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[-226-] 

CHAPTER CCIV

THE BRIDE AND BRIDEGROOM.

A BRILLIANT assembly was collected In the principal saloon of Ravensworth Hall.
    Lord Rossville,  a tall, thin, stern-looking man,  and Lady Rossville,  a very short, stout, and affected dame,  were amongst the most conspicuous by rank and station.
    Lady Ravensworth seemed as beautiful as Lydia Hutchinson had described her; and, as she was rather pale and delicate in consequence of being in an "interesting situation," she was really a being who might be termed, without any poetical exaggeration, sweetly fascinating. But no one who there beheld the elegant and proud peeress, doing the honours of her splendid mansion to a circle of noble guests, would have imagined that, when plain Miss Adeline Enfield, she had played the wanton at so tender an age, and given birth to a child in a miserable garret!
    The Honourable Miss Maria Augusta Victoria Amelia Hyacintha Villiers was a beautiful, but timid and retiring, girl of seventeen;  and as she now appeared in the virginal white which custom had compelled her to assume for the consummation of a sacrifice which she felt  Oh! how keenly felt,  it was easy for a benevolent eye to perceive that she was a victim to cold calculation, and not a happy bride about to accompany to the altar one whom she loved.
    But there were no benevolent eyes there:  there seldom are in fashionable life and in such cases. The expression of blank despair which marked the countenance of the young bride was regarded only as the token of maidenly reserve and bashfulness.
    Not that she loved another: no  her heart was entirely her own;  but she was about to be given to a man whom she abhorred.
    "Why did she not remonstrate with her guardian?" asks the innocent reader. Remonstrate with a stanch Tory and High-Church-supporting [-227-] peer like Lord Rossville! Ridiculous! He who believed that the people are mere machines formed to toil for the aristocracy, was not likely to listen with even common patience to the remonstrances of a young maiden for whom he believed he had arranged a splendid destiny.
    "But, then, poor Maria might have opened her heart to Lady Rossville!" says that self-same innocent reader. Equally ridiculous! A mother who had intrigued so well as to foist her own daughter upon an elderly noble like Lord Ravensworth, and who imagined that matrimony was nothing more nor less in respect to young ladies than "catching at the first rich man who offered himself," was very far from being the proper person at whose hands the orphan and portionless Maria could obtain a reprieve of the death-sentence which had been pronounced upon her heart.
    In high life how many matrimonial connexions are based on the calculations of sordid interest, instead of the sympathies of the soul! And then the hoary peer or the decrepid nabob is surprised that his young wife proves unfaithful to his bed, and declaims against the profligacy of her conduct in yielding to the temptations of a deeply-seated love for another  a love which was perhaps engendered before the ignominious sacrifice of her person to the sexagenarian husband was ever thought of!
    To return to the drawing-room at Ravensworth Hall.
    Amongst the select party assembled, we must especially mention the Honourable Miss Wigmore and the Honourable Miss Helena Sophia Alexandrina Wigmore  the bridesmaids, who looked as if they had much rather have been principal instead of secondary actresses in the matrimonial ceremony. There also was the newly-appointed Bishop of the Carribee Islands  solemn in lawn sleeves, and pompous in the display of his episcopal importance. Lounging near the chair of a very pretty girl, with whom he was conversing, stood Count Swindeliski  a refugee who sported enormous whiskers, who had found his way into fashionable society no one exactly knew how, and who had the extraordinary but not altogether uncommon knack of living at the rate of five thousand a-year  upon nothing! Then there were several Members of Parliament who had collected together near a window, and were disputing with all their talent whether there ought to be a duty of one half-penny or three-farthings per hundred on foreign brick-bats. Near an open piano was gathered a group of very young ladies, engaged in an edifying discussion on the character of some other very young lady who was not present. Conversing with Lord Rossville was the owner of half a county, who could return six Members to Parliament with the greatest ease, but could not for the life of him return a sensible answer to even the plainest question. Standing apart from all the rest, was a young country clergyman, who kept turning up the whites of his eyes as if in a constant agony of some kind or another  but really because he was in the presence of a Bishop, although the said Bishop never once cast his reverend eyes that way. Then there was the Dowager Countess of Brazenphace, who had "got off" seven out of nine red-haired daughters, and had brought the two remaining single ones with her just to see if they could not make an impression somewhere or another. There also was the celebrated German philosopher Baron Torkemdef, who had written a work in fourteen quarto volumes to prove that there is no such thing as matter-that we do not really exist  but that we ourselves and every thing else are mere ideas. This learned man was, as might be supposed, a very valuable acquisition to a bridal party. Seated next to Lady Rossville was the Honourable Mrs. Berrymenny, who had seen five husbands consigned to the tomb, and was looking out for a sixth. It was, however, probable that she was doomed to look long enough, inasmuch as she had no fortune, and had already reached the comfortable age of fifty-three. Lastly, there was the elegant and accomplished Miss Blewstocken, who was known to have written a volume of poems which had an excellent circulation (amongst the butter-shops), and who was suspected of having perpetrated a novel.
    These are all the stars whom it is worth while to signalise amidst a galaxy of some fifty personages.
    The bridegroom had not yet arrived: he was expected to make his appearance at about half-past-eight.
    When Lord Ravensworth entered the room, every one who had not lately seen him was shocked at the dreadful change which had taken place in him; but of course the guests, one and all, assured him that they had never seen him look so well before.
    Adeline sighed deeply  for she could not help thinking that it was a miserable mockery for a gaunt and almost fleshless skeleton thus to deck itself out in an apparel befitting a bridal:  moreover, the idea that if her yet unborn offspring should prove a girl, the broad lands and noble Hall of Ravensworth would pass away to another, was ever uppermost in her mind.
    To conceal her emotions, she hastened to the side of poor Maria Villiers, to whom she said, "It is very strange that the lady's-maid whom you have hired did not come last evening, as promised."
    "It is, indeed, very annoying," observed Maria, whose sorrows were, however, too deep to permit her mind to be even ruffled by that trifling source of vexation.
    "But never mind," continued Lady Ravensworth, in a whisper; "you shall take my maid Flora with you, and I will either find another at my leisure, or keep the one whom you have engaged, should she make her appearance after you have left."
    "This is very kind of you, Adeline," said Maria, mechanically.
    "I am afraid you did not manage well in your first essay in choosing dependants, dear Maria," observed Lady Ravensworth. "You were attracted by the advertisement in the Morning Herald; whereas I never should think of taking a lady's-maid who advertises. Then, as you yourself told me, you went to some out-of-the-way place in the City for the young woman's character."
    "Oh! I was perfectly satisfied, Adeline," interrupted Maria, to whom this conversation appeared trivial in the extreme on an occasion so fraught with solemnity to herself.
    Lady Ravensworth was about to make some reply, when Lord Rossville, who had been standing at the window for the last few moments, exclaimed, "Here's the bridegroom!"
    A cold shudder passed over Maria's frame; and it seemed that her heart had been suddenly swathed in ice.
    [-228-] She alone retained her place: all the other persons present hurried to the window.
    And, sure enough, the bridegroom was in view; and a very funny view it was. Perched upon the back of an enormous bright bay horse, the "happy man" never appeared more miserable in his life. He was tugging at the reins with all his might; but the huge animal galloped furiously along in spite of the efforts made to restrain its speed. The bridegroom's feet were thrust as far as they could go into the stirrups: his hat was rammed tight down over his eyes, to prevent it from blowing away;  his form was bent, or rather crouched up, like that of a monkey;  -with his right hand he held fast by the horse's mane;  and with his left he continued tugging at the bit and bradoon. The poor animal itself seemed to wonder, like John Gilpin's steed, what sort of a thing it had got upon its back; for its eyes glared, and its nostrils dilated with affright: while its whole body was covered with a great perspiration, and white flakes of foam kept falling from its mouth.
    In this manner did the bridegroom rush madly, but with involuntary speed, through the spacious Park towards the Hall. At a short distance behind him rode another cavalier, who managed his horse well, and amused himself by maintaining a succession of shouts and hurrahs after the bridegroom, whereby that unfortunate individual's steed was only affrighted all the more. A third person on horseback appeared at a greater distance still; but this was the bridegroom's servant.
    "A most un-christianlike and decidedly unhallowed manner for a bridegroom to comport himself," said the Bishop of the Carribbee Islands, as he contemplated this ludicrous display of horsemanship.
    "It certainly is strange," observed Lord Rossville. But perhaps our young friend is anxious to display his skill  "
    "No such a ting, milor  no such a ting!" ejaculated Count Swindeliski, caressing his whiskers. "Dat young gentelman's von great homebogue; and if me was dere, me hit him some kick for his pain."
    "Ah! he doesn't ride so well as my poor dear fourth," said Mrs. Berrymenny, with a profound sigh, as she thus alluded to one of her husbands.
    "It's all vanity and vexation of spirit," observed the young clergyman, glancing deferentially towards the Bishop.
    "No, sir  it is not, sir," said the Bishop sternly: "it is sheer bad riding, sir  and nothing else."
    The Right Reverend Father in God had been a fox-hunter in his time.
    "For my part," cried a Member of Parliament, "I move that we repair to the young gentleman's assistance."
    "And I beg to second the motion," said another Member.
    "Ah! by heaven, that's serious!" ejaculated Lord Rossville, turning abruptly away from the window.
    And so it seemed; for the horse suddenly stopped near the entrance of the mansion, and pitched the bridegroom clean over its head into a clump of evergreens.
    All the ladies who beheld this catastrophe screamed aloud.
    But at the very next moment he rose from his ignominious position, and with difficulty removing his battered hat from over his eyes, saluted the company assembled at the windows of the drawing. room.
    "It's noting at all," said Baron Torkemdef: "he only tink himself hurted  you only tink dat a horse what did seem to run way wid him:  it all de idea  all de fancy."
    Then, while Lord Rossville and others hastened to meet the bridegroom and assure themselves that he was not hurt, Baron Torkemdef caught hold of the great county landowner by the button-hole, and began to expatiate upon the folly of yielding to sensations of pain and other afflictions, as not only those sensations but also we ourselves were only so many unsubstantial ideas.
    Meantime, poor Maria Villiers had remained in a sort of listless reverie in her seat; and it was only when Lady Ravensworth assured her that the bridegroom had sustained no injury, that she learnt ho had been in any peril at all.
    in ten minutes the door opened, and Lord Rossville returned to the room, ushering in the bridegroom, who had been cleansed in the meantime from the effects of his fall, and who endeavoured to put a smiling face upon the matter, although still terribly disconcerted.
    Then Lady Adeline advanced to meet him, and said in a most gracious tone, "We have been painfully excited on your account, Sir Cherry Bounce."

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