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the immediate neighbourhood of Kilburn on one gentle acclivity rising towards
Wilsden Green, stood a noble mansion in the midst of a spacious park.
Every thing about that vast structure, within and
without, denoted aristocratic grandeur combined with exquisite taste.
The adjunction of no modern buildings had spoiled the
antique and time-honoured appearance of Ravensworth Hall: the hand of the mason,
when repairing the ravages of years, had successfully studied to preserve the
effect of the beautiful Elizabethan architecture.
Thus the splendid mansion, — with its
numerous gables, its tall chimneys, its picturesque belfry, its immense windows
with small diamond-shaped panes, and its ample portals approached by a flight of
twenty steps, — seemed well adapted for the residence of a peer who
could trace his family back to the epoch of the Conquest, and who preserved as
much feudal state and grandeur as modern systems and habits would permit.
It was the 1st of February; and as early as six o'clock
on that morning — before it was light — Ravensworth Hall
was a scene of bustle and excitement.
Some grand event was evidently about to take place. [-224-]
The chimneys belonging to the kitchen and servants' offices in the rear of the
building, sent forth dense columns of smoke, which seemed to imply that
extensive culinary preparations were in progress.
The butler, — a venerable old man with hair
as white as snow, but with a stately portliness of form that was scarcely bent
by age, — was busy in selecting the choicest wine from the immense
stock of which he was the guardian. The female domestics were early employed in
preparing the grand apartments of the mansion for the reception of a brilliant
company:-windows were cleaned, coverings removed from the velvet cushions of
chairs and sofas, heavy hangings and curtains arranged in the nicest folds so as
to display the richness of their texture to the best advantage, and China
ornaments carefully dusted.
Lord Ravensworth rose earlier than he had done for some
weeks; for before the clock struck eight he descended from his dressing-room to
a chamber which he denominated his "cabinet."
He was a man of about fifty years of age, and had
evidently been very handsome. But his countenance was now colourless, haggard,
and painfully indicative of some deeply seated disease which was preying upon
his vitals. His eyes were sunken and lustreless: his cheeks were hollow, — and
yet seldom had an individual of his age possessed so splendid a set of teeth,
the whole of which were perfect. So thin and wasted was his form, that, although
he was naturally of a powerful and portly structure, the dressing-gown which he
had on hung as loosely about him as if on a skeleton.
And how rapidly had these ravages of an unknown and
unaccountable malady worked their terrific influence on a man who had lately
appeared to possess that constitutional vigour and robustness of health which
predicate a long life!
Three months previously to the time of which we are
writing had Lord Ravensworth first experienced a change in his physical energies
which began to alarm him. He was then staying, with his young and beautiful
wife, to whom he had only then been married half-a-year, at his town-mansion;
and when the primal symptoms of his malady appeared, — evidencing
themselves in want of appetite, intervals of deep lethargic languor, and an
apathetic listless. ness in respect to every thing passing around him, — his
physicians advised him to essay the bracing air and change of scene of
Ravensworth Park. His lordship was, however, unwilling to remove his young
wife — the lovely Adeline — from the gaieties of London,
at that season when all the fashionable world was returning to the metropolis
after the autumnal visits to their countryseats or favourite watering-places;
and he had accordingly persisted in passing the Christmas holidays at his
But he rapidly grew worse: — his appetite
totally failed him; and it was with the greatest difficulty that he could force
himself to take the sustenance necessary to sustain life. He had always been a
great smoker; and his only solace now appeared to be his meerschaum. Alone in
his own private apartment, he would sit for hours with no other companion than
the eternal pipe. He was fond of oriental tobacco, because the Turkish and
Persian weeds possessed a peculiar aroma which rendered their use a habit
comparatively inoffensive to others. And here we may observe that the only
reciprocal attentions which had taken place for years between Lord Ravensworth
and his younger brother, the Honourable Gilbert Vernon, consisted in the annual
interchange of presents: — thus, as Gilbert had resided in oriental
climes, he was in the habit of sending Lord Ravensworth every year a small chest
containing the most rare and excellent samples of tobacco grown in Asia Minor
and Persia; and in return he received from his elder brother a box filled with
all the newest English publications, and a variety of choice articles for the
toilette, such as Gilbert could not have procured in the East.
Thus was it that, when the nobleman found a strange and
insidious malady growing upon him, he naturally sought relief, both mental and
physical, in his favourite recreation; and never had the present of his brother
seemed more valuable to him than when he forgot his ailments in the soothing
enjoyments of the aromatic Turkish or mildly-flavoured Persian tobacco.
For two months had he been subject to a mysterious and
deeply-rooted disease, — which one physician treated as atrophy, and
which another honestly confessed he could not comprehend, — when
about the beginning of the year, he had yielded to the entreaties of his wife
and removed to Ravensworth Hall.
There he appeared to rally for a few days, — taking
powerful exercise on horseback and on foot, and indulging but little in the
luxury of the meerschaum.
One day, however, the weather was so intemperate that he
could not stir abroad; and he passed several hours in his "cabinet,"
with his favourite meerschaum. From that period the apathy which he had to some
extent shaken off, returned with increased power: his manner seemed more
lethargic and indifferent than it had yet been; and the companionship of his
pipe grew more welcome to him than ever. He now spent the greater portion of
each day in his cabinet, with positive orders that he was not to be disturbed;
and there he enjoyed that baleful comfort which is experienced by the Teryaki,
or oriental opium-eaters. Reclining in a capacious arm-chair, with the tube of
his meerschaum between his lips, Lord Ravensworth forgot the world
without, — remembered not his wife, — thought not of the
infant that she bore in her bosom, — and even seemed insensible to
the fearful wasting away which his physical strength was rapidly undergoing. He
refused to allow his physician to prescribe for him; and though the work of
enfeeblement and decay progressed with alarming velocity, he seldom appeared to
reflect that he must shortly be numbered with the dead.
It is due to Adeline to state that, — attached
to pleasure and gaiety, and fond of society as she was, — she
endeavoured to arouse her husband as much as she could from that mortal apathy
which, even in her presence, shrouded all his sensibilities as it were in a
premature grave. His case presented the remarkable and mysterious anomaly of a
man in the noon of lustyhood, and without any apparent ailment of a specific
kind, passing out of existence by a geometrical progression of decay.
Such was the condition of Lord Ravensworth at the period
when we introduce our readers to the Hall.
A few words will explain the motive which had induced
him to rise at so unusually early an hour on the 1st of February, and which also
led him to a temporary, and, alas! very feeble exertion to shake [-225-]
the torpor of listlessness and the opiate influence of his mortal apathy.
Lady Ravensworth's cousin, the Honourable Miss Maria
Augusta Victoria Amelia Hyacintha Villiers, was, in fashionable language,
"to be that morning led to the hymeneal altar." This young lady was
rich only in her names: she was a portionless orphan; and the cold calculation
of her guardian, Lord Rossville (Adeline's father), had induced him to consent
to the sacrifice of the poor girl to a suitor whose wealth and title of Baronet
were his only recommendations.
Miss Maria Augusta Victoria Amelia Hyacintha Villiers
had been residing with her cousin Adeline, ever since the marriage of the latter
with Lord Ravensworth; and it was to consummate the sacrifice ere now alluded to
that all the grand preparations before mentioned were in progress. Lord and Lady
Rossville and Lady Ravensworth all conceived that Lord Ravensworth would be
benefited by the excitement attending the assemblage of a marriage party at the
Hall; and their expectations appeared to be in some measure justified. His
lordship descended at an unusually early hour to his cabinet, and, instead of
having recourse to his meerschaum, he summoned the butler, to whom he gave
instructions relative to the service of particular wines.
For nearly a month past his lordship had not meddled in
any of the affairs of the household; and the venerable servant, was overjoyed to
think that his noble master was giving unequivocal signs of recovery. This idea
seemed to acquire confirmation from the circumstance that the nobleman
afterwards returned to his dressing-room without smoking a single pipe, and,
aided by his valet, attired himself with unusual precision and care.
"Your lordship is better this morning,"
observed the valet, deferentially.
"Yes — I am a little better,
Quentin," returned the nobleman; "and yet I hardly know that I have
ever felt actually ill. Want of appetite is the principal ailment which affects
me. It makes me grow thin, you perceive: — but am I so very
"Oh! no, my lord," answered the valet, who
belonged to a class that never tell disagreeable truths [-226-]
so long as their wages are regularly paid. "Your lordship is certainly not
so stout as your lordship was; but — "
"But what, Quentin!"
"I think — if your lordship would not
be offended — that I am acquainted with the cause of that want of
appetite, which prevents your lordship from taking proper sustenance."
"Go on, Quentin: I shall not be offended. I know
you are a faithful fellow," exclaimed the nobleman. "What do you think
is the cause?"
"With your lordship's permission, I should say that
smoking too much — " began the valet, timidly.
"Pooh! pooh! — nonsense!"
interrupted Lord Ravensworth, impatiently. "I have always been a great
smoker: you know I have. I began to smoke when I was only fourteen; and as I was
so long a bachelor — during the best years of my life, indeed — I
had no reason to curb myself in my favourite recreation. It would be different,
perhaps, if I used the filthy tobacco which you buy in England — or
if I smoked strong Havannah cigars. But that mild and aromatic plant, which is
reared in the East, cannot injure a soul: — a child might smoke
"Your lordship knows best," observed the
valet, feeling that he was treading on delicate ground. "But I think your
lordship has smoked more lately than — "
"I dare say I have," again interrupted the
nobleman, with some little petulance. "But the last chest of tobacco which
my brother sent me is so much better than all the former ones; and there is such
a delightful soothing influence in the samples of Turkish and Persian, that I
cannot lay aside my pipe when once I take it up. Let me see! It was, only last
October — yes, and at the end of October, too — that I
received the chest; and I have already made a deep inroad into it."
"Is the Honourable Mr. Vernon still in Turkey, my
lord?" inquired the valet.
"Yes: at least, when I heard from him last — that
was when he sent me the chest of tobacco in October — he stated in
his letter that he should yet remain abroad for two or three years. He seems
devoted to the East. But you know, Quentin, that he and I are not upon the very
best of terms, although we occasionally correspond and interchange little
civilities every now and then. However, I can scarcely blame myself for any
coldness that may subsist between us. I have behaved to him as an elder brother
ought to a younger one; — and because I would not consent to
minister to his extravagant propensities he took umbrage. When I espoused her
ladyship last May, I wrote to Mr. Vernon, who was then at Beyrout, acquainting
him with that event; and his reply, which accompanied the chest of tobacco in
October, was more kind and conciliatory than I could have expected, considering
his gloomy and morose character."
"I am glad that he exhibited a proper feeling
towards your lordship," said Quentin, by way of making some observation,
because his master had paused.
"And so am I," continued the nobleman.
"Then I wrote to him again in November, to inform him that Lady Ravensworth
was in a way that gave promise of a continuation of our name, — the
name of Ravensworth is a very ancient one, Quentin — "
"Yes, my lord. I believe your lordship can trace it
back to the invasion of Britain by the Romans!"
"No — not quite that," returned
the nobleman; "but to the conquest by William the Norman. However, I wrote
to my brother, as I have informed you; and I received no answer. I therefore
conclude that he has renewed his travels through Asia-Minor."
The toilet of Lord Ravensworth was now complete; and he
hesitated for a moment whether he should repair to his cabinet and take
"just one little pipe," or whether he should hasten to the
drawing-room at once.
The valet understood what was passing in the nobleman's
mind; but as he was really attached to his master, and moreover entertained a
belief that the too liberal use of tobacco had reduced him to his present
wretched physical condition, he hastened to exclaim, "The company are
already assembled my lord, In the drawing-room; and her ladyship will be quite
delighted to see your lordship looking so very well to-day."
Once more Lord Ravensworth, who for a moment was about
to relapse into a state of listless apathy, brightened up, and wrestled with the
fatal influence that was creeping over him; and in this improved state of mind
and body he proceeded to the drawing-room.
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