smile. Mr. Lennox was a great man in his county, being a Justice of the Peace, and remarkable for his rigorous sentences; for, being strictly moral himself, he had no pity on the erring. He was a great man in his village, the author and finisher of all improvements, the chairman of every public meeting; he was also a great man in his church, being copartner in the churchwardenship with Mr. Ravensworth, who allowed him almost entirely to manage things his own way. This office afforded him an excuse to guide his feet oftener towards Seaview than he could otherwise have done. On the Sunday following the events narrated in our last chapter, Mr. Lennox, Mr. Ravensworth, and near them Johnny, might have been seen standing on the steps of the Episcopal church. The two former conversed together on some real or fancied improvement Mr. Lennox wanted to introduce in the stove department of the church. Afternoon service had been over some time; Ellen, Maude, and their guest had already gone home, leaving Johnny to follow with his father. The clerk stood, key in hand, respectfully waiting Mr. Lennox's pleasure. Having brought Mr. Ravensworth at last to his own way of thinking, Mr. Lennox ordered the clerk to lock the gates, and himself pompously bestowed the key in his pocket, and the three were proceeding homewards, when they heard the roll of wheels, and looking round, saw a dashing-looking young man, of about four-and-twenty, drive up to the church in a drag drawn by a pair of fiery bays. As he drew up the impetuous horses, the groom behind leaped down and attempted to open the gates, which were, however, as our readers know, locked. Mr. Lennox, seeing the young man's dilemma, hastened back, followed by Mr. Ravensworth and Johnny.
"Could you oblige me," said the stranger, "by telling me where the churchwarden lives?"
"You could not have applied to a better person than to me, as I myself happen to be that officer," replied Mr. Lennox, drawing himself up to his full height, and laying peculiar stress on the word "officer." "I have the keys," he continued, "and can at once accommodate you with seats, if that was your object."
"I merely wished your name and address, sir," replied the young man; "I am hurried now, and have no time to waste, but if you could let me know where to find you to-morrow, and would wait for me between twelve and one o'clock, I would then look over the seats."
"I am sorry that official duties will prevent me from having that pleasure, but my friend and copartner in office here, Mr. Ravensworth, will I am sure. You do not go to town on Monday I think, Ravensworth?"
"I do not,—and I shall have much pleasure in waiting for you," said Mr. Ravensworth, at the same time handing his card.
"Ha! thanks; I shall be punctual,—remember, between twelve and one. Good day, gentlemen." Taking off his hat, and gathering the reins together, he whipped up his impatient horses, and was gone,—the groom swinging himself up, as the drag sprang away, with great nimbleness, much to Johnny's admiration, leaving them all in wonder as to who he could be.
"Mark my words, sir," said Mr. Lennox, "that young man is no common person."
"Indeed! do you think so? Well, I fancy he is merely some young man of fortune, who can drive a dashing trap,—probably one of the 7th, now at Jock's Lodge; I hear they are a very crack regiment."
"Think so? I am sure of it; his appearance, his equipage, his commanding way of speaking,—all argued birth; he is not unlike my cousin, Lord George Lennox."
"Every good-looking man is like that cousin of yours," said Mr. Ravensworth, laughing; "but here we are at my house; I will let you know to-morrow who he is,—your swans generally turn out geese."
"Let him laugh that wins," said Mr. Lennox, as he walked on. "I would stake ten to one he is none of your parvenus."
Next morning the conversation at the Ravensworth breakfast-table ran a good deal on this unknown stranger. As it was the first Monday in the month, and consequently a holiday, Johnny repaired to the back drawing-room, whence he had an extended view of the road each way. Though he went there professedly to read, in reality he went there as a watchman for the expected carriage. It was then only a little after ten, and the earliest time he had named was not till twelve; yet Johnny cast many a wistful glance along the road. L'Estrange had an engagement at Queensferry, and had driven off already. Mr. Ravensworth went to his study, and Maude a walk in the country with some schoolfellows, so that Johnny and Ellen had the room all to themselves. Slowly the clock on the stairs struck the passing hours,—at length twelve struck.
"Now," said Johnny, "he may be here at any minute, Ellen. Here he is, I hear wheels."
But Johnny was doomed to disappointment, it was only the London coach. Many other carriages raised his hopes falsely, while the long hour dragged its slow length through: one struck,—Johnny's face fell. "I believe, after all, he won't come,—stay, here he comes at last,—really, Nelly,—look what a fine drag he is driving, and quite different horses, too,—what beauties! I will run and tell papa."
Ellen, without rising from the sofa, glanced to see the wonderful stranger, for it was on him rather than the horses he drove, that she naturally looked. The drag stopped at the door, and the same nimble servant lightly stepped down and rang the bell. Meantime Johnny had flown to his father's study with the news: "Come, papa, quick, he's waiting!"
"Gently, my boy, gently! I have not even been apprised of his presence yet—he will perhaps step in; what is all this excitement about?"
"May I come to the church?"
"We will see, perhaps the gentleman may not wish it."
At this moment Mr. Ravensworth's page, with open eyes, came in bringing a card in his hand, and saying the gentleman would not come in. Mr. Ravensworth gave a perceptible start when he saw the name; and, hastily putting on his hat and gloves, advanced to the carriage.
"I must apologise for keeping you waiting, my Lord, so long."
"Not at all, Mr. Ravensworth, not at all, I have not been a minute. Step in and I will drive you to the church. Is that your son?" pointing to Johnny, who had crept after his father.
"My son, Johnny."
"Jump in, my boy, you will like a ride too," continued the stranger.
Johnny jumped in, hardly knowing where he was; the talismanic word "my Lord" had not escaped his ears, and he did not know how to thank his Lordship, so he thought silence was his best policy. He felt not a little proud also as he swept by and past several schoolfellows at the turning of the road. They in their turn stared at him not a little. While they are driving we must return to Ellen, who had been much surprised to see them drive off; she stole down stairs to see if she could find out who he was. On the hall table lay a card—could she believe her eyes?—there it was neatly engraved "Earl of Wentworth." It is like an intervention of Providence, thought the romantic girl, as she ran with the card upstairs to her own room, and in the giddiness of her first excitement actually pressed it to her lips. He had touched it! She had seen him too, as he turned round to welcome her father and brother,—she had seen the noble countenance, the stately form,—he was the embodying of her airy thoughts, the reality of all her day-dreams. One glance was all she took, but that glance, momentary as the lightning flash, yet terrific in its effects as the bolt of heaven, seemed to have scorched her very heart. That moment had done the work of years, and she felt that eternity was itself too short "to efface the blight and blackening which it left behind."
By this time our party had entered the church, and the Earl had at once set his fancies on a large square pew, curiously enough facing the one Mr. Ravensworth occupied. Of course he knew nothing of this, though great events sprang from that chance. Lord Wentworth said he should send a carpenter to do it up a little, and he then drove them back to Seaview, and dropped them with a "Good-bye, Mr. Ravensworth—good-bye, Johnny, my boy! I will call then next Saturday, same hour, and see how I like the improvements."
"How provoked Lennox will be at missing this," thought Mr. Ravensworth as he entered his house; "we shall never hear the end of his chance prediction."
True to his word, Mr. Lennox looked in upon them that evening, and at once inquired who the stranger was.
"You were right, Lennox; who do you think it was?"
"I am sure I cannot tell; one of the Duke's sons?"
"No, guess again."
"Bother guessing, tell me who it was."
"The Earl of Wentworth," said Ellen, blushing crimson.
"The Earl of Wentworth!—never tell me again I am not a judge of character! The Earl of Wentworth! I knew he was somebody, I am no fool; I can tell rank even in beggars' garb," said the proud man. "And what sort of man is he?" he continued; "from my penetration of character I should say an easy-going, nice fellow."
"Right," burst in Johnny, "he is such a jolly chap!"
"Young man," answered his mentor, "never let me hear you call a belted Earl a 'jolly chap' again; it is disrespectful; 'honour to whom honour is due,' remember that."
Mr. Lennox stayed for tea, and during all the evening nothing else was spoken of but Lord Wentworth, and Mr. Lennox's judgment of faces, a topic he was never tired of introducing. Ellen made Johnny recount over and over the very conversations of the Earl, and took no pains to conceal from L'Estrange that his star had set; so it was well for him he left early next day for a week's shooting across the river. Mr. Lennox during the whole week daily inspected the refitting of the Earl's pew, and gave many suggestions, and proposed little alterations he felt sure would very much please his lordship. We shall see by-and-by in what spirit they were received. The week, to Ellen, wore very slowly away; at last the long-wished-for day dawned when she was again to gratify her fatal wishes, and see him once more. A short time before the hour Lord Wentworth was expected Mr. Lennox made his appearance at Seaview, in order, as he said, to ask Mr. Ravensworth's opinion on a will, but really in hopes he might be asked by the Earl to accompany him in his carriage; and he thought with pride how he would be complimented on his taste, and even told Mr. Ravensworth so as he perused the law-papers, not even crediting his real motive. Johnny took his seat at the window; and no watchman ever looked out more attentively for the enemy than he did to catch the first glimpse of the carriage. Ellen was reading a book in an abstracted way, and her eye often wandered from its pages to the road; too often not to show her heart was not with her book.
He came at last; but to Johnny's surprise, and not a little to his chagrin, not in the drag, but seated on a fine horse, while a short way behind rode his favourite servant on a horse almost equally magnificent. Ellen was, however, charmed at the manner he managed his fiery steed, which showed his fine figure off to perfection. "L'Estrange was right," she thought, "he is handsome—he is!" Johnny had in the meantime acquainted his father with the Earl's arrival.
"Did he drive here, Johnny?"
"No," Johnny replied, discontentedly, "he is only riding to-day."
"Confound it!" slipped out of Mr. Lennox's lips, before he could arrest the words, as he thus saw his hoped-for drive vanish, "however," he said, "if his lordship is riding, I shall have the pleasure of accompanying you both, Mr. Ravensworth."
By this time Lord Wentworth had pulled up, and throwing his reins to Philip, himself dismounted and rang the bell. He had not long to wait; almost instantly the door was opened by the officious Mr. Lennox, who made his profoundest bow, and asked after his lordship's health.
Refusing an invitation to luncheon, to Ellen's extreme vexation, he proposed instantly walking to the church.
"Philip, lead my horse along,—unless, youngster," (addressing Johnny), "you like a ride—up with you, don't be afraid."
Johnny, however, declined the honour with thanks, not much relishing the idea of mounting a thoroughbred horse, as its fiery eye and thin transparent nostril betokened, as it champed its bit impatiently.
"No, thank you!" repeated the Earl, in wonder; "now when I was a boy I should have jumped at the proposal,—but times are changed since then. Philip, lead him."
Johnny felt he had gone down a peg in Lord Wentworth's estimation, and ten in the groom's. Young Nimrod, such was the horse's name, required indeed a high hand to rule him, and gave Philip not a little trouble, rearing, kicking, and plunging all the way in a manner which made Johnny feel glad he was not exposed to. Little was said on their way to the church;—when they reached it Mr. Lennox, as usual, led the way to the pew, round which stood Mr. Taylor, the upholsterer, and several workmen admiring their handy-work. Indeed, the pew certainly shone out not a little above its compeers, with its crimson curtains—velvet cushions—and the table in the centre covered with a rich cloth, fringed with gold; a sandal-wood door, and gorgeous oil-cloth, completed the furnishings.
"I think, my Lord, this is highly elegant, and distingué," said Mr. Lennox; "I myself superintended everything."
"I am sorry you took so much trouble," remarked Lord Wentworth, regarding the whole with a gloomy expression. Then turning sharply round on Mr. Taylor, and muttering to himself, "elegant!" "distingué!" he said: "I thought I ordered a plain mahogany door, and how comes there one of sandal-wood?"
"I thought,—my Lord——"
"What business had you to think, sir?—your duty was to obey. My orders were implicit, and how dared you disobey them? take the trash away!" and suiting the action to the word, with one kick his lordship literally smashed the frail door to pieces. The light thus admitted revealed for the first time the showy oil-cloth, which excited his ire not a little.
"And what the devil is this?—I ordered a carpet, and not this gin-palace snobbery!" shouted the enraged peer, forgetting in his passion whose house he was in.
Mr. Lennox here interposed, and said it was not Mr. Taylor's fault but his own, as he had thought it would look better.
"Then, another time, Mr. Lennox, I will thank you to mind your own business and let me mind mine—I am not accustomed to have my orders countermanded. Rip the accursed thing up. I will not move till it is gone."
Some workmen standing near executed this order with the utmost despatch, much fearing a more palpable display of wrath.
"And take off that gilt fringe, and let all be plain and quiet. Mr. Taylor, you have strangely mistaken my meaning: I wished a comfortable pew, not a vulgar display for every one to stare at. Let all this be done by to-morrow, and by heaven! let me catch you disobeying my orders again, and I will find some one else to execute them."
Mr. Taylor in mute fear only bowed acquiescence, and the Earl then turned on his heel, and as ill luck would have it nearly upset Johnny, who, half-amused, half-terrified, and laughing in his sleeve at Mr. Lennox's discomfiture, stood in stupid astonishment, till he was roused by an angry "Out of the way, boy—what are you blocking up the passage for?" and saw his lordship brush past to the door, where he mounted his fretting steed, coldly bowed to the bewildered throng—and, plunging his spurs into young Nimrod, left them to talk over their rebuff.
Bad temper is proverbially infectious, and as soon as he was gone a scene of mutual recrimination ensued. Mr. Ravensworth blamed Mr. Lennox for his officiousness; Mr. Lennox blamed Johnny, as the cause of all by refusing the offer of a ride. Mr. Taylor was much annoyed at his weakness in departing from orders, and even Johnny could not help muttering something about Mr. Lennox's good taste, which he did not fail to hear, and which added to his wrath and chagrin not a little. When Ellen heard the story she was more vexed than any of them,—vexed at this cloud which seemed to banish all her hopes risen on her heaven of blue. Her temper was not bettered by the arrival of Captain L'Estrange, who, however, treated the matter as a joke, and was vastly amused by Johnny's description of the scene, and the door, which he said was stove in as if it had been a band-box.
"I know the Earl," said L'Estrange, "his passions are as short-lived as they are violent; had it been the Captain, by Jove! you would not have got off so well: I think he would have floored the whole of you, and thrashed you, Johnny, with his horsewhip had you got in his way. I should have liked to have seen Lennox's face though."
Lord Wentworth rode to the Towers at a fiery speed, his temper decidedly not bettered by a drenching rain which overtook him on his way. When, however, he reached home and found his brother, the Captain, and the Marquis of Arranmore just arrived, all traces of his anger immediately vanished. That evening much had to be talked on over their wine, and after the young ladies had retired the gentlemen adjourned to the smoking-room, where they laughed well over the incidents of the day, till the clock striking twelve warned them Sunday had commenced.
The Captain, however, was little troubled by religious scruples, and continued over his punch more than an hour after all the rest had sought the charms of Morpheus, a feat the Captain alone was capable of, as a man must be very far gone who can sit down and enjoy his toddy quite alone as he did.
We must now shift the scene to the ancestral residence of the De Veres. Dun Edin Towers, or as it was called, for brevity's sake, The Towers, stood on a slight eminence at the foot of the Lammermoor Hills. On three sides it was bounded by the densest woods, whilst in front an ample park, dotted over with fine trees, stretched downwards till it ended in a bosky dell, the resort of woodcocks, pheasants, and all kinds of game; at the bottom of this dell a mountain torrent gushed amid the stones, now lost in rocks rough with brachen, now bursting over the sunny shingle, and revealing to the practised eye myriads of trout gaily shooting past. After heavy rains, or when the snows on the hill began to thaw, the bubbling rivulet changed its character, and "tumbling brown the burn came down, and roared frae bank to brae." The castle was itself a large quadrangular pile, with four lofty towers at the four corners: from these towers it took its name, and as they peeped above the woods they served for a landmark to the country for many a league round. The round towers proclaimed its Norman architecture, and the building was now hoary with age, but its masonry seemed solid as when it was first raised, and having outlived its lords for so many ages it seemed as though it would serve not only as the home, but the tomb of its present occupant; for in one tower was the long last dwelling-place of the De Veres. Partly covered over with ivy, its buttresses formed an asylum for owls and bats, which from time immemorial had built their nests there, and they seemed as much the rightful possessors as any of its human masters.
My readers must cross with me the drawbridge, swinging, on its hoarsely sounding chains, over the deep moat that surrounded the castle, and passing the frowning gateway, under the old portcullis, along the winding passage, with loopholes pierced on either side, we enter the ample courtyard paved with stone. In its centre stood an ancient sun-dial. Opposite us is the doorway, and as our story leads us to the inmates of this hold we will continue our journey up the broad flight of stairs, and, sounding the bell which, in conformity with ancient usage, was still hung there, wait till the massive oaken door with its clamps of brass is opened, and discloses the entrance hall, a small square room full of ancient armour, intermingled with trophies of the chase. Above the door are crossed two pennons, which had been wrung from the Moslems in the days of the Crusades. All round spears, battle-axes, and lances of the olden time, with whole suits of chain and steel armour, hung side by side with more modern implements of war, guns—swords, pistols, and bayonets, that had fought well in battle fierce. Stags' antlers, boars' tusks, and grinning heads of wolves and foxes peeped forth here and there; and, instead of mats, tigers' and bears' skins were stretched on the polished oak floor. All of these were bequeathed by the ancestors of the present family, or collected by themselves. Strange scenes had been here enacted, if tales told the truth. In the centre of the room was a dark stain on the oaken planks—the stain of blood—a stain blood only can wipe away.
Opening next a door of carved oak, we find ourselves in the great hall. It is upwards of ninety feet in length, and about the middle on either side is an ancient fireplace, so large that a family might occupy either, seated round the log fire on the stone seats. Above each hung a fine picture. One was of a beautiful young woman in the dress of an abbess, wandering with naked feet through dense woods—this was Augusta de Vere. Opposite, was the portrait of the stern Sir Ralph. From these two pictures an endless line of family portraits was continued to the end of the hall either way. There were many winning faces, none more so than the two last, pictures of the Ladies Edith and Florence. There were many handsome and manly faces, none more so than the three last—pictures of the present lord, and his two brothers. There was a peculiarity in this picture gallery—can any of my readers guess what it was? There was no old face from Sir Ralph downwards. They were all young—all in their early prime—yet all but five were laid low.
We must not delay here too long, but ascend the principal staircase, and crossing an almost endless corridor, with doors ranged on each side, at last finish our route by opening the door of the boudoir, in which the family usually assembled after breakfast. There are three members only present. From his picture we recognise the young Earl, possessor of the most famed name, and broadest lands in the kingdom. We see the same lofty mien—the artist has but faintly caught—the same noble outline of features, and dark brown hair, curled close as the tendrils of the vine over his broad forehead. His air is dignified and high, he looks what he is, and yet there is about his face something which tells us he has all the love of his race for the field, and his look does not belie his character; never was he happier than when he had flown the pomps of a court in which he shone a star of the first magnitude, and forgot anxious cares in the calm retreats of The Towers—wound the view halloo, and was first in at the death. The Earl was fully six feet in height, and stout and strong in proportion. He is now standing before a blazing wood fire, and close beside him stands a fair-haired girl of perhaps fifteen years. Her melting blue eyes and complexion of dazzling purity, lit up with the chastest and sweetest of smiles, gave an air of peculiar interest to her face. To look at Lady Florence was to love her. How dim, how earthly is the picture now, when before us stands the bright original. Her sister, the proud, romantic Lady Edith, remains to be described; she is deeply interested in some book over which she is bent, her dark brown hair and hazel eyes lend an air of pleasing melancholy to her face; she has all the proud hauteur of an English beauty, and carries birth and majesty in every movement. She was three years older than her sister.
"I suppose we are too late for church this morning," said Lady Edith, glancing a moment off her book.
"Oh! much too late; but I have ordered the carriage to be here in plenty of time for the afternoon service," answered her brother.
"Are you going, Edie?" said Lady Florence.
"I suppose so; you are going too, are you not?"
"Oh dear, yes; I do so long to see the wonderful pew; do you think, Wentworth, it will be altered all nicely now?"
"I fancy so; Taylor knows me too well now to neglect my orders again. Are you going?" continued Lord Wentworth, addressing a young man who then entered, followed by the Marquis of Arranmore.
This was Captain de Vere; to look at him one could not help calling him handsome: his dark eye, and closely-cut black hair gave him a military air—a dashing, soldierly appearance, and his height, which exceeded the Earl's slightly, combined with a splendid figure, gave him a fine manly mien; but there was something in his face cruel and unrelenting; his fierce moustache, and arched nose were those of a Roman, and in his eye there was the twinkle that told the libertine;—his handsomeness was that of a Nero, not so in its true significance.
"Going where?" he answered abruptly.
"To church," replied the Earl.
"See you d——d first," was the curt reply. "Nor will Arranmore; he and I are going to the barracks to look out Musgrave."
"Oh! John, you shouldn't swear so," said Lady Florence; "but where is Frank? perhaps he will come."
"How the devil should I know—I am not Frank's keeper?" answered the Captain, showing how little he cared for the reproof.
"Frank is in the dell," said Lord Arranmore, "looking after some woodcocks the keeper had told him about."
"A hopeful set you all seem," said the good-natured Earl; "however, this is Liberty Hall, every one to his own mind, and no questions asked."
"But won't you come, Arranmore?" said his betrothed.
The Marquis looked doubtful.
"No, no, that won't do, Edith," said the Captain, interrupting; "you are not going to get round Arranmore, and rob me of my companion; you don't catch us darkening your accursed church doors. Come along, old fellow," pulling the Marquis by the sleeve, "leave them to read sermons."
"You should be ashamed to say so," answered Lady Edith, but her voice was lost in the clap of the door, as the irreligious young officer went off with his friend, coolly whistling "Deil tak' the minister," an old Scotch song. "Order two horses, Andrew, and tell Philip we shan't want him—be quick, you old rascal."
"Yees, Captain," said the old privileged butler; "but, Lord bless us, he suld need wings wha wad do your orders, and I am but an auld man ye ken."
"Then send James, and be d——d to you!"
Leaving these two to ride where they listed, we shall follow Lord Wentworth and his sisters to church, accompanied, however, by Frank, as he was always called, a young man about seventeen, just preparing to join the 60th, and a passionate sportsman.
"There is a fall of woodcocks in the round wood above the dell—three keepers saw them, so as I can't shoot to-day, I will go to church for once in a way to kill time," said Frank, getting into the carriage. We fear his brother's example was not doing Frank much good.
Mr. Lennox was beginning to despair of their coming at all that day; he half wished they would, and half not, as he felt awkward about facing the man who had publicly found fault with him the previous afternoon. Just as he was about to leave the plate and enter the church, a grand carriage, drawn by four horses, drew up. His fears were instantly dispelled by the frank reception he met with, and forgetting all the past, he blandly smiled as he ushered the illustrious visitors to their pew.
On Sunday morning the Ravensworths, as usual, assembled in their seat at St. John's, and found everything had been altered to the letter of the law in the square pew, now rather conspicuous from its neat and comfortable appearance than its grandeur. A good deal of whispering went on amongst the near neighbours whether the family would come or not. The morning prayers however passed through and no member of the family appeared; and amongst others Johnny and Ellen were beginning to augur a similar disappointment in the afternoon, when Mr. Lennox, strutting as proudly as a peacock before our friends, appeared, and immediately following the two ladies and the Earl and Frank. The ladies were handsomely but quietly dressed in black silk; but as they arranged themselves in their pew every eye, from the Reverend Mr. Power to the humblest school girl, was turned upon them, and many an epithet—such as "bonny," "sonsy," and the like, applied by the lower orders to the two beauties, who certainly verified L'Estrange's words, that they might have set the Thames on fire.
"How lovely!" whispered Ellen, to her fiancé.
As the service proceeded, Lord Wentworth very naturally looked up to the first seat in the gallery, where the Ravensworths sat, as it directly faced him; at once recognising Mr. Ravensworth and Johnny, he looked along to where Ellen sat, and there his glance seemed stayed. Ellen felt herself blush as their eyes met, and she looked down, not before seeing Lord Wentworth whisper something to Frank; and as he then looked up she felt sure she had been noticed. This was partially true, but what Lord Wentworth had whispered to Frank was that young L'Estrange was there, and it was at him, and not Ellen, that the latter had gazed. It so happened that the two families met coming out of church, and the Earl shook hands with Mr. Ravensworth, telling him the pew was all he desired now; he then patted Johnny on the shoulder, calling him "young Nimrod," in allusion to the day before, and telling him he must come some day and get a riding lesson at the Towers. Johnny was much elated, and politely hastened to hold open the carriage-door for the young ladies; for this he was rewarded by a dignified bow from Lady Edith, and a sweet "Oh! thank you," from her sister. Poor Johnny's heart, young as it was, was no longer his, the fair Lady Florence had stolen it! Whilst he was thus engaged Frank had renewed acquaintance with L'Estrange, and Ellen had once more confronted Lord Wentworth. She had never seen him so near before; he actually brushed against her dress, and more than ever she felt her peace of mind was gone. As it was a fine day the carriage drove along the sands once, before returning home, and Ellen again saw the Earl; this time she was sure he noticed her, and again she felt her face crimson.
"What a pretty girl that is," said Lord Wentworth, addressing his brother.
"Very pretty. I had no idea our church boasted such a beauty; it will be something to go there for, she sits right opposite us."
"I wonder who she is, I fancy a sister of my little friend's. I see a likeness."
"It's more than I do, but I will ask L'Estrange who she is to-morrow: he seems uncommonly sweet on her—you know I asked him to come and have a bang at the woodcocks."
Things looked brighter for Ellen when she reached home. L'Estrange had told her of his invitation to the Towers; she might yet get acquainted with the De Veres through him; and yet her heart revolted from the idea, it was like slaying the eagle with its own feather.
Early next morning L'Estrange started on his shooting expedition, and anxiously did Ellen watch for his return, which did not take place till past eleven o'clock at night. He had stayed to dine after an excellent day's sport, and had plenty to tell about; he had brought, too, abundance of game, far more than fell to his gun, as also a lovely bouquet of hot-house flowers from Lady Edith for the young lady of the house. Oh! how Ellen prized them! with what haste she placed them in water! and when at last they faded, how she prayed the friendship, of which this seemed a prelude, if it came, might not fade away as fleetly! During the week L'Estrange again went shooting, and took with him a note from Ellen, thanking Lady Edith for her kind and beautiful present. Next Saturday, about one o'clock in the day, Captain de Vere, accompanied by his inseparable friend Arranmore, might have been seen in a tandem (the Captain never drove anything else), proceeding at the dangerous pace he always drove towards Edinburgh. As they neared Seaview a bright idea struck the Captain; this was to call for little Ravensworth and give him a drive: he was not altogether without hope too he might catch a sight of the beauty he had heard so much of.
"And at any rate, Arranmore, we can pump the youngster well, and get her name and so forth, as we forgot to ask L'Estrange—will have lots to quiz Wentworth about too. By G—— it's a good idea, I'm d——d if I don't do it," he exclaimed, as he drew up the horses with a round turn at the gate of Seaview. Tossing the reins to Arranmore the Captain alighted (as he never could be bored with a servant on his trap) and rang the bell. As soon as Mr. Ravensworth's little page appeared he thus accosted him—
"Is young Nimrod at home?"
"Who, my lord?" said the little boy, thinking he must be titled too.
"Don't stare like a wild cat, you little fool. Is young Nimrod at home?—little Ravensworth, of course!"
"Mr. Johnny is, if that's him."
"Egad! that's him at last. Tell him I want him."
The frightened lad stayed not a moment, but hurried to inform Johnny, who was then at luncheon, that another great lord wanted him.
"Me; I'm coming;" and Johnny hurried down to see who it could be.
"Halloo! what the deuce have you kept me so long for?"
"I beg your pardon, my lord, I was as—"
"D—n your eyes! I'm not a lord; call me Captain, that will do; but never mind, jump up if you would like a ride."
Without attempting a reply, Johnny at once proceeded to scramble up behind; and he had hardly done so ere the Captain drove off at his break-neck pace; it almost made Johnny giddy to see at what a rate the ground spun away from under him.
"How do you like it, my little man?" said Lord Arranmore, turning round.
"Very much, sir, thank you," said Johnny, timidly.
"By the Lord, you are most unhappy in your ideas," roared the Captain; "you lorded me who am nobody, and sirred him who is every inch a Marquis; and that's saying a good deal."
A roar of laughter greeted Johnny as he asked pardon; and he now perceived, for the first time, the immense proportions of the Marquis, who was an Irishman, and a perfect giant in height and size.
Edinburgh was quickly reached; and, after a few commissions at the gunmaker's and saddler's had been executed, they lunched at a pump, which was the Captain's favourite resort, where he was as good as his word, and pumped his protégé well. They then turned their backs on the Castle once more, and were proceeding down Princes Street towards home at a furious rate when, to the Captain's horror, who thus knew his fate, one of the wheels was seen running merrily in front. Ere he could frame the awful oath that hung on his lips, down came the whole concern with a loud crash! The trap was turned completely over, sending its occupants flying in different ways.
The Captain was shot against a stout gentleman, who, though he broke the intruder's fall, was not a little shaken by it. Arranmore was hurled in the front of a young ladies' school walking quietly along, where he occasioned great confusion among the girls, who fancied, in their terror, as they gazed on his colossal limbs, a Titan had fallen from the sky. Johnny was shot right before the leaders of a coach which went off ere he could hardly roll himself on one side. Beyond a few bruises no one was materially hurt.
A scene followed such as Johnny had never before witnessed. The Captain was shaking hands with the old gentleman he had spilt, and swearing great guns, intermingled with roars of laughter at the old man's expense, who could by no means treat the affair as "such a joke," as the Captain called it. Arranmore was in great wrath, and swore loudly too, fancying he had been made a fool of, and anathematizing the inquisitive crowd gathered thickly round.
Meantime the spirited horses had broken their traces and run off; they were, however, caught before the High School, and led back in triumph. A new linchpin, the loss of which had caused the accident, was readily procured, the machine, as the Scotch say, "righted;" and, shaking the dust off their clothes, the trio soon mounted on high again. Lashing his whip amongst the throng, the young Jehu once more assumed the reins, and drove off at the same dangerous rate as if nothing had happened.
As they neared Johnny's home, the Captain informed him, to his extreme terror, that he had better drop off as he passed, as he was late and couldn't stop for him. Frightened as he was at the proposal, which the Captain made with the coolest indifference, fancying Johnny could do what his brother's tigers were accustomed to execute with such nimbleness, he could not summon courage to tell him he was afraid, so he sat still, trembling, and hoping a miracle would relieve him from his situation. However, no miracle came, and Johnny was still there after they had passed Seaview a hundred yards.
"You little fool! why didn't you drop?"
"I was afraid. Don't be angry, please."
"Afraid! Lord help you! then I'll slow;" and he checked the horses into a fast trot. "Now's your chance; off with you."
Johnny dared not refuse a second time, so with a heavy heart he let himself drop off. A complete somersault was the immediate result, and as he rose from his discomfiture and shook off the dust, he heard the Captain's laugh now far off. He hastened home and recounted the adventures of the day.
"I saw the spill," said L'Estrange, "from the Club windows. And so you had to drop, Johnny! Aha! so like De Vere,—he is such a mad-cap; but I fear a bad bird, too."
Johnny knew not whether to like the Captain or not.
On his arrival at the Towers the Captain made his brothers laugh too at Johnny's expense; but steadily refused to tell Miss Ravensworth's name unless the Earl promised to pay his Christmas bills; no sinecure if report said true. However, he hiccoughed it out that night over his toddy in the smoking-room, and was much surprised when his brother knew it next day, wondering how he had found it out, and accusing Arranmore as a traitor of course.
Weeks passed by. Still the prospect of Ellen's becoming acquainted with Lord Wentworth seemed distant as ever. Occasionally she saw him in church; occasionally either he or his brothers would rein up their carriage at Seaview, and take her brother a drive; but still no advance towards friendship was made. She began to grow hopeless, and to fancy her bright dreams were like the mirage of the desert, only feeding vain desires, and leaving her thirsty as before.
Ellen and her father received an invitation to a grand ball, which the then Duke of Buccleuch was to give in honour of the election, which his son was disputing with Mr. Rushington, a dangerously popular Whig, a man of considerable fortune and address. The Duke and Lord Wentworth being both firm Tories had little doubt that between them they would carry the day in favour of the Earl of Dalkeith, and the time was busily spent in canvassing. The better to insure his son's interests, the Duke resolved on giving a grand Election Ball; and it was whispered that many a vote, conscientiously denied, would lay at his feet if an invitation to this ball was duly forwarded. Of course all the family at the Towers, as well as the Marquis, were amongst the invited. Captain de Vere, one afternoon, brought his brother the happy news that Ellen Ravensworth was to be there; he did not then know that Lord Wentworth had himself asked for, and sent the invitation to them.
On the day of the ball great preparations were made at Dalkeith, in order that it might prove the most decided success. The palace was to be brightly illuminated, and the trees hung with variegated lamps. At the Towers, however, there was no unusual excitement; such things sat lightly on people accustomed to the brilliancy of the Prince Regent's Court, and the day was spent in battue shooting, which proved, however, a failure, owing to the excessively cold north-east wind.
Very differently did Ellen Ravensworth spend the day; to her it was one of the greatest events of life, and she could think and talk of nothing else but the ball. She knew, too, that all the De Veres were to be there, at least she had heard so, and she could not help a secret feeling of joy that L'Estrange had joined his regiment, or rather had been ordered to take a troop of the 7th Hussars from Edinburgh to the Preston Barracks near Brighton, then one of the most fashionable resorts, owing to the Pavilion the Prince Regent had built there. She felt now free as air, and if—if Lord Wentworth did dance with her, how happy she would feel! She could settle to nothing all that day; and there was one thing which caused her no little uneasiness; this was the remissness of Madame Delany, who had not yet sent the ball-dress, though it had been promised on the previous evening. Three times did the anxious girl send to Edinburgh, three times did Madame send the same provoking answer: "It would be sent in abundance of time."
The day wore through; it was a dark, gloomy day, with scud fleeting across the sky; but towards evening it cleared off cold and frosty. Six o'clock, the dinner-hour, struck; but nothing could Ellen eat. Her dress had not yet arrived!
"Oh, how provoking this is, papa!" exclaimed the disappointed girl. "May I not send once more?"
"No, love, you had better not; it will only annoy Madame, and you will get it none the sooner."
Ellen knew this was only reasonable, and tried to be as patient as she could under these trying circumstances; but when seven o'clock came, and still no appearance of her dress, her case was truly piteous. Johnny volunteered to drive to town and bring it back with him, if his sister would get everything else ready; and with a heavy heart Ellen went upstairs to dress. At last Johnny returned, and Ellen rushed to meet him—but no! Madame had sent it an hour ago—it should have arrived by this time.
"This is maddening!" cried the frantic beauty; "it is, it is; where can it be? They must have taken it to a wrong house!" And no longer able to control herself, she burst into a paroxysm of grief, and cried as if her heart would break. Her father tried every expedient to quiet her; he told her she would spoil her looks if she cried in this silly manner, and proposed she should put on her last ball-dress, which was very pretty; but it was in vain, Ellen had set her heart on appearing in her own beautiful choice; and, sooner than put on another, she would stay at home! Just then a bell rang. "My dress!" But no,—it was the carriage to take them to Dalkeith, and she not ready! Surely the stars fought against her. However, all grief must have its end, and at last Ellen's had too. A little after nine the missing robe arrived,—the messenger had only been detained at another house, that was all. How Ellen hated those people! She ran upstairs now as joyful as she had been miserable five minutes before. A long time was spent ere she was fitted to her taste; at last she appeared arrayed in all her magnificence, and more than an hour later than they had intended they set off for Dalkeith.
But Ellen's misfortunes were not yet ended. Before they had proceeded a mile on their road the carriage suddenly came to a dead halt.
"What is wrong now?" said Mr. Ravensworth, in his turn beginning to fear they were doomed to mishaps.
"Nothing, sir, nothing, only a trace broken. I will ride one of the horses to the village in ten minutes and get another, sir."
Twenty minutes, however, elapsed ere the coachman again made his appearance; during which time, left on the road in the most forlorn condition, they were exposed to the taunts of every coachman and flunky who passed in their gay turn-outs to the ball, and called out, "Shall we tell the Duke you are coming?" and the like. After all their troubles, they were, however, safely landed at the Palace, arriving there exactly as the church clock struck eleven.
Ellen's only consolation was that they were at any rate fashionably late. How she wondered if the Wentworths had been there long! After being duly presented to the Duke and Duchess, who stood at the door in no very enviable position bowing, or saying a word to each guest as he or she passed, Mr. Ravensworth and his daughter began to make a tour of the splendid suite of apartments, brilliantly lighted up for the occasion. Endless dancers, in glittering array, passed and repassed them. All were smiling, all seemed happy,—all seemed to have friends but them; they knew nobody,—nobody seemed to know, or care about them. Had it not been for Ellen's great beauty, which attracted the attention and admiration of all the officers present, they would have been unnoticed too. Ellen cared only for one face, and whilst she saw it not she was miserable. It was not till she and her father had thrice made the round of the suite that Ellen began to feel persuaded he was not there. She refused every offer to dance, and they were by no means few, with a cold smile; and many a gay young spark who was introduced to her, and anxiously sought the pleasure of dancing the next set, went away sad and downcast when the disdainful Beauty refused him. At last she met a lady acquaintance, and seated herself by her friend, whilst Mr. Ravensworth went in quest of a partner; he by no means intending to follow Ellen's example. Lost in a dreamy reverie, even while she talked her mind followed not her words, till a name was announced that made her give such a start, her friend asked her if she felt quite well.
After dinner at the Towers Lord Wentworth and Frank adjourned to the billiard-room till it was time to dress. Lord Arranmore and the Captain had dined at Piershill, where several troops of the 7th were quartered, and were to start from thence. Ten had struck some time ere the game was finished, and then Lord Wentworth said—
"We had better go and dress now, I suppose; remember Ellen Ravensworth is to be there. I wonder if she went at nine."
"No doubt of it," said Frank; and with these words they left for their several rooms. It was eleven ere they again appeared, Frank in full uniform, and the Earl simply in evening dress, with the broad blue ribbon of the Garter across his breast.
"What! neither of the girls down yet?" said Frank; "one would have thought they had had time to dress."
At that moment the sisters appeared: Lady Edith in black moire antique trimmed with Venice point lace,—a scarf of the same expensive fabric was thrown over her shoulders with charming negligé; excepting her earrings and bracelets, which were of rubies, she wore no ornament, but a diamond star of five points on her brow. Florence was arrayed in Brussels lace over white glacé silk; a string of the finest pearls was twisted through her golden hair; she wore pendants of emerald, and bracelets of the same precious gem clasped her snowy arms.
"Ah, you both look very nice; let me help you on with your opera cloaks," said Lord Wentworth. It was the announcement of "The Ladies Edith and Florence de Vere, the Honourable Francis de Vere," that made Ellen start so.
"Then he is not coming," thought she, "and my hopes are vain."
"Who are those lovely creatures?" said her friend.
"Lord Wentworth's sisters," mechanically answered Ellen, as the Earl, who had stayed a minute behind to give directions about the carriage, was announced.
"There is Wentworth's flame," whispered Lady Florence to Edith; "how flushed she looks; but she is really very pretty."
After saying a few words to his hosts, Lord Wentworth hastened after his party, only casting one glance at Ellen as he passed, and again her hopes fell, and she sighed deeply. The admired of all admirers, the two young men, each with one of his sisters on his arm, passed down the rooms, smiling, or bowing, or speaking to every one. Frank was soon relieved of Florence's company, who was whirled off in the new dance, the then novel waltz, by Sir Richard Musgrave, a lieutenant in the Captain's troop. Lord Wentworth's charge was less easy to dispose of; and, like Ellen, she saddened many a heart, till Lord Dalkeith succeeded in obtaining her hand for a quadrille. Just then the Earl caught a glimpse of Mr. Ravensworth hurrying past, and immediately followed him.
"Where are you racing to, Mr. Ravensworth?"
"Oh! I beg your pardon for not seeing you, my Lord, but I am just now in pursuit of my daughter, who seems lost in this gay throng."
"I can, then, be of the greatest assistance, and will guide you to the missing beauty. Here, this way,—gently! Ah! there she is like a blooming Eastern bride! And now, Mr. Ravensworth, as I have guided you so well, will you reward me by an introduction to your fair daughter?"
"With the greatest pleasure; but you honour her too much,—'The Earl of Wentworth—my daughter, Miss Ravensworth.'"
Ellen felt almost too happy to speak. Here actually stood the Earl before her! he had pushed a point to know her,—she felt proud of her power.
"Well, Miss Ravensworth, we at length know each other. Your brother Johnny is such a favourite with us all, and he has spoken so much of you, that I feel as if I was speaking to an old friend."
"Oh, you are too good to say so, my Lord," was all that Ellen could answer, her heart quite fluttering all the while.
Lord Wentworth, perceiving her hesitation, with the ease of a man of the world, soon put her at her ease too. A few minutes afterwards he led her forth as his partner in the next waltz. Those few minutes, with her idol's arm round her waist, and his head leaning over her shoulder, as they whirled through the elegant mazes of the dance, were a heaven upon earth to poor Ellen:—
and our heroine was in turn introduced to all the members of the De Vere family, and what was more, was taken down to supper by the Earl, to the undisguised wrath and mortification of anxious mothers and jealous daughters, who "really could not see what there was to admire so very much in her." Whilst all went merry indoors, a very different scene was taking place out,—a hurricane of wind bent the trees, and blew out the festive lights, and like arrows on the blast came the white snowflakes, beating on the steps and covering over the carpets, which were no sooner laid down than they were whitened. Such was the scene as Lord Wentworth handed Ellen to her carriage, and this made a capital excuse for his offering his magnificent sable cloak, fastened with glittering diamonds, to protect the fair child of beauty's neck and shoulders from the wind and snow; and for insisting on her accepting it as a defence from the cold on her way home. He would take no refusal; so, after seeing her safely ensconced in her carriage, with his mantle wrapped round her, he more than pressed her hand, shook hands warmly with her father, and left her in an ecstacy of delight. Returning to the Palace, he collected his party as soon as he could. Florence had danced with every one; Edith with no one, excepting the Duke, Lord Dalkeith, a Russian Grand Duke, and of course her fiancé, Arranmore, who, leaving Frank to drive home with the Captain, took his place by Edith in the Earl's carriage. They then all went home, pleased and delighted with the evening,—the Earl perhaps more than any one. On the following morning they found more than two feet of snow had fallen during the night, the sky had cleared, and a sharp frost crisped the surface.
"How did you like the ball, John?" said Lady Florence, entering the breakfast room, rubbing her hands with the cold.
"I thought it a d—d humbug; I know I liked our supper at the barracks ten times better—you didn't hear me come home this morning did you, Floss, at seven o'clock, by Musgrave's sledge?"
"No, but you must be tired then."
"Not a whit—Musgrave's affair is the most confoundedly clumsy contrivance I ever saw though: I promised to show him Wentworth's Russian sledge some day. Ha! ha! old fellow," continued the Captain as Lord Wentworth entered, "you went and did it, by Jove, though."
"I, how? what do you mean?"
"What do I mean? oh, I like that—why, Wentworth, you have turned that poor girl's head, I'll stake high; all our fellows were talking of it."
"I did nothing, merely danced with a pretty girl—flirted perhaps a little, no more."
"And never took her down to supper? nor spread your cloak over her fair shoulders? nor pressed her to take it home?"
"Bets are ten to one she dies a countess," said Frank, who had meanwhile entered.
"Oh! Frank, what stuff you talk!"
"Well, Floss," said John, "how many fellows did you dance with?"
"I am sure I don't know—how you do tease."
"No wonder! Egad! I believe you danced with every one," said her tormentor.
"I have ordered the two sledges," said the Earl, glad to change the conversation.
"Oh! hurrah! are you coming with me, girls?"
"No, thank you, John! we have more respect for our lives."
"You will, Arranmore; I told Wilton," (the master of the horse,) "to put in the two unbroken Irish beggars in my one—tandem fashion."
"No, Arthur, don't go," said Edith.
"Pshaw! don't frighten him, Edith. I shall think you are a coward if you won't come."
"No fear for that, I'll go," answered the Marquis.
"You will come with me, girls?"
"Yes, we are not afraid of you, Wentworth."
Accordingly after breakfast the sleighs were brought round to the door, and all clad in furs ready to face the cold. First the Captain had to get off, and though he was a first-rate whip it was no easy matter, and twice he was nearly over ere he could get the ponies under control. At last he was off at a dashing rate, and had apparently lost all control of his horses long before he was out of sight. In a more dignified manner the Earl and Frank drove off with Lady Edith and Florence inside, wrapped in the costliest furs. Following the traces of the Captain's sledge they soon came to a spot where it was evident a disaster had occurred—a broken trace—wild plunges in the snow—and a shattered fir-tree, the cause of the mishap. The tracks, however, afterwards went on more regularly, which showed no one had been hurt.
"I had better call for my cloak, Frank," said the Earl, as he neared Ellen's house; "but," continued he, pointing to two figures on the snow, "I should know that girl."
"Miss Ravensworth, and young Nimrod,—love has lynx eyes," replied Frank. In a few moments the sleigh caught them up.
"Hallo there! where are you running to? that's one way of treating your friends, Miss Ravensworth," said Lord Wentworth, as he stopped the sleigh.
"I was hastening to fetch your cloak, my Lord: it was such a comfort to me last night," she replied, as she shook hands with the Earl, who had leaped down and proposed giving them a drive.
"I am sure my sisters will be delighted, won't you Edie? here is Miss Ravensworth coming for a drive with us—Frank, you may drive now—Johnny, you get up on the box, and your sister and I will get inside."
"How do you do?" said Lady Edith and Florence as Ellen and the Earl entered; "how glad we are we met you!"
"How kind of you to say so, Lady Edith."
"Well, how did you like the ball?" said the Earl, as the sleigh glided off.
"Oh! so much. I felt a little dull till you came."
"Till I came; what had I to do with it?"
Ellen saw her blunder, and blushed crimson as she perceived her friends all smile.
"I hope you found my brother's cloak acceptable?" said Lady Edith, perceiving her embarrassment, and changing the conversation.
"Oh, so warm, I don't know what I should have done without it."
"I shall now have a double value for it, Miss Ravensworth, since you have worn it."
"Oh, don't say so," exclaimed Ellen.
"Well, I hope we may have the pleasure of seeing you at the Towers some day. Do you know, Miss Ravensworth, I dreamed about you last night!"
"What nonsense you do talk, Wentworth," said Lady Florence.
"No nonsense; it is true."
"What did you dream, Lord Wentworth?" said Ellen, regaining her courage. "Oh, do tell me."
"No, you would be so angry."
"Oh, I wouldn't, do tell me."
"Very well, you have promised. I dreamed then—but mercy on us, where are we going to?"
This exclamation was caused by a sudden swerve, and then as sudden a descent of the sleigh downwards at an angle of 45°. Frank had driven on steadily enough till he came to the Queen's Drive,[C] a fine road surrounding Arthur's Seat. Just as the sleigh was gliding along above the Loch of Duddingston, feeling cold, he had given the reins to Johnny for a moment, while he lighted a cigar and took a pull at the brandy flask; but no sooner did the spirited horses perceive another, and weaker, hand guided them, than they left the road, and swinging round plunged down the steep decline towards the Loch.
"God save us!" cried Frank as he seized the reins from the terrified boy, "where are you going?" He then by a masterpiece of driving managed to guide the impetuous horses down without overthrowing the sleigh, and adroitly brought them round just as they seemed to be about plunging into the thinly frozen-over lake; he then brought them up with a sharp turn, and as he viewed their tracks down the hill now that danger was over, burst into a fit of laughter as his brother put out his head from the inside, and sternly demanded from Frank the meaning of such an ill-timed practical joke. As soon as Frank could speak, he told the whole occurrence, which in its turn made the occupants of the inside laugh too, though the ladies but a few minutes before were screaming in terror; at least two of them, for Lady Edith was as self-possessed as any of her brothers. Frank promised not to trust Johnny again, and they then proceeded homewards, dropping Ellen and her brother at their home, and getting in return the far-famed cloak. They found the Captain and Arranmore already at the Towers, and the former told in great glee how they had twice come to grief—nearly overturned the mail coach, and quite overthrown a cart full of apples.
The winter now set in with greater severity than ever, and the mercury once or twice sank below 0°. Duddingston was of course frozen strongly over, and presented a gay appearance with all the skaters, and the numbers of fair Scotch ladies that graced the scene with their presence. The Earl's sleigh often honoured the ice, and once he and his sisters called for Ellen and Johnny, and on that occasion Ellen had been chaperoned by her admirer over the Loch. On her return home she found an invitation, including all of them, even to Maude, asking the pleasure of their company at dinner on Christmas day, and concluding by saying that a sleigh would be sent for them in plenty of time, as the snow now lay too deep in the country to render any other mode of conveyance safe. On that—to Ellen—eventful day the sleigh drew up before Seaview about half-past six o'clock; the cold was intense, but abundance of furs had been provided, including the Earl's own cloak for Ellen's especial use.
"So here you are, Miss Ravensworth. Welcome to the Towers," said the Earl, as in true olden fashion he handed the fair lady out of the sleigh. "How are you, Ravensworth? how are you, Johnny? and Maude, this is the first time I have seen you, I hope it will not be the last."
He then ushered them to the drawing-room, where as warm a welcome awaited them from the ladies. It was quite a family party, and the only strangers besides themselves were Mr. Lennox and Sir Richard Musgrave; Lord Arranmore was counted as one of the family. They thus sat down twelve to a real Christmas dinner, and never did a happier or merrier party meet together. Mr. Lennox was in high feather at his good fortune, and most assiduous in his attention to the Ladies de Vere, perhaps as much as the Earl was to Ellen, whom he had taken down to dinner. After the ladies and Johnny left, the gentlemen drew nearer the fire and began to make themselves comfortable. Mr. Lennox introduced the subject of the new clergyman at St. John's, which was in the Earl's gift, and asked if it was his lordship's intention to give the incumbency to Mr. Power, then doing duty.
"I am sure I do not care, Mr. Lennox; whatever is pleasing to you and the Vestry is the same to me: let Power have it if you like."
"I am d—d if I'd give it to Power," said the Captain.
"Why not, Captain de Vere?" said Mr. Lennox, much aghast at his conversation.
"Why not? because he is such a tedious fool."
"When did you ever hear him preach?" said Frank.
"I never knew you troubled his church."
"I never yet met him but what he tried to force one of his d—d sermons on me, whether a fellow wanted it or no; I cut his gab short, I know."
"Well, Captain, you are sincere certainly! but, asking your pardon, I should say Mr. Power's sermons would do you good perhaps."
"You are right, Lennox, I am sincere; I thank God, whatever I am, I am not a hypocrite."
"I am glad you thank God for anything," replied Lord Arranmore.
"If I had thought I wouldn't have then," retorted the godless young man.
"Well, well, don't quarrel," said the Earl; "let Power have the living, and let the matter end."
"He'll do a power of harm," said the Captain, levelling a last shot at the head of the clergyman, to whom, in common with his kind, he had a great antipathy, and regarded as his natural enemy.
"Apropos of changing the subject, how do you like the idea of our regiment going to Brighton?" said Sir Richard.
"Famously," answered the Captain, "we shall have a rare lark with the Regent. Do you remember the last time he supped with us, Musgrave?"
"I should think I did just: what a spree we had that night!"
"What was it?" said Frank; "out with it, John—now you are in for a story."
The Captain then told how the Prince and one of his royal brothers, Musgrave and he, had gone out for a spree in London, knocked down the Charlies, and going into a tavern, how the Prince had got up a row, and when they were all milling, unbuttoned his coat and shown them his Star and Garter. His narrative was intermingled with dreadful oaths, and during the recital he and Musgrave, as well as Arranmore, who was also a hard drinker, had plied themselves with a heavy quantity of liquor in Lennox's opinion, but a quantity that the Captain only regarded as a milksop's allowance. By-and-by, as they imbibed more wine, the mirth grew faster and more furious, and queer stories were told, till the Earl, seeing the scene was distasteful both to Lennox and Ravensworth, ended it by a proposition to join the ladies, much to the Captain's horror, who, as he tossed off a glass of raw brandy, wondered "why the deuce his brother was in such a jolly hurry that night."
After a pleasant evening, in which Ellen astonished Lady Edith, herself a fine musician, by her proficiency as a pianiste, the sledge was announced and the happy party broke up. As the Earl handed Ellen down stairs, he expressed a hope she would often find her way to the Towers; and as he pressed her hand, he slipped a small packet into her clasp,—tightly she held it all the way home, nor dared to open it before her father, and Mr. Lennox, who took advantage of their sleigh. On their way back the family were canvassed pretty freely by Mr. Lennox and her father, who were both grieved at the irreligious tone of the house, and both gave as their opinion that Captain de Vere was the most godless young man they had ever met with. Little better could be said of Lord Arranmore and Sir R. Musgrave; the Earl and Frank seemed the best, and the latter was certainly suffering from the evil example before him. Nothing could be said against the ladies. However, with all their faults, neither of the gentlemen felt otherwise than proud of knowing them. Johnny was rather delighted than otherwise, and seemed to think it was a grand thing to drink, smoke, and swear like the Captain. Ellen said nothing, but in her heart she pitied them, and was even willing to gloss over all the Captain's faults out of her love to his brother. When they reached home, she rushed to her room and opened the little packet, which revealed a ring formed of a whole hoop of emeralds, and inside were engraved two words—"Hope on!"
"I will, I will!" cried the happy girl; and that night she dreamed she was the bride of Lord Wentworth!
Captain L'Estrange had proceeded with his troop by slow stages to the Preston barracks, situated a short distance out of Brighton, on the Lewes road. His faith in Ellen was still secure, though it had been somewhat rudely shaken by her singular conduct since the arrival of Lord Wentworth. He could not but have noticed that a kind of gêne had sprung up between them; but he paid little attention to his mind's suggestions, and thought that in a short time all would run smooth again. With this idea, one of the first things he did after his arrival was to write a long and affectionate letter to his betrothed. It was long, very long ere he received an answer; and when at last it came it was calculated in no way to alleviate his apprehensions, but consisted chiefly of a very brilliant description of the election ball, Lord Wentworth's attentions, and also their day at the Towers. L'Estrange was deeply annoyed, and in the heat of his excitement wrote an ill-judged and hasty reply, blaming her for coldness, rallying her about setting her cap at the young peer, and concluding with a remonstrance, telling her that she was unjustified in allowing any one to share so much of her affections. Had his evil genius instigated him, he could hardly have been urged to a worse course. At once it touched Ellen's pride and honour, and stirred up all her slumbering dislike to L'Estrange into actual hatred; and flushed with rage she sat down and wrote an angry letter, in which she told him that she was not the girl to brook such conduct; that a passion, never very strong in her, had long been lessening; that his letter had smothered the last spark!—she now considered herself free as air, and he might do the same; if that was a prelude to their future married life, she thanked heaven it had not come too late: and in conclusion begged all communication might for ever cease between them. In an agony of rage and despair, L'Estrange threw the fatal epistle behind the fire: he saw he had gone too far, and resolved, if possible, to turn the tide. But it was to no purpose he now penned an apology; it was too late to urge his expiring suit—too late to beseech her to forgive and forget all; the bird was free! and rejoicing in her newly-acquired freedom, was in no hurry to become again a captive. He only received a cold and polite note, saying her refusal was final, and the more he burned the colder would her bosom grow.
It was not only L'Estrange's love, which was really great, but his pride that now suffered. He had boasted to his fellow-officers of his beautiful fiancée—he had even shown them her miniature; he had heard them praise it and call him a lucky fellow; he had pictured to himself the pride with which he would introduce his elegant partner; he had spoken of their union as a thing fixed and certain;—and now to be spurned, jilted by her thus, because a young lord was showing her attention!—the thought was maddening; and in his wrath he swore eternal hatred to the false fair one, and eternal, dreadful vengeance on him who had stolen her heart! He hoped that she might yet have mistaken her object—that the Earl's attentions were mere flirtations; but on making inquiry he daily learned that the worst results were to be feared, and he now began to devise means to frustrate them. His whole character seemed changed. Instead of the gay, lighthearted man he used to be, he became silent, morose, vindictive; and his fellow-officers, having learned the reason, looked forward in anticipation to some dreadful catastrophe.
Before proceeding further, however, as Edward L'Estrange is to play a most conspicuous part in this story, a few details of his early life may not be wholly uninteresting.
Shrouded in the deepest mystery was Edward L'Estrange's infancy. His first recollections were of a dark and romantic kind, and went to a time when, with a young man of fiendish character, he sailed the Spanish main in a fast schooner with raking masts, and terribly black teeth! The captain of this ship—the young man we have already alluded to—was half a pirate, half a smuggler, and one of the fiercest and most sanguinary monsters that ever disgraced the annals of the sea. In this life of wildness and iniquity the first eight years of L'Estrange's life passed away. Brought up from infancy to be acquainted with revolting scenes of murder and debauchery, and taught to lisp oaths ere he could speak plainly, he was however snatched from an existence of crime before his heart was utterly hardened. One evening—or rather late in the afternoon—as the Black Mail was running under a press of canvas for the island of Cuba a British frigate hove in sight which, as soon as she ascertained the character of the schooner, immediately gave chase. A brisk wind swelled out the sails of both ships, and they seemed rather to fly than sail over the waves. In an hour it became however manifestly evident that the man-of-war was slowly but surely bearing down on her foe, and had already shortened the distance between them from five miles to barely three. The pirate crowded on all sail, hoping, if she could prolong the chase till darkness came, she might yet give her pursuer a wide berth. With anxious face did her skipper watch the globe of light sinking gradually into the ocean's embrace, and with loud oaths anathematized the faithless wind lessening every minute; and what was more provoking was the fact that the frigate from her superior height of masts caught the expiring breeze long after he lost it, and he had the mortification of seeing his enemy keep on till within a quarter of a mile of him, whilst his ship "lay idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean." Still an hour of light remained. He now ordered his hands to arm, and prepare to die like men, neither giving nor taking quarter. Up ran the black flag, and simultaneously each vessel poured a broadside of grape upon her antagonist. For half an hour the deadly shower was hailed "fast and well" until the schooner had lost both masts, and was gradually settling down in the deep. The English man-of-war then sent out three boats to board the pirate, which they succeeded in doing, despite the deadly resistance of the desperadoes, who, knowing that no quarter would be given, were determined to sell their lives dearly. Hand to hand was the combat continued with cutlasses till the whole of the pirates were either killed or overpowered. At that moment the schooner began to sink into the waters, bow foremost, scarcely giving the victors time to regain their boats with one prisoner, a boy of nine, who had fought like a born fiend, and so ferocious was his resistance that even after he had been made captive, they had to put him in irons. In time, however, kindness overcame ferocity, and the young pirate grew the pet of the whole crew of the Arethusa, especially the captain's, who adopted him for his own son, and gave him the name we now know him by—Edward L'Estrange—his own name. After cruising for some time he was brought home to England, where his guardian gave him a liberal education, and when he died,—which was not before he had seen the foundling an officer in the king's army,—he left all the property to which he had succeeded entirely to Edward L'Estrange. The young savage changed to the dauntless soldier, though we are not prepared to say how much his evil bringing up influenced his future career, but will leave the reader to judge for himself.
Young L'Estrange, whilst serving with his regiment in America, became intimate with an officer quartered in the same garrison, named George Ravensworth; intimacy strengthened into the closest friendship, and the two young men were like brothers till death severed the bond, and L'Estrange had the grief of attending the deathbed of his friend, following his cold remains to the grave, and hearing the volley fired over his tomb! A few sad relics—the young soldier's sword, his watch, and his Bible—were entrusted to him by his friend to carry home to his bereaved family.
An early opportunity of doing this was offered to L'Estrange by his exchange into a regiment ordered home, and he hastened to Edinburgh to fulfil his errand. When he presented himself at Seaview only Ellen Ravensworth was at home, and to her the young officer confided the sad relics of her brother, and his dear and lamented friend. It was the most natural thing in the world that L'Estrange's affections should be transferred to the sister of one so dear. She was young and attractive, and long after his first interview did the vision of the fair girl in the garb of woe which so well becomes that style of beauty, cling to his memory. An acquaintance so romantically begun soon ripened into affection, and deep love not only to Ellen, but the whole family. They were all much interested in his strange early history, and as it suited Ellen's turn of mind she allowed her lover to engross her affections. Edward L'Estrange was possessed of an ample fortune, and Mr. Ravensworth saw nothing to hinder their union when Ellen was a year or two older, and time had robbed their grief at George's death of its first poignancy.
During the next year or more from the circumstance of his regiment being quartered at Piershill he had full opportunity of seeing his sweetheart, in fact had grown like one of the family; and strange to say was regarded rather in this light by Ellen than as a lover—for to do the girl justice she loved him really as a brother only. Being considerably older than Ellen she looked up to him rather than mingled her mind with his; there was something too about him which, while it forced admiration, ay, and even love, repelled it too. That love was mingled with fear, with restraint, and became a duty rather than a pleasure, and while she told him with her lips she loved, her heart within denied it. Long engagements are known to be the worst things in the world,—hope deferred sickens the heart, the flame of love burns lower and lower, and then let some rival appear, and the last spark is extinguished! It would be vain, and useless as vain, to strive to trace back to its source the first declination—the earliest seeds of that fatal upas tree which strengthened and grew, till its baneful shadow destroyed the very vitality of love! "A word unkind or wrongly taken" the poet has averred to be often the first symptom of decline, and he then adds—
Perhaps such were the germs of the hatred—shall we say the word, but it is true?—that had now sprung up between the lovers. L'Estrange swore eternal hatred to whom? Ellen! He swore vengeance on whom? Lord Wentworth!
His first thought was to proceed at once to the Towers and challenge Lord Wentworth to mortal combat. His second to strive and prevent their union by subtle and well-laid schemes. Second thoughts are best. If he fought the Earl, one of them would certainly fall. Supposing he did! His life was now hateful. He did not care—it might be relief! But then that would not prevent Ellen's being united to his foe. She would forget him—be happy—be loved—be rich—the thought was hell!
Again, supposing he killed his antagonist—she would perhaps die of grief—die cursing him! that would be sweet revenge, but she would not be his any the more; he loved her still, despite his vow: he must possess her, or die! For his second thoughts, if he could prevent their union,—if he could so manage that the Earl married another,—if he could get Ellen to forget, to cease to admire him,—the vanishing spark of love might yet be fanned bright and glowing as it was of yore; she might yet love him again,—she might yet be his bride—his own, his beautiful Ellen! Yes, this was his plan, and she was once more beloved—his vow of endless hatred forgotten! But how was he to effect his purpose? His plot was good, how was it to be carried out? He knew the noble family, but could not presume on his acquaintance. He was a friend of the Captain's, and a bright thought struck him. He would enlist the Captain on his side! He knew him to be a bad man—a deist, or the next thing to it—a hard drinker—a bold blasphemer—'game,' as he said, for anything, however wild.
The last thing in the world the Captain would like was his brother's marriage, as he had contracted vast debts on the presumption of his succeeding to the coronet; but the difficulty was how he could make the plot palatable to this bad man, for unless he was to benefit he knew very well the Captain would first "see him and his plans at the devil!" And one like this, where neither woman nor gold fell to his share, he would never enter into. Could he get some hold over the Captain—something that compromised his liberty, or life—he might have a chance, was his next thought. He knew there was many a crime that could be laid at his door, but woe to the rash fool who dared to do so. There was not such a duellist in the kingdom, and the Captain would call his accuser out and kill him. No, this would never do, and L'Estrange determined to seek sager advice than his own; he therefore resolved to go at once to a strange character who lived near Brighton, William Stacy, or as he was more commonly known—"Dare Devil Bill."
Bill Stacy lived in a lonely house situated between Brighton and Shoreham, and there practised all sorts of illicit trades. Rumour reported Bill to have been a pirate in his younger days, but if any one wished his legacy of six feet of earth, he had only to inquire from Bill the antecedents of his mysterious life. Old Stacy had a reputed daughter named Antonia, quite a belle in the Spanish way. She had an arch, gipsy look in her large black eye; and her jetty hair, white teeth, and the damask colour which tinged her olive cheek made her quite irresistible. Many an eye had paid the homage of speechless admiration to the dark-eyed beauty, many a heartache had she caused to the dashing young officers of the 7th, but few had the hardiness to do more than glance at her face for fear of her father, the old dragon who guarded her bower, and since the day Bill had nigh murdered a young Viscount who had dared kiss her hand, her admirers stood afar off, nor tempted another volley of his ire.
Perhaps my readers may wonder how L'Estrange had become acquainted with such a wild, bad character as Bill. It is enough to say for the present that he had become acquainted, and that a peculiar tie seemed to exist between them. In fact, old Stacy had told L'Estrange as much as to lead him to suppose he, and he only, could unravel some of the mystery that clung to his early life. But he knew Bill's desperate character too well to pry into any of his secrets, and, since he had been threatened with strangulation for once trying to sift matters, thought it best to allow the old sinner to take his own time. Stacy supplied him, in common with others, with tobacco and spirits never christened in a custom-house, duty-free,—indeed he made no secret of his trade, and it was thought the excise officers winked at these illegal practices, and the old man made it worth their while to hold their information secret. Late as it was—now past midnight—L'Estrange prepared to look up this villain, generally easiest found at his own hour of darkness. He therefore ordered his servant to saddle a horse, and accompany him to within a short distance of the smuggler's nest. Pat Malony, his orderly, proceeded to do so, wondering what his master was up to at such a late hour. In those days the discipline of the cavalry was less rigorous than now, and L'Estrange passed unchallenged through the gates, and proceeded at a slow trot along the frozen road westward towards Hove, which he passed, and then quickened his pace till he came within a mile of the Nest, as Stacy's house was called. Here he dismounted, ordered Pat to take care of his horse, and wait till he came back again. Pat lit his pipe, inwardly cursing the freak that left him a sentinel on such a night, and wondering "what the divil dacent folk wanted at this hour of night in a place, if report said true, anything but honest!" Meanwhile L'Estrange ran downwards to the shore over a wild bleak common, till he came to a low-roofed, evil-looking house. A light burning in one window showed the inmates were awake, and with a full heart he approached the lonely dwelling. As he neared the door, he thought he heard laughter and loud talking once or twice; however, undeterred by this not unusual noise, he stood in another moment before the door, and with his riding whip's handle made three or four masonic taps. A loud, hoarse oath was the answer, and he heard footsteps approaching the door from the inside. While he is waiting for admission, we must again take the licence all novel writers are allowed, and shift the scene once more to the Towers. The reason for this interruption will, we hope, be sufficiently explained by the next chapter.
The party at the Towers broke up with the usual precipitancy that characterized the Earl's movements. He himself, accompanied by his sisters, travelled at once to London, where the young ladies were to spend a few weeks with a friend, whilst their brother proceeded to his Court duties at the Pavilion, Brighton. Arranmore had preceded them on his way to the South of Ireland by some days; he hastened thither to prepare his mansion for its future mistress, Lady Edith, soon to be the Marchioness of Arranmore. Frank had received an order to join the 60th, his regiment, then at Southampton, on the point of embarkation for Corfu, the favourite station in the Ionian Isles. We have now only the Captain to dispose of, who, finding the Towers uncommonly dull, set off with Sir Richard to rejoin the 7th at Brighton, and travelled at express speed in a post chaise and four, arriving at the barracks on the very evening L'Estrange was grieving over his misfortunes. The Captain's return was hailed with joy by the whole of his fellow officers, who were a very fast set at best, and too much delighted by the Captain's entertainments not to welcome him back with glee. Even the Colonel, Sir Harry Maynard, a hale, jolly-looking fellow, with white hair and ruddy face, looked forward with joy to De Vere's suppers, where the best wines were drunk and the merriest songs sung. True to his character, the Captain celebrated his arrival by a grand dinner, to which Sir Harry was himself invited, and did full justice to the wines. After this feast the Captain and half a dozen others went to the theatre, which the Prince Regent honoured with his presence that night, and stayed through the first play—a comedy—after which he proposed an adjournment to a neighbouring public-house, which was joyfully acceded to, for the Captain was merriest when over the social glass.
"Well, De Vere," said Major Forster, "and how went jolly Christmas up in the North?"
"So, so, old boy," answered the Captain, who presided at the head of a finely polished oak table, at the same time filling a bumper, and placing a black, little pipe, silver-mounted, on the board—"so, so; the Towers were not as full as usual, but we had some devilish good days. Arranmore was there, and by G—, he drinks like a fish—how did you get on?"
"Famously! the Regent supped with us that night; a rare old buck is he."
"Zounds, and that's true; but what the deuce has become of L'Estrange? I miss his face, by Jove!"
"A ticklish question that, and hard to answer—Lord knows what has come over him; he is quite changed of late—no more the jolly fellow he was—he sits moping and silent in his rooms—I fancy Dame Venus is at the bottom of it."
"Right, Major, and well guessed too," said young Pringle, a lieutenant, "some girl he was soft on has given him the slip, and the poor devil has taken it sadly to heart."
"Egad, and I know who she is," replied the Captain, "and a devilish fine girl she is too—but I wouldn't give a snap for his chances."
"Who? who?" broke in several at once.
"Ask the foul fiend; you don't catch me blabbing," was the laconic reply.
Knowing the Captain's moods, the conversation was immediately altered, and Major Forster proposed a song. "Come, Pringle, let us have the song you sung us last night again. De Vere has never heard it;—first your health, De Vere."
"With pleasure," said the Captain, emptying his glass.
"Now then, come along, old fellow,—out with your song!"
Lieutenant Pringle standing up, and laying aside his cigar, then commenced the following song, in a rich tenor voice:—
"Bravo, Pringle, bravo—what do you think of it, De Vere?"
"A merry song, though somewhat lengthy, Forster. Never mind, Pringle, you did your best, and, egad, sang it capitally."
Other songs were sung, and toasts drunk, when all of a sudden Captain de Vere sprung up with an exclamation, and said he knew where he was off to, and, relighting his black little pipe, he strode towards the door.
"Where are you going, De Vere?" said young Pringle.
"What is that to you? Ask no questions—you know the rest."
"I only asked because I thought I might accompany you."
"Your room, in this instance, is preferable to your company, old boy! So don't any of you follow." And he left the room without even saying good bye.
"What mischief can he be after now?" said Pringle.
"Heaven only knows," answered the Major.
"Ye are baith a pair o' the deevil's peats, I trow—hard token whilk deserves the hettest corner o' his ingle side."—Heart of Mid Lothian.
We left L'Estrange waiting at the door of Stacy's cabin; he heard the bolts within being unbarred, and in another moment the door was opened by Bill himself, who beckoned L'Estrange to enter without even saying a word of recognition, and no sooner had admitted his guest than he began again to bar the door. Bill was somewhat beneath the average height, but this was fully compensated for by his immense breadth of chest, and prodigious physical strength. His hair was lank, black, and matted down on his head; beneath his shaggy eyebrows gleamed piercing grey eyes; he wore neither beard nor moustache, but his whiskers formed what is commonly called a "hangman's collar," and were jagged and dusty with snuff. In his early days Bill's features had not been ill-looking, but time, and a life of hardship and exposure, had made sad ravages. His face was bloated by constant use of intoxicating liquors, weather-beaten by a seafaring life, and bronzed by exposure to a fierce tropical sun. There was something brutal in his manners, sinister and forbidding in his appearance. His brow was disfigured by a ghastly scar, and he looked, what he was in reality, a pirate and smuggler. He was dressed in sailor's costume, a sou'-wester on his head, and a rough pilot jacket buttoned closely round his broad chest. In his mouth he carried a small black cutty pipe, and wore on one of the little fingers of his large tanned hand a diamond ring of immense value.
Whilst this worthy was securing his door, L'Estrange found his way along a dark, narrow passage to old Stacy's storeroom. It was a long, low-roofed chamber, dimly lighted by a ship lamp, which swung from the ceiling, and shed its flickering beams on a strange and varied assortment of smuggled goods. There was only one window, or rather lattice, with small diamond-shaped panes of glass; it was now unsparred, and this had been the light which guided L'Estrange to the door. On the dusky walls hung cutlasses, pistols, and other deadly instruments of warfare, and beneath them were ranged rows of barrels, cases of tobacco, bales of muslin, and other foreign goods, all contraband, and scattered here and there in inextricable confusion. In the corner of the room furthest off a huge mastiff, chained to an empty barrel, which served for its kennel, kept guard over the cabin, and as L'Estrange entered, sprang out to the full length of his chain, growling and barking in the most ferocious manner, and displaying, at the same time, a set of splendid teeth and four terrible fangs. Woe to the intruder who came within chain's length of Fury! It was not, however, the strange medley, nor the desperate look of the apartment, nor the bandog's ire that made L'Estrange start back as if an adder had bitten him—no, it was none of these, he had seen them all before, often and often had he heard the watchdog's challenge. It was another inmate of this den—a face he saw where least he had expected to see it—which made our hero start back! Seated before the fire, which was made of drift-wood, on a barrel of gunpowder with the lid half broken off, displaying the deadly dust to view, sat a young man smoking a small black pipe, mounted in silver. If this pipe has not already betrayed him, our reader will at once recognize him from his short black hair, fierce moustache, and bold dark eye, to be none other than Captain de Vere. Beside him was a small round oak table, on which stood a silver tankard, holding a gallon of strong ale; a bottle of illicit whiskey, with the cork drawn; two toddy glasses, with silver spoons inside them, and several smaller glasses; on the floor lay a corkscrew with a cork still in it. The Captain sat with his eyes bent on the ground, smoking abstractedly, and would probably not have noticed the intruder had it not been for Fury's angry growl. He picked up a piece of drift-wood lying on the hearth, and, glancing towards the enraged animal, exclaimed, "Be still, you black devil," at the same time hurling the piece of wreck, which struck the animal a heavy blow, and sent it howling with pain into its barrel again. Having stilled the dog, the Captain next turned round to see the intruder. If L'Estrange was surprised to see De Vere, no less so was the Captain to see him there.
For some seconds they stared at each other without speaking a word; at last the Captain broke silence by exclaiming: "Well! I'm blowed," at the same time emptying the burning ashes of his pipe on the top of the barrel with the utmost nonchalance. Had one spark fallen into the powder, no one in that room would have ever lived to tell the tale!
"You will be blowed if you don't take care," replied L'Estrange, shuddering with horror at the careless action.
"A truce to your puns, and tell me what in the name of heaven has brought you to such a place at such an hour?"
"I might ask the same question of you, De Vere. I came, however, to see Stacy on some private business."
"So you have steered for old Bill, have you?"
"And what in the name of the foul fiend had you to say to me, my messmate?" muttered the old man, who had since entered the apartment.
"I had much to see you about, Bill—some private business of the greatest consequence."
"Private business be hanged," shouted the Captain, "there are no secrets here; was it with the black-eyed Antonia your private business lay, eh, L'Estrange?"
"No, De Vere, it was on very different matters I wanted Bill's advice."
"Bill's advice—a good one—his advice is the fiend's own counsel," said the Captain, disregarding Bill's angry look, who exclaimed, "And if he wants my advice, why shouldn't he have it, you scoundrel?"
"Stow that, old badger," interrupted the Captain. "Stow that, Bill; no brawling, remember; but I say again, d—n all secrets—out with it, Ned, you know me, I am no sieve."
"But, De Vere, this concerns your own family. I cannot tell it to you yet—by-and-by I may—not now."
"And why not now? If it concerns my family who has a better right to know it? and if I am to know it some day, why not now?"
L'Estrange still hesitated.
"Hark you," said the Captain, rising flushed with anger, and striking the table such a blow with his clenched hand as set all the glasses waltzing, "you shall trifle with me no more: I wish to know that secret, and by heaven I will! Look you here, my fine fellow, no one saw you come in here, and devil a one shall see you go out, unless you turf your secret! it is as safe with me as with Bill, and unless I know it, you never leave this room living."
His whole frame seemed to dilate with passion as he shouted, rather than spoke, these words.
"Out with it, Ned; devil a fear of the Cap's turning traitor, he will rap through right and wrong," said old Bill Stacy.
L'Estrange knowing the desperate character of these two men, and feeling sure they would feel small scruples in fulfilling their threat, should he longer hesitate, thought the best part of valour was discretion, and told them he would make a clean breast of it.
"But, remember, De Vere," said he, "you force me to do it, and you must not grow wrath if you don't like it."
"Small fear of that," said the Captain, reseating himself on the barrel. "Come here, Ned, sit down, make yourself comfortable first. What will you have? ale—whiskey—or old Tom? all here."
"Some whiskey; I am partial to it, I don't know why."
"And capital whiskey it is," said the Captain, pouring him out a glass; "trust Bill for good spirits! And now for the tale; cut along, Ned."
Having emptied his glass, L'Estrange commenced his narrative, and made, as he said, a clean breast of it. During the recital, to have judged by the looks of the two desperates, you would have fancied they had little or no interest in it, and vastly preferred their pipes and the frequent drams they drank; but it was far otherwise, and thoughtless as they looked they were both drinking in every word, sifting every phrase, and turning over the whole in their minds. It was some time ere L'Estrange finished, and a long time elapsed before another word was spoken. The Captain broke silence and said, as he tossed off another dram—
"So ho! sets the wind that way? I thought as much. You love a pretty girl—and she is pretty too—she loves you. My brother comes in—she likes him better—jilts you, and no wonder; most girls would prefer a coronet, when they can get one, to none. And you want to get her back, that's all. Is that your fine secret? Why, Lord bless me, you might have proclaimed that in the market-place."
The Captain laughed bitterly.
"No, that's not all, you forget if your brother marries your hopes of a coronet are for ever gone too."
"Egad," said the Captain, using his favourite expression, "you are right there, Ned; I never thought of that! True, I'd as lief see Wentworth beneath the sod as married. But what is that to you? if the girl don't like you—if she likes him better—you won't get her back. I know the sex well; let one of them take a thing into their heads and they will move heaven and earth till they get it. If Ellen Ravensworth has taken it into her head to be a countess, she is safe to be so, despite you and me, Ned. But you are sure Wentworth gave her that ring?"
"Sure as death."
"Ha! that looks bad! And what are you going to do?"
"That is what I came here for, to find out—that is exactly what I don't know—can you assist me? Let's hear what you can devise, Bill."
"Look you—this here is my advice, trap him—snare 'im—net him—set another girl in his way—a springe to catch woodcocks—eh Ned? get him to marry another girl—get the lass to forget him!"
"Sage advice that, you muddle-pated idiot—that would be a joke! Wentworth marry another—if he must marry, why the devil not Ellen Ravensworth? Well, you are a greater fool than I took you for, Bill."
Stacy gave an angry grunt when he saw his error.
"No, no! Wentworth must not marry, that's flat!"
"How will you prevent him, De Vere?"
"How prevent him? lots of ways! If the thing depended on such thickheaded fools as you and Bill, you would want your lass, as the Scotch say, and Wentworth would not want his. But, thank heaven, you have a wily customer in me, and if I don't bring matters straight call me a fool—an idiot! Now what do you think of this?" he continued, and for several minutes, in a low voice, whispered some dark plan or scheme. The changing expression of L'Estrange's face from gloom and doubt, till at last, when the Captain ceased, he exclaimed with joy, "Bravo! well done! it is the counsel of a Nestor," showed he at least thought well of it, and augured its success.
"You're a gallows bird—a crafty old fox—a rascally dog, you are," said Bill; "and what, my hearty, if I refuse, what if Bill says his daughter shan't?"
"Then I say I'll twist your neck, you old smuggler, and rid the world of such a scoundrel, and be thanked for doing so! that's what I say; so you had best comply."
"Ye dursn't, you dog."
"Daren't I?" said the Captain, springing up from his seat. "Dead dogs tell no tales, and why should I not? I dare anything—I neither fear God nor regard man—I fear neither angel, spirit, nor devil! and think you I fear an old rascal like you?"
Some terrible catastrophe might have happened had it not been for L'Estrange, who saw they were both inflamed with drink; he interposed himself between the brawlers, and tried to make peace by insisting on the Captain accompanying him home, and Bill's appeasing his wrath, saying they had been there quite long enough; the plan was a famous one, and if they left Bill to himself he would soon come round to it.
Muttering indistinct oaths and curses old Bill unbarred the door once more, and let the two friends—if we may so call them—out. Taking L'Estrange's arm, the Captain proceeded with him across the bleak common.
"Are you not glad you told me all, you unbelieving fellow?"
"I am. I hope it will succeed."
"Sure to succeed. By-the-by, how did you come out here? marched like me, I suppose, and a cold tramp we shall have of it," said the Captain, buttoning up his coat.
"No, I rode out."
"Rode, and where the deuce did you leave your horse? If you left it on the common, ten to one some dog of a smuggler has noosed it."
"Never you fear, I brought my man with me, and he is taking care of them."
"He rode too? aha, then, I can ride his nag for him—it will save the grind; that'll do nicely," said the Captain, quickening his pace and advancing to where the man and horses stood. "By Gad he's asleep; I'll freshen him up," said he, laying his riding-whip pretty smartly across the Irishman's shoulders.
When Pat had smoked out his pipe, and found he had no more tobacco to replenish it with, again anathematizing L'Estrange for his nocturnal freaks, he dismounted, and leaning against his charger's side, which proved a capital defence against the cold south-easter that blew chilly over the downs, still white with snow, he actually fell asleep; and in dreamland once more visited his emerald isle, green Erin, and like Campbell's dreaming soldier, hastened to his wife's embrace, and vowed he would leave them no more for a soldier's life! Poor Pat's dream was somewhat rudely broken by the blow of De Vere's whip. Rubbing his eyes he looked round to see his disturber.
"Rouse up, you sleepy dog," said the Captain, as his lash again descended—"rouse up and hold the stirrup for me."
Mechanically the Irishman obeyed, knowing the Captain of old, and he had the mortification of beholding him firmly seated on his horse, and as soon as L'Estrange was mounted they both set off at full gallop towards Brighton, the Captain telling him he might get back the best way he could, and that a double quick would warm him after his slumbers.
"Divil resave 'em for a set of thieves," cried the enraged Paddy, as soon as his tormentor was gone. "A pretty trick to play an honest man—ill luck to 'em both." He then began his solitary plod home over the bleak plains. "An' they niver thought I might be murthered, and not even a dhrap of the rale good stuff to keep the cold out have they left me—ill luck to 'em." With such kindly expressions Pat Malony cheered his way, and after a four mile trudge, reached the barracks at past three in the morning; and as he could not, or would not give an account of himself he was placed in guard for absence without leave, until L'Estrange released him from his prison and comforted the son of Erin's offended pride by a sovereign, for which piece of generosity he was rewarded by as many blessings as he had received cursings the previous night, and assured of Pat's willingness to endure fifty such nightly perambulations.
About a week after this nocturnal adventure, Captain de Vere might have been seen trotting along the King's road with an orderly behind him. He reined his coal-black charger before a handsome mansion, and dismounting rung the bell—it was answered by a footman in the De Vere livery.
"Is my brother, the Earl, at home?"
"He is not, sir—but walk in, Captain de Vere—my Lord bade me ask you to wait for him—my Lord is at a levée, but will be home soon."
"Very well, I'll wait;—you fellow," addressing his orderly, "wait for me."
The Captain never considered how long he kept any one waiting. The door was shut, and he followed the servant up a grand flight of stairs till they arrived at Lord Wentworth's study—a warm, comfortable little room. On the escritoire in the centre of the room lay many official letters, and state papers—several blank warrants signed by authority lay on one side. On these the Captain at once glanced with an air of surprise, and ill-concealed joy—"James, bring me a bottle of wine and some glasses—and biscuits—and James, the papers."
"Immediately, sir," said the servant, leaving the room. No sooner was he gone than the Captain appropriated one of these warrants.
"He will never miss one—there are more than a dozen—it may be of use some day—nothing like two strings to one's bow," he muttered, as he folded up the warrant and put it inside his cigar-case. Scarcely had he done so ere the servant returned with the creature comforts he had ordered. "Draw the cork, and now begone with you."
"Nothing else, sir?"
"No, sirrah, nothing."
"I may as well make myself jolly," said the Captain to himself. "If Wentworth's at a levée it will be a long time ere he comes back," and suiting the action to the word he drew a small chess-table to the fire: on this he placed the wine and biscuits; he then seated himself in an easy chair—placed his feet on another—and lighting a cigar began to read the papers—occasionally taking a glass of port wine with evident gusto—"Trust Bill for nabbing good wine."
Several times during the hour he awaited his brother, an observer might have seen him stride across the room to the window, which looked out on a side street running up from the sea,—make some masonic sign to some one on the opposite side, and, apparently satisfied with the result, return to his wine and newspaper.
"Curse this delay," said the Captain, striking his sword on the fender as the clock struck two.
But at the same moment the door of the apartment opened, and the Earl entered in his robes.
"Well, Jack," he exclaimed, "you make yourself comfortable."
"Always do so," was the curt reply, as he lit his third cigar.
"And have you waited long?"
"I believe you—just a mortal hour have I been here," looking at his watch—"however, I was as well here as out in the cold."
"I have been at a levée or would have been here before."
"How is the Regent?"
"Never was better in his life—he seems to have renewed his youth since last summer. Is there any news? I have not seen the papers yet to-day."
"Devil a bit except Frank's battalion left in the Miranda for the Mediterranean. Egad, they'll catch it 'in the Bay of Biscay O!' if it is blowing like this," said the Captain, whistling the chorus of that song, and once more approaching the window.
"What are you looking at?" asked the Earl, after the Captain had stayed some seconds at the window, evidently regarding something with the greatest interest.
"By George—look—quick—there, she's gone!"
"What—where—who's she—where is she gone?" exclaimed the Earl, hurrying to have a sight.
"Wait a minute; she'll be back again, I'll be bound—talk of beauties—I did see a stunner."
"Where? which window?" said the Earl, who dearly loved to see a pretty face.
"There, at that window—the one with the red curtains—get your glass quick, she'll be back in a minute—make haste, here she comes—oh, Gad!"
In a moment the Earl was back, too, with an opera glass, through which he gazed at a stylish girl who stood at the opposite window, apparently unconscious that she was an object of such attention. She was about the average height—slightly inclined to embonpoint, with a full and beautiful bust. She was dressed in black silk, which, drawn tightly over her breast, showed off her figure to perfection. Her hair, black as the raven's wing, and platted in two broad bands, was drawn back behind her small, prettily-shaped ears, from which dropped sparkling pendants, and tied by a scarlet ribbon which contrasted well with the ebon locks it bound;—two tresses were suffered to escape this bandage, and waved in a negligé manner over her bosom. Large lustrous eyes, fringed by long, silken lashes, and the damask hue that tinted her olive cheek betrayed the child of sunnier climes than England. Her lips had a slight pout and saucy expression, and in her hand she fluttered a fan with all the grace of an Andalusian belle.
"Let's have a look, Wentworth—you are monopolizing the glass; confound it! there, she is gone, and I have not had 'ane keek' as old Andrew would say,—hard lines, by Jove!"
"She is evidently Spanish," said the Earl, regardless of the Captain's remark.
"I know that," said he.
"How! you seem to know more of her than you would make believe?"
"Shot if I know a bit more than you do," replied the Captain, seeing his error, "any fool could see she was Spanish—she's jolly pretty, whatever she is. Egad, what eyes! I could have lit my pipe at them! Now to my mind she is a far jollier girl than even your inamorata, Ellen Ravensworth—so much passion in her eyes! 'Oh, never talk again to me of northern climes and British ladies.'"
"I hope you don't mean to compare her with Miss Ravensworth, a high born Scotch lady? Compare Ellen with a girl like that, a mere fancy girl, I'll stake high."
"Blowed if I care whether she be a fancy girl, or a fancy anything else; she has taken my fancy I know, and I shall think you an uncommon fool if you don't look after her."
"I shall certainly make inquiries who and what she is. Pierre, my valet, will find out everything—he is a clever ferret."
"Egad, you're right there," answered the Captain, laughing in his sleeve at the bait taking so well. "I know Wentworth's weak point," he muttered to himself, and then said aloud, "And now, as she doesn't seem inclined to vouchsafe us another glance—what is the order of the day? Confound it! there comes that vile snow on again!"
"I have a good deal of business to transact one way and another. Ah! here's Smith, my secretary," said the Earl, as he heard a knock at the door; "Come in."
The door opened, yet it was not Smith that entered, but a tall, middle-aged gentleman, immensely stout, and still in the full vigour of health and strength. He walked like a king—and such he was, or was soon at least to be, already king in everything but name; his full ruddy face and double chin gave him a jolly aspect, and his star and garter proclaimed him to be none other than George Prince Regent.
"How are you again, my Lord Wentworth? How d'you do, my bully boy? Wild as ever, eh! De Vere?"
"May it please your Royal Highness, I never was more flourishing, and am right glad to see my Prince so hearty."
"Sit down, my Lord—sit down, Captain, no ceremony! I'll take wine," said the Regent, filling a bumper, and draining it off to their health. "Wentworth," he continued, "I sup with you to-night—is eleven too early?"
"Whatever hour suits your Royal Highness, suits me," answered the Earl.
"And look you," said the Regent, "look out some boon fellows—let's have a merry time of it. I leave that to you, De Vere: au revoir till then."
The Captain attended the Prince to his favourite pony phaeton, and then ran upstairs again, put on his fur skin busby, and mounted his horse, after keeping his unlucky servant nearly two hours in the snow.
We must no longer weary our readers with further details of life at Brighton; but as we must faithfully recount not only the virtues, but the follies of our heroes, we are truly sorry to have to tell our readers that Lord Wentworth not only succeeded in finding out who the fair Spaniard (in whom we readily recognize Antonia Stacy, though under the assumed name of Juana Ferraras), was, but he also succeeded in prevailing upon the weak girl, who was taught to play her part so well, and who could not resist the temptations of a rich and handsome young peer, to accept his suit. The Earl's weak point, as the Captain judged, was the other sex, and while he blamed himself for his folly, and often wondered what Ellen Ravensworth would think if she knew all, he had not the moral courage to withstand this young girl's fascination. However, like all unhallowed affections, strong as his first admiration was, it had not the strength to stand the test of time; and the fancy, short-lived as it was violent, soon died away, and he became tired of her who had given her all for his sake. He also found it a most expensive affair, but this was not Juana's fault, but was due to the Captain's guile, who made her the medium by which he drew his brother's purse to a frightful extent, finding a little ready money was the very best means he had in his power of silencing the clamour of his creditors, and keeping brutal duns quiet. After about three weeks the Court returned to town, and the Earl and his brother hastened also to London in order to be present at the marriage of their sister Lady Edith to the Marquis of Arranmore. The ceremony, graced by the presence of royalty itself, came off with great éclat, and the happy pair started at once for the South of Europe, to spend their honeymoon at the Villa Reale at Naples, under a warmer sun and more genial clime than England afforded at that season. Villa Reale was one of the Earl's seats, and he insisted on his brother-in-law accepting it as his residence whilst at Naples. Captain de Vere as well as L'Estrange were charmed at first to see how well the plot turned out; they were, however, rather disconcerted—at least L'Estrange was, the Captain having another string to his bow—by the Earl's tiring so soon of the fair donna's charms. Their scheme was, if they could induce him to take her with him to Scotland, to threaten to prove a Scotch marriage. This they knew the Earl would never acknowledge, but, as it would be binding in law, Ellen Ravensworth would be left free, and probably disgusted, at her lover's faithlessness, might yet return to L'Estrange, whilst the Captain would have the better chance of succeeding to his brother's envied coronet, and still more envied fortune.
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,—
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.
Only those who have viewed the white cliffs of Albion sink beneath the circumambient waters, only those who have left Old England on the lee in their out-bound vessel, can fancy the unspeakable emotion, or depict the melancholy feelings with which we first bid our island adieu. We are islanders; all our ideas are severed like our land from other nations; we glory in our insulated position; we glory in our insulated manners; and there breathes not son nor daughter—or if they breathe they deserve not the name of Briton—who does not acutely feel the first severing from home. It is the feeling of the child weaned from the maternal breast—the lover parted from his love—the dying man trembling as he is launched on the sea of futurity; the firm land is gone—the known exchanged for the unknown, or at least dimly shadowed future; above angry skies—beneath unfathomed depths—around faithless waves—and behind the land of our love fast receding, perhaps never to be seen again, or seen when the fire of youth has smouldered low—the energy of youth has been exchanged for the caution of age—and dull reality has shown how vain the dreams of childhood! Looking on the receding shore we feel all our friends are there, and all going away—there all our hopes, our home, our affections. The vessel bears away our mortal frame; the immortal soul lingers behind, nothing can bear it away, nor the heart that is left behind, however far the foot may roam. How full are our feelings, as we ask with the poet,—
Such were the feelings of Ellen Ravensworth as the packet which bore them left the quiet harbour of Newhaven, and in one minute plunged into the restless, rolling billows of our channel. Having had to wait for the tide, it was already growing dusk when they weighed anchor; the last embers of dying day tipped the crested waves with an uncertain glimmer, and the crescent moon hung in the only clear break of the sky over the west, from which quarter rather a brisk breeze hurried the yeasty waves past: it was, however, a mild, soft wind, and remarkably warm for the season; so Ellen prevailed on her father to allow her to remain on deck, and catch the last glimpse of her native island. Wrapt in a warm Scotch plaid, in a half-reclining attitude, she leant over the vessel's side, and watched her plough her way with full swelling sails towards France. Beside her stood her father, talking to the captain, a bluff, kindhearted sailor, who had voyaged over the round world, and was busily engaged in detailing some of his adventures, or, as sailors would say, spinning a long yarn. But Ellen heeded not their conversation; her heart was far away, as from time to time she lifted her blue eyes, moist with tears, on the lessening shores and giant chalk cliffs that loomed ghost-like and mysteriously through the gloaming.
Though Scotch, Ellen had imbibed all the national feelings for those white cliffs, associated from earliest times with this country's history;—the same cliffs that beheld the ancient Briton paddle his basket-work coracle,—the same cliffs that twice saw the haughty Roman conqueror Julius Cæsar,—that saw the Saxon with fair hair and blue eyes land on the envied isle,—that beheld the fiery Dane,—the proud Norman,—and, later still, the Spanish Armada sail by in false vainglory,—later still the victorious Wellington welcomed home, whilst drums played, "See the conquering hero comes." Though Scotch, Ellen felt towards them a kindred love, as she saw and now lost them again in the murky night, for the first time in her young life. England and Scotland were one now: all petty distinctions were lost—all party failings, all rancour forgotten; it was the same island, the same home; on its dimly-seen shores were centred all her affections; her hopes and fears were all there; her brother and sister; her relatives and friends; her house and home. He, too, was there; he who had so cruelly deserted her; he who had won her heart, and, when tired of it, thrown it away, as the child flings his broken toy. Despite all, she loved, she adored him yet, and to leave him gave the most venomed point to the shaft of affliction. With heart full to bursting—so full it seemed as if a tight band was drawn round it—and feelings those who have felt them know, but cannot describe, she watched the red harbour-light dip often, and at last sink beneath the bounding surges. And when all was gone, the last lingering link broken, tears all unbidden fast coursed our heroine's cheek, and she scarcely heard her father, who, fearing the effect of the cold night air on his daughter, was anxious to hurry her below.
"It is getting cold, Ellen, dear; had you not better descend to the cabin, now? Captain Hardy and I will assist you, as the sea is getting pretty rough."
Ellen rose without answering; and, with the jolly captain's help, who was only too glad to give his hand to the Scotch belle, and said many pretty things, praising her as the best sailor he had ever taken across the Channel, reached her berth.
The sea got rougher every minute, and the groaning and creaking of the planks, the shrill whistling of the wind through the cordage, and the occasional shout of the pilot, were sounds sufficient to instil terror into landsmen's minds; but both Mr. Ravensworth and his daughter proved excellent sailors; and Ellen's mind was too busy with other things to bestow more than a passing thought on her present situation. Whilst her father, with the captain and two other passengers, engaged in a friendly rubber at whist over their grog, she amused herself by listening to the chat of the stewardess, a pretty little Frenchwoman, whose vivacity helped to dispel her sad thoughts, whilst it also gave her an opportunity of testing her powers in French conversation, which, however little it satisfied herself, was declared to be beyond all praise by the Frenchwoman, with her natural politeness. Ellen was, however, a really finished French scholar, and only required a month or two in Paris, as her companion told her, to become quite perfect in pronunciation.
In a few hours, after a pleasant though somewhat rough passage, the motion of the vessel ceased, and all the passengers hurried on deck, and in the gray twilight of the early dawning reached Dieppe. There was nothing peculiarly foreign in the appearance of this place, and, had it not been for the French cries which assailed our travellers' ears, they might have almost fancied themselves at Newhaven again, so similar was the appearance of the chalk downs. After a cursory examination of passports and baggage by the custom-house officers, who did everything in the politest manner, our friends, accompanied by Jean Lacroix, their courier, disembarked, and Ellen stood on foreign land. The porters of the various cafés beset them on all sides, offering to carry monsieur's luggage, and each recommending his own café or hotel. Jean, however, was well up to his trade, and, engaging the right man, led his charges to a small café on the quay side, where they might breakfast, and then proceed to the post-house, and set out on their journey at once.
The first insight Ellen had into foreign life was not a very flattering one: sour bread, and very indifferent milk and butter, accompanied, however, with excellent coffee, composed their matutinal meal. Jean begged mad'moiselle not to think Dieppe was like Paris.
On their way to the post-house, they passed the market-place, where numbers of carts, and peasants in blue vestments, crowded the square; on one side of which stood a fine Gothic cathedral; here, too, Ellen saw a band of soldiers, in their red trousers, blue coats, and red caps. Their full, leg-of-mutton-shaped trousers, slight figures drawn in tightly at the waist, and rapid, undisciplined-looking march, contrasted with the Highland regiments she had been accustomed to, certainly when weighed in the balance of her mind were found wanting. The gay little soldiers seemed to regard her tall figure with equal surprise. Ellen's first insight into the French army was not very encouraging, but Jean assured her the Cuirassiers in Paris were equal to any soldiers in the world.
By this time their travelling carriage was ready, and Ellen was not sorry to turn her back on dirty little Dieppe. The carriage was large and roomy, though not on the easiest springs in the world, drawn by four noble horses, whose magnificent appearance required no courier to point out as worthy her admiration; and she frankly acknowledged, to Jean's delight, she had seen no post horses at all like them even in Old England.
As it is not our intention to weary our reader with a journal of our friends' travels to Switzerland, we shall briefly glance over the journey.
Passing through a down country very like the south of Sussex or Kent, their road soon became more interesting as they approached the rich pastures and orchards for which Normandy is celebrated; and the tall poplars which often fringed the road, and occasional glimpses of the Seine, with its green islands, and now and then a vineyard on a southern aspect, interested Ellen not a little during her first stage to Rouen. In this fine old town she was doubly interested, by viewing the city sacred to the memories of our Norman line, and the ill-fated Joan of Arc; she saw also the tomb where the heart of Lion Richard lies, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the fine church of St. Ouen. A longer day's journey brought them to Paris, and so pretty was the country between, that our heroine was almost sorry when the capital of la belle France appeared. There they stayed two days, which they spent in seeing the sights of this wonderful city—but as Switzerland was the point to which they hurried, and Mr. Ravensworth was unwilling to lose the advantage of the wonderfully fine warm weather in any town, he soon left the dissipated city, and pushed on by long stages to Bâle, which he reached late on the evening of Saturday, and intended to spend Sunday there. It was a beautiful evening, and Ellen was indeed charmed with the first sight of the Rhine's broadly swelling breast of waters, rushing swiftly beneath the very windows of their hotel. It was the largest river, of course, she had ever seen, and its clear light green waters, eddying round the pillars of the bridge, partly built of stone and partly of wood, on account of the ice, impressed an image on her mind's eye time would take long to obliterate, if it ever could. Bâle seemed the first really foreign looking town, and the houses not unlike those of the old town of Edinburgh, though certainly more neat and clean, quite took the love of her Caledonian mind.
On the following evening Ellen hailed Lucerne on its own beautiful lake; and if Bâle had pleased, Lucerne charmed her. Here they lingered a day and saw the strange Kapell Brücke, with its pictures of the deeds of saints and warriors of Swiss celebrity, and, more wonderful still, the monumental lion, sculptured out of the living rock in commemoration of the brave Swiss guard, slaughtered in defending the Tuileries in 1792. The aspect of the dying lion, with the broken spear in its side, from which is welling his life-blood, yet defending in its dying agonies the shield of France, is the most touching and beautiful design ever perfected by art.
But it was not these, nor the pretty village, that charmed Ellen, it was the lake so still, so green, so transparent—it was the mountain guards that rose around—the rocky mountain where tradition says the unhappy Pilate ended a miserable existence, and which still bears his name, and is nearly always the resting-place of clouds, whilst every other hill shows clear, as if an evil nature belonged to it—Rigi, cut out against the clear blue sky, on whose summit yonder knoll, diminished by its height to a mole-hill, is the grand hotel which wayfarers up this hill rest at—and further up the lake still glimpses of the higher Alps of Schwytz and Engelberg, with their diadems of everlasting snow;—it was these, and other hills all mirrored in the still lake, that shone like a looking-glass below, that charmed the Scotch eye, to which all scenery, lacking the Scotch hills, is tame and domestic. Early next morning, having procured a boat and two strong Swiss rowers, our travellers were pulled up the lake as far as Kussnacht, a small Alpine village at the foot of the Rigi, from which village they were to make the ascent. Ellen, seated on a sure-footed Swiss pony, with a sturdy boy to guide it, and Mr. Ravensworth and Jean with their Alpenstocks, both excellent mountaineers, soon accomplished the ascent, neither very difficult nor arduous; but ere they reached the summit they were enveloped in clouds that drifted thicker and thicker around them, and precluded all hopes of seeing the sunset; rather a disappointment, but a very common one to Alpine mountain climbers. The merry conversation of a large party composed of English, Germans, Americans, and a few French and Italians, and the excellent table d'hote passed away a long evening very happily, and all retired with the hopes that Sol would be more auspicious next morning.
At five o'clock the shrill blasts of a Swiss horn roused every sleeper, and wrapt in blankets or whatever they could easiest lay their hands upon, a motley crew hastened to see the sun rise from the Kulm, or summit. The morning air was clear as crystal, cold, and invigorating,—all augured well. Not a cloud, not a misty wreath, not a speck studded the blue arch of heaven. It was not darkness nor shadow, but a clear obscurity that hung like a veil over nature; beneath, the lakes were like a black mirror, the valleys dark; around, the snowy Alps were clearly defined against the sky, and not a vestige of fog nor mist lay on their sides; even Mont Pilate had for once dropped his cloudy cap, and his sharp forehead of rocks was cut out against the dark firmament. Above hung the morning star, and a thin silver thread, the waning moon was dropping behind distant Jungfrau. About fifty people, among whom we recognize Ellen and her father, watched for the sun with all the earnestness of the Ghebers hastening to pay their morning devotions to the god of day. Soon a growing brightness tinted the east where the hills were lowest; and now it was no longer to the east, but to the giant Alps of the Bernese chain westward that every eye is turned, for there will be seen the first streak with which Pallantias' finger shall stain nature. Soon the highest peak of the Bernese giants catches the first rosy pink of dawn—then alp after alp owns the blush of day, and flashes back the golden glory, and as the sun himself wheels above the hills his beams are cast lower and lower; ridge after ridge grows bright; even gloomy Pilate smiles in his ray, and the valleys beneath with rivers, woods, and plains become more and more distinct, till they burst into sunshine, and then the whole panorama above and below revels in the warm beams, from the mighty Eiger, giant of Bern, to the lakes from which mists now rise, and float like wool far beneath. After a parting gaze our friends, in common with others, left the Kulm, and after partaking of a cheerful breakfast, descended on the other side of the Rigi to Weggis, where again they took a boat and rowed to the summit of the lake, whose scenery grew still grander and more romantic as they passed Tell's lovely chapel, and neared Fluellen, where they took an early table d'hote, being desirous of hurrying forward to the Hospenthal that day.
Leaving Fluellen about two o'clock they proceeded in an open carriage drawn by three horses along a pretty road with fruit and walnut trees on either side, Swiss chalets and mountains all covered with woods on the left, and sloping fields running down on the right towards the river of Reuss. The afternoon was intensely hot, and the sun beat down with great fierceness into the valley; our travellers also were much annoyed by gnats and gadflies. Passing the small village of Altorf, famous for Tell's exploit, the road nears the Reuss, and is very pretty, owing to the walnut trees that fringe its sides, till they reached Amstäg where horses were changed. The road then began gradually to ascend, crossing the Reuss several times. The river now began to grow into a wild mountain torrent, steeper grew the ascent now and steeper, and the Alps closed in the valley, till it became a scene of wildness and great desolation. Here and there the ragged rocks overhung the road, as it toiled upwards, and often galleries were cut through ledges that crossed the path. Upward still the carriage went, and light soon began to fail them in the regions most dismal.
Ellen and her father now got out of the carriage, and walked up the steep incline, leaving their vehicle behind them. As the road wound round and round, they often saw it far below them, a speck on the white road, dimly seen in the darkness growing every minute deeper, and by-and-by the sharp crack of the driver's whip, that echoed like a pistol shot, or the peculiar song of the Switzer who drove, with its falsetto notes, only told them where it was, unless they caught a glimpse of the lamps creeping upwards. Star after star broke out on high, and soon the whole sky was one glorious canopy of flashing, glittering lights, far more brilliant than Ellen had ever seen them in the misty north. Soon they approached the part called the Devil's Bridge, where a thin single arch spans the dismal gulf, through which the impetuous stream now roared. Rent rocks on either side along whose ridges ran their road, and the stream foaming in misty white beneath—gloomy caverns through which from time to time lay their path, beetling depths spanned by thread-like bridges, and high above the spectral snow peaks, and rugged rocks on whose sterile sides not even the pine could find sustenance; all presented a scene of savage grandeur—lone, desolate, and loveless magnificence too nearly allied to our heroine's state of mind, not to find in her a sympathizer. She took a kind of melancholy delight in gazing on the gap of desolation through which the mad torrent thundered, and only compared it to her own frame of mind. At a late hour the travellers reached the Hospenthal, where a comfortable supper awaited them. The sharp mountain air at this elevated position sharpened all their appetites, and Mr. Ravensworth fancied he already saw a change for the better in his daughter's appearance.
Instead of crossing the pass of St. Gothard, which was Mr. Ravensworth's first intention, in order to see the north of Italy, Jean advised them to take advantage of the cloudless fine weather and see the Alps better by making the tour of the Oberland. Accordingly, next day having procured ponies, as the carriage road went no further, they set off at an early hour, and reaching Realp, crossed a small rivulet, and proceeded on a mere bridle path along the steep sides of the Sidli Alp, leaving St. Gothard and its glaciers behind them; and with Finstaarhorn conspicuous among his lofty brethren in front, and the beautiful, but ragged rocky peaks of the Galenstock on the right, ere long halted at the Furca, where they rested an hour. Descending on the other side, with the Finstaarhorn showing magnificently, every peak cut out against the clear sky, they soon reached the Rhone glacier, taking its rise from the shoulder of Galenstock, and, as in descending it filled the vale, becoming more wonderful; from its white birthplace of eternal snows, to the dirty moraine in which it ended, brindled, cracked, and split into crevasses, emitting glorious blue rays of light, by its downward way over the rocks whose hardened mass the huge glacier ground and polished. Beneath from a cave of ice flowed the cold beginnings of the blue exulting river of Geneva. It seemed a fit birthplace for the mighty river, and as Ellen gazed on the Rhone's cold and icy cradle, still frozen amid the green valley, still unthawing under the genial sunshine, it seemed to emblematize her present position. Her heart was cold and loveless as that icy glacier, yet from that chilling mass burst the living waters that spread plenty over sunny plains; and she thought, and it was a comforting thought, that perhaps from her misery might spring a stream of events as glorious. Already her woe had softened her heart: was it the beginning of the stream which should "make glad the city of our God?"
Leaving the wonderful glacier that had awakened such thoughts, their road now lay up a remarkably steep mountain side across a path rugged with stones, and often down steps cut in the naked rock, till our party reached the Lake of the Dead, a desolate and lonely sheet of water fed by the snows, and so called from the bodies of unfortunate travellers who lost their lives in the pass being thrown into its cold dark waters. After passing this lake, and occasionally treading over masses of eternal ice and snow, a steep and toilsome descent brought our weary travellers to the Grimsel, a hospice lying in a small valley, sufficiently elevated, however, to be beyond the region of vegetation. After the rest of the night they again commenced their descent, and after some hours again hailed some stunted trees; which increased in size as they went lower, till they were once more surrounded by woods. The Aar, down whose stream their path long lay, was gradually increasing into a fine river, and at Handek Ellen saw the beautiful waterfall with its iris hovering above in the midst of the waters. From thence the path lay through verdant pastures and real Swiss pastoral scenery, numerous little chalets dotting the green hill sides, which stretched upwards to the everlasting snows. The peasants were busy at haymaking, and the sweet breath of the hay, the tinkling of the flock's bells, or the wild glee of some Swiss maiden, were all sweet and gentle sounds and sights after the stern sublimity, and the roaring torrents they had so lately left. A long but pleasant ride brought them to Reichenbach as the sun was setting.
Early next day the trio started for Grindelwald, and on their way made a slight detour to see the lovely glacier of Rosenlaui, under whose clear ice cavern they went, and once more remarked the wonderful blue lights of the crevasses and clefts. The scenery here was grand and beautiful in the extreme; as the ponies wound their upward way Wellhorn and glittering Wetterhorn filled the gap of the valley rough with woods. Wetterhorn in shape like a pyramid of the most perfect form, the icy crown sparkling like diamonds in the sun, defined with a clearness, not to be credited till seen, against the cloudless dark blue sky. From Grindelwald, where Ellen saw a noble dog of the Saint Bernard's breed, they ascended the pass of the Great Scheideck and went over the Wengern Alp, passing the very foot of the Virgin Jungfrau, with Wetterhorn, Wellhorn, and the giant Eiger standing like sentinels around them as they pryed into the secrets of the everlasting hills. On this day they heard the thundering avalanche, and saw its shattered mass bound like a cataract down the rocky precipices, with a roar we could not credit the silver thread gliding down those black rocks capable of making, till we remember that what seems like dust of snow is tons of solid ice, and what look to us like grass or moss on the hillside, are mighty pines, so much does vastness deceive our senses! Here, too, Ellen heard the melody of the Swiss horn echoed in indescribable sweetness from the snowy peaks—tossed from hill to vocal hill, till so attenuated does the thread of tone become, the ear loses its "linked sweetness long drawn out," yet knows not when it faded, and fancy prolongs the chord even after the Alps have forgotten it. A tremendous pathway down the Wengern alp, so steep that they had to leave their horses and pursue it on foot, brought them to Lauterbrunnen, a wonderful valley with cliffs on all sides, shut in by the now distant Jungfrau. Down the precipitous sides glance many streams, conspicuous amongst all the Staubbach or Dust fall. From this valley a pleasant drive of about nine miles brought our party to Interlachen, where they stayed over the Sunday, and on Monday drove along the banks of the lovely Lake of Thun, whose scenery was of a softer nature and more like Ellen's native lochs. At any other time she would probably have preferred this style to the sterile scenery they had left, but now her mind rather dwelt on the grand and desolate region she had lately seen, than on the softer beauty of Thun, and when they reached Kandersteg Ellen hailed with delight the hoary Alps she now looked on almost as friends.
Next day they rode up the Gemmi Pass, and when they had surmounted the steep ascent, lunched at the desolate inn of the Schwarenbach, the scene of a terrible murder, near the ice-fed waters of Dauben See; dismounting they began the hazardous and wonderful descent of the Gemmi. The road was not then, as now, defended by balustrades, and as the zigzag pathway wound downwards round and round, it led them over the face of a precipice to the valley below, and often made our heroine almost giddy to look at the depths beneath, and the threatening rocks above, as she seemed like a fly scaling down a wall. The scene and panorama were splendid; beneath was the village of Leukerbad, the houses of which were small as gravel in appearance, and in front the glorious chain of the Alps separating Valais from Italy, Monte Rosa, Weisshorn, and the bare rocky summit of the Matterhorn, or Mount Cervin, and a hundred lesser peaks rose like clouds before, and presented one of the most wonderful views abroad. At Leukerbad Mr. Ravensworth stayed a day to rest, and saw the curious baths and echelles, or ladders, by which the people in the valley communicate with a small village on the heights above. Thence a fine drive down a road along the Dala brought them to Leuk, and crossing the Rhone, now grown a considerable stream, but shorn of its beauty by the debris of winter floods scattered around its many streams, they gained the splendid Simplon road, along which easy stages brought them to the head of Geneva, and Villeneuve, whence they proceeded to Vevay, where they were to make a stay of a week.
Many an excursion did Ellen and her father make on blue Leman, and went over the ground of Chillon, and many another place, made hallowed soil by Byron's and Voltaire's, Rousseau's and Gibbon's genius. Childe Harold was the text-book on these occasions. It was on one of these excursions Ellen fell in with her old friends, Lord and Lady Arranmore, who were touring Geneva on their way home from Naples. English people naturally draw together when abroad; and Ellen and the young Marchioness used to make many an evening ramble together, while the Marquis and Mr. Ravensworth rode out in the surrounding country. From Vevay the whole party travelled together to Geneva, where they put up at the same hotel, and were to stay a week also; here again their excursions continued. The eventful nature of one of these evening sails demands another chapter, in consequence of the influence it has on the history of our heroine.
"What a delightful evening this is!" said Lady Arranmore to Ellen Ravensworth, as their boat, whose wing-like sails not a breath filled, was rowed slowly up clear Leman by the measured splash of the oars, over which bent two stout Switzers. "How exquisite is every tint of mountain, lake, and cloud! it was surely on a sister evening to this that Lord Byron penned those beautiful lines in Childe Harold? Listen, Miss Ravensworth," continued the young Marchioness, as she opened a handsomely bound pocket edition of that poem, and in a sweet clear voice read the following stanza:—
Ellen listened abstractedly without reply, as if her mind was too filled with beauty to speak, and preferred silent adoration. The slight felucca-like craft, in which our young friends glided over the glassy surface of the dark-blue lake, was now some miles from Geneva, whose white palaces rose clearly above the waters, and were doubled in apparent height by their perfect reflection below. To the left frowned the black chain of Jura, and on the right beyond the Salève—dear to Ellen from its wonderful resemblance to the Salisbury crags of modern Athens—rose, cloud-like, "the monarch of mountains," throned high above the many aiguilles that stood like courtiers around their king. The summits of these Alps were distinctly reflected in the indigo depths beneath their boat, though a distance of fifty miles severed the admirers from their mirror.
The sun had already set, the evening star shone silvery over the west glowing with the lingering daylight; the valleys lay already robed in gloom; the lake shadowed; but the far heights of Mont Blanc still showed sunny peaks, and presented a strange contrast to "darkened Jura." Not a zephyr was awake—not a flaw disturbed the serenity of the waters, broken only by the dip of the oar which, as it touched the dark surface, made the waters flash with a blue light inconceivable to those who have never viewed this lake. The useless sails of the picturesque little craft resembled the wings of a sea-gull, or some other bird, calmly suspended a moment ere closed to rest. Towards the upper end of the lake the Alps descending rise more perpendicularly from the surface, and looked like grim sentinels watching over a fairy fountain. As the lake is crescent-shaped this part was of course hidden; but from behind the slight eminence that sloped down to the right bank, the sails of a similar craft were visible, and from them the clear notes of the silver bugle, mellowed into softness by the distance, rose with an indescribable sweetness, and died away in soft decay along the tranquil waters. There is something peculiarly delicious in music on the waters, and as the strains rose or fell in softest cadence our heroine listened with an earnestness as if it was the minstrelsy of angels. The musician was probably English if we might judge by the song he selected:—"There is no place like Home." Whilst it lasted the very boatmen, as if loath to lose one note, bent over their suspended oars, and the young friends looked at each other but spoke not. At last the dying fall grew fainter and fainter, till it entirely ceased, but was once more taken up and echoed among the vocal hills ere silence again brooded.
"Ah, how true that is, Lady Arranmore," said Ellen; "is it not? Beautiful as this land is, it is not home; and whilst our lips may say there is no scene like this in the land of our birth, yet our heart belies our words, and whispers, 'There is no place like home.'"
"True, Miss Ravensworth; yet you must remember we are here for our own pleasure, we are not like the exile, or the emigrant, unable to return;—we can hasten back when we please, and find the smiles of friends all the brighter after a slight absence. I fear you are unhappy, and look on the shady instead of the sunny side of life, and bend your eye rather toward yonder dark-browed Jura, than to the sunlit crest of Mont Blanc."
"And yet, Lady Arranmore, how cold is that peak of snow!—rosy though it be it only reflects the light and warmth it cannot feel. I have sometimes thought my heart was like that snowy height; in all perhaps except the imperishable pureness of its tint. To my mind there is something melancholy, almost distressing, in an evening like this; the last loveliness, the dying glory which lingers a few moments ere darkness lowers. It seems to tell us not to trust the smile of fortune, but to recollect how a night, whose darkness passeth not away, comes after."
"Now, on the contrary, I look on the evening as a pledge of a brighter morrow, and as I view the sinking sun I think how he will rise again more gloriously."
"Perhaps you take the right view; but what can you know of sorrow, Lady Arranmore? wedded to the man you love, gifted with all the blessings of life, the world as it were at your feet, beauty, rank, youth, health, and riches all yours; your cup is surely full?"
"And in what do you differ, Miss Ravensworth? are you not also beautiful, more beautiful than I am, at least I know one who thinks so; if you are not so rich, if you own not so proud a name, it only remains for you to court and gain them; and remember to be rich is not to be happy, to be great is not to be joyful."
"And know you not that it is in the heart, and nowhere else that happiness must be found in order to enjoy life? if the heart is sad, what shall make its bearer smile?"
"Then it is some cross in love, some blighted affection that makes you so melancholy, so unlike the Ellen I met last Christmas? Tell me your woe as a friend, let me sympathize with your grief. It is not good to bear it alone. Come, Miss Ravensworth,—come, Ellen, let me so call you,—tell me as you would tell your friend."
For some moments Ellen was silent—the hour had come at last—could she only summon courage and unburden her heart, could she make a confidante of the sister of him she loved?
"No!" she exclaimed, at last. "No, dear Lady Arranmore, do not think me unfriendly, but it may not be; let me bear my cross alone; One far higher than I will support me—why should I not?"
"Nay, Ellen," said the Marchioness, deeply interested in her young friend. "Nay, you mistake, even He confided His sorrows to His disciples."
"If you love me, Lady Arranmore, desist; if you knew how every word pierces my heart like an arrow, you would not speak so! Let us change the subject; tell me about Naples, and the blue Mediterranean; tell me," she continued, mastering her feelings, "when the second happy event is to take place; when the Earl, your brother's marriage with Lady Alice is to be celebrated?"
Though she strove to ask this question in a careless manner, as though it concerned her not, her voice so quivered and faltered towards the end of the sentence, that Lady Arranmore rather guessed than heard the concluding words.
"My brother's marriage—what do you mean, dear? why, this is news to me."
"Gracious heavens!" exclaimed Ellen, with a start; "do not pretend ignorance, his marriage with—with Lady Alice Claremont."
"My goodness, Ellen! Wentworth marry Lady Alice! Do you not know Alice's age? why she is barely fourteen years old. Then you too saw that absurd paragraph, and did you not see its refutation? But what is the matter? Are you ill?"
There was reason for the Marchioness's question; pale as alabaster Ellen clasped together her hands, and looking to the sky faltered:
"I thank thee, my God! I thank thee,—then it was untrue; he may be faithful still; how could I doubt him?" and apparently overcome with the intenseness of her feelings she sank back on the seat exhausted.
"What is untrue?—who may be faithful still?—whom did you doubt?" were the lady's hurried questions. "This is a riddle, Ellen—tell me what it all means? Do, dearest, do.—There, is not that pleasant?" pouring some Eau-de-Cologne on her broidered kerchief which she held to Ellen as a restorative,—"you feel better now? Ah, your colour is coming back—don't be in a hurry, but tell me as you can what all this means,—hide nothing."
After a few minutes, Ellen was sufficiently recovered to relate the whole history of her attachment to Lord Wentworth,—how he had given her the ring inscribed with the words "Hope on," and how, reading the fatal paragraph, and fancying him false, had so wrought on her mind as to bring on the dreadful fever, from whose ravages she was not yet wholly recovered.
"This passes fiction,—this is the romance of true, real life," said the Marchioness, stooping down and kissing her friend—"and he did give you the ring which so wonderfully snapt?"
"He did, he did!" exclaimed Ellen—"and here it is," drawing out a small packet, and giving it to Lady Arranmore.
"Then be sure my brother is too noble to raise hopes only to quench them,—and I admire his choice in choosing you, my own dear, beautiful Ellen! and let it be my task to have this little ring re-united. Give it me, Ellen, till it is again fit to circle your finger. But, Ellen, whilst I now regard you as a sister, and bid you follow its invitation and 'Hope on,' let me caution you not to be too sanguine yet. I mean do not be impatient, dearest,"—for the Marchioness began to think she was raising her friend's hopes too high, ere she was herself assured of their certainty;—"have patience, wait, and all will turn out right. I know Wentworth well; he will do nothing in a hurry; he will wait till he knows your character; and now all depends on you; at least, Ellen, he will now know he has a faithful love! But what puzzles me not a little, is how the denial of that foolish report, which no one can guess the origin of, did not reach you, and how the kind letters of inquiry my brother sent, did not reassure you? I thought then he certainly stretched a point in polite solicitude; now I know the reason why."
Our readers must not be ignorant of the answers to these natural questions of Lady Arranmore. In the first place it was a diabolic plot of the Captain's to insert the fatal paragraph, and when he saw how well it took effect, his next concern was to prevent the paper containing its refutation from reaching Mr. Ravensworth. However, in the confusion occasioned by Ellen's illness, all sight of papers would have been lost, even if the postman had not been bribed to withhold that journal. Had they dared they would also have intercepted the Earl's letters to her father, but these he received, though he forbore showing them to Ellen for fear he should again raise false hopes, and as he regarded them only as the offspring of a polite and friendly nature, he feared he would only again tear open a healing wound if he showed them.
"Oh, Lady Arranmore—dearest Edith, as you ask me now to call you," said Ellen, as their boat neared Geneva and the Isle de Jean Jacques Rousseau, "how happy I feel! I feel so bright now, like yonder height still lingering in sunshine, whilst darkness wraps the whole face of nature! How different are the feelings with which I stepped into this boat, and those with which I step out again!"
"Be assured I rejoice with your joy, but remember, Ellen, be patient and tranquil; I will write to Wentworth this very evening, and we shall have his answer before we leave for Paris."
The two friends agreed to keep their secret till the answer arrived, which came on the very day they were to start. Lord Wentworth said much to his sister which of course Ellen did not hear, but she did hear that he sent fondest love to her, and this dispelled the last shadow of doubt from her mind. Mr. Ravensworth was astonished by the wonderful change for the better in Ellen's looks, which he falsely attributed to the change of air, delightful weather, and charming scenery she had found abroad; but in reality the very happy news did more for her in a few days than all the tours or doctors living could have done in as many months, and she became the same merry-hearted girl she was, full of good spirits to a degree her father could not understand, till he became sharer too of the glad tidings, which made him rejoice with all the fulness of a father's love. Lord and Lady Arranmore were also on their homeward way, and it was determined they should travel in company as far as Paris. The Marquis was in fact beginning to sigh for home comforts, and professed himself sick of the acid French wines; so he was not sorry to find himself in his own comfortable carriage bowling northwards. Mr. Ravensworth and Ellen travelled behind in their post carriage; and very often the stout Marquis was turned out of his nest, to make room for Ellen, by Edith, whilst he had to content himself with the more lumbering vehicle of the country in which Mr. Ravensworth travelled; and after expending his wrath by cursing the jolting carriage and springs, generally made himself very comfortable with hock or champagne, for, we are grieved to say, wine was the Marquis' delight, and drinking his besetting sin! At Paris, the friends parted with the near prospect of a happy meeting ere long in Scotland, whither the noble couple were to proceed after a week at Paris, in order to pay their first visit at Dun Edin Towers.
In ten days more, Ellen was welcomed back, after a long absence, by her brother and sister, who received her home with rapturous joy, and were full of the kindness shown them by the Earl since his return to the Towers.
"Do you know, Nelly, we have spent every Saturday there, and he so often inquired after you?" said Johnny.
Mr. Lennox was one of the earliest to welcome our heroine back, and congratulate her on her improved health: he came avowedly to hear all about her tour, but one would have rather thought he had come to boast of his "good luck," as he called it, in being asked to spend a week at the Towers, where the Earl was about to entertain a select circle for a short time. "Among which," said the proud man, "are my cousins on my father's side, the Duke of Richmond and Lord George Lennox; and if I mistake not, Miss Ravensworth, both you and your father will also have the distinguished honour of accompanying me thither."
We now claim Ariosto's privilege, and for a while shift our scene to an elegantly furnished boudoir in one of the best houses in a street in the West End of London.
In the centre of this apartment stood a rosewood table covered with a gorgeous cloth, on which in charming negligé were scattered several well-bound volumes—a few ornaments—an ivory fan beautifully carved—a pair of white kid gloves, and a bouquet of flowers. In the centre stood a camphine lamp, which shed a soft light, and disclosed sofas, chairs, and ottomans, all of the same expensive wood, and covered with crimson velvet cushions. A grand piano stood near the folding doors which opened into a smaller back room; a harp stood between the windows, one of which was slightly opened, for though it was now nearly ten o'clock there was no need yet of shutting out the soft west wind that blew lightly from the park. The bars of the fireplace were garnished with boughs of myrtle, and above the mantelpiece was a large mirror, on either side of which hung a miniature painting, the only two pictures in the room. The whole air of the room was one of luxury and elegance, and the sweet perfume of some exotic flowers, which breathed from a small conservatory into which the other window opened, filled the apartment.
In the smaller, or back drawing-room, the owner of this residence sat on a sofa trying to decipher the letters of the last novel in the gloaming, which the lamp in the outer room could not illumine. When light quite failed, she rose and entered the boudoir we have just described, and sitting down on an ottoman between the two windows, passed her fingers along the chords of the harp, and then bent again over the volume she perused. In appearance this lady was about twenty-two, though perhaps she looked older than she really was. From time to time Juana Ferraras—for she it was—looked off her book, and raised her dark eye to the miniature on the right of the mirror, the counterpart of Lord Wentworth, whilst the other represented the Earl's fair donna. From the picture she glanced hurriedly at the door, as if she expected some visitor. When Lord Wentworth, tired of Juana, determined not to do so mean a thing as to cast penniless on the cold world one who had sacrificed so much for him—he gave her a liberal, nay, a handsome yearly allowance, besides the residence in which she now lived, on condition she was never to trouble, or ask after him again. In the Earl's very faults there was mingled the high honour that would never desert a helpless woman, and he readily parted with a large annual sum in order to leave her happy as he thought. But gold cannot purchase happiness, and this Juana found. She was endowed with strong passions, and had really loved the Earl, and keenly felt his growing coldness. She was sensible she had lived a life of duplicity; but she was not without glimpses of a better nature, not without desire of living a different life, and now the last chances seemed gone! Her very affluence depended on her never troubling the Earl more, and this made her very sad.
Juana was exceedingly tastefully dressed; everything about her was handsome without being showy, as everything about her room was elegant and expensive, without being extravagant. She wore a remarkably well-made black silk dress—the favourite Spanish colour—which showed off the figure it professed to hide; a black mantilla fell from the comb which confined her hair, now dressed in the Spanish way, and gracefully drooped over her white shoulders; she wore a chain of pearls round her neck, from the end of which was suspended a diamond crucifix; and several costly rings gemmed her hand, while bracelets in the shape of serpents with emerald eyes clasped her well-shaped arms. The young girl's striking beauty was still the same, and the hot evening, and exertion of fanning herself with the fan, which, as Shakespeare says, "seemed to glow the delicate cheek which it did cool," gave a radiant bloom to her Spanish complexion, enhancing her extreme loveliness. Her eye was darkly lustrous still, but there was an air of discontented pride in her countenance, and a weary dejectedness, that clouded her bright eyes, which had no business there. All that money could give was on, and around her. But what gold could not purchase was lacking—a heart to enjoy them, and a heart to share her delights. Little they know of woman's nature, who fancy that every young creature who has not the moral courage to resist temptation and falls, loses her heart with her name! Low, indeed, must she be fallen who has no heart! Name—fame—all may go—the heart never. And though a life of shame may make it grow callous, and apparently dead; though a life of deceit may freeze its feelings; beneath its icy exterior some traces of former sensibility are buried. They may be but the feeble tricklings of the stream, which all the glacier's cold cannot freeze, but are still quick—still living amid a mass of external frigidity.
Juana, as we have already said, had strong feelings towards the Earl: what woman would not under her circumstances? Mingled with these sentiments were shadows of distrust; and when she compared their love to that which had once bound her heart in earlier, happier days, she felt how feeble and how dim was its greatest light. Juana had once had another lover—of him we may hereafter hear more—suffice to say death had severed their tie, and now:—
She had been left alone, and whilst no future affection could equal her first, earliest love, still the nearest akin to it had been that for Lord Wentworth; once more she had been thrown off, and this time not death, but falsehood had been the severer! She had been driven from her last resting place, and she was now like the dove flitting over a cold weary waste, which wist not where to rest her feet. The olive branch was gone, and she was desolate! In this desertion too her ambition had been stricken—her pride had received a blow! She had fancied her beauty would have been the means and instrument of raising her to this pitch of fancied bliss. She had lived to see her beauty despised—lived to see her power worthless—and now what was all the wealth—what all the luxury—he had given, when the giver cared for her no more? All that she could wish seemed round her, but in the midst of all the owner was the only being whose smile belied her heart! The only one of all who praised her beauty who was in spirit not sad—but miserable! Tossing the unfinished novel aside Juana rose, sighed deeply, and sauntering towards the open window, which she raised still higher, gazed out on the streets down which the watchmen were strolling with their lanterns. She then returned to the mirror, exclaiming, "Ah! ha! how tired I am—I would I were dead—what is all now without thee?"
For some moments she looked on the Earl's picture with great earnestness—then she rang the bell, and when the footman appeared, said—"Bring some refreshments, William—you may clear the table, and put them there—and see that the wines are iced."
"Dear me," she exclaimed half aloud, as a pretty little timepiece on the mantelshelf struck ten—"how late they are!—I expected them an hour ago?"
The footman had just spread out a cold collation, served on silver plate, when the door bell rang, and almost immediately afterwards appeared the expected visitors. Our readers will not be surprised to hear them announced as Captains de Vere and L'Estrange.
"Well, gentlemen," said Juana, putting on a smile so sweet we could hardly imagine her so soon capable of assuming, "you are exceedingly punctual—just one hour and ten minutes after the time."
"We crave your pardon, fair Juana, but the delay was unavoidable," said L'Estrange, advancing and shaking hands.
"You should put that in the singular, L'Estrange. I care little how long I keep people waiting, and in the case of ladies always make up with a kiss," said the Captain, bestowing one on the fair Spaniard's cheek.
"And how do you do when ladies keep you waiting, Captain de Vere?" said Juana.
"Never wait for them, or if they be refractory give them something to mend their memory and manners another time! I see you are all prepared, Juana, at any rate. Here, sirrah!" addressing the servant, "is the wine properly iced?"
"Yes, your honour. Can I do anything else?"
"Nothing but take yourself off as quick as you can? Stay—tell my man to call for Sir R. Musgrave, and be here at eleven. Let him be punctual, or egad! I'll know why."
"Now we are by ourselves let us begin and discuss this affair," said L'Estrange.
"To the devil with your discussions till we have got something aboard, as Wilson would say. There's your health, my dark-eyed beauty! and luck!" said the Captain, draining a bumper.
"Now then, L'Estrange, discuss away—I've enough wine in me to settle my brain; I hate talking on nothing."
"On the whole, then, Juana, our plans seem to have miscarried not a little," said L'Estrange. "Who would have thought of his lordship's pensioning you off so soon? I am sure he shows little taste."
Juana sighed, without answering.
"Egad! that's true, he does show little taste; but don't you get discouraged, my little Juana."
"That unfortunate meeting of Lord and Lady Arranmore with the young lady abroad I fear will undo everything," said the Spaniard.
"It was unlucky! who the deuce would have thought of such a chance? Now, my brother will be swearing about her fidelity, and God knows what not."
"It is these little chances that spoil everything, unless guarded against, and after that capital rumour we got afloat it is too bad."
"You are plural mad to-night," replied the Captain; "'we', it was I, sir, that planned the paragraph, and I who prevented old Ravensworth seeing the denial—it would have been long ere it entered your stupid head!"
"Well, Captain, you need not wrangle; we will give you all the credit of being wise in evil! I envy not the distinction, I am sure, and am not sorry to get the infamy off my hands."
"And d—d ready to profit by it," retorted the Captain. "Well, we won't wrangle, but get to business! Now, my Ahithophel! let us hear what you can counsel."
"I would send Juana to Scotland, and get a meeting between her and Lord Wentworth."
"Curse women, say I—they spoil everything—one is enough; God knows what mischief two may work—better keep Juana here."
"You are exceedingly polite, Captain de Vere.—I think it a very good plan, and one that ought certainly to be followed."
"Don't be angry, dear!—don't look so jolly savage! Go, in the fiend's name, if you like, and lose everything: thank heaven I have yet a string that will not break should this fail."
"And what if I do lose all, Captain de Vere? what is the use of this loveless grandeur? I would rather see and speak to Wentworth ten minutes than live a year in guilty, solitary splendour. You know not what a woman's heart is—let me go?"
"In troth not I; a woman's heart is an enigma not easy to read; but go to the North, or elsewhere if you will, it irks me not! Only don't cast it in my teeth if it fails. The plan then is for you and I, L'Estrange, to start for the Towers to-morrow—you can call and see Ellen Ravensworth, and tell her how well Wentworth loves his Juana—show her his letters—I have a packet of them! Work on her jealousy, and if that doesn't do I know a plan yet."
"Would to heaven he did love me still," sighed Juana, as she rose and went to the sofa, on which she threw herself down. "And when do I go to Scotland?"
"You?—why next day after us, or a day later were better; you and Musgrave can travel together—he is a nice fellow—and that will give me time to arrange with Bill Stacy, who has gone north to hire Cessford's Peel, an old tower in the south of my brother's estates, which will be your barracks, my fair one, and nice quarters too! And now, Juana, sing us a song, whilst we pitch into this iced punch."
The young lady opened a richly-chased case, from which she took a Spanish guitar, and sitting on an ottoman commenced tuning it—holding it in the most elegant manner, which showed off the exquisite shape of her arm and the full contour of her form. Then running her fingers over the strings, she played a wild prelude to the following song, which she delivered in a fine contralto voice—
"Very pretty," said L'Estrange,—"but how melancholy all your songs are."
"How could they be else than melancholy, when the heart is sad?" answered the lady.
"I must teach you some more lively airs,—for, by Heaven! you have a rare voice," said the Captain. "One like this"—but ere he began, a loud ring announced the arrival of the carriage with Sir Richard Musgrave—"I'll sing it another time. Ha! old fellow, how are you?—well, it is all planned, at least L'Estrange has got everything cut and dried! He and I start for the Towers to-morrow, and you and Juana must follow in two or three days."
"I am sure I am flattered by being the guardian of this lady," said Sir Richard, regarding Juana with undisguised admiration. "This, then, is the young lady of whom I have heard so much, and hope soon to know better than I do now."
"I forgot she is a stranger to you," said the Captain. "Juana, let me introduce you to Sir Richard, the best fellow who ever wooed fair lady!"
"And now," said Sir Richard, "I will drink success to our plan, and then we had better be off."
After the toast was drunk the three young men left Juana, and proceeded probably to some place of amusement in town. When they were all gone, Juana,—who had held up so well all the evening, and plied her guests with the brightest of smiles,—threw herself on the nearest sofa, clasped her two hands together, and burst into an unrestrained flood of tears. All her affected gaiety could not cheat the heart, and when alone she was but a woman—a fond but deserted woman!
On the afternoon following her arrival at home, Ellen Ravensworth was sitting alone in her drawing-room, when Lord Wentworth was announced. As he entered, unable to restrain her natural and full feelings, the young girl flew to meet him, as though she welcomed a brother.
"How glad I am to see you looking so well, and so like yourself, Ellen!" said the Earl, as he took both her hands in his own; "come let me look at you, little unbeliever! I could not have told you had been ill! And how came you to doubt my pledge, Ellen, or think my ring spoke falsehood?"
As he spoke the Earl still held her hands, and the lovers gazed on each other with an expression of unspeakable delight.
"Oh welcome, welcome, Lord Wentworth! How happy I am to meet you again. Come, sit down by me on the sofa. I have so much to tell you."
"First answer my question," said the Earl, as he seated himself beside her; "tell me, Ellen, how came you to doubt my ring,—how to doubt a peer's word?"
"Oh ask me not," said Ellen, smiling; "I cannot tell why. I know not how I could doubt you one moment; but it is past now, and you forgive me; see, I wear your ring on my hand still!"
"Forgive you, dearest! nay, I should ask your forgiveness,—at least you have proved yourself a dear, faithful girl. Ah! Ellen, you little know how pained I was to hear you were so ill, and then I did not know the cause. Oh! that I could find the author of that villainous paragraph! How you must have suffered!"
"I forget it all now,—it has passed away like a cloud; and this meeting seems all the brighter for it, as summer seems all the brighter when contrasted with the wintry snows."
"Yet those snows are sacred to me, Ellen. Do you forget that it was on the snows our love was born: may it resemble them in purity, and not, like them, fade away in summer's sunshine."
"It will not fade,—it cannot; and oh! how shall I ever pay the debt of gratitude to dear Lady Arranmore? I love her as a sister; it was owing to her that all this happiness was mine."
"She deserves your love, Ellen; and I hope you will shortly see her again. Edith and the Marquis join us at the Towers on the day after to-morrow; we have quite a gay assembly there; and I was almost forgetting my chief object in calling here to-day,—which was to ask you all out next week to join our party. I shall take no refusal, Ellen; so tell that to your father when you give him this note," said the Earl, handing her an invitation.
"How kind of you! the country must be looking so pretty now,—the Towers must be in all their beauty."
"They are. After all, no place like home,—when the weather is as propitious as it has been this season,—an important item in this climate. I hear you had charming weather for your tour, and enjoyed it much."
"Oh, lovely! I do not think I saw a cloud hardly the whole time. The Alps were splendid, and we toured the whole of the Oberland; but Leman, blue Lake Leman, is my pet! I shall always look back on the days spent there as the happiest in my life yet; for it was there I met your sister, and there——"
Ellen paused, but the Earl finished her sentence—
"There you found I was still true,—is not that it?"
Ellen blushed assent.
"It is curious," she continued: "at first I preferred the desolate grandeur of the Alps,—the brawling torrents, rent rocks, and giant pines; but now I seem to love rather the still lake, the river, the woodland, and plain."
"I fancy, Ellen, we always like the scenery that corresponds with our prevailing tone of mind. When we are misanthropic and gloomy, we love the dark woods, the gloomy gaps of rivers, the naked rock, and cold avalanche; but when we are happy we turn to sunny plains, and the bright greenwood,—a double reason why you should bend your steps to the Towers, where all is haymaking, sunshine, and merriment; at least if you are now in a happy state of mind."
"Be sure I shall only be too glad to look on the rustic scenery of the Towers," said Ellen.
"And now tell me, Ellen, all about your travels; I shall be able to enter into it all the better as I know every inch of ground in Switzerland. You know the Captain, Frank, and I only toured it last year. Which did you think the most grand scenery?"
"I think almost the wildest was on the road to Hospenthal; night overtook us as we were near Pont du Diable. I shall never forget the terrific grandeur of that dark torrent as it thundered below."
"Nor I either," said Lord Wentworth; "for it was on that very road that a most ridiculous contretemps occurred."
"Do let me hear it," said Ellen. "I shall have all the more interest from knowing the ground."
"We started, then," said the Earl,[E] "a party of six strong, from Fluellen, after lunching there. I remember it was a fiercely hot day in the end of August, and the sun shot down on our heads with tropical heat as we drove along the valley. Our party consisted of my two brothers, young Scroop and Musgrave, and a naval officer, Wilson. I hope you will meet them all next week, and you can ask them if they remember it. When we got near the Devil's Bridge, even some time before it, night came on, and the stars twinkled out one by one; the road also became very steep, and we proposed that some should get out of the carriage and walk. Accordingly Wilson descended, and soon forged ahead, and was lost in the darkness. He had a bugle, on which he blew hunting blasts, and we heard him from time to time blowing his horn high above. Meantime Frank and Scroop and the Captain also began walking on, and hoped soon to overtake him. When they had passed the bridge, Scroop began to think it was rather a dangerous place, and remarked it was imprudent in Captain Wilson, who was our purser, to walk on unarmed. They saw two dangerous-looking fellows creeping up towards them from the river, but it was too dark to recognise who or what they were. They said, 'Bon soir,' but received no answer. Suddenly one of the two commenced walking on fast, as if to catch them up; but, determined they should not be done, they too quickened their pace. The guide, however, passed them, and two or three whistles were interchanged. They now began to feel sure they were robbers, but being armed, determined to fight if attacked. However they reached the Hospenthal without being called on to defend themselves, and at once inquired for their friend, whom they felt sure they had not passed, and were not a little alarmed to hear he had not arrived. Meantime Wilson, who had been one of the two dangerous-looking customers, the other being a guide he was speaking to, fell back and rejoined us in the carriage, declaring that neither Scroop nor my brothers had passed him. We were much alarmed in our turn, fearing they had lost their way; and when we found them safe, I shall never forget the laugh we had in the hall, nor the way we welcomed each other. The maitre d'hôtel was quite furious at the row, as tourists go to bed early."
"How amusing!" said Ellen. "I shall be sure and ask the Captain about it, when I see him."
"Well, I have been telling my tour instead of you; but I shall have plenty of time to hear all about it when we meet at the Towers,—that is if you can make up your mind to be contented with my company. Do you think with me you could really own a happy mind?"
"Can you doubt it?—can you then think I could be unhappy, with you so near me?"
"And how could you doubt me?" said the Earl, rising. "And now, Ellen, I must say adieu for the present. Don't forget the note, and we shall meet again next Monday; and ere I go, Ellen dearest, I must claim the first kiss of affection to seal my promise!"
As Ellen did not resist, the Earl pressed his lips to the fair girl's brow, and ere she could at all recover from the giddy state of joy he left her in, was gone; and the first thing that aroused her from her loving reverie was the sound of his horse's hoofs clattering along the dry road to the Towers, and with a fluttering heart she sat down to re-enact the whole scene, with memory's aid. He had called her his dearest Ellen; had pledged his love with a sacred kiss; had invited her to his home,—what more did she want? The last shadow of doubt was dispelled,—she was his love, he was her choice, her own! From this delightful occupation she was disturbed, as once on a former occasion, by another visitor, who now stood before her. He had entered the apartment, and advanced almost to where she was sitting, ere she perceived him. She started up with a faint exclamation, when she recognised his features, and the words, "Miss Ravensworth!"—"Captain L'Estrange!" broke from the two old allies who met thus in so singular and unseasonable a way. It was the meeting of two cold waves,—it was the chafing of two chill rivers! Ellen blushed crimson as she beheld her old admirer, and thought how often he had stood in that selfsame room in how different a guise. L'Estrange turned ashy pale as he thought how often and how differently that young girl had received him in this identical place. For some moments they both seemed fixed to the spot, and not a word could either speak. They both felt the constraint of the situation, and for a while were unable to overcome the gêne that existed between them. At last Ellen broke the ice of ceremony, and said—
"I suppose, Captain L'Estrange, I must be the first to break silence, and ask you to be seated."
As she spoke, she herself resumed her former place on the sofa. L'Estrange drew a chair opposite her, and sat down too. He thought to speak, but the words choked in his throat, and again silence reigned. Each seemed to avoid the other's eye; and when, by chance, their eyes did meet,—
"May I ask the reason of this interview, which seems so painful to you, Captain L'Estrange?"
"And can you ask, can you not guess, Ellen,—I mean Miss Ravensworth, for such is the name I suppose by which I should now address you? But you will pardon me if the old familiar name occasionally escapes me. Can you not guess the reason? It is as a peacemaker I come then. Oh, Miss Ravensworth, you cannot think how long it took me to summon resolution for this meeting! Oh! I pray Heaven it may not be in vain. I cannot bear to live at enmity with any one, least of all with one I once loved—still love—so well; and who once avowed her love to me; let us be friends; let us once more love each other."
"I have no quarrel with you, Captain L'Estrange. I hope I have always behaved in a friendly manner. I hope always to be your friend," said Ellen, in a cold voice.
"My friend! and nothing more? Can our relationship extend no further?"
For some moments Ellen was silent, and hesitated as to her reply, then in a calm collected voice she said:
"I am deeply grieved if I vex you, Captain L'Estrange. I will be your friend, but ask no more; my acquaintance with you ends with friendship."
"Oh, Ellen, this from you!" exclaimed the unhappy young man. "Have you then forgotten all? Have you forgotten what you once were to me? are all your promises forgotten? have you no more than this to say to him who was once your lover, who is so still? Oh, my lost heart!" And unable to control his feelings he hid his face in his hands.
"I have not forgotten," replied Ellen, in a voice tremulous with emotion, for she deeply felt for the disappointed lover. "I have not forgotten anything, nor have I forgotten how Edward L'Estrange was the first to quarrel, and when Ellen Ravensworth withdraws her love, she does so never to give it back again."
"Have pity on me. Oh! be as you have been in happier, better days. I acknowledge my fault—deeply I repent it. Oh, Ellen, Ellen! forgive, and forget."
"I forgive you, and from my heart. I cannot so soon forget. Besides, you ask an impossibility; my heart is no longer mine to give, even if I wished. I am no longer free even though I desired. I will be explicit, I will hide nothing. Edward L'Estrange, I love another. I love you not. I will be your friend, more I cannot, I will not be."
"Ellen, may you never feel the pangs that now wring my heart; may you never know what it is to be deserted as I am now: yet methinks you know not him with whom you have trusted your heart; you may repent your choice yet."
"I understand you not, Captain L'Estrange."
"Then I will be more concise. Perhaps you are not aware it is said you are not the only lady who holds a place in Lord Wentworth's heart? Perhaps you do not know it is whispered a fairer lady engrosses a larger share of the Earl's love than you do?"
"Captain L'Estrange, I believe it not: I deem the Earl too noble. I think too highly of his love to entertain such base thoughts of him."
"You believe it not? What would you then say did I tell you, proud maiden, I have seen this lady? I know her, have heard her speak of him; I trust you may never have cause to feel bitterly the truth of what I tell you."
"And what proof have I of the ingenuous nature of your story? May I not think it a lure to work on my jealousy, and gain you back the love of which I judged you unworthy?"
"Miss Ravensworth, you are severe: to prove this is not an idle fiction, but stern truth—sad reality, I will show you the young lady's portrait, the acknowledged mistress of the Earl; and it is said she only became so on a promise of marriage, should there be any liability of its becoming known."
As he spoke Captain L'Estrange handed an exquisitely painted miniature likeness of Juana to Ellen's hands. She glanced on it with an apathetic look, as if doubtful whether to believe it, or no.
"And what proof have I this lady is Lord Wentworth's choice beyond your prejudiced word? Do not think me rude, or uncourteous in questioning your veracity; but I am a lawyer's daughter, and have been accustomed to require proofs for everything."
"And there then they lie," said L'Estrange, handing her a number of letters. "Behold my proofs: I am a better lawyer than you took me for: these are letters from the Earl to Juana Ferraras; read them and then judge for yourself."
"I forbear to ask you how you gained possession of these letters," said Ellen, as she took them—"certainly never meant for your eye, nor for mine either, and I should ill deserve Lord Wentworth's trust could I demean myself to play the part of a base spy, and peruse them in order to gain an insight into his private life. To his God he alone stands, or falls; if he has failings he is but mortal, and fallible as you and I; and with all his errors I love him too well to play the traitor in the camp. So perish all calumnies on his name!" With these words she threw them behind the small fire, seldom found too warm in Scotland's early summer, and watched them consume away. When they were all reduced to ashes, turning round to Captain L'Estrange, who stood in stupid astonishment at another miscarriage in his plans, she said: "If you think to shake my trust thus you are sadly mistaken: it only proves how little you know Ellen Ravensworth; nay, how little you know woman's heart at all. When she loves, it is not the immaculate being of the poet's fancy she loves, but man—with all his failings, with all his faults. Not an unfallen angel, but man, fallen as he is; and thus, instead of lessening my passion you have but fed it, and fanned the flame. I love him seven-fold more. I do not love the error, but the erring; and perhaps it remains for me to wean his mind from such sordid affections to the pure fire of hallowed love, to point the way to better things; and by God's help I may have the opportunity of so doing, whatever may be our future relations in life."
"Then I am lost; there remains no hope for me," cried L'Estrange, in a bitter voice. "Oh, Ellen, Ellen, suffer me so to call you; here on my bended knee behold me; by all our former love, by all that is most pure and holy, return to me again! Restore me to your favour. Let me prove myself still worthy of your esteem, of your love. On this point turns the whole course of my future life; on one word hangs my eternal weal or woe. If you say 'Yes;' if you will restore me to your love—take me, faulty, worthless though I be—you may lead me to better things; guide me to purer founts, and I am happy. But if you say, 'No,' you drive me to desperation; you shut the door of hope in this world and the next; you drive me to drown in the pleasures of sin the bitter remembrances of parted bliss; you seal my speechless doom, for time and for eternity. Which is it? I wait your answer."
With his hands clasped together in an earnestness of despairing hope beyond the power almost of fancy to conceive, the unhappy lover knelt at Ellen's feet. Calm as the young girl's outward expression was, it needed no practised eye to detect the deep emotions that worked within her bosom, as she faltered, in a voice scarcely audible, to her suffering suppliant—
"I am deeply moved for you; I feel for you with all my heart, but I cannot, cannot go beyond what I have already spoken. Seek God's mercy—He will bind your broken heart; you are worthy of better things than you predict for yourself. Edward L'Estrange, it gives me the most unfeigned pain to be obliged to answer NO!"
The last fatal word was uttered with a distinctness awful to the unfortunate listener. For a burning moment he still knelt as though he heard not; he scarce seemed to draw his breath; an air of speechless anguish clouded his dark eye; and then, as if all at once he realized his wayward fate, he smote his hands together, and while the veins swelled almost to bursting on his brow, exclaimed, in a voice of agony Ellen could never forget:
"Oh God, help me!—I am truly most miserable."
Then, springing up, he rushed from the room without one farewell word. When he was gone, Ellen seemed first to breathe; she buried her face in her hands, and sobs of woe, wrung from a full heart, showed how deeply she felt her old lover's misery, and how keenly another's woe touched her tender spirit.
"Look, Nelly, see the deer!" cried little Maude Ravensworth, as their carriage slowly climbed the gentle ascent leading from the foot of the park to the Towers; "see them—one, two, three—bounding across the road."
"Yes, love; the park is full of them; look, Maude, there are five stags beneath that oak-tree," said her sister Ellen.
"What a shot that fellow with the tall antlers is!" said Johnny, leaning back from the box on which he sat, beside the coachman.
"I marvel how any one has the heart to shoot a stag," said his father. "To me it seems little short of murder. I can understand hunting the fox, the wolf, or baiting the badger; but to kill deer, so innocent, so harmless, seems quite cruel."
"The Captain doesn't think so," said Johnny. "I heard him say he would have a stag-hunt this autumn, and he promised I should go. How I wish this place was mine!" he continued, as a bend in the road divulged the baronial-looking old castle, with its four lofty towers,[F] standing on the green eminence in front.
The whole scene was one of surpassing loveliness; the hard white road, so beautifully kept—it was level as a bowling-green—was overhung on the right by beech and oak trees, through which were gained glimpses of the park, dotted with patriarchal trees under which strayed herds of timid deer; on the left tall fir-trees clothed the steep descent to the rivulet beneath. At the foot of the park, in a large hollow, a sheet of water glistened in the sun; sedgy banks surrounded it, whilst on the surface proudly floated several swans: the majestic look of these birds as they sailed amid the numerous wild fowl was graceful in the extreme. The piping of snipes and other waders was heard among the rushes, and now and then a coot or waterhen flew along the surface, beating the still waters with its flapping wings. The castle shone white and distinct from the dark green foliage that surrounded it, and above the woods rose the blue Lammermoor hills, a fitting boundary for so fair a landscape.
It was quite a pet day in the beginning of July; if there was a fault it was its sultriness, an uncommon one in Scotland, where the hottest days are generally tempered by a cool breeze. The arch of the heaven above was blue and cloudless, and the sun, still high, shone with a dazzling brilliancy. Rising above the Lammermoors, however, were piled some splendid cumulus clouds, white as carded wool; and across them one or two dark streaks cut their snowy wreaths, and seemed to betoken the presence of thunder in those white pavilions. It was about three in the afternoon, and still the hottest part of the day; not a breath relieved the dead heat, not a leaf was swayed, and all nature seemed as though she slumbered beneath the hot beam, and took her siesta. A blue, misty haze rose above the silent woods, whose every leaf basked in the sunshine; the deer had fled to cool retreats, or the umbrageous oaks in the park; the songsters had hushed their notes in brake and tangled dell, and no bird tempted the glare save one solitary hawk, which with outspread wings poised himself on the thin air, and ever and anon quivered as he beheld his prey, possibly some tiny harvest mouse which little dreamed of its airy foe. The birds were silent;—not so the thousand grasshoppers, whose harsh whirr resounded from the grass—not so the myriad insect forms that flitted to and fro beneath the dark-green beeches,—not so the bees that hummed over their feast among the sweet lime-blossoms. The only other sounds were the rippling, musical purlings of the rivulet in the dell beneath: the stream was now reduced to its smallest dimensions by the long-continued drought, and the melodious sound now rose clear, and now dwindled to almost imperceptible thinness, as a fuller or lesser flow of water shook the pebbles, and gurgled among the moss-covered rocks.
As the carriage drew nearer the castle, other rustic sounds were heard—the mower whetting his scythe, or the merry laugh of the haymakers, whilst the sweet smell of the new-made hay was delicious. The trees now ceased to fringe the road, which ran through the park towards the west tower of the castle; a neat wattling on either side kept out the cattle; and our friends had an uninterrupted view of the park, dotted over with haycocks, round which strolled many busy figures, some engaged in tossing the hay, some heaping it into haycocks, and others raking the ground.
"How jolly!" exclaimed Johnny; "I shall soon be there helping—lots of time before dinner."
"You must remember, Johnny, you are a guest, and only do what you are asked," said his father.
"Oh, I am quite at home here, papa; every one may do as they please at the Towers—it is Liberty Hall. Besides I see Lord Wentworth among them. I am sure no one would stick at home on a day like this."
"You must not abuse your liberty, my boy, but have patience; everything in its time."
The carriage now entered the barbican, crossed the drawbridge, and soon passed beneath the archway, and entered the ample courtyard. Several other carriages, some very grand turn-outs, were drawn up before the doorway, and blocked the road; round them flitted numbers of busy servants, carrying boxes and trunks into the hall. In its due course Mr. Ravensworth's carriage drew up before the door, where old Andrew acted the part of seneschal, and sent his inferior servants hither and thither at his will.
"Eh, sir, you are come at last: I hae been expecting you this lang while; and how are ye missy? a' richt noo?" said the privileged old butler, addressing Mr. and Miss Ravensworth, and patting the latter familiarly on the shoulder. "Peter—Jamie—ye idle loons—see the young leddy up the stairs, and carry their gear ben the house."
Ellen followed the footmen, and Mr. Ravensworth with Johnny and Maude walked close behind, along the great hall to the reception chamber, a large airy room, with oaken ceiling, splendidly carved, panelled with the same wood. Three large windows, opening in Venetian fashion, led to a balcony, from which a light iron suspension bridge spanned the moat, and formed a communication with the park, on which the view looked.
The room was quite full of strange faces, and Ellen hung back a moment as she entered, as if uncertain how to act, when a lady rose, and hurried forward to meet her.
"My dear Lady Arranmore, how glad I am to find you here!"
"Welcome, dearest Ellen," said the Marchioness, embracing her. "How well you look again! How d'you do, Mr. Ravensworth; how d'you do, Johnny, and my little Maude? Come and sit by me, Ellen, and tell me all about yourself: first let me introduce you to some one, Mr. Ravensworth; and Johnny, you had better run and join the haymakers."
Hardly waiting for leave, Johnny shot away like an arrow from the bow, crossed the bridge, and was soon far off, running down the park.
"The dear boy," said Lady Arranmore, "how he enjoys the country!"
She then introduced Mr. Ravensworth to Mr. Scroop, a gentlemanly looking young man, about the middle height, with rather a slight figure, and very light Saxon hair; he was the only representative of the Border family, so famous in the olden time, and was possessed of broad lands on the southern side of the Cheviots.
The two gentlemen soon engaged in conversation, whilst Ellen and her friend, seated on a sofa near the window, talked over all their travels.
At length Lady Arranmore said, "Really, Ellen, it is a sin to linger indoors such a day as this! All my guests are now arrived: what should hinder us from taking a turn and joining my brothers and Arranmore, who are with the haymakers?"
"Nothing; I shall be charmed to go with you," said Ellen, rising.
The friends then crossed the slender bridge, and conversing as they went slowly walked towards the merry groups, busily engaged at their various tasks.
"How hot it is!" said Ellen, fanning herself with her handkerchief; "it really reminds me of the weather we had at Geneva."
"It does, indeed, dear. I wonder how long this weather will continue? If it will only hold up for two days more I do not care; you know on Wednesday we have our grand picnic at Cessford's Peel."
"Oh, I hope it will! Look, I see the Marquis, and—"
"My brother, Wentworth," said the Marchioness, finishing Ellen's sentence; "so like him, Ellen; see he has got a cask of beer, for those poor weary haymakers; how hot they must be working under such a sun."
The two ladies had now approached within fifty yards of the rustic group; conspicuous above all was Johnny mounted on the top of a huge rick, waving his cap on the end of a rake. Beneath the rick the Earl presided over an immense cask of ale, from which old Andrew was busily engaged handing foaming mugs of the refreshing beverage to the weary labourers, who, as they wiped the toil-drops from their brows, and drained the beakers, bestowed many a blessing on the stout Earl; the sons of Erin, of whom the greater number was composed, were loudest in their benedictions, and declared they would serve his grace's honour to the last drop of their blood! Others stood near, cap in hand, waiting their turn. A little to the right, leaning over a smaller rick, the Marchioness perceived the tall form of her husband; he was flirting with a very pretty girl, who stood smiling on the other side, leaning on the handle of a rake. This was Jenny Forbes, the acknowledged belle of the neighbourhood. Still further sat a young man on horseback, talking to a stout yeoman, John Forbes, the father of the village belle. Dressed as he was, in a light Indian military costume, with a white handkerchief wound turban-like round his brow, his hot, sunburnt face, high and well-chiselled nose, and dark moustache, gave quite an oriental look to Captain de Vere, who, hot as it was, still smoked his favourite black pipe. Near him, stretched at their listless ease, or seated on the new-mown grass, were several gentlemen in various attitudes, talking or laughing to each other, as they leant over, or lay full length on the ground, with handkerchiefs spread over their heads to protect them from the fiery rays. Sir Richard Musgrave, and Captain Wilson, a naval commander, were amongst these. As the two ladies approached, a general movement took place through the company. The Earl walked forward to meet his guest, Johnny slipped down off the rick; the gentlemen arose; the Marquis started back from his position, and tried to put on an innocent expression as he strolled towards his lady. The Captain alone moved not; but went on with his conversation, which, to judge from his earnestness, was very interesting.
"Ha! you have found us out at last, Miss Ravensworth," said the Earl. "Is not this quite Swiss? Blue skies, and haymaking with the sun shining. You must have seen many a scene like this in Bern, I am sure."
"Scarcely one so pretty; and certainly no group like this; it is quite charming!"
"When did you arrive? Is your father come? And where is Mr. Lennox? I thought he would have joined you."
"One question at a time, Clarence," said the Marchioness; "Ellen cannot answer so many at once. And what have you to say, my Lord?" addressing the Marquis, who had just come up. "What excuse for flirting with a country girl, as you were doing just now? Pretty well, after all your vows to me."
"Tut! Edie! what matters a passing joke to a pretty girl. You are not jealous of Jenny Forbes, I hope?"
"By no means; only you should remember you are now married, and should leave such follies to the unmarried young men."
As they spoke the party had come to where the Captain still stood.
"John, have you nothing to say to our guest, Miss Ravensworth?" said Lady Arranmore.
"It is d—d hot, isn't it, Miss Ravensworth?"
Ellen could not forbear smiling at the curt reply, though she felt somewhat shocked.
"You were ill, I was sorry to hear," continued the young officer; "but you have apparently picked up in a wonderfully short time. I am blessed if I would have ever found it out."
They passed on, and the Captain resumed his interrupted conversation.
"I'faith! it is hot, though. This reminds me of Spain a bit, where our men dropped dead by sunstroke like ripe acorns. There, I have nothing more to say now, Forbes, so you may go on with your work, and give my love to your fair daughter; or stay, I will save you the trouble, as my sister has carried off the Marquis. Here, boy," addressing a peasant lad, "hold my horse—or stay, lead it up to the stables; and tell Wilton to give you half-a-crown for your trouble;" at the same time flinging himself off his steed, he said, in sotto voce, to the farmer, "You will remember and send one, then?"
"Ay, ay, sir! I'll send a laddie this very night."
"All right," said the Captain. "Wilton will pay you, boy."
"You are exceedingly generous with other people's money," said the Earl, who was passing again.
"Lord help us! You don't grudge the boy a dirty half-crown?"
"Not I; only I would give it myself if I were you. A pretty grumbling will Wilton make."
"And let him grumble, and be d—d to him. How many half-crowns does he get from me, I wonder, and half-skivs too!"
The Captain then walked off by himself to where Jenny Forbes still stood, and cracked some joke, which she resented by a pretty pout of her lips and ill-feigned frown.
"By my troth, Jenny, you should come up to town with me; I would dress you out in silks and satins, and I am shot if you wouldn't just create a furore!"
"I shall choose a better guide than you, when I go!" retorted the girl, with a laugh.
"It will be long ere you find a better one," said the Captain, as he walked away.
"Or one who thinks better of himself, either," said the girl, as a parting hit.
"Hallo! whom have we here?" said the Captain to himself, as he reached the road, and saw a gentleman, who seemed quite overcome by the heat, resting on a stone and wiping his hot brow; a little further off was a boy, who, with an immense carpet-bag, toiled up the hill. "By Jove! is that you, Lennox? You have chosen a d—d hot day for marching. You don't mean to say you walked out?"
"Oh, dear, no," said Mr. Lennox, dusting his boots as he rose. "Taking advantage of the coach, I proceeded by that conveyance to your noble park-gates, and, alighting there, I thought I would walk up, fancying the castle could not be far; but it is a long and hot walk. However, I hired a young man, as you see, to carry my luggage."
"Egad! then you have tramped a good five miles. What a joke! You must be jolly tired. Here, take a pull," said the Captain, producing an immense brandy-flask—his bosom companion at all times and seasons.
"Thank you all the same, no. I seldom take spirits at all; and never plain."
"A most foolish error; and one you would soon be conquered of if you lived at the Towers," said the Captain, taking a long draught. "At the least you will then take a weed?" handing his cigar-case.
"I thank you; I never smoke."
"Neither drink nor smoke! No wonder you feel hot and weary. Egad! Sir, you should have been with me through the Peninsula; and I should like to have seen how the devil you would have stood the marching under a sun which this is a joke to? Brandy to wet our lips, and cigars when we had little to eat, kept our fellows going. You would have never been here now, with your principles, had you fought in Spain! Heat cures heat! Hair of the dog good for the bite."
Mr. Lennox, accompanied by his dashing companion, then walked on to the Towers, devoutly wishing he had never met him, and anathematizing himself for walking, as he felt he should cut a poor figure with his boy and baggage; and the old rhyme came into his head—
He had hoped to have slipped in unobserved; but had the misluck to meet the Earl and a bevy of visitors at the door; amongst them was Johnny.
"Ah! how do you do, Lennox?" said the Earl. "Taken advantage of the fine day and walked out, I see. You must have found it hot, did you not?"
"Only from the Lodge-gates; I took the coach so far," said Mr. Lennox; but we fear his answer was hardly heard. "Confound it," he muttered, almost aloud; "they will think I walked out all the way; and I wouldn't for the world Johnny Ravensworth should think so. I do not care for these people of rank half so much as I do for that boy."
"You are just in time, sir," said a footman. "Is that your bag, sir? Follow me to your room; dressing-bell has gone."
Mr. Lennox was the very first who entered the drawing-room. After he had been alone some minutes the door opened and a middle-aged gentleman entered, and soon commenced a conversation with him.
"Do you not admire the prospect, sir? This is the finest park I think I have ever seen. Why, I had no idea you had such parks in Scotland."
"It is indeed a fine one; but cannot, I think, be compared to many I have seen in England. I am myself English, though residing here—such parks as Goodwood, in Sussex, for instance?"
"Is that a finer one? I had not thought it."
"Oh, dear, yes. Goodwood, the Duke of Richmond's, as I suppose you know; this cannot compare with it."
"Indeed! Why, God a-mercy, sir! I do not think so."
"You cannot surely have seen it, sir,—or must forget it. You surely cannot know Goodwood, to say so."
"Indeed, sir, if I do not know it, I wonder who else does, considering I am its owner?" said the gentleman, smiling.
Mr. Lennox's surprise was great.
"You the Duke of Richmond. I am sure I beg your Grace's pardon."
"There is no need—thought is free—every one may have his own opinion."
"Then I may claim the honour of relationship to your Grace, being a Lennox myself."
"I doubt it not," said the Duke, shaking hands. "The Duke of Leinster, you know, was not ashamed to claim cousinship with every beggar who bore the name of Fitzgerald; and I am sure I am honoured by claiming it with you."
Mr. Lennox felt that beneath this compliment indirectly he had been called a beggar, and was not over-pleased with his first interview with his noble relative—nor with his conversation.
Meanwhile, the room had filled with ladies and gentlemen; and when the gong sounded more than thirty descended to dinner. Mr. Lennox, owing to the scarcity of ladies, and general rank of the other gentlemen, was forced to walk down with Johnny as a companion.
"We cut but poor figures," said Johnny, "with no ladies to take down."
Mr. Lennox vouchsafed no reply to this, as he thought, impertinent remark.
"You must be tired after your long trudge."
"I came sir, by the coach, and only walked from the Lodge," said Mr. Lennox, exceedingly annoyed.
"It is a good grind from the Lodge," replied his tormentor, as they entered the dining-room.
Lord Wentworth had so arranged that Ellen Ravensworth sat next him at table, though of course he had not brought her down. Opposite was an empty chair. When dinner was begun, a young officer, in full uniform, entered the room and took possession of the vacant place. Ellen naturally glanced to see who it was—Horror untold! she had not dreamed of this. Opposite her sat who? but Captain L'Estrange! She felt her cheek blush, though aware the Earl's eye was upon her, at this unexpected rencontre, as she called to mind where and how she had last seen him. L'Estrange concealed his feelings better, and seemed quite unconcerned at her presence, and after apologising for his lateness on the plea he had taken a long ride, he addressed her with the utmost nonchalance.
"I am glad to see you looking so blooming, Miss Ravensworth; I hope you are now quite recovered?"
Ellen marvelled at his coolness when she remembered his last words only a few days before.
"Thank you, I am very well now," she answered, trying to assume an unconcerned air and speak naturally, but she knew how ill she played her part, and again felt the blood rising to her cheek, and fancied all eyes were turned on her. Her ill-concealed agitation did not escape the Earl, who, however, imputed it entirely to nervousness, and relieved her from the trying position by addressing her on another subject. By-and-by her constraint wore off, and she actually found herself talking and even laughing with L'Estrange before the table broke up. Either, she thought, he told me false when he expressed himself most miserable, or he has a strange power of hiding mental agony by a smiling guise. The rest of the evening was spent in music and conversation upstairs, though some preferred strolling among the flower gardens till the bats began to flit about. The ladies then retired to their rooms; and the gentlemen, excepting Mr. Lennox and his friend Mr. Ravensworth, Johnny, Mr. Power the clergyman, and a few other quiet persons, retreated to the smoking room, where they kept up the fun to a late hour. One by one they too dropped off to bed, leaving only the Marquis, equal to any amount of strong drink, the Captain and L'Estrange. At last the Marquis went off, alleging as a reason it was "a shame to keep his wife awake so long."
"Egad! and do you really think she will keep awake for you? Hang marriage, it spoils all good fellows; but get along," said the Captain, anxious to be alone with L'Estrange, yet unwilling the Marquis should think so. As soon as they were left alone, he continued, "I think, Ned, a foul fiend is against us; who the devil would have thought the Earl would have chosen Cessford's Peel for his double d—d picnic! I tried all I could to throw him off, and so did Musgrave, but it was no go, so I must warn Bill, and get Juana stowed away. I told that rascal Forbes to send a fellow along to-night; I wonder why the deuce he has not done so!"
At this moment old Andrew opened the door and introduced a smart-looking young man. "A laddie who wished to see you, Captain."
"Show him in—and begone: what the devil are you standing eavesdropping there for, you old blackguard?"
"Heaven sain us," said Andrew, quickly departing.
"Have a glass of spirits, my lad—whisky, or brandy, or what?"
"Whisky, please your honour."
"There you are," said the Captain, filling him a glass.
"Your healths, sirs," draining the glass and smacking his lips—"that's the rale gude stuff."
"Take another glass—and look you here, you know Cessford's Peel?"
"Ay, sir, seeven mile, or thereby, sou-east o' the Towers."
"Exactly; ride there to-night, and give this note to the old man; stay for an answer, and meet me to-morrow with it in the Holly Walk, at two. Do not keep me waiting, on your life,—and breathe not a word of this to living soul, or, by Heaven, I would not be you!"
"Nae fears, your secret is safe with me."
"And there is for your trouble," said the Captain, dropping some gold into his hand; "and now begone, and remember two o'clock!"
"Do not say," continued the Captain, when the young man had departed, "that I am not a zealous ally. God knows, I have to think and plan everything, though I wish to God that girl had never come,—it was not my doing; and now let us go to roost."
And so saying the two young men left the room and proceeded to their different apartments.
The morning of the wished-for picnic day broke with a brilliance far exceeding the most sanguine expectation. On the previous evening angry clouds had attended the sun to his couch of rest; the distant thunder-boom had made many a bosom quail for the next day, and many an anxious eye had peeped forth in the early dawning half expecting to see the rain falling fast; they were agreeably surprised to find not a cloud obscured the sky, and a mist that hung o'er hill, woodland, and river betokened a fine, hot, if not sultry day was beginning. From an early hour all was bustle and excitement at the Towers; the Earl presided over the busy servants packing hampers of good things, and wines of the choicest flavour, and himself superintended everything, being here, there, and everywhere, and seeming to have a hundred pair of hands. When he gave a pleasure, he always liked to do it in style, and was determined nothing should be wanting to render the amusement of the day perfect. Many of the visitors assisted the Earl in his tasks, and Johnny hurraed loud when he saw the carts start for the festive scene, groaning under plenty of good cheer. About eleven o'clock the courtyard was full of carriages, coachmen held the reins, and grooms led many horses ready saddled for those who preferred riding. Many fair girls in light summer attire and hats, and many gentlemen, some equipped for driving, and others booted and spurred, filled the yard; laughter and jest made the old turreted towers ring again with glee. Carriage after carriage was filled, and drove off for the Peel; last of all the Earl's own coroneted barouche and four left for the gay scene; the carriage was an open one, but able to shut in case of rain, of which there appeared little likelihood. The Earl himself drove the four iron grays, adorned with blue ribbons on the nets which protected them from the flies. By the Earl sat Johnny in high feather, and inside were the Marquis and Marchioness, Lady Florence, and Ellen Ravensworth. Several equestrians rode by the carriage, chatting and laughing with the fair occupants, and now and then spurring on to catch up some other vehicle. Conspicuous among the horsemen were the Captain and Edward L'Estrange,—the former wore the same garb he had appeared in amongst the haymakers; the latter, instead of a white kerchief, wore a scarf of the finest Indian texture for a turban, and the crimson silk, figured with gold, showed off his dark countenance to perfection; they were both mounted on splendid animals, which they managed with all the grace and ease of finished horsemen.
"Let us take a short cut over the park; I know a by-road to the spot," said the Captain, turning his horse and putting him to the wooden wattling which he cleared with scarcely an effort, and quickened his pace into a gallop, followed closely by L'Estrange over the smooth grass. A ten minutes' freshener brought them to the by-path, and here they checked their panting coursers to a trot, and finally a walk, as they entered the road upon which they guided their horses whose blood was now up, and who impatiently paced along, snorting, tossing their heads, and champing the bits.
"So ho! gently, Terror, old boy, gently," said the Captain, patting the lithe arching neck of his beautiful black hunter, who snuffed the air through his thin transparent nostrils, and struck the ground as if burning for the chase, while his eye dilated and seemed to flash fire. As if he understood his master, the noble Arab stepped out more calmly, and the Captain said, "Archy Forbes is a smart fellow, a very knowing fellow, by my soul, and will prove a great help. I have engaged him for my own particular servant, and sent my old man about his business."
"Do you not think we have too many in the plot?" remarked L'Estrange.
"No, I cannot say I do. There is Musgrave, as safe as wax, no fear of his betraying us. Old Forbes, my foster-father, would sooner hang than breathe a word, he is a dog that will not open cry falsely. There's Stacy, a gallows bird that will not tempt the light! Archy is as unapt to give out a secret as the rock is to unlock its waters. The only one I fear is Antonia, or Juana if you like; a woman's tongue is the unsafest keep going."
"I fear not Juana," replied L'Estrange; "a whisper from her would cut her own throat."
"It might, indeed, were she rash enough to inculpate me," said the Captain, with a cruel laugh. "We must push on, Ned, or some of these carriages will overhaul us before I have seen old Stacy."
So saying he spurred his horse, nothing loth, into a hand gallop, and the two intriguers rode side by side up the rising road, on either bank of which rose dark pines, which had scattered their sprays on the pathway, and made a soft yet firm footing for the horses. It was going on for noon, but the sun could not pierce the dense fir woods, save here and there where his ray formed a bright line across the road. The air was still sultry in the extreme, and not a breath of wind was stirring. Squirrels and rabbits, scared by the approaching riders, from time to time crossed the road, and the wood pigeons, alarmed by the clatter, flew off, flapping their wings loudly. As the two officers rode side by side—dressed almost alike as they were—the resemblance found out by their fellow-comrades in arms was all the more striking. The same military seat and air—the same bronzed complexions and arched noses—the same dark hair and moustache; there was yet a distinctive difference: L'Estrange was still more sunburnt and swarthy in look, probably from his having served in India, as well as his early life spent in the tropics, yet there was a softer expression, a milder air about his face than was to be found in the Captain's, whose eyes, more dark and unrelenting, stood avenged against his friend's, rather soft than fiery.
But if in feature they resembled each other, in character they were as different as light from darkness. Captain de Vere was a bold, fearless man, whose boast was he neither feared God nor regarded his fellow-creatures; in his affections light, in his passions headstrong, he loved no one but himself, nor cared how he hurt another's feelings provided he pleasured his own. If he took offence he was a terrible foe—implacable, vindictive, and unforgiving. L'Estrange was brave, without being the same fearless, dare-devil man the Captain was; naturally inclined to be devotional and benevolent, it was his misfortune, rather than his fault, to see and approve the better, while he followed the worse; by nature also full of affection, he more deeply felt rejected love, and yet was generally able to have full mastery over his passions, and hold them under his control. He was neither selfish nor unforgiving in character, and it was an evil day that he linked himself with the Captain, who, being of a far stronger character, naturally led L'Estrange, more weak and vacillating, into all sorts of evil he would never have fallen into if left to himself. Some men are wicked by nature, such was the Captain—others are wicked by evil example and misfortune, such was L'Estrange.
Half an hour's gallop brought the friends to their journey's end. Cessford's Peel, or Castle, was an old watch tower, once strongly fortified, and still in excellent repair. Built at the bottom of a dark glen, through which foamed a mountain burn, its gray crest just peeped above the woods; the keep was covered with ivy, amid which numbers of jackdaws had built their nests. The Peel was built close to the march of the Earl's estates; a cross-road led from its doorway to the high-road, which ran along the top of the dell. The tower had an ill reputation, having been the scene of some terrible murder in olden times, and the popular belief was it was haunted by the spirit of the sufferer. In front was a large open lawn, surrounded by woods on all sides, and sloping down to the torrent. Beneath the shadow of the trees to the right was a huge stone, perhaps ten feet in diameter, and round as Arthur's table; its top was as level as the nether millstone, and was covered with moss. On this verdant table it was proposed to spread the banquet. Indeed, if it had been created on purpose, a better place for a picnic could hardly be found: the turreted castle, with its woods and hills around, formed a landscape on which the eye delighted to rest,—the level stone for a table,—the green grass for a dancing-board,—the burn for a well to cool the wines;—while the hum of bees, the carol of wood warblers, and distant murmur of falling waters made music to the ear.
On a broken-down dyke sat an old man in seaman's dress, smoking his pipe in the sunshine, and apparently little caring for the prospect around. The young officers, when they reached this delightful spot, dismounted, and taking off the saddles and bridles from their horses tethered them to a stone beneath the shadow of the trees, and left them to pasture there at their pleasure. Having seen their steeds well cared for, their next action was to cross the meadow and address the old man.
"What fool's errand is this? The foul fiend take your merry makings."
"How now, old drudge—dare you blaspheme?" said the Captain; "nevertheless, I hate your picnics, and you may be sure had no hand in this."
"Could you not have steered elsewhere? is there not sea-room enough without tacking here with your mummeries?"
"What the devil had I to do with it? However, you will see laughing, and dancing, and merriment enough to make the fiends howl. Is Antonia to do what I asked?"
"Yees," answered Bill Stacy, for he it was; "but devil take it, if there ain't one of their confounded craft come already, and I must sheer off."
"Like fun; be earthed, you old fox!"
With an angry growl the old man disappeared over the wall, and cursing the folly that compelled him to do so—for naturally Bill's heart anything but revived, at the sight of the waggons—stowed himself away in one of the deep dungeons, while our friends stepped forward to meet the newly-arrived guests, who proved to be Mr. Lennox and his daughter, rather a dashing, spirited girl of seventeen. They were accompanied by Sir Richard and young Scroop.
"Who was that remarkable looking individual you were addressing?" asked Mr. Lennox of the Captain.
"God only knows; some old tramp, I suppose, whom I sent about his business," replied the Captain, inwardly cursing Mr. Lennox for a prying fool, and meddler in what did not concern him.
"He looked so mysterious, and vanished so remarkably, I really fancied you knew more about him."
"What in the devil's name could I know about the old villain—a miscreant I never before saw in my life?" scornfully answered the Captain, and then in a side voice whispered to Sir Richard—"I wish to God the conceited coxcomb had not seen us—these inquisitorial blockheads never know when to hold their tongue."
Meanwhile all the party had arrived, and whilst old Andrew and a dozen men laid out a magnificent cold repast on the natural table, which they covered with several damask cloths, the guests, in parties of two and three, commenced exploring the dell and woods, till a blast blown by Wilton summoned the stragglers together. It was about two when all was prepared, and a merry party of nearly thirty sat down to their feast; some on stones which were scattered around the monster table, and some on shawls and plaids. All the usual accompaniments of a picnic were present—the clatter of knives and forks, the popping of champagne bottle corks, the laughter, wit, and prompt repartee, the thousand pretty compliments to the fair sex, and now and then the cry of some girl as a wasp or bee disputed possession of her platter. All went off with the greatest glee and good-temper. At the head of the rocky table presided the Earl, with his sister the Marchioness and Ellen on either side. Johnny, seated next Lady Florence, kept up perpetual merriment with her, and Mr. Lennox had insinuated himself between two dukes, one of whom was his cousin, as he informed every one, and felt in the seventh heaven of pride and happiness. All the others sat around, whilst on the top of the Duke of Buccleuch's drag might be seen the Captain, Lord Arranmore, Scroop, Sir Richard Musgrave, L'Estrange, and a few others who preferred their own company, and drank champagne from tumblers. When the assemblage had broken up and the greater part of the company disappeared in the woods, these worthies might still be seen en haut in high glee.
"You look very comfortable up there," said Lady Florence, who passed below with one of the Ladies Scott and another young lady. "I think some of you might have the gallantry to chaperone us over the haunted tower, we do not dare to go alone."
"D—t—n!" cried the Captain, aside to L'Estrange, "who the deuce would have thought of that? This grows worse and worse."
"I can go, and avoid the dungeons."
"No, I will; it will be easy to frighten these simpletons so much they will not tempt the lower regions," said the Captain, in a low voice, and then aloud, "I am your man; I will come and guard you against the ghosts, Floss, and the murdered old dame: Musgrave and L'Estrange, come along, there's a beau apiece for you."
"Dear me, wonders will never cease!" said Lady Florence, laughing, "when you shelter young ladies, John."
Leading the way, the Captain strode towards the doorway, whilst L'Estrange and Musgrave filled the girls' heads with nonsense, and exaggerated tales of horror, mystery, and deeds of blood done in the dark dungeons. The Peel was an old, antiquated-looking square tower, and the rooms were lofty, with thin cross-shaped windows, which let in the least possible light; the walls were hung with tapestry, behind which were many secret doors. Ascending the irregular stone staircase, the party, increased by several new members, began a close scrutiny of all the chambers, and rummaged everywhere,—looking into every dark passage, but getting more and more alarmed, to the Captain's great delight, who magnified every sound made by the rats, which frequented the tower in swarms, into the footsteps of bogles and goblins, and so worked on the terrors of the ladies, that none had the hardihood to descend to the dungeons, in one of which was hidden old Stacy. This being given up, by universal consent they left the tower, and once more emerged on the green grass. They found all the servants busily engaged devouring the remains of the feast, like "filthy jackalls," as the Captain remarked, "devouring the relics of the lions' repast." They then all commenced roaming the woods, and the Captain and L'Estrange soon managed to give them the slip, leaving Musgrave to take care of the ladies.
Whilst this party was busy searching the tower, the rest of the company had proceeded, in parties of two and three, to the cool retreats of the woods. The Earl, accompanied by his sister the Marchioness, and Ellen, began rambling up the burn, along a rough footpath, in order to show Ellen a waterfall at the top of the wood. Before they had proceeded far they were met by the Marquis, with whom Lady Edith walked another way, leaving the lovers alone. Taking Ellen's hand, the Earl helped her to climb the path, rough with the roots of fir trees protruding from the soil, and exceedingly steep. As they got still higher the acclivity became more and more perpendicular, and the stones they loosened from the hill side went thundering down below, crashing among the trees, till they at last plunged into the brown waters. It was hot work as well as arduous, and often they paused to rest on the fallen trees that now and then lay across the pathway. Their footsteps on the withered fir branches that strewed the ground, often started the denizens of the wood,—the weasel, the rabbit, and the timid hare, that fled past them like a shadow, stopped a moment, with ears erect, and then started off again; and the wild pigeons, or cushats, as they are called in Scotland, flew off their nests with a loud noise, as if one clapped his hands together. As they neared the summit of the wood, the fall of the water became more and more distinct, and soon they emerged from the dark trees into sunshine and open air, and beheld the cascade they had so long heard. The top of the wood opened on a rushy dell, surrounded on either side by a half circle of high banks, on which blossomed the whin and flowering broom. In front rose high rocks, over which raved and foamed the black moss waters, lashed into foam by their descent; the troubled waves then found a way through the centre of the dell, and were almost hidden by reeds and bracken,—or, as the English call it, fern. Beneath the cascade, on either side, grew several nut trees, and as the sun shone brightly, their light green stood out boldly relieved against the black rocks behind; through these trees were caught glimpses of the flashing waters as they heaped themselves into a dark lynn that eddied below. Countless insects,—dragon flies, azure wings, fritillaries, and other butterflies sported in the sunshine over the rushes, and from them the dell took its name of "Butterfly Dell." Half hid by the waterfall in the sides of the rock, a large dark hollow was just visible, over which danced the iris painted by the sunshine on the silvery spray,—now faint and dimly distinguishable, now radiant and bright as the bow in the day of rain. A few steps, rudely cut in the naked rock, led to the cavern, towards which the lovers directed their steps. The Earl guided his fair companion's footsteps up the rough stairs, assisting her with his arm, and in another moment they were both inside the cool retreat. The air of this grot was extremely pleasant after their hot climb; and, when their eyes became accustomed to the dim light, they perceived a rootwork seat placed against the further end of the cave which extended but a short way into the rocks. From the roof of this cell dripped some fine stalactites; and through the circular entrance they had a view of the dell bathed in sunshine. The burn looked like a streak of silver thread winding its way among the green rushes, and the trees rose dark behind; now and then a light wind blew the vapoury mist of the fall past the cave's entrance, and for a moment everything was lightly obscured. The Earl and his fair partner sat down on the seat, and for some minutes enjoyed the sweet scene in silence. We must, however, reserve their conversation for another chapter, as this has already exceeded its bounds.
"Years have flown by," said the Earl, "since I saw this dell. When my feet last roamed here I was a careless boy, rambling the woods gun in hand, or, with my brothers and sisters around chasing the butterfly over hill and dale. It was with my eldest sister, now in heaven, that I last tracked the stream; it was with her by my side I last sat on this very seat. All seems unchanged,—all is as bright and fair as it was that day, except the two roamers: one is gone, and the spot brings bitter as well as blissful associations to the other."
"I knew not you ever had another sister," said Ellen; "is it long since she died?"
"More than ten years ago; but still I remember her words as if she had said them yesterday. Oh, what a fine, handsome creature she was! and good as well as fair; she was older than me by three years. This was her favourite haunt; it was she who gave it the name of 'Butterfly Dell;' all her thoughts were bright! It was on such another day as this we last sat together: she was unusually grave that day,—almost melancholy. 'I have a strange presentiment, Clarence,' she said, 'that I have not long to live:—you know all De Veres die young. I often think heaven will be like this,—only there the flowers will be brighter, and will not fade; the leaf will not turn sere, and there will be no sorrow, no pain. Clarence, I shall soon be there!' 'Say not so,' I answered, 'you are too young to die yet; stay with us,—do not leave us; why should you think you will die?' 'Clarence, the thought troubles me not; I am happy here, but I shall be still happier there!
I shall soon be there!'—pointing to the blue sky, 'and roaming in fairer scenes than this, with the holy angels for companions. Clarence, you must come there too!' 'Augusta, do not, I entreat you do not; you are made to shine in this world yet,—to be a star of fashion and beauty,' I exclaimed. 'No, I shall be a star there,—I do not wish to shine here. This world, darling, is fleeting and vain, and its pleasures unsatisfying. I have learned to love a better world, which is fixed, eternal, unchangeable,—whose pleasures are real and substantial. Clarence, you must be good, and meet me there! There I shall meet little Arthur, and see his pretty face again: and we will watch for you!' She said more, much more than I can remember, and which I would I thought of oftener. Oh! Ellen, I seem to hear her yet! When we reached home, a sad—sad scene awaited us; my father, the Earl, had been borne home lifeless. Riding across country, and being a bold, fearless equestrian, he had put his horse to a fence too high for it; the animal refused the leap; my father reined it back, and then, riding forward, showed it, by spur and whip, that it must take it. The horse rose, but not high enough,—my father helped it by lifting its head: it was vain!—horse and horseman fell heavily; the horse soon rose,—not so its rider, who still detained the steed by the bridle, clenched in the hand of the dead. There he was found by Wilton, and borne home by four foresters. I shall never forget Augusta's grief,—it was long, bitter, unavailing. My mother was then in England; and I, now an Earl, strove to conceal my own sorrow, and soothe Augusta's; but she refused to be comforted, and took to her bed with a fever, brought on by excessive sorrow. Her presentiment was too sadly true; and within a week she was laid side by side with her father in the old family vault, in the west tower. Since then I have grown a man, and mingled in the world; but, if deadened by time, my sorrow is still quick in my breast, and the dying words of my sister ring distinct and clear in my ears!"
"How sad! No wonder your feelings are melancholy," said Ellen. "But you spoke of another of your family: was Arthur your brother,—and is he, too, dead?"
"He was my brother," said the Earl, "but his fate is wrapt in mystery."
"How I should have liked to have seen Lady Augusta; but do tell me about your brother, I am so interested."
"You may see a feeble attempt to stamp Augusta's beauty when we go home—her portrait hangs in the hall. Arthur's history is a long and sad one, but I will tell it to you if you are not weary."
"Oh, no, no; I am breathless with interest."
"Arthur, Viscount de Vere, was my eldest brother then," commenced the Earl. "When a child of two, or thereabouts, and just able to walk, he was taken out a turn one Sunday in the neighbourhood of the Towers by his nurse, a young girl of twenty. I was then unborn, and Augusta about three years old. When near the bosky dell, at the foot of the park, the girl left her charge for an instant to speak to a young man, a forester on my father's estates; after a few minutes she returned and found the child missing. In great alarm she searched the woods round, and fearing the little boy had strayed into the dell recalled the young forester, and the two commenced a long but fruitless search. It was not till some hours were consumed in vain attempts to find the young heir, that the girl and her lover summoned resolution enough to tell the news at the Towers. The poor young woman, in an agony of grief and terror, fell at the Earl's feet and told him all. My father, in wild grief at the loss of his then only son, and heir to the title, gathered all the servants and hurried to the spot. They searched every nook, and shouted the lost child's name—but no answer save the echoes from the wild wood was heard. Throughout the whole night, a night of storm and rain, the search was carried on by means of lanterns, and early next day, as a last resource, bloodhounds were put on the trail; they tracked the lost child to the torrent, but there lost the scent, and it was then concluded the poor boy had wandered to the water's side, fallen into the stream, then swollen by autumn rains, and been carried down to the sea. However, his little remains were never found, and may lie deep in the lone sea."
"How melancholy! poor boy! and what became of the unhappy young woman who so neglected her charge?"
"She was examined, and cross-examined, but kept to her story, and the young man fully corroborated her statement; they were soon after married and went out to America. I must tell you another story connected with this same torrent, at least unless you are tired."
"Oh no—do go on—I am so fond of family legends, yours seems full of them."
"It is indeed; the weird of the Wentworths I will tell you some other day. Now for this one, more romantic and less melancholy than the last."
"When my father was a young man of three and twenty, he was one day in August strolling with his gun through this wood. When he had surmounted the ascent, and come out in this dell, a thunderstorm that had long threatened burst with great fury and violence on his head, and the rain descended in floods. He at once bethought him of this cave, and in far shorter time than we took, Ellen, made across the dell, climbed the rocks, and took advantage of its welcome shelter. Seated on the ground with his gun near him he listened to the grand storm. The vivid lightning lit up the cavern every moment, and played around it; the bellowing thunder crashes shook the very ground, echoing from rock to hill; and the rain descended in sheets. For two hours the storm rolled on, and kept him prisoner; at last the peals waxed fainter—the lightnings less bright—and the storm wore gradually away, now and then only a faint after-clap grumbled in the distance—the rain still fell heavily, and the torrent came down in high flood, carrying trees and rocks with it. The deafening roar of the cascade drowned the distant thunder—the last dying voice of the subsiding storm, the rain lessened—then ceased altogether, and the sun shone out, and stained a rainbow on the dark cloud. My father took up his gun, and, advancing to the mouth of the cave, looked out; what was his surprise to see a young lady, handsomely dressed, but drenched by the rain, vainly attempting to find a passage across the roaring torrent! At last she stood on one of those two rocks which narrow the flood, and for a moment hesitated whether to risk the leap or not. 'Lady, try it not,' cried my father; but he spoke too late, she sprung, but miscalculating the breadth, her foot slipped from the rock she barely reached, and flinging up her arms, uttering at the same time a wild scream, she fell back into the turbid waters. To leap down from the cave, and plunge in after the sinking maiden was a work of an instant; and, fortunate in rescuing her from the wild current, a task which taxed my father's whole strength, he bore the fainting girl, with her fair hair streaming with water, to this cave, where he soon had the joy of seeing her return to consciousness, and he did not leave his charge till he saw her able to walk home. He found out that the lady he had saved from a watery grave was Edith Carr, an orphan and only daughter, and heiress to Hugh Carr of Cessford; she was the ward of her uncle William, being a minor. Unhappily a deadly feud existed between the Carrs and De Veres, ever since one of my ancestors carried off the lady of an old warrior of the Carrs' line, and secreted her in the tower, or Peel of Cessford. Her husband finding her out, brutally murdered his faithless spouse, and was in turn assassinated by my ancestor. Proceeding as near the mansion as he dared, my father left his charge, after having first planned a meeting in this cave. Edith Carr was considered the most beautiful girl in all the south of Scotland; her portrait has feebly caught the light of loveliness; but when I tell you that neither of my sisters are said to be able to compare with her when she was young, you can form some slight idea of her charms. Often and often did the lovers meet in secret, and at length my father boldly solicited her hand from William, her uncle. He was refused with scorn, the old man declaring if he ever showed his face again in their halls he should pay forfeit with his life. My father was not to be thus baulked; he still kept up correspondence with his flame by means of a servant, who proved a traitor at last. It was mutually agreed that the lovers should meet in this dell, horses were to be in waiting—then they were to ride to the Towers, where a priest was ready to join their hands. They met—they rode to the Towers, and had just entered the hall when William Carr, her uncle, pale with ire, appeared sword in hand, and demanded in a fierce voice his ward's release. The Earl as fiercely denied his power—the lady averred she was of age that day, and free to bestow her hand on whom she would, and refused to return. The uncle rushed on my father, and laid hold of him. The Earl shook him off—the old man attacked him with his blade, but my father seized a weapon from the walls and defended himself manfully. Then a deadly struggle commenced, short but furious. My father was the better swordsman, and soon ended the conflict by piercing the old man through the heart: his life blood still stains the oaken floors. The pale priest then united the two, and they drove off for the Continent. My father was acquitted of all blame, and they lived happily together till his death. Thus was the feud ended, and thus the possessions of Cessford added to the Wentworth patrimony."
"How romantic!" said Ellen; "this burn seems connected in a wonderful way with your family."
"It is," said the Earl; "and now, Ellen, dearest! can you not guess my motive in guiding you to this spot—the spot where my father won his lady's hand? I have been happy, Ellen, blessed with title, wealth, and broad lands, and health and strength to enjoy them; one thing only is lacking—one to share my happiness, one to bless my fireside; you, dearest, are the only woman I ever loved. I know you love me—I know this is only a form. Ellen, you will be my own Ellen—my dearest wife."
Instead of the ready response the Earl expected he was not a little surprised and chagrined by the silence, and agitated expression of Ellen's face.
"Then am I mistaken; you love me not—this is indeed a blow! But it cannot, cannot be so; it is only maiden coyness."
"You say you love me," said Ellen, in a fearful, nervous tone; "think, Lord Wentworth, is there not another to whom you told the same; you say you love me only, is there not one you loved, may still love?"
"Oh, Ellen, hear me, it is false I vow by——"
"Perjure not yourself, my lord, is there not one—Juana?"
"Heavens! and how came this scandal to your ears? Indeed, indeed I have transgressed—but I have repented—it was done in an hour of weakness—it is passed—I have no more to do with her."
"And may I not fear, my lord, you may thus treat me when tired of the charms you now flatter?"
"You are not surely going to compare a light, passing passion to the full, deep, pure love with which I adore you! I vow by yonder blue sky, and Him who dwells above it, I will love, cherish, doat on you eternally!"
"Think not, my dear lord, I do not love you as deeply," said Ellen, relentingly; "but when I love I will brook no rival—no idol on the shrine where I lay my affections. He who would gain Ellen Ravensworth's love must give her his undivided heart—and burn no incense to—nor worship—a false god! If you will give me your word you will not speak to Juana again, and vow to love me alone, I will be yours! If I hold only a second place in your heart—bitter as the pang will be to my own bosom—I will renounce love, and will not be your wife."
"I will give my word—the inviolate word of a British peer, far more sacred than his oath—that I will never speak to her again on love, nor love another save her to whom I plight my troth now! You will then be my own—my dearest Ellen."
"I will; but oh! my dear Lord Wentworth, remember your sainted sister's last words; flee worldly vanities, and live so as to meet again your dear absent one! I too give you my whole undivided heart—I reserve not one corner—and you shall see how I can love," said Ellen, blushing with joy; "nothing but death shall part us twain—not even death! When you die I will die too; I could not breathe without you! One only—He who made me—shall dispute with you my love!"
"Ellen," said the happy Earl, "you are a dear, good girl! I love you all the more because you showed me my error. I know I have thought too little of Augusta's wish—I know I have let the world take too strong a hold of my heart; but you shall be my good angel—my guide to better, purer springs; you have made me happy here, and you may be the instrument of making me happy hereafter. But we are overheard!" he cried, hastily rising. Ellen too sprung to her feet. The cause of this sudden interruption to their converse was a dark shadow that glided across the sunshine that streamed in at the mouth of the cave. A moment after a figure appeared—it was the light, youthful form of an Italian-looking boy. When he saw the two lovers he started back, and his dark countenance crimsoned as he saw his error. Crossing his arms over his breast, and bending his eye on the ground, he remained mute as a statue.
"Who, and what are you?" said the Earl, in a stern voice, being little pleased by his inopportune appearance.
"Pardon me, noble Inglese, pardon my intrusion. I did not know any one was here," replied the Italian, in the soft Ausonian tongue.
"It needs not—you did so unwittingly," said the Earl, in the same language, which he spoke fluently,—and then in English to Ellen, "He is a foreigner, and knows not the meaning if he heard any of our conversation."
The boy was slight in figure and apparently very youthful; his face was exceedingly handsome—his hair black and falling over his neck in glossy bands—his complexion was olive—his eyes large, full and lustrous with the Italian fire; but his expression of countenance was poetic, and very melancholy. His dress argued he had known better days, although the velvet mantle and cap were worn and faded in appearance; in his hand he carried a lute.
"And why have you left sunny Italy," asked the Earl, "and come to the cold North?"
"Alas! signore, Italia is now no home to me! My father and mother were both cruelly executed, and I driven an outcast from the land of my birth. Ah! signore, I have known happier times. I am an exile now from the land I love, and forced to roam a foreign shore, and gain a pittance from my lute. I cannot return to Italia's olive groves—I am very sad."
"Poor boy!—but what brought you hither?" asked the Earl, still speaking in Italian.
"I was travelling to Edinburgh—the sun was hot, and I was weary with walking; your roads are very hard. I wandered up the cool water's side, and I found this cavern, and thought I would rest a while in the cool grotto till the evening came. But I intrude, signore; I have disturbed you, fair lady; I will leave you, and proceed on my pilgrimage."
"Not so," said the Earl, "you can touch the lute deftly. We have a pleasure party below—you shall play, and they will dance. I had forgotten a minstrel—I am glad you found us. Afterwards I will take you to the Towers, my house; its gates were never shut on outcast yet, nor was the houseless wanderer ever turned from its door. I will see what can be done for you, my poor boy; follow us."
"Grazzia tanta, you are too good—I will gladly play. I know several English airs—but I will not trespass on your generosity, noble signore; let me then journey on."
"We shall arrange all that," said the Earl, helping Ellen down the steps; "follow us."
The three then crossed the dell, and descended the declivity far quicker than they climbed it; Ellen and her lover first, and following timidly behind the young musician, who was ill able to keep pace with Scotch mountaineers in their own rough woods.
"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?"
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 what 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.
"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.
"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.
"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!
When L'Estrange opened his eyes it was with that delightful oblivion of all past events with which the slumberer first awakens. For a moment everything was forgotten; but then came the crushing remembrance of his guilt, and all that had passed a few hours ago. At first he felt inclined to doubt its reality; it was surely a wild dream—some terrible vision that had scared his sleep. He rubbed his eyes to see if he was awake. Alas! it was too true; there was the table, with the emptied decanters and wine-glasses still on it; the chairs on which they had sat; all damning proofs of the dread reality. The sun was shining brightly; the birds singing among the bushes; all was sunshine and happiness without; but within his sun had set; his joy was vanished; and he only rose to enact villainy. He started from his couch—his head still ached, and he felt sick in his heart as he walked across the chamber; and when he looked in the glass he started back with horror from his reflection; how haggard, pale, and wild were his looks; he scarce knew himself again! He bathed his face in cold water; it refreshed, without invigorating him. However, he felt better, and tried to steel himself up for the deed. He tried to laugh away his weakness and fears, as he hastily dressed. At last he was ready to go down stairs; but how should he face Ellen Ravensworth, if she should be alone, as he had sometimes found her? He stood irresolute for nearly five minutes, and then, suddenly nerving himself up for the worst, threw open his door—walked quickly along the passage—ran down the broad flight of stairs, and opened the parlour door. Two ladies stood near the window; one was Ellen, but, thank God! she was not alone. Lady Florence stood, all smiles, beside her. Trying to assume a careless tone of voice, he bade them good morning. His voice sounded strange to his ears! Had he come five minutes earlier he would have met Ellen alone—perhaps if he had, he might have confessed all to her—such had been a passing thought; but as it was it only sealed his purpose. The ladies returned his salute, and made some casual remark on the fine morning. L'Estrange sat down near the open window; the cool morning air was delicious as it fanned his burning face; he put his hand to his brow, and sat speechless.
"Are you unwell, Captain L'Estrange?" asked Ellen, in a sweet voice; "you look so pale."
"It is nothing; a mere passing headache. I am somewhat subject to them since I caught a fever in India," answered L'Estrange, in a choking voice; and walking to the sideboard he poured out a glass of cold water and drank it, remarking, "I shall be better by-and-by. I hope you are well, Miss Ravensworth, after your fatigues yesterday."
"I am very well, thank you; though I had not the best of nights. I do not know what kept me awake."
"Nor I, either, Ellen," said Lady Florence. "What a noise there was! I am sure I heard some one up very late; it was like John's step."
L'Estrange shuddered again, as he saw Ellen's smiling brow, and then thought how he, like a fiend, was to change her joy to wretchedness!
It was not long before the whole party assembled round the breakfast-table, on which was spread a regular Scotch breakfast, with strawberries and other summer fruits, besides the usual dainties.
"What is the order of the day?" asked the Captain.
"Everyone to his own taste, I believe," answered the Earl. "For myself, business takes me to Edinburgh."
"Whither I will accompany you," said the Marquis.
"Most of us ladies are going out riding; who will gallant us?"
"I shall have much pleasure," said Sir Richard; "especially if you grace the party with your fair presence, Lady Florence."
"And I." "And I," said Scroop and another young officer.
"I shall ride, too, then," said Johnny.
"That is as we please, Master Johnny," answered Lady Florence.
"I," said the Duke, "shall amuse myself in a quieter manner by seeing the gardens and hot-houses. Will you come, Mr. Lennox? and you, Mr. Ravensworth? We are the three steady ones."
"I never knew your Grace was steady," said the Earl.
"I shall have the utmost satisfaction," said Mr. Lennox, "being myself a great connoisseur in horticulture."
"I too shall consider myself at your Grace's service."
"Just as you please, Mr. Ravensworth."
"I am going a-fishing. Who comes with me?" asked Captain Wilson. "Though I can stick on a horse, I do not like the thoroughbreds here very much, and prefer angling. Will you come, Captain?"
The Captain stared, without replying; and Lady Edith answered for her brother.
"John never goes fishing, Captain Wilson; he thinks it far too slow. If Frank was here, he is a zealous disciple of old Walton's gentle art. I fear you will have to angle alone."
"No matter, Lady Arranmore, I am well accustomed to my own company."
Breakfast over, the various followers of various amusements departed. The Earl and Marquis rode off to town; the Duke and his two friends walked to find the head gardener; Captain Wilson set off with an under-keeper for the burn, rod in hand; and the young ladies, including the Marchioness and her sister, as well as Ellen Ravensworth, retired to accoutre themselves for their ride, whilst their beaux strolled to the stables to select their horses, with Wilton's aid.
Captain L'Estrange, as soon as breakfast was over, took his hat and riding-whip and left the Castle. First he sauntered through the extensive gardens—narrowly escaping the Duke, Mr. Lennox, and Ravensworth. The gardens lay on the side of the hills, having a southern aspect, and rose tier on tier. Up this moderately steep ascent our hero climbed, knocking off the heads of the flowers with his whip, to the great annoyance of several gardeners, who, however, did not make any remark. At the top of the uppermost garden was a high wall, covered with fruit-trees, dividing the gardens from the woods and mountains immediately outside; opening the door that led out, L'Estrange commenced climbing a steep path that traversed the woods, and finally led him to the open hills. On his left gushed the burn, and between it and the outside walls of the gardens the same path led to the back of the stables, and the holly walk, a green road between two walls of holly-hedge, running at right angles to the stables. When he had reached the summit of the woods, L'Estrange sat down on a fallen tree, and looked at the landscape: at his feet lay the castle, apparently so near he could have tossed a stone on it; behind were the mountains; and on either side dense woods; before the castle stretched the park for many a rood. He sat on the log for more than half an hour in a contemplative mood; then, looking at his watch, he suddenly sprung up, and bounded down the woods like a roebuck; he passed the garden, continuing down the rough pathway, reached the stable, and ran along the smooth holly-walk. At the end stood Archy Forbes, holding a horse ready saddled.
"Have you been long waiting?"
"Ay, sir, half an hour, may be, and may be mair."
"Good God!" said L'Estrange, as he threw himself across the horse, "what made me delay?"
Just as he was about to gallop off a horse and horseman broke from behind the hedge, at the near end of the walk.
"Not off yet?" said the Captain.
"I am just going to start," said L'Estrange, in a husky voice.
"What the deuce frightens you? There is nothing to be afraid of. Only take the back way, and see you don't fall in with Lennox, that meddling old coxcomb. Adieu! Off you go!"
"Au diable!" thought the other, as he galloped away.
The Captain spoke a few words to Archy, and then trotted to the Towers, where he found the riding party assembled, and Johnny showing off on a spirited little pony, which he had learned to manage with some address.
"Capital, young 'un!" shouted the Captain, as he cleared the park fence. "There is the making of a good horseman in you—plenty of pluck. We must get you into the 7th."
"Are you coming with us, Cap?" said Johnny, elated at the compliment.
Vouchsafing no reply, the Captain rode on with the party till he reached the Edinburgh road, where, taking off his hat to the ladies, he put spurs to his horse and rode to Edinburgh, where he probably met the Marquis and his brother at the favourite pump of the Irish lord, as the three rode back together.
When the whole party reassembled at dinner, L'Estrange's chair was again vacant. No notice was taken of this till the meal was more than half finished, and still the chair remained unoccupied, when the Earl remarked, "Captain L'Estrange is very unpunctual at his meals; in England we consider it a breach of the eleventh commandment."
"He wants Sir Henry Maynard to discipline him again, by Jove!"
"You need not speak, John," said Lady Florence. "Do you remember our joke at your always coming in late to dinner, and always stumbling into the room, with an oath, over the wolf-skin at the door."
"Enough to make most fellows swear, catching one's spurs in the d—d fur. I am glad it is gone now."
"Andrew," said the Earl, "send a footman to Captain L'Estrange's room; and tell him dinner is almost done."
The servant returned shortly with the reply, that the Captain was not in his room; nor had he been in the castle since morning.
"Then I'll be bound he has ridden off to Dalkeith, or Newbattle, and been asked to dinner," said Sir Richard. "He might have let me know, or sent a man to say so, at least."
The evening passed away as usual, and it was not till the Earl rose from the table in the smoking-room shortly before midnight that the Captain's absence was again alluded to.
"This passes forbearance," said the Earl, rising; "twelve o'clock, and my guest unaccounted for: this is either a strange breach of manners, or there is more in it than I imagine. Do none of you gentlemen know where he went to; has no one seen him?"
"I saw him, my Lord, in the garden about half an hour after breakfast," said Mr. Ravensworth.
"I also," said Mr. Lennox. "I pointed him out to your Grace," addressing the Duke.
"And did no one else see him since?"
"Not I," said the Captain.
"Nor I, nor I," answered several others.
"This grows serious. Ring the bell. Andrew, tell Wilton to come here at once."
When the hale old master of the horse appeared, the Earl said, "Wilton, I am much distressed at Captain L'Estrange's continued absence. Do none of you know anything about him?"
"No, my Lord, there is no horse, riding or driving, out from the stables. Jim Steadman, one of your lordship's foresters, saw the Captain running down the wood ayont the garden walls. I have made every inquiry, but no one else has seen him, except one or two of the under gardeners, and they seed him chopping the heeds off the flowers with his whip."
"This is more and more extraordinary; if he had no horse he cannot be far. I would he knew what anxiety he is causing."
"It certainly passes a joke," said Sir Richard. "However, he will turn up like a bad penny; you know, my Lord, since your proposal to Miss Ravensworth, L'Estrange, who it seems had some old attachment to the young lady, has not been like himself; last night he openly insulted the Marquis, and quarrelled with us all, because we bantered him a bit, not knowing how deeply he was bitten."
"I would I had known this before. I am extremely anxious about him; if, indeed, he was in this state of mind he might have done himself some harm, though God forbid it be so."
"Take my advice and leave him to find his way home. I warrant the night air will cool his head," said the Captain.
"Never," replied the Earl; "he was my guest, my friend; I am responsible for his safety, and not a soul shall retire to rest this night till Captain L'Estrange is found, or at least till we have done our best to find him. Wilton, order a dozen men to get torches and lanterns ready. Andrew, bring me my cloak and hat; come, gentlemen, I know none of you will refuse to search for this unhappy young man."
"I for one," said the Duke, "will go, and shame on him who stays at home."
"Spoken like a man," replied the Earl.
Everything was bustle; the whole party, wrapping themselves in cloaks and plaids, sallied forth, some with sticks, and some with staves; lanterns and torches were borne by not twelve, but nearly thirty stout retainers of the Earl, who volunteered right gladly; there was a sort of excitement mingled with it, and a fear, and let it not be denied, a hope, in some, that a dreadful catastrophe had occurred.
"I had rather seen L'Estrange at the devil, than hauling us out of doors at this hour," said the Captain, buttoning his military coat; "by Jove, this does pass a jest, Musgrave. I wonder if he has drowned himself?"
"I fear the worst," replied Scroop. "I never saw a man look so altered as he did at breakfast; if ever evil designs scarred a man's face they did his."
The party proceeded first through the gardens, then up the wood to the spot where Steadman saw him. The night was black as pitch; not a star broke through the heavy clouds; the sough of the south-west wind sighed through the woods, and ere they had proceeded far the rain commenced pattering fast. The thick trees at first kept it out, but by-and-by torch after torch was extinguished, and they kept up the search by means of lanterns only. Many of the men, and loudest of all the Captain, swore at this unlucky chance, and several of the seekers fell off, and stole away to the Towers. Amongst the first deserters were Lord Arranmore, Mr. Lennox, Mr. Ravensworth;: Scroop and Musgrave followed, and the party was curtailed by several of the men, who also slipped away, preferring their homestead and beds to the dripping woods. The Earl, the Duke, Captain de Vere, Johnny, and the naval commander Wilson, resolutely defied the elements; with Wilton, Jim Steadman, and a score of hardier foresters, they searched every nook, explored every hollow, hallooed the lost man's name, and dragged every lynn of the burn.
"I mind me of a search adoun this vera burn," said Wilton, "it was five-and-twenty years gone by or mayhap more, when on a night like this I searched this identical brae. I mind your lordship's father, how he searched, how he shouted your brother's name. The bairn was never found though, but it seems like yestreen. I was a younger man then."
Little heeding Wilton's story the Earl went on searching as though he too sought for his son. After a fruitless exploration of the ravine they came to the Holly Walk, and there the sharp eye of Wilton discovered a horse-hoof, which he pointed out to the Earl; it was almost effaced by the rain which now fell in torrents.
"That is easily explained," said the Captain; "I myself rode down this walk this very morning."
"Ay sir, in vera deed you did," said Archy Forbes.
When they had searched the whole dell with no better fortune, it was proposed by the Duke to give it up.
"Your Grace may, I shall hunt on," said the Earl. "Those however who desire may return."
The Captain, and most of the others readily availed themselves of this leave, and only the Earl, Wilton, Captain Wilson, and two foresters kept up the search; they too, after spending nearly all the night in rain, gave it up as a bad matter, and weary, wet, and disheartened, entered the Towers in the gray dawning, and, changing their drenched garments, sought a few hours' repose. Early next morning the search was recommenced by the woodmen and other servants. A sorrowful party sat down to breakfast, and every one looked at his neighbour in dismay. Ellen seemed most affected of all. In silence the meal passed away, or if anything was spoken it was some vague conjecture, or hope expressed all would yet turn out well. The Earl was absent as well as his brother; they had ridden off to Edinburgh for detectives, and also to make inquiries and give it publicity in the papers. They did not return till late at night, to find, of course, no news had been gained, nor was any trace to be found of the unhappy young man, living nor dead. Not to weary our readers more, we need only say a week's search, even with the best detectives, proved utterly useless; and though all who had seen the missing man were examined by oath, nothing transpired beyond the fact that he was missing, and no trace could be gained, nor clue found to his fate. It was a wonder and topic of the papers for a week, and immense rewards were offered for his body, alive or dead, for it soon began to gain a wide circulation that he must have met with foul play. At last, like everything else, time proved a grand cooler of excitement, and the remarkable disappearance of the young Captain was talked of less and less, till, after a fortnight had passed away, it ceased to excite any more interest in the public mind, and was added to the list of unrevealed secrets of crime. As a matter of course this untoward event broke up the party that met for pleasure at the Towers. Mr. Ravensworth and his son and daughters were the first to leave, then followed Mr. Lennox, who waited till the Duke took his departure also, and accompanied him so far as his home on his way to Edinburgh. In a week only the Marquis and Marchioness, the Captain and his friend Sir Richard, and another guest, the naval commander, remained. Ellen, we have said, was much affected by this sudden and unaccountable disappearance of her old admirer; she feared there was guilt in it, and dreaded to hear the dénouement; it was a subject she often talked of, and she perhaps more than any one else, feared there was something terrible connected with it; this fear she told Lord Wentworth, who however disregarded it and tried to cheer her up, for it had taken a great hold on her mind, more especially as she seemed to have been the prime cause of the catastrophe. Lord Wentworth almost daily rode to see his intended, and in this way two weeks passed away since the fatal night, still there was no clue to the mystery.
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."
"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.
"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 carriage 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!
We must retrograde in our story, and once more return and pick up the dropped stitch at Seaview, from the doors of which the carriage bearing Ellen and her abductors had just driven off. We need no longer hide from our readers the true state of affairs, nor lead them to believe, as Ellen did, her companions were officers of the law. The police officer with the long beard was none other than Sir Richard Musgrave; his assistants Bill Stacy, Farmer Forbes, and his son Archy, who acted as Jehu on the occasion; and they were driving, not to Edinburgh but to Cessford's Peel, in which castle the final scenes of this awful play were to be enacted. The night had been wisely chosen, first from its being Saturday, and the approaching Sunday would come aptly between—secondly from its being a peculiarly dark and rainy evening, and less liability of pursuit being crowned with any success. Contrary to Sir Richard's expectations, now that succour seemed impossible, Ellen Ravensworth nerved herself up for the worst, and did not give way and in a flood of tears supplicate his mercy; on the contrary, she sat beside him apparently little concerned at her fate; her eye was clear, her countenance calm, and without speaking a word she silently seemed offering petitions to the Great Protector for his protection under these trying circumstances. She was innocent, there was nothing to make her terrified, her innocence was at once buckler and sword; she felt sure it would shine forth; she was not living in an uncivilized state; she would be tried by lawful judges; she would have her own father to plead her cause; she would have the powerful assistance of the Earl, her plighted lord—she could feel sure but of one result, she had still higher protection—His aid who has promised to protect frail innocence! and she was certain God would defend the right, and not suffer her to ask his aid in vain. Whilst such high thoughts filled her mind the carriage swept on. "I must be now close to Edinburgh," she thought, and then another thought struck her, by this time her father would be returned—what would be his agony to find his daughter even suspected of such a crime, and he, her own beloved lord, what would he think? how would he receive the news that his promised bride was an inmate of the prison cell? The wife of Cæsar must be free even of suspicion,—Lord Wentworth's bride should not even be suspected,—had she given any cause for this? she could not think so, but this second train of thoughts was terrible! Still the carriage rolled on, the horses still dragged it forward at a furious pace—why were not the lights of Edina seen? A horrible thought struck her: she was not going to Edinburgh. She glanced out of the window. It was no thought but reality; on each side rose dark woods, she could dimly see them by the reflection of the carriage lamps. She started up; the officer, thinking she meditated an escape, seized her by the wrist, saying—
"Not so fast, my gentle lady, you escape not thus."
Was it only fancy, or had she heard that voice before?
"Believe me, sir," she said, throwing herself at his feet, "believe me, I tried not to escape, but tell me,—tell me for His sake who made us,—where are you taking me to?"
Sir Richard answered not; perhaps he saw she was suspicious; and, afraid his voice might betray him forebore; for whatever part he took in the matter, he had no wish she should find out his disguise.
"Oh, sir, I beseech you, tell me! As you are a man—a man of honour—tell me!—it is not prison to which you are taking me, you are no police officer; whoever you may be, tell me."
There was still no answer.
"Have you no pity? have you no heart?" cried the unfortunate beauty, her firmness now giving way, and the large tear standing in her blue eye. "Oh, if you have a sister, by her love I adjure you, tell me! by your mother's love, oh, tell me! Can you see a distressed maiden, can you see her tears, and yet feel no pity? I will forgive you all, I will pardon all your treachery, if you will only release me—take me to my father!"
"Lady, I am not the soft changeling to be turned from my purpose by a woman's tears. I do not ask your pardon, nor do I wish it; you will find ere long where you are bound to; you are witty, you have found out shrewdly the arrest is a sham, now see if you can guess the arresters?"
Ellen seeing entreaty prevailed not, now tried threats.
"Then if you are beneath your sex, if you have not even the heart of a soulless lion, for even he is said to respect a maiden, hear me and fear the vengeance both of God and man—see what the Earl of Wentworth will do!"
"I fear neither, most sage damsel; this evening I shall sup with his lordship; is there any message from his distressed lady love?"
"Who, and what are you? I should know the voice—I thought not mortal man could be so devoid of all human feelings—are you a fiend incarnate?"
"You may think me so if you please—you have then no message for my Lord. Shall I tell him Ellen Ravensworth spends the evening with her feere?"
Ellen could bear it no longer, but burst into tears.
"Ha, my proud damosel dissolves at last; like most storms, hers too ends in rain! but here we are at last, my fair lady, and I must begone. Ho! for the Towers!"
The carriage which had been descending a steep road here stopped, and Sir Richard leaped forth, and with mock politeness handed Ellen out. Again she thought of flight into the dark woods, but once more her retreat was cut off by Stacy and Forbes.
"Show our maiden fair to her dormitory," said Sir Richard, "and I must be off."
"Unhappy man, bad as you are leave me not to these ruffians; you will at least not hurt your victim!"
"Nor will they; Bill, do you hear, see the young lady up stairs; as you value your life touch her not, nay speak not to her,—I must away."
Mounting a horse that stood ready at the door, Sir Richard galloped off, and left Ellen to Bill's and Forbes' tender mercies, whilst he himself rode to the Towers with Archy Forbes; he reached it a few minutes after Mr. Ravensworth's arrival, and divesting himself of his disguise at the stables entered with the coolness of a thorough paced villain, joined in the conversation, and professed himself as surprised as any one.
It was too dark for Ellen to see much beyond an old tower to which she was hurried, and dark woods around. Following the two gaolers, she passed through a low, strong door, clamped with brass, and entered the hall of the tower, and commenced ascending a winding stone staircase; there were now only these two men with her, and half way up the taller departed by a side door, leaving her alone with Stacy.
"Kind hearts are sometimes hidden beneath a rough exterior, old man," said Ellen; "pity the distress of a wronged, helpless woman!"
"You have mistook Bill's colours, my pretty little craft; Bill Stacy's not a kind heart, his heart is as rough as his phisog," answered the old man.
"But many a rough heart has opened to a golden key—give me my liberty, send me to the Towers, and you shall have gold enough to gratify your highest wish; it shall be given with no grudging hand, take this ring as a pledge."
"Bribe not, gal! and think not Bill will strike colours to gold—he has more than he wants, keep your ring—and here we are—go in there, and try not to corrupt my dochter—or gorramighty yer shall swing for it."
With these words he pushed Ellen into a large room, and shut the door.
Baffled a third time, Ellen gave herself up for lost—she staggered into the room, and threw herself on the first chair, and again gave way to hopeless grief.
"Madam," said a soft voice, "do not distress yourself; bear up, things are not so bad as they appear."
Ellen looked up to see the speaker! By her side stood a fair Spanish beauty, with braided hair, and large lustrous eyes. Ellen was not totally untinctured with some of the superstitions of her country, and for a moment she fancied she was an angel sent from heaven; her beauty—the strange situation she was in—the horrid remembrances of her arrest and drive—all worked on her mind, and she fancied it must be a vision, and not reality; but angels do not weep—and a tear stood in the young beauty's eye; she thought she knew the voice too—had heard it before—she was in a trance, surely—she would wake, and find it all a creation of her brain?
The room was hung with tapestry, which bent in and out with each gust of the wind—it was handsomely, but anciently furnished—everything was of the olden date. The room had two narrow windows—a huge old fashioned fireplace—one door only; opposite the windows was a large wardrobe, of which part formed a bookcase. In the far corner of the room were two beds with curtains of murrey-coloured silks, on which were trimmings, once bright, but now tarnished; several old pictures, hung on the walls, seemed lifelike in the half-gloom, half-glimmer of a solitary lamp on the large inlaid table in the centre of the room. These thoughts, suggested by the appearance of this fair lady in the ancient looking room, took Ellen's mind far shorter time to think of, than it has the writer to write them. She was awaked from her reverie by the soft voice again, "Madam—weep not—distress not yourself so."
"Have pity on me—oh! you have a tender, kind heart—you must have; a face so fair is the mirror of a good heart."
"Hush, lady—my father is at the door—these walls have ears—speak not so loud—and, moreover, do not ask for what I cannot grant. I will try and make you happy in your confinement,—I can do no more; and, lady, listen, your harsh or kind captivity depends entirely on yourself; if you submit without trying to escape, everything that can make you happy will be done for you; if you try either by bribe or subtlety to escape, you will only find harsher gaolers than I am."
"I will trust you then—happy I cannot be, but nothing will harm me whilst you are here. But, oh! at least tell me why I am confined here; this is a free country, and without law the meanest subject of his Majesty cannot be imprisoned."
"Alas, lady! I do not even know your name—far less do I know why you are here—I am your guardian only."
"Then God's will be done—you will at least stand by me in my distress."
"And now, madam, will you not retire to rest?—you need fear nothing."
"No, I will not; I trust you—I do not those who are here besides. I will not—I could not sleep, and yet I do not fear; I have secreted a dagger—see it," she cried, holding a small Indian blade which she had contrived to possess herself of unseen by Sir Richard, and which had belonged to her eldest brother; "before Ellen Ravensworth submits to wrong she will bury this in her heart—death before dishonour."[G]
"Keep it, lady; you may require it yet," said Juana, in a low tone.
"Oh, my God, shield me; but what said you—you do then know why I am here?"
"I guess, but cannot be certain; keep your weapon, I will not deprive you of your last resource; but let no one else know of it—there are those here who would."
The young Spaniard then arose, saying, "You need fear no harm to-night—rest, for you are weary with crying, and terror; I pledge my sacred word no one enters this room to-night."
"Then I will trust you, you could not play me false; but I part not with thee," she said, addressing the dagger; "thou wilt be a sure friend."
The two young girls then retired to rest; Juana slept, not so Ellen, who lay awake the livelong night, conjecturing in vain why she was there. Three things consoled her: first her trust in a higher Power; secondly her faith in the Earl, who she knew was even then searching for her, and as she could not be very far she had hopes he might soon find her out; her third and last consolation, was the knowledge that in her extremity death was in her own power.
Slowly the hours of darkness rolled away—oh! how long they seemed, as she tossed on her restless pillow, and listened to the heavy fall of the sentinel's step that guarded her room's entrance,—it was probably the fierce-looking old man who she had found out was her companion's father; she was surely a mild offspring from so rough a sire! The more Ellen thought the more inextricable seemed the web she strove to unravel—why was she there—who had he been who brought her—who were those rough men, and this fair girl who guarded her? She tried to recall voices she felt sure she had heard, first her arrestor's, secondly the lady's who guarded her—she felt sure she had heard both, but where she could not recollect.
The night passed away slowly, the dawning lightened the room, by-and-by the sun shone—at last it was a fine day; she slipped from her couch, and hurried to the window. Oh! mystery of mysteries! it was then in Cessford's Peel she was confined. Beneath her, forty feet below at the least, was the green meadow, and the round stone, and the trees and hills beyond; she heard the roar of the burn, now swollen, and strange thoughts flitted through her mind. The scene where she had been so happy was before her, the burn up whose banks she had wandered rushed by; but how different was her present lot! how inscrutable it seemed! She returned, and falling on her knees by her bedside besought God to end this misery. Doubtless He heard her prayer, but prayers are not always so soon answered as the petitioner expects. Juana awoke too; she was a Roman Catholic, and repeated her devotions after the prescribed form of her creed; they then dressed, and before long a waiting girl of surpassing beauty, but quite of a different order, brought in a simple breakfast. More and more puzzled was Ellen when she saw this girl's face—she had surely seen her before! When she had left the room Ellen recalled the face, it was that of Jeanie Forbes, the country belle to whom she had seen the Marquis talking.
"It is indeed a mystery," she thought; "what if it be a trick of the Earl's to try my fidelity—but no, he couldn't do so—and yet all is so strange—there must be more than I guess in it—I will wait and see, at the last I have still the worst, maybe; but at the worst, I have still the last friend to end my woe."
Through that day nothing particularly occurred; and again darkness came, again Ellen refused to retire unless she had Juana's word for her safety; it was given, and that night she actually slept. Another, and another, and still another day wore by—still she had seen no living soul but Juana and Jeanie Forbes, and she began half to lose her fears—half to despair. The first, because long acquaintance with misery naturally takes off the keenness of its sting, and she was so fully prepared for the worst, the present seemed quite bright; the last, because several days had now passed, and yet no succour came. Could Lord Wentworth have waxed cold? Could her father forget, or had some fearful deception been practised on them? Left together night and day, the two girls naturally drew to each other; in everything they were entire opposites, not only in their remote styles of beauty, but in character; and, perhaps, for this reason, like the different electric currents, they attracted each other the more. Juana admired the fair Saxon beauty, not so much because of her dazzling complexion, so pure and sunny, though now shaded by grief,—not so much from her fair tresses, and melting blue eyes,—as for the high toned principle—the lofty mind—firm resolve, and patient endurance she displayed under her trying ordeal; and Ellen admired not so much the ebon hair—large dazzling eyes—and brilliant colouring of the fair Spaniard, as she did the full fervour of her character, and the warm affections of one who was—
They used to talk together for hours—generally Ellen was the listener, and much was she absorbed by the wild tales of other zones Juana could tell. One thing Ellen had ceased to ask, and that was why she was there. Juana seemed above all entreaty, and kept her secret as the rock does its hidden spring: it required a prophet's stroke to make it unlock its waters! Days went on, and still no explanation either by word or deed came. Saturday night wore through, and Sunday morning dawned; Ellen had now been a week and more in captivity, and still it was unexplained. She had never once been outside the castle, but late on Sunday afternoon Juana told her, if she liked to breathe the fresh air she might come out for an hour or so with her, on condition she promised she would make no attempt to regain her freedom.
"Alas! to what purpose, Antonia?" replied Ellen, for by this name she only knew her; "how could I fly with such strict watchers?"
The two friends—for so they had become—now descended the tower, and walked on the green grass. It was a delightful evening—the sun was setting among clouds of every gorgeous hue—his orb was then hidden behind a dark mass, whose edges were crimsoned by his rays; above the cloud the sky was of the darkest black-blue, and beyond this his beams shot out in iridescent lines, like the rays that emblazon the heraldic scroll—higher still mackerel clouds floated in the blue ether, dyed gold, and crimson, and between their vistas the unfathomable depths of air were clear and transparent, so that the eye could pierce their far deeps, and discern how near the loftiest clouds in comparison floated above earth! In the east the full moon was rising, and the cold blue light of the latter, compared with the warm colouring of the sunset, was striking. The friends sat down on the mossy stone, and each for a time seemed too much occupied with her own thoughts to speak. Ellen was thinking on the picnic, and how not long ago on a night like this she had danced on that grass with him she loved. Oh! had any one told her then that one short month after she would again sit on that stone, a prisoner, and parted from him, she would not have believed it. Juana was thinking how on that stone she had sat, when she personated the Italian, how he she also loved, but who loved not her, had given her the ring she now treasured in her bosom.
"Antonia," said Ellen, "a month ago I sat here so happy—alas! I fear I shall never be so again."
"Miss Ravensworth, a month ago I sat on this stone; I was then miserable, I may yet be happy."
"Ah! our circumstances are then altered, but when did you sit here before?"
"Often—but this day last month as far as I remember—I sat here very unhappy!"
"Impossible! a month ago there was a gay picnic here, how could you have been here? you were not there."
"Easily; you remember the Italian boy, who played and sung—that boy was I—is it not now explained?"
"Oh! merciful Heavens—that boy you—yes, I know the voice now. Oh! there is a deep, deep plot! Antonia, if you love me, tell me all. How strange! I seem to see things differently. Oh! who are you, mysterious maiden?"
"I cannot, remember your promise not to ask me, but the explanation will not now be distant—to-night it will come. Have you the dagger still?"
"Oh! Antonia, you alarm me; it is true, I was beginning to grow forgetful; then, the trial is at hand; you shall see I can be firm to death!"
"Poor girl, I pity you from my heart!"
"Then, why not let deeds show your pity—let me fly."
"I dare not, lady! I dare not. I was sworn by the blessed Virgin—you would not I should break my oath!"
"Then, let it come; you will see how Ellen can die, if that death only saves her from dishonour!"
"Let me see your blade; is it sharp?"
"Behold it," said Ellen, drawing it forth. The blade was very elaborately engraved with Indian devices; along the centre was carved the owner's name—George Elliot Ravensworth. The steel was very bright—the handle formed of silver finely chased.
"Let me have it in my hands?"
"You won't betray your trust, you won't deprive me of my only, sad comfort."
"I will," said Ellen, "falsehood never shaded that fair brow."
Juana took the weapon, and then read the name.
"What! did you say this was your brother's?"
"Yes, my poor George's; he is now dead!"
"Oh, my God!" cried Juana, "and have I lived to see his sister?"
"Antonia, what is this?—surely my life is charmed—what now?"
"Ellen, my own sister—my dearest—noblest—best—beloved sister," and with her native warmth of character she threw herself on Ellen, and kissed her again and again.
"Antonia, dearest Antonia, what is it all?"
"Enough, moments are priceless; they are near—but there is yet ample time. Ellen, I will save you, I may compromise my life, but I will save you; nay, thank me not now, hear me."
"Noble girl, you shall not; if you save me, you shall be safe too, you will go with me—nothing shall sever us."
"Listen, Ellen; some of my life I have told you, never this part. When I was in America I was once nearly drowned by the upsetting of a boat; I was rescued by a noble young officer,—he was your brother George. I will not delay by narrating details, suffice to say we became deeply in love—we were to be married! Lady, I am not what I seem, my blood is as high as thine, nay doubtless far higher! but death separated us. George died, I closed his eyes, I followed him to the dark tomb, and there I left my heart. I came to England; I was introduced to Lord Wentworth—I will not hide any thing—I accepted his love. Oh, I loved him well, and he loved me too once,—till, lady, he met you again,—he then left me, not as many another would have done, he left me with house and fortune. Nothing could make up for lost love; I became miserable, I then came to Scotland. There are those who strive to get us married, for under that promise I stooped to become the unhappy woman I did; it was untrue, he never gave me that promise, I was duped, I will not say by whom. For this reason, Ellen, you are here; for this reason I became the mock Italian, and secreted near the cave, heard Lord Wentworth propose, and you accept him, only on condition he never spoke to myself again. Lady, I honour you for it. This is my tale. I am Juana Ferraras! I will save you yet; you shall be the happy wife of him you love so well, I will sink to be the deserted, hopeless wreck I was before,—your marriage destroys my last chance. When you are happy, Ellen, sometimes at such an hour as this, when eve falls drear, you will think of her who parted with her last hope, who gave up all to make you happy!"
"I will, noble, dear girl, I will; but it shall not so be; you shall live near us, you shall be like a sister. You Juana Ferraras!—now I see all."
"It is vain, lady, I could not dwell on the same shore with him—we are severed for ever. I will not speak to him except once more to procure your freedom: let us hasten in—time presses—I may be too late—there is danger near you—be not too sanguine, I will do my best."
The two friends hurried up the stairs: they reached the room, and then Juana said, "Promise me on your honour you will not leave this chamber; all depends on your staying."
"I will give my word of honour."
"I believe you; now, Ellen, I hasten to perform a deed which will, I am sure, cover a multitude of my errors."
"Adieu! God speed you my noble, dear friend."
"Adieu! I will do what I can—I will do my best—but remember I may be too late—the way is far, and the hour near. Is your dagger free in its sheath?"
With these ominous words Juana left, after first embracing Ellen like a sister, as she might indeed have proved but for George Ravensworth's early death. When she was gone Ellen bolted the door, and then loosened her dagger.
"Danger near, and of what kind?" she asked herself. "I am prepared. Oh! my God grant she may arrive in time. Oh, let me not have to die with rescue and hope so near." She then sat down, and thought of all these strange events. How wonderful all seemed! How passing strange! Juana her brother's love—her lover's mistress—the Italian minstrel! How would she rescue her from her coming danger, and what was that danger? Then she thought of Juana's noble self-denial, and all for her, because she loved her departed brother—this was love! With these and a thousand other thoughts her mind was busy, and two hours glided imperceptibly away.
The daylight had now quite faded, and in its place the cold beam of the moon shone through the barred lattice, and softly travelled across the floor. The room was quite light, for the full orb was directly in front, but it was a chilly, ghastly light. Ellen, wrapped in her own thoughts, did not allow her mind to dwell on this, when all at once she thought she heard footsteps on the stairs. It must be fancy; but no! distinct and clear she heard them again. Oh! mercy above; the danger was come, and Juana not returned. It might be the Earl though, and she flew across the room to the door. She heard rude voices! it was not him, and she double barred the door.
"At least," she thought, "it will guard me for a time."
She felt if her blade was secure—it was beneath the folds of her dress. She stood in awful suspense, as near the door as she could—the footsteps drew nearer and several oaths struck her ears. She knew the voice, but in her dismay could not think whose it was—there seemed to be several men, as far as she could judge, ascending the steps. They landed on the passage—another moment of awful agony, of breathless apprehension, and the handle of the lock was tried.
"Thousand devils, it's bolted. Tony, open wench!" said a harsh voice she knew to be Antonia's or Juana's father.
No answer, of course.
"Stove it in, you blundering old sea-cook!" said another voice, she recognized as Captain de Vere's.
"Easy saying so, but hard doing it, by G—," was the reply.
"You bungler! let me try."
An awful crash followed, which made Ellen almost sicken with fear, but the strong door manfully withstood the charge. Again it was rocked as if by a battering-ram, again it stood the shock; a confused sound of laughter and oaths followed.
"I telled you so; the devil himself could scarce stove yon oaken beams in."
"Fire and furies! what is to be done?—here's a d—d sell—sold by a wench."
"Deil a fear; this way, Captain."
The steps faded away, they were gone. Ellen felt sure she was now safe, at least for a time; though she feared they were gone for sledgehammers to force the door. She threw herself on her knees, and thanked God for it. It is not wise to be in too great a hurry to return thanks; this Ellen found, for hardly had she thanked Providence for mercies not yet received, than she heard the same footsteps in another part of the room. In dismay at this return, she glanced to see where the sounds came from. There was only one door, the windows and fireplace were barred; but Ellen did not know the secrets of her prison-house; behind the arras was a secret door, to which a winding back stair led, and she only sprung from her knees in time to see the tapestry move aside, and from the concealed door three figures enter her sanctuary. It was with a sickness of heart indescribable, but not the less acutely felt by those who cannot tell its horror, that she saw in the three intruders the persons of Captain de Vere, Captain L'Estrange, and old Bill Stacy!
However interested our readers may be in the immediate fate of Ellen, it is needful for the continuity of our story to return again to the Towers; and as the shepherd often returns back to seek, and drive on some erring sheep to the flock, so must we often retrograde on our path, to pick up some lost hero, and bring him on till all are again united.
To the study, then, of the Earl let us again bend our eyes, where we left Juana standing at the door. The surprise of the Earl was great, and mingled with it some impatience and anger, at thus seeing one he had once met on far different terms, yet one he had vowed not again to address in his life, standing on the threshold of his door.
"You here!" he exclaimed, frowning, and for the moment forgetting she was there as a messenger, bringing important tidings; "did I not expressly forbid you ever to enter my doors again? Did you not promise you would not? Was it not on this one condition I gave you house and money? You are forgetful, fair donna, let me refresh your memory by telling you you have forfeited them!"
"My Lord, you gave them, and may retake them! I care not for your gold—a tent with love is better than a throne without; it was not thus you spoke to Juana when you tempted, and won her. Remember you then promised nothing should change your love while she lived—she is living still, but where is love?"
"I own my error—I repent my sin; I can do no more. Away, madam, away; I have sworn not to speak to you again on love—I will not perjure myself, away!"
"It is true you love another now; may she never prove how false, how fleeting your passion is."
"Away, Juana; for God's sake taunt me not. He knows I am bitterly punished when she I love is faithless, perhaps, to me. Away—do you hear me—begone! What, lingering still? I command you to depart: would you have me summon my servants to show you out?"
"I will go—I will take my secret with me. Lord Wentworth, hear me, you will repent this to your dying day."
"Away, away, I dare not look at you!"
"Shall I, then, for ever keep my secret? Listen, my Lord; eternity would be too short to mourn your error. I came to tell you about one you love—about her for whom you forsook Juana—you shall not hear it."
"Oh, my God; what said you—about Ellen—where, where is my adored one? Forgive me, I was hasty—I am mad, driven mad—stay, I forgive you—oh, tell me!"
"Nay, I must begone; you bade me away—I obey you."
"Stay, for God's sake, stay; do not drive me distracted."
"Hear me, my Lord, were it not for her sake I would go."
"Yes," cried the Earl, rising and walking towards her, "taunt me with my crime, I deserve it—upbraid me with my faithlessness, I can bear it—but oh! by His blessed name who formed us, withhold not this secret."
"And why should I tell it, after all; is she not my rival? is she not—"
"Powers above, you escape me not thus—you know about Ellen—you shall tell me all—I will arrest you—imprison—torture—"
"Those days are past, you have not the power—and if you had, you might tear my tongue from its roots—but never wring from it the secret it held. Juana would die silent like the wolf; it would be of no use to imprison, nor punish me; to-night, to-night, she suffers, she whom you love better than life—time is passing—every moment is precious as untold wealth, even now, perhaps, she is in his power, even—"
"Oh, sumless agony! I have deserved this at your hand, but, hear me, I will do whatever you wish, Juana. I will marry you—yes, I will—bitterly as it would punish me—I will roll away your reproach—you shall be a countess—only lead me to Ellen—let me save her from this wrong. I love her to wildness—let me save her, though she can never be mine!"
Like one half-distracted, the Earl wrung his hands as he spoke; close to him stood Juana, calm, collected, self-possessed.
"Listen, my Lord, I could now accept your offer, and become your lawful wife—the dearest name that I can have. I will not; Juana must be freely loved, and she is not so base as to betray her friend. Ellen Ravensworth is my friend. I will, for her sake—for her noble sake—lead you to where she is imprisoned,—a captive dove, and cruel hawks near. You shall be happy, and live to remember her who gave all in this world and the next for you—you, who deceived her. Name, fame, future bliss, all I freely give for Ellen's sake."
"Noble Juana," cried the Earl, and not even Ellen could have grudged the look he gave her; "and now tell me who has dared imprison, and where he has imprisoned her. Oh! be quick, time presses."
"Listen, then; I was the Italian minstrel, to me the care of Ellen was given—her brother was my old lover, and for this I saved her. Edward L'Estrange is he who dared make her his captive. To-night he will compel her to become his bride! but no, he will not. Ellen has a blade to deprive herself of life, should that be her last resource; and a heart to do it, should that alone save her from contempt and dishonour. I am brief and curt in my story, for there is little time to waste: even now perhaps we shall be too late, her own hand may have cut the thread of life ere we reach her prison."
"Where is it, oh! heavens, where is it? I will fly thither. Oh! Ellen, my own darling, you in danger and I not there to support you! Juana, I can never thank you enough, but tell me where."
"At Cessford's Peel—not seven miles hence."
"Ah!" cried the Earl, "I have it now—and you, fair traitress, are the author of my misery; had it not been this confession, nought would have saved you, a heavy reckoning I would have had."
"You will believe me when I tell you I had not any hand in this; true I was led to believe by bad men it might restore me to honour and virtue, but God willed it otherwise. Ellen, by an accident, the sight of yon dagger, was known to me, and—"
"Tarry not, life hangs on every word. Cessford's Peel, said you? and what room is her prison?"
"The refectory, with the tapestried walls—you are right—fly, fly to the tower—I may lose life, I shall lose liberty, by this confession; you see it is ingenuous."
"You shall not, Juana; stay with me, I care not what the world says, this is your home. I cannot give you my heart, all else, to the half of my wealth, I can, and I will."
"It is needless, I cannot accept; think you I could live so near him I loved so well, and see him love another? No; you know not a woman's heart. Man may love more than one—woman never: but we are losing precious irrevocable time. Haste, the lady is even now in peril. I will away to some distant strand, and bury there my love and my shame. Take back your ring, you gave it to the Italian boy, not to Juana, though they were the same being."
"Nay, keep it, and now for action. L'Estrange will find me a rough host to reckon with."
The Earl sprung up, and rushing from the room frantically summoned all who were near. "Arranmore, John, Musgrave, Scroop, all of you; the secret is out, she is found, but there is danger yet."
Turning a deaf ear to a hundred questions that poured in on every side, the Earl rushed back to his room, to seek for Juana, but she was not there. As he returned he met Lady Arranmore, who asked him in fear what it all was.
"Ellen is found! I go to rescue her."
"Where, where is she?" asked the lady, but her brother was gone, and she ran up stairs to spread the happy news. Meantime the Earl and most of the gentlemen had reached the stables, and were helping the men to saddle the horses as quick as possible. With the utmost despatch the Earl, the Marquis, Musgrave and Scroop, were mounted, and attended by Wilton rode off, leaving the rest to follow as they might.
"Send two carriages to the Peel like lightning," was the Earl's last order.
The news, only half known, spread like wildfire through the castle, and it was much exaggerated, and added to in its travels from mouth to ear. Dreadful rumours of the young lady, being murdered, or dying, were freely circulated, whilst there was mounting in hot haste, and retainer after retainer rode off for the scene of action; last of all started Captain Wilson, not from any laggard feelings, but because the gallant seaman had mounted a fiery young steed he was ill able to manage, though he stuck to it like a lion on the giraffe; thrice he was carried round the park ere he could rein him in and take the pathway, for it was young Nimrod he bestrode.
"Where is the Captain?" asked the Earl, as he and Musgrave rode side by side at a terrific pace. "Why does he not assist in the rescue?"
"The Captain rode to Edinburgh after dinner," answered Sir Richard, "or he would have been the first, and foremost to rescue lady fair, as he has ever been on the battle field."
"I trust so," said the Earl; and then to himself he muttered, "it is curious, it surely cannot be he has any part in this, and yet I have a horrid suspicion; his intimacy with wretched L'Estrange, that base friend who turns to sting his protector's hand, who abuses the hospitality of his host, a terrible reckoning I will have. Oh God, shall I be in time?" And again he struck his spurs in his panting courser's side, and rode as if for life, and life depended on every stroke of his horse's hoofs.
"This grows exciting," said Scroop, "we are now nearing the den. Oh, to think of L'Estrange so foully abusing the Earl's friendship; we shall have a fight I hope. The fair girl shall see Scroop will not bring disgrace on his name."
"Nor Musgrave either," said Sir Richard. "'Forsters Fenwicks and Musgraves they rode and they ran,' is not that the ballad?"
"I hope we shall have better luck than those Musgraves had," said Scroop.
The party were now in sight of the Peel; down the steep they rode as only true followers of the chase could, and a noble quarry was in view. On they rode, the Earl foremost; his face red with conflicting hopes and fears, ire and burning ardour to show how he did battle for his lady love. On his right and left rode the Marquis on a tall steed of the Arab breed, and the false Musgrave; a few paces behind Scroop spurred on his horse, as the jockey with the winning post in view presses on; behind him galloped old Wilton; he was not last because he was unable to keep his foremost rank, but because like a faithful servant he wished his master to gain the praise of being first in, maybe with awful meaning, at the death! Just as they reached the greensward a loud "Tally ho, hillo there, tally ho! where ride you?" assailed their ears.
Without reining their horses they all looked back, and saw the Captain, who in hot haste rode up.
"God be thanked, my fears are groundless," said the Earl to himself, and then aloud, "Ha! I thought the Captain would not be missing, in the forefront of the battle."
"Battle is it? By G—" said the soldier, "hurrah then! I was just riding in from Edinburgh when I met my man Archy, and he told me to ride off to Cessford's Peel, and something about Ellen being found. Egad I rode as if old Scratch was at my heels, and I am right glad I was in time: where is the rampart to storm? Egad, Ellen shall see how John de Vere can do battle for ladye bright!"
One or two others just then arrived, and amongst them young Nimrod, who sped in like a wild Indian, and pitched his rider fairly on the greensward.
"Such a brute I never cruised on," said the Commander, rising all wet with the dewy grass; "there was no steering him, he would not obey his helm and has wrecked me at last on a leeshore."
This incident produced some laughter, and the appearance of the gallant sea captain as he got up, and the horse galloping round and round the enclosure, leaping and bounding with delight at thus ridding himself of, what doubtless he had thought, a wild beast, gripping him by neck and mane, was indeed ludicrous, and would have made the Earl laugh too on any other occasion. At the same moment Juana once more appeared. When the Earl had run off for assistance, unseen, or unnoticed in the confusion, she had left the castle, and remounting her fleet horse at a gentle, but unbroken hand gallop, set off for the Peel, determined if the help should not come soon enough, she would at least risk an encounter with the three furious men to save Ellen; the mad haste with which the pursuers had however ridden across the country, whilst she took the more circuitous route by the main road, had counteracted her plans, and she arrived a few moments after the rescuers.
"Ha, my guide, you here?" said the Earl; "why where have you been?" A shriek from the high window of the castle rose slightly, but terribly on the night air as he spoke. "Ye gods it is she; her cry for aid, and I not there!"
"Haste, my Lord, or it may be too late," cried Juana.
There was no need of such a charge; like lightning the whole party were dismounted, and the Earl, followed by the Marquis and the others, fled up the entrance, mounting the stairs more like maniacs than men in their eagerness. The Captain alone lingered behind, he was the only person but Juana in sight.
"Then it was you, perjured woman, that betrayed our cause?"
"It was, bold, bad man."
"You did not compromise me?"
"I named no one but L'Estrange, though you deserved it."
"It is well for you,—you are a cunning asp, but one that bites too; had you spoken a word against my honour, you had died the death!"
"Your honour?" said Juana, in bitter irony.
"And if you dare breathe a syllable of my being an accomplice I will wring that head of yours off its fair neck. I will bring you to a reckoning for this yet, by G—d, I will!"
"Take not his name on thy perjured lips."
"Avast there—keep thy viperous tongue still, it has done mischief enough already for one night; but I must not delay. Ha, they batter the door do they, it will stand the best of them," so saying he sped up the stairs crying: "Egad, I had lost you in this old labyrinth. Blaze away, Arranmore, I will help."
Whilst the Captain had been talking with Juana, the five others had reached the door, and were wild at finding it locked within, and well able to withstand the attack.
"God grant," said the Earl, "she be not murdered within, and her murderer fled; I dread the silence: try again, Arranmore, try, oh! once more."
The Captain smiled in scorn. "It stood me," he muttered to himself.
But at that moment the Marquis again threw his giant size and strength against the oaken door; it shook like an aspen, but still it held firm.
"Once more," he cried, "all help, it must be supernatural if it still stands."
Suiting the action to the word the Earl, Musgrave, and the Captain, leant their full weight against the framework, and the Marquis throwing back his form once more struck the door with his shoulder. Before the shock of the young Titan it yielded like a thin panel before the boxer's glove, and with a terrible crash the whole fell in, tearing with it, in its descent, the iron hinges soldered into the masonry, that fell like powder; and the bolts, that drew out the framework with them as they yielded. A loud shout of joy followed this wonderful display of strength, and a louder cry still, partly of joy, partly of that wild fury with which foe meets foe, partly of that bounding thrill when we save the life of a fellow being—especially if she be fair and young, partly of that yell of vengeance when we behold the miscreant, on whom a just punishment is to fall. A wilder shout still when they saw, over the wreck of the portal, her whom they had ridden and striven so hard to save, and him they had ridden and striven so hard to be avenged on. In the silver beams of the moon stood Ellen, trembling. More in the shade still, and for a moment hardly discernible, stood Edward L'Estrange, calm, unmoved, placid, yet they who read his eye saw in him the fury of the lion, brought to bay. In his hand he held a pistol. There might be a hard struggle yet ere they held him captive.
"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 you 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?"
"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!
Whatever were L'Estrange's faults he was no coward, and now that the hour was come, he determined to meet it like a man. He disdained the very idea of flight, though his path to safety still was open; he had only to plunge behind the tapestry, descend the dark stairs, and in the labyrinth of passages and dungeons they might as well have thought to track the vermin that haunted the tower to their nests as to find him again. He stood in still, brave despair! The last high thought was in a well-fought encounter to end a life of disgrace by a desperate death, and at least let the parting scene be more worthy his name than his life had proved. It is true his face blanched slightly when he saw the numbers of his foes; it was not fear, but partly the feeling that by his present position, as a heartless tyrant preparing to do a weak and innocent woman wrong, he had justly merited all good men's hate; partly the sense that in a few moments he would either be slain or captive, that made his blood run back to his heart. Shame and infamy if he lived, eternal misery if he died; but it was not fear! His early days came back on his memory,—his strange life,—his love,—his rejection; his damnable, but now disconcerted plot,—Ellen's abhorrence,—his present critical position; all came back in one burning moment, and now the last act was to be played he would show them what a desperate man hemmed in by foes was. His first thought was to shoot the Earl, who leaped foremost over the ruins. He presented the pistol at his head, and nothing but the devotion of faithful Wilton saved the Earl's life. He pulled the trigger—the flash—the report! and not the Earl, but the brave Wilton fell, pierced by the winged ball through his chest! A yell of fury rent the air at this outrage. Again he cocked, again he presented; but by this time numbers had filled the room, Scroop dashed forward and threw up his arm. The ball entered the ceiling—another murder was stopped, but the stayer of his hand paid dearly! With a horrid oath of rage, L'Estrange struck Scroop a murderous blow on the temple with the empty pistol, and felled him to the ground as if he had been stricken by a thunderbolt. The blood welled forth from the wound, and the scene grew terrific. Undaunted still, glutted with gore, like a tiger at bay, stood the desperado. In the cold moonlight and the red glare of lanterns everything took a more horrid aspect. The white figure of Ellen in petrifaction of terror, the Satanic expression of the murderer, the vengeful glances of the assailants, made an awful picture; the worst part was the two forms, one lifeless, and one apparently so, stretched on the ground in a pool of their own blood. For an instant all was deathly still, save the deep-drawn breaths of vengeance. The room was filled with smoke, which gave a misty, awful air to the whole. For a moment assaulters and assaulted stood still. It was not fear that stayed them, but the dreadful vengeance that could not breathe out into actions in the one party, and the rapid thoughts of what must follow next in the other. It was a pause, but for a moment, like the hush in the hurricane, and then it was broken by L'Estrange, who suddenly hit on his plan. With a bound he escaped the Earl, who rushed to meet him, nimbly avoided the Captain and Sir Richard, who, without showing their double conduct, easily man[oe]uvred so as to let him pass, and doubtless he would have altogether escaped had it not been for the Marquis, who stood at the door, and when he saw him escaping interposed his giant form. Still the desperate man kept on, but it was vain! The fawn might as well have thought to escape the lion, as L'Estrange to free himself from the furious grip with which the young peer seized him! He struck wildly for his face, but the Marquis threw his whole weight and strength on his antagonist, and bent him to the ground. As falls the oak on the sapling, so fell the Marquis on L'Estrange, and in an instant weighed him down. Seizing the prostrate man by his throat, he placed his knee on his chest, and nigh pressed the breath out of his body. Still the vanquished made the most desperate struggles to rise and free himself from the iron grip; as well might the fabled Titans have striven to upheave the Ætnean mass that buried them beneath its rocks! He howled, he swore, his very face grew black with passion and futile efforts to rise! Vain was the struggle; the Marquis had too firm a hold, and as he still knelt on him said—
"It is vain—yield, sirrah! you bearded me once—I have you now by the throat. Be still or I will squeeze the life from your body."
When the oppressor was thus oppressed, the first impulse of the Earl was to rush to Ellen, who had borne up so manfully, and so bravely sustained her character till the very last; then the reaction was too much for her; she would have fallen in a dead swoon on the floor had the Earl not instantly caught her in his arms. He lifted her as if she had been a child, her head sinking back over his arms, and her long hair, escaped from its net, flowing in all the wildness of dishevelled charms, almost sweeping the ground as he carried her to the nearest sofa.
"Ellen, my own sweetest Ellen, speak, dearest—you are safe—you are in my care—speak, darling." And he pressed his lips on her pale cheek. "Quick, hasten for water—John—Musgrave—be quick, she is dying. Oh, my darling Ellen, live, live to bless me once more."
Meanwhile the Marquis was beginning to grow weary of holding down his foe, who seemed momentarily gaining fresh strength. Every one was flocking round Ellen, still in a most alarming swoon. Over her the Earl bent with indescribable fondness, chafing her temples with his hand, and calling for water, while the Marquis as loudly called for aid.
"Here, you lazy, idle sluggards, here; help! for God's sake; I am weary; faith, I'll let him go if no one comes. Do you hear? Bedad, to be left here pressing down such a viper."
"Hold, I'll come; just wait a bit. There, Wentworth, is your jug of water; freshen her up well, she is more frightened than hurt. Patience, by G—, I'm coming; what the devil are you kicking up such a devilish row about? Can't you keep a dog like that still with your big body?"
It was the Captain who spoke, as our readers have guessed, no doubt. He then went to assist the Marquis.
"Ha, that's right, keep a good grip on the hound's throat, or the dog'll bite, by G—. I've a rope, and a stout one too. Samson could never break it, and I warrant it muzzles him. Now I'll tie up his legs; he kicks like a mule, but it is no go. Well I'm d—d, Ned; who would have thought you would ever have come to this?"
During all this well feigned abuse, the Captain was busy binding the fallen man's limbs, which he did with a roughness that made him groan.
"Now, Arranmore, turn him over, stuff something in his mouth if he bites—here's a plaid to muzzle him; turn him on his back, and I'll bind the rascal's arms. I'faith they have done damage enough already. Cease your whining, you villain; I have you now, I'll tie your arms up for you; there, is that jolly, you devil?"
So saying, he put his knees on the crossed wrists, and strained the rope so tight it wrung a yell of agony from the hapless prisoner.
"Not so hard; remember he is a Christian, De Vere."
"A Christian, a pretty Christian, by Jove! to murder poor old Wilton, fell Scroop, and play such a trick on Ellen Ravensworth. The villain! leave him to me, I'll mend the rascal's manners."
Lord Arranmore having done his duty as he thought, rose, and strode across to where Ellen was, who had just come to from the swoon, and was half-smiling, half-crying, when she found herself safe in her lover's protection once more.
"Do not leave me, my dear Lord Wentworth, do not leave me again."
"Never, darling: you shall never more stray from my eyes till you are my own. I will take you to the Towers. We shall see who dares, from the King to the lowest miscreant, to take you from thence. How are you, sweet one—better—able to drive? The carriage is waiting."
"I shall be better soon; I am getting quite well. Oh, how shall I ever thank you enough! But poor Mr. Scroop, and your poor Wilton, are they really dead?"
"I fear Wilton has seen his last of us; he died for me, and on your behalf, Ellen—we shall not soon forget him. His poor wife and children, it will be a sad tale for them. For Scroop, I hope that by care we may yet cure him; he is still insensible. I must go and see what is to be done with unhappy L'Estrange; it was surely the devil tempted him to such a course."
"Unhappy young man! Deal gently with him: remember, however deeply stained by crime, he is still our brother—still our fellow-creature,—child of the same God. Oh! while we hate the crime, let us pity the criminal. Remember it is only a restraining Providence keeps us from being as bad."
"Ask no mercy for him, Ellen. However your noble mind may gloss over his attempted injuries to yourself, remember he stands amenable to the laws he has broken. He is a murderer; he has shed man's blood, and by man his blood must be shed too. Here, John, watch Ellen; see she has everything to her fancy, while I go and see about Scroop, poor Wilton, and this wretched young reprobate."
"Oh, leave me not with this bad man," cried Ellen.
"He is bound, darling, he cannot hurt you," answered the Earl, thinking she alluded to L'Estrange, as he walked away. "I will be back in a few minutes, dearest."
When Arranmore had left the prisoner, the Captain whispered in his ear, "Never mind, Ned; don't I act well? It couldn't be helped; you shall not swing for it; trust me I will save you yet."
"Leave me to pay the penalty of my crimes, life is no more endurable; I forgive you, John; I can die with my secret."
"Fool," said the Captain, "your trial would implicate me; do you think I will let you hang? no, no; you are too young yet to feed the gallows. Trust me for your rescue, though it will be d—d hard. What made you shoot Wilton, poor devil?"
"It was the Earl I aimed at; the rash fool saved his master, and did for himself."
"I wish to G— you had hit your man. But here comes Arranmore, I must keep up my character. Egad, how Dick Musgrave and I will laugh over our toddy. Ha, Arranmore, I have been trying to play the priest, and get confession, but the villain plays the mute; the rope will find him his tongue."
"He will be hung, then?"
"Not a doubt of it; as cold blooded a murder as I ever saw; poor Jack Wilton!"
"The Earl wants you, John."
"All right, I'll go—now for Ellen," he muttered, as he stepped across.
Ellen very nearly did for him, but his good star, as he called his luck in infamy, still shone on him, and the Earl misunderstood her expression.
"Bad man, do you dare show your false face? more hypocritical than the wretched young man you have led astray!"
"List thee, Ellen, now you are safe; be wise and hold that tongue of yours. Keep your thumb on this, or by G—, safe as you think yourself you will come to grief. Breathe not a syllable of this, and as you value your life betray not me. I will be reasonable. If you are silent, I give you my word—my plighted word—my vow, if you like—that you shall be the Earl's wife; if you are mad enough to venture to betray me, though you were kept in the Earl's sight—though you sheltered beneath his wing—thence would I drag you: and no power shall ever stay me, nor make you the countess you wish to be!"
"These are not terms, you compel me; but what security have I? your word—your oath, I do mistrust."
"Then I swear by my sword—the most sacred oath—I swear not by God, whom I believe not in; nor by the Devil, a phantom existing only in the mind of priests, and priest-ridden fools; but my sword I see and feel, and by it I swear. Do you trust me?"
"I have no alternative; you shall at least see Ellen will keep her faith. If you keep your part I will never divulge this awful secret as long as I live, not even to my husband; and oh! may God change your heart, unhappy infidel, and may remorse of conscience never sting you like an adder."
"No fears of that; you are a better girl than I thought. Ah, here comes your lord, be silent or dread me."
"Now, Ellen, dearest, take my arm, the carriage waits; I have sent a man with the news to your father, he will be at the Towers as soon as we are. John, see the prisoner in the carriage, and he will be sent off to the prison: I have sent a messenger to the Sheriff. Musgrave, will you see about Wilton's remains? and Arranmore, attend to Scroop. I fear the worst in his case."
The Earl then assisted Ellen to a carriage, which was ready at the door.
"God bless you, miss, and I am right glad to see you," said old Andrew, with tears of joy standing in his eye.
Ellen thanked him warmly, and the Earl wrung the old servant's hand. They then drove off together, and if after rain the sun looks brighter, if after snow the grass greener, so after her long suspense the Earl's presence at her side seemed sweeter, and after the long darkness of doubt and fear Ellen's smile seemed brighter than it had ever been before.
One of the first questions she asked was after Juana, the noble girl who had sacrificed so much for her sake.
"I have made every inquiry, darling, but she has not been seen. Her disappearance is not the least remarkable part of this extraordinary plot, so darkly, deeply, cleverly laid. I hope we may yet meet her, to try and express our gratitude. Oh, what a wondrous week this has been!"
"Talk not of it—let us forget past misery in present bliss, and not forget to thank Him who protected me when naught else availed. Oh! what I thought my worst trial proved my safety. I had almost put an end to my life. I struck, and he stopped the blade, and I thought all was over. Had he not I should have been now cold and dead. Man's extremity is surely God's opportunity."
"We should indeed be thankful. What should I have done if I had found my Ellen dead?"
"And what should I have been had that fatal pistol shot not been intercepted by faithful Wilton?"
"But let us not talk more of it, but rather of the welcome of our friends at home."
Whilst the Earl and Ellen drove to the Towers, the Captain lifted the bound man, and, carrying him down stairs, tossed him on the ground as if he had been a bundle of hay and not a human being, making him groan again with the pain. But the Captain was aware any tenderness to the man whom everyone was reviling would excite suspicion.
"Lay hands on the villain, and pitch him into the carriage. Wilson, you will guard him to prison—he can't move."
"I will, right gladly: let the ruffian only attempt an escape, or any of his foul companions try a rescue! I am armed, by G—! and they will catch it."
"That's like a sea-king!—mind he is put in a strong cell."
"Trust me; good-bye. I'll see you to-morrow; I shan't come out again as it is so late now."
The second carriage then drove off for Edinburgh, where the prisoner was safely lodged in the Calton gaol. Another carriage, with the Marquis, left soon after, bearing Scroop, still insensible—indeed it was feared his skull was fractured. Last, a sad procession left the Peel, bearing the mortal remains of Wilton for the Towers. The corpse was laid across young Nimrod, who seemed by instinct to know his burden, and paced solemnly along. On either side rode huntsmen, or walked foresters; and there was many a manly eye wet with tears as the cortège wound over hill and dale, and at length stopped at the widow's door.
Already his fate had been broken to his poor wife and young family; so it was with a wail of lamentation that they received the cold remains of the jolly huntsman into his neat little cottage, now no more his home, but young Wilton's, to whom the Earl had at once given his father's situation.
Whilst this sad spectacle drew tears from the mourners' eyes, a very different scene was being enacted at the Towers, where a perfect ovation hailed Ellen's safe rescue and return. It would be impossible to relate the joy with which the Marchioness received her back, or the welcome of Lady Florence; and when at length a carriage drove up with Mr. Ravensworth, Johnny, and Maude, the joy was indescribable, and one a stranger intermeddleth not with. Ellen hung on her father's neck, and with tears of joy he kissed his long-lost child. Johnny was wild with delight; and Maude wept with very joy. Scroop was not overlooked; the doctor had great hopes. By-and-by he opened his eyes; and Ellen was the first to press his hand and thank him—he was then left to repose.
Next day the news spread far and near, and persons of all ranks hastened to the Towers to inquire after the lost and re-found Ellen, and young Scroop. Every exertion was made to trace Juana, but without a favourable result; and during the next week lawyers were busy about L'Estrange's defence. His trial was soon to come on for the wilful murder of Wilton, and attempted murder of the Earl. All Edinburgh was on the qui vive; and it was said there would not be standing-room in the court. If he even escaped the doom of murder, there was the abduction of Ellen, and things looked ugly for him.
At last the morning fixed for the trial came. Scroop was quite well again, and Ellen was nervous enough at the thought of having to appear as a witness. The whole party were at breakfast at the Towers, talking over the approaching trial, when a special messenger arrived with the news—The prisoner had escaped!
"Well I'm shot!" cried the Captain—"that beats all! He is a more thorough-paced villain than I thought!"
There is nothing like solitary confinement to bring the transgressor to his right senses. He is shut out from all external communication, and forced to look in upon himself; his eye turns and looks inwards; he has free time and full scope for thought; nothing to distract, nothing to wean away from self-examination; all resources are taken away but one—thought; and the solitary one has time to think both on his past and future fate.
When Edward L'Estrange was first confined in prison, his mind was not yet settled from its passions; the whole of the first night he paced his cell up and down, and black thoughts filled his mind. He had the Captain's word he would be rescued,—he would yet have free scope for revenge. He felt doubly angry; first at the total miscarriage of his time-wrought plot, secondly at the absurd delay and loss of precious moments he had made in his useless attempts to convince a woman against her will. If he had only been quicker!—if he had used more despatch in the business! Then he was vexed at being caught at so dastard an endeavour; he was vexed to think what the Captain would say,—he was now perhaps laughing over his grog at the failure! Yet he would be rescued;—he would have a sweet revenge! He would enter the Towers disguised, and challenge the Earl to mortal combat—nay, he would assassinate him; he would break the proud heart of Ellen; she would not love him,—he would be avenged on him she did love. Oh! how he abused himself for his lack of courage. If she was only once more in his power! These, and a hundred other such thoughts, coursed his mind as he marched round his prison; and he fancied every minute he should hear the door open, and his liberty would be gained.
The hours of darkness fled by, and the sanguine thoughts he had cherished during the night began to cool with the first gray dawn; his spirits fell, a reaction took place, and his mind became less and less sanguine, till he felt low—very low.
The excitement of the night passed away with its shades; with the morning a very different train of thoughts arose. He began to see things in their true light; he saw himself first an angry lover—angry because the girl he loved did not love him; then he had become a companion of men worse than himself, he had touched pitch and not escaped its defilement; then he had been a false friend to the Earl, a guest for whom his noble host had sought with sorrow, and one who had been guilty of a breach of all the laws of hospitality, and who had basely turned his heel against him whose bread he ate. He had sunk lower still, he had been the accuser of innocence, he had filled a happy home with tears, he had abducted a high-souled pure maiden, and had he not been stayed in his villany he would have perhaps driven her to death; he had been caught in his wickedness, had attempted the life of one, been the murderer of another, and a third was placed at the doors of the grave by his hand.
What had he done all this for? a dream, a baseless vision. How could he ever fancy a being so pure, so loveable, would love a thing of guilt like him? He had lost his name, his honour, his fame; he was the occupant of a gaol, and a felon's death and unhallowed grave were before him,—the fitting meed for such a crime, or rather a succession of crimes like his. There was one thought that still gave him some relief, and this was the thought of his rescue; he would then live to retrieve his character; he felt he could never be worthy the love, but perhaps he might yet gain the friendship, of Ellen. He would leave for a foreign shore, change his name, achieve high renown, and come back meriting at least the friendship of one, of whose love he had now lost all hope of being worthy. This was a better tone of mind, and he began not to repent, but to feel remorse for his crimes. It was the remorse of one of those fallen angels, who yet know no wish even of repentance. Conflicting hopes and fears too, often sinking to despair, took possession of his mind. His morning meal was brought,—he could not partake of it. The day wore through, he became hungry and tired, and he ate some of his prison fare; alas, to what had he brought himself! The knowledge that others were now happy, especially one, and that his name would only be mentioned to be reviled, was maddening; he began to hate all mankind, because he had made them justly hate him; he began to be angry at any one being happy, because he had made himself miserable. Oh! how slowly the hours passed, how he longed for night and darkness. All was sunshine and happiness without, all gloom and misery in his prison; and because he was wretched he felt angry because the sun shone. Would it were night, more congenial to his dark temperament of mind. He looked at the barred window of his room, it was high beyond his reach and the wall was smooth. Oh! if he could only climb and look at the world without, anything was better than the accursed walls of his gaol. A little bird settled on the bars, but it was outside; it warbled a few notes, and then flew away. He hated that bird, because it was happy and he was wretched. The turnkey brought his evening meal; he was a harsh, bad-looking man, and as incommunicative as a stock; he asked him some questions, but surly answers only he got in return. A second night came, and still no rescue. That night he slept, but his sleep was full of horrid dreams. Another day passed through, and still no help. He began to despair, and thought the Captain had promised too much; he could not perform his promise, he would leave him to his fate, he would be hung. Oh, horror! and yet he couldn't do so. But why not? he would not betray him, he had sworn that on the book of God. The Captain knew he would not perjure himself, and would leave him to be executed. What did he care? would God he had never known him. These are your worldly friends, they leave you in the hour of necessity. Ellen would not have left him, and even now, if he were condemned, he felt sure she would visit him in his condemned cell. Even that thought had bliss in it, he would see her again. But to die like a felon, oh! it was horrible; to be a felon was nothing, but to die one was horrible; he never would,—he would put an end to his life first, dash out his brains against the wall. Another day passed; he became moody, and lower in spirits. The dull routine,—the same prison fare twice a day, brought by the same ill-looking man; the same dreadful thoughts; the same dream-scared sleep;—it was a living death. He began to look forward to death as a release. Sunday came, that evening he would have been a week in his cell. It was Sunday a fortnight ago Ellen had been taken away; on Sunday a week ago he had perpetrated his deeds of darkness, after keeping the innocent girl a week in a still crueller prison—for she was innocent, he deserved it; and now on Sunday he was in solitary confinement: there was something of a retributive providence in it. It did not escape him. He heard the church bells ring their call to the house of God; there was a time he had loved that sound, the time when he had loved Ellen, and they went to church together; now the sound was maddening to his ear, the bells rang the knell of departed bliss; they would soon ring his knell, and in a felon's grave he would rest. To-morrow his trial came on; he would confess his guilt and soon all would be over.
The day was very hot,—hot to oppressiveness, and as the evening came on he now and then heard distant peals of thunder. Criminal experience tells us that the night before the trial is far more awful to the criminal than the night before execution. This was the night before L'Estrange's trial, and he did not prove an exception to the rule. He had all the week determined to plead guilty, but now the trial was near he would not; he might be pardoned by some clever defence, and he determined to use it. He could not go to sleep that night, he paced his cell in an agony of mind. It was then certain the Captain had deserted him. Oh, how he hated the man! Darkness increased: now and then a fitful glare of faint lightning glimmered through his cell; by-and-by it got brighter, and the thunder crashes grew louder and more distinct; it was evident a heavy storm was wearing up. He heard the rain descend in torrents, and the vividity of the double-forked lightning, and the detonating peals of thunder which shook the prison, shook also his guilty mind. It seemed as if heaven spoke in wrath for the last time, and gave her final warning. It wakened something between conviction, and a desire to become better; but, alas! it was only like the breath of a dying lamp, which wakens a ray, too soon to expire again. Something muttered in his heart it was too late; it was so voice-like it made him start, it was as if some one spoke. He sat down on his comfortless bed, and looked the picture of guilty, hopeless woe. Suddenly he heard a footstep outside his door; it was like the step of a soldier; he heard the clanking sound of the spur. A key grated in the door, and it was opened by the turnkey; behind him strode in a tall dark figure: the latter person took the lamp from the turnkey, and ordering him in a low voice to come back in half an hour, bade him quit the cell. The door was again locked, the key turned, and the two alone in the prison. L'Estrange knew who it was, he felt an instinct that told him it was—it could be—no other than the Captain. He could not see him, though he was aware he was seen by the dark lantern. Just then a tremendous flash lit up the prison, and distinctly showed him he was right in his surmise; it was the Captain. He waited till the crackling peal ceased, and then said in a light voice:
"Hallo, Ned, how are you, old fellow? why damme, prison fare doesn't seem to agree with you, you are as white as a ghost; cheer up, old fellow, I am come to rescue you!"
"Prison thoughts are worse than its fare. I am a different man since I have been here so long."
"Egad, you haven't turned blue, have you? Why, bless my soul, you spoke just like old Power, or some such snivelling Puritan. Come, get rid of all this nonsense, and listen to me. I have come to get you clear of these quarters. Egad they don't agree with one; faugh! how close this cell is; you must get out, and breathe the fresh air."
"I am resolved to abide the worst, Captain; thanks for all your trouble; I will be tried, condemned, and hung; the world will wag on just the same when I am gone."
"Trash—who the devil has put this nonsense into your brains? Has the parson been here? You are right, by G—! a week in prison has changed you a bit, I am d—d if I'd know you to be the same fellow! You sit moping like a girl under sentence of death for murdering her child! Come, cheer up; I tell you this air is bad for any one. Egad, it is making me feel quite devout. Oh! d— that accursed thunderstorm"—as a brilliant flash blazed through the cell—"hark at the rain, you and I will have a wet night of it."
"Is it not like the voice of God calling us to account for our wickedness?"
"The voice of the devil! why I swear you must set up gaol chaplain. What in the name of Heaven has put such ideas into your brainpan? a common bout of thunder the voice of God,—anything else?"
"Blaspheme not! leave me to my fate—hanging is too good for me; you brought me to this—"
"And I'll bring you out of it again, one good turn deserves another! Do you think I am as great a fool as yourself? What hangs you hangs me also, and I am not so jolly tired of life as you are just now. Wait till you are out of this cursed hole, and you will get like yourself again; life is too sweet to be thrown away like a coat!"
"To you it may be sweet—all that would render it so to me is gone! My love is blighted—my hopes dead—the world would only be 'a wider prison;' let me end my misery with my life, and bury my shame with my body."
"Preaching again! Look you, Ned, it is always the same accursed story, a lot of stuff talked—then you accept, and then retract, and after all go. Now I have no time for this! you shall not be tried—nor condemned—nor hung! I have planned your escape, and by Heaven it was no easy matter, and deuced expensive with bribes! A score of fellows are all ready to play their part, and I am d—d if you shall fail."
"How am I to escape?" said L'Estrange, beginning to feel freedom, after all, was not to be despised; "the walls are high, the watchers vigilant."
"The walls may be as high as Heaven, and the ditches as deep as hell, and the sentinels as vigilant as Argus, but I will do them all! Pest, do you take me for a nincompoop, or fool, or what? There, what do you think of that?" throwing down a coil of rope—"and of that?" flinging a file on the ground. "Now, I know you are not a fool, and will find out their use and you will promise me to escape! You will find the rope long enough to reach pretty near the rocks below the prison—your window looks south to Arthur's Seat."
"And when I am out—where am I to go?"
"Patience, by G—! and I'll tell you. There are rocks beneath your window; I took a reconnaissance of the whole yesterday; you must then slip down the hill—go through the back slums of the Canongate, get out by Holyrood, and make for the Hunter's Bog; if you are attacked there is a pistol, and a knife for close quarters.—Egad, that was a bright flash! and here comes my man; good-night, it is now close on midnight, Bill will wait till three in the morning—it is a famous night though! raining buckets, and dark as pitch! Don't let one of those accursed flashes show you dangling by the rope, or some one might spy you. Wait for a good blazer, and then drop like lightning, ha! ha! ha! good-night I'll have a jolly wet ride home."
He then wrung L'Estrange's hand, telling him they would meet at Philippi, or mayhap in Hades if there was such a place; he would find him out if he was above ground anywhere. And, following the turnkey, he left him to manage his escape as he best could.
END OF VOL. I.
LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.