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[-223-] 

CHAPTER CCIII.

RAVENSWORTH HALL.

    IN 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 town-residence.
    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-] 

off 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 thin, Quentin!"
    "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 it."
    "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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