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[-228-] 

CHAPTER CCV.

THE BREAKFAST.

Yes  it was to this individual that Maria Villiers was to be sacrificed:  it was to him that the cold and selfish policy of Lord Rossville was about to consign a beautiful, an artless, and an amiable girl.
    Sir Cherry's mother had paid the debt of nature about a year previously; and the young baronet found himself the possessor of an immense fortune.
    Lord Rossville only looked upon his orphan niece Maria as an encumbrance while she remained single, or as a means of increasing the wealth (and in his idea, the strength) of the family when she married. Sir Cherry had met her in the brilliant sphere of the West-End society: he had courted her; and, the moment Lord and Lady Rossville observed his attentions, they commanded her to receive them with favour. She  poor timid, friendless girl!-was half persuaded into the idea that the match was really to her advantage, and half bullied (for we can actually use no other term) into an acquiescence in the views of her guardian.
    Thus she had not dared to utter a negative when the effeminate and insipid baronet had solicited her hand; and, her silence being taken for a ready consent, the preliminaries were hurried on, without any further reference to the inclinations or wishes of the victim!
    "We have been painfully excited on your account, Sir Cherry Bounce," said Lady Ravensworth, advancing to receive the bridegroom.
    "The twuth wath that my fwiend Thmilackth inthithted on my widing the new horth I bought yethterday," exclaimed the baronet; "and ath he don't theem to be veway well bwoken in, the wethult wath that I nearly got a bwoken head."
    "I never saw such a Guy on a horse before  strike me!" ejaculated Major Smilax Dapper, who [-229-] had followed his friend into the room. "He would keep in advance of me the whole way; and although I called after him to rein in  strike him!  he would not listen to me."
    "It wath that thouting and hoowaying that fwightened my horth," observed Sir Cherry, casting a sulky look towards Smilax.
    "At all events you are not hurt  and that is the essential," said Lord Rossville.
    "Hurted! no  of course de good gentleman's not hurted," exclaimed Baron Torkemdef: "it noting at all but de idea  de fancy. You know vare well, sare, dat you not really exist  dat you only tink you do exist  "
    Sir Cherry Bounce, to whom these words were addressed, cast so ludicrous a look of surprise mingled with dismay upon the philosopher, that Major Smilax Dapper burst into an immoderate fit of laughter; so that Baron Torkemdef was for a moment disconcerted.
    Lord Rossville seized this opportunity to lead Sir Cherry Bounce towards Miss Villiers, who received her intended husband with a manner which to the superficial observer might appear excessive bashful-ness, but which to the penetrating eye was the expression of blank  dumb  soul-crushing despair.
    "I was just as timid with my first as Maria is," whispered Mrs. Berrymenny to the Countess of Brazenphace: "with my second I was a leetle more gay;  with my third  "
    "Dear Mrs. Berrymenny," interrupted the Countess, impatiently; "pray do not talk of your seconds and thirds, when here are my two youngest daughters who haven't even yet got their firsts."
    Two footmen, in gorgeous liveries, now entered the room and threw open a pair of folding-doors, thus revealing an inner apartment where the nuptial ceremony was to take place by special license. Then Sir Cherry Bounce took Maria's hand, and led her slowly into the next room, the Honourable Misses Wigmore attending her in the capacity of bridemaids.
    The remainder of the company followed in procession.
    And now the Bishop takes his place near the table, and opens the book.
    The ceremony begins.
    Pale as marble, and almost insensible to what is passing around her, Maria Villiers hears a sort of droning mumbling, but cannot distinguish the words.
    And yet the Bishop read the prayers in a clear, distinct, and impressive manner.
    One of the bridemaids whispered in Maria's ear; and the young victim mechanically repeated the answer thus prompted.
    But she was scarcely aware of the tenour of what she had said: every moment the scene became less comprehensible to her mind  and she was on the point of uttering a wild cry, so alarming was the confusion of her thoughts, when there was a sudden movement amongst the assembly  warm lips touched her forehead for a moment and were instantly withdrawn  and then her ears rang with the congratulations of her friends!
    The chaos of her ideas was immediately dispelled; and the appalling truth broke suddenly on her. The ceremony was over  and she was a wife:  upon her marble brow the kiss of a husband had been imprinted.
    By one of those strange efforts of which the soul is sometimes capable, when "the worst" has arrived and "the bitterness of death" has passed, Maria recovered her presence of mind, and even smiled faintly in acknowledgment of the congratulations which she received.
    "Dat young lady seem vare happy now," whispered the German philosopher to Mrs. Berrymenny; "but it all nutting more dan de idea. We all idea  dat reverend Bischop  dis room  dat book what he was read in  everyting!"
    "Do you mean to persuade me, sir," asked Mrs. Berrymenny, with an indignant glance at Baron Torkemdef, that it is all mere fancy on my part that I have had five husbands? If so, sir, all I can say is that I should like to have a sixth opportunity of putting your theory to the test."
    And with these words the widow of five experiments of the marriage-state joined the procession which was now on its way to the breakfast-room.
    The table in this apartment was spread with all the delicacies which were calculated to tempt the appetite even of satiety.
    Sir Cherry thought it necessary to whisper some soft nonsense in the ears of his bride, as he conducted her to a seat; and Maria turned upon him a vacant glance of surprise;  then, suddenly recollecting the relation in which she stood towards him, her head drooped upon her bosom, and she made no reply.
    "Cherry," whispered Major Dapper, "you are not half lively enough  blow you! You look like a fool  but I suppose you can't help it."
    "Hold your tongue, Thmilackth," returned Sir Cherry, colouring to such an extent that the deep red was visible beneath his light hair. "You thant tweat me like a child any more."
    And now began the bustle of the breakfast-table and the excitement of the scene appeared to produce the most beneficial effects upon Lord Ravensworth, who did the honours of the table, conjointly with Adeline, in a manner indicative of more gaiety and spirit than he had exhibited for some time.
    "Lord Ravensworth is certainly improving," said the Countess of Brazenphace apart to Mrs. Berrymenny.
    "My second used to deceive me in the same manner," was the reply, also delivered in an under tone He was always dying  and always getting better, for at least three years before he went off altogether. My fourth  "
    "Oh! you have told me all about him before," hastily interrupted the Countess, who was alarmed lest the widow should inflict upon her a narrative of oft-experienced tediousness.
    "Dat care excellent bird  how you call him? Peasant  Ah!" observed Baron Torkemdef to the young clergyman, who, like a child, saw, heard, but said nothing. "But after all it no use for to praise one ting or to blame anoder  'cause dem each de idea  de fancy. Dere really no table  no peasant  no wine  no peoples: it all de imagination."
    And while the philosopher went on expatiating in this manner, the viands disappeared from his plate and the wine from the decanter near him with a marvellous rapidity; so that the young clergyman could not help muttering to himself, "I wonder whether the Baron's appetite is an idea also."
    "Seraphina," whispered the Countess of Brazenphace to one of her daughters, "it you look so much [-230-] at Count Swindeliskl, I shall be very angry. He has got no money, and is not a match for you. There is the Member for Buyemup-cum-Rhino sitting on your right, and he is a wealthy bachelor."
    "But, dear mamma," returned Miss Seraphina, also in a whisper, "he is at least sixty."
    "So much the better," was the prompt reply: "he is the easier to catch. Now mind your p's and q's, Miss."
    This maternal advice was duly attended to; and, by the time he had tossed off his third glass of champagne, the Member for Buyemup-cum-Rhino had grown very tenderly maudlin towards the red-haired young husband-hunter.
    "Miss Blewstocken, dear," cried the elder Miss Wigmore, "have you composed nothing appropriate for the present occasion?  no sweet little poem in your own fascinating style?"
    "Oh! dear Miss Wigmore, how unkind!" said the literary young lady, in an affected and languishing manner. "I could not have believed it of you  to appeal to me before so many! If I have told you in confidence, or if it be indeed generally known that 'The Poetic Nosegay was written by me  and if it had a very large circulation  I do not think it is fair to expect  "
    "Ah! Miss Blewstocken," exclaimed Miss Wigmore, "we are all aware that your pen is seldom idle."
    "It is really quite provoking to find oneself known to Fame," said the literary lady, with increasing affectation of manner, and in a drawling, insipid tone. "I wish I had never written at all:  not that I have ever been induced to acknowledge the authorship of that novel which was so successful last year  'The Royal Fiddlestick,' I mean. No:  but the time may come  "
    And here the literary lady shook her head in so mysterious a way that if she intended to be incomprehensible, she certainly was most successful in the endeavour.
    "Who is that lady?" inquired the Bishop of Lord Rossville.
    "Miss Blewstocken, the celebrated authoress," was the reply.
    "Oh!" said the Bishop, in a dry laconic way, which proved that, however celebrated Miss Blewstocken might be, the trumpet of her renown had never sounded in his ears before.
    "Talk of de poetry and de novel," exclaimed the German Baron, "what are all dem to do researches of de philosoph? Was your lordship ever read my von grand vork on de 'Ideality of de Universe?"'
    "I cannot say that I have ever read it, Sir," answered the Bishop, with a frown. "I have heard of it, sir  and I consider its doctrines to be opposed to the Bible, sir. I believe it is in fourteen large volumes, sir? Well, sir  then all I have to observe upon it is that so many quartos are themselves too substantial to be a mere idea."
    "But dey are von idea!" exclaimed the Baron, angrily. "Dey do not really exist, milor  in spite of what your lordship shall say. Everyting is de idea  we be ourselves all de walking, moving idea: dere no such ting as joy  no such ting as pain  dey mere sensation  "
    At this moment the learned philosopher started from his seat with a yell of agony, and began stamping on the floor in a furious manner.
    The fact was that while he was gesticulating in order to bestow additional emphasis on the enunciation of his principles, his hand, raised in the air, came in contact with a cup of coffee which a domestic was about to place before the young clergyman; and the scalding fluid was poured forth on the bald head and down the back of the philosopher.
    "Pray do not mind it, sir," said the Bishop, drily: "it is merely an idea."
    "Yes  it do idea, no doubt!" ejaculated Baron Torkemdef, as he wiped his head with his pocket-handkerchief, while the domestic murmured an apology and slunk sway: "but de idea was come in de unpleasant shape  dat noting against my doctrine  tousand devils, how him do burn!"
    And, particularly disconcerted, the learned man sank back into his seat, where he consoled himself with a renewed application to the decanter near him.
    Meantime Count Swindeliski was rendering himself very amiable to the Honourable Miss Helena Sophie Alexandrina Wigmore, next to whom he sate.
    "Poland, then, must be a very beautiful country?,' said the young lady, duly impressed by a most graphic description which the Count had just terminated.
    "It vare fine  vare fine," returned the fascinating foreigner. "De ancestral castle of the Swindeliskis vare grand  touch de clouds  so long dat when you do stand at de von end you shall not see de odor  so wide dat horses shall always be kept saddled for to cross de court. My father was keep tree tousand dependents: me not choose for to spend de revenue in dat vay  me only may keep von tousand."
    "And can you prefer England to your own beautiful country?" inquired Miss Helena Wigmore.
    "Me shall not prefare England," answered the Count: "me shall choose wife of de English ladies  dey vare beautiful  vare fine  vare clevare. Den me take my wife to Poland, where she shall be von vare great lady indeed."
    And, as he spoke, he threw a tender glance at his fair companion.
    But Miss Helena Sophie Alexandrina Wigmore knew full well that every word the Count uttered concerning his fortune and castle was false. She was, however, too polite not to seem to believe him; and she was, moreover, pleased at engrossing the attentions of the handsomest man in the room. She therefore permitted herself to flirt a little with him, especially as her mother was not present to control her actions; but, like all young ladles in fashionable circles, she was too astute and wary to entertain the least idea of a more serious connexion.
    The breakfast was now over; a carriage and four drove up to the front of the mansion; and the hour of departure had arrived for the "happy couple."
    Maria withdrew for a few moments in company with Lady Ravensworth and the two bridemaids and when she returned she was dressed for travelling.
    "Happy fellow!" whispered Major Dapper to his friend; "blow you!"
    "Fooleth Thmilackth!" returned Sir Cherry Bounce. "But I am weally veway happy  ekthepth that curthed wide on the fatht twotting horth. Good bye: I thall wite to you in a few dayth."
    The farewells were all said; and Maria resigned her hand to him who was about to bear her away from the Hall.
    [-231-] She wept not  she sighed not: but despair was written on her marble visage  though none present could read that. sombre and melancholy language.
    "I have directed Flora to accompany you." whispered Lady Ravensworth; "and you can keep her altogether, if you choose. Should the young woman whom you have hired, make her appearance, I will retain her, and give her a trial. But what is her name? I had forgotten to ask you."
    Maria gave an answer; but there was such a bustle in the room at the moment and such a confused din of many voices, that the name escaped Adeline's ears.
    Sir Cherry at the same instant led Maria towards the stairs; and in a few minutes the carriage, containing the newly-married pair, was rolling away from Ravensworth Hall on its journey to Cherry Park in Essex.
    "I wish I was bound on a similar trip with a sixth" thought Mrs. Berrymenny, as she watched from the window the departure of the carriage.
    "I wish I could get off my eighth and ninth as easily as the Rossvilles have done with Maria" thought the Countess of Brazenpbace. "But I am afraid that the member for Buyemup-cum-Rhino will not bite."
    "I wish I had not eulogised the single state in my poems." thought Miss Blewstocken, with a profound sigh.
    "Me wish me shall soon find do agreeable lady dat will make me de von happiest of men," said Count Swindeliskl to Miss Helena Sophie Alexandra Wigmore.
    "After all," said Baron Torkemdef. who had resevered his equanimity, by dint of frequent libations, "de marriage only de idea  de fancy, like any oder tlng. Dat handsome chariot do not actually exist  it only de idea; and dat loving pair what shall sit in it are only idea as well. All is idea  me an idea  and dat Lord Bischop wid de lawn-sleeves only an idea."
    "Where is Lord Ravensworth?" inquired Adeline of a domestic.
    "His lordship felt suddenly unwell a few moments ago, my lady, and has retired to his cabinet."
    "Ah! a reaction  a recurrence to the meerschaum!" murmured Lady Ravensworth, a cloud passing over her brow.
    "Please your ladyship," said the servant, "a young woman has just arrived from London. She says that she was hired by Miss Villiers  I beg pardon Lady Bounce  and that an accident to the vehicle in which she came to the Hall has delayed her."
    "Oh! she is to remain with me," returned Adeline. "Tell her that I will take her into my service on the same terms that were arranged between her and Lady Bounce. She is to replace Flora."
    "Very good, my lady;"  and the servant was about to retire.
    "One moment, William," said Adeline, beckoning him back "Did this young woman mention her name  for as yet i am really Ignorant of it?"
    "Yes, my lady," answered the domestic' "her name is Lydia Hutchinson."
    And the servant withdrew.
    "Lydia Hutchinson!" murmured Lady Ravensworth, turning deadly pale, and tottering to a seat.
    "Are you unwell, Adeline?" inquired Lady Rossville, approaching her daughter.
    "No  a sudden indisposition  it is nothing," replied Adeline; and she hastened from the room.    

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