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PARTY AT RAVENSWORTH HALL.
Albert Egerton's absence, the conversation in the drawing-room had at first
turned upon the subject of the old gardener's statements respecting the ghost.
Lord Dunstable, Mr. Chichester, and Sir Rupert
Harborough expressed their firm belief in the truth of the story simply
because they were anxious to serve their friend Egerton, and get the aunt and
cousins back again to London as speedily as possible. For they feared that if an
exposure were to take place, and if the deception relative to the ownership of
the Hall were by any accident to transpire, the remonstrances, reproaches, and
accompanying advice which Egerton's relations were certain to lavish upon him,
might have the effect of reclaiming him entirely a prospect by no
means pleasant to the minds of those adventurers, who were resolved to pluck him
to his very last feather.
Colonel Cholmondeley, although completely agreeing with
his friends in all matters of this nature, nevertheless proclaimed his total
disbelief of the ghost story. This he did simply because it would have appeared
too pointed had all Egerton's friends combined unanimously in recommending that
the party should return to London immediately after the collation.
"For my part," said Mr. Tedworth Jones,
"I believe every word that the old man uttered. Love, poetry, and ghosts
seem to me to go together. For what is love, unless the lover who loses her whom
he loves, can soothe the agony of his mind by the conviction that she-the dear
lost one is ever near him in the shape of a disembodied
And, having delivered himself of this splendid proof of
his poetic mind, Mr. Tedworth Jones glanced triumphantly around him.
"How sweet you do talk, to be sure, my dear
Tedworth!" murmured the enraptured Clarissa Jemima. "It was your
conversation," she added in a loving whisper, "that first made an
impression upon my heart."
"And did my poetry have no influence,
dearest!" asked Mr. Jones, in a tone of increasing mawkishness, and so far
above a whisper that the words were overheard by Mr. Chichester.
"Ah! now I have found you out, Mr. Jones!"
cried this gentleman, who most probably had certain reasons of his own for
playing the amiable towards the wealthy tripeman's heir: "you're a
poet eh! Well I thought so from the very first. The
fact you have the air of a poet-you wear your collar like a poet-you look
altogether like a poet."
Now, although Mr. Tedworth Jones looked at that precise
moment, and at most other moments also, more like an ass than a poet, he
nevertheless felt the compliment in its most flattering sense; and after a
considerable degree of whispering on his part with Clarissa, and giggling and
whispering also on hers, it transpired that Mr. Tedworth Jones had addressed to
his beloved a great variety of poetical compositions.
"And I can assure you that they are very pretty
too," cried Mrs. Bustard, who was by no means an indifferent spectatress of
"But you should print them, my dear sir you
should print them," exclaimed Mr. Chichester "Let the world welcome
you at once as a great poet."
"Well," said Mr. Tedworth Jones, his whole
countenance becoming as red as his hair, so that it seemed as if he were about
to go off in a state of spontaneous combustion; "I did venture to print a
little piece a few weeks ago."
"Indeed!" said Chichester, apparently much
delighted at this announcement: "in some periodical, I presume!"
[-379-] "No it
was to have been struck off on a few sheets of gilt-edged, paper just
to circulate privately amongst my friends, you know," replied Mr. Jones:
"but really the compositors made such an awful mull of the first proof that
I never had the courage to let them go on!"
"That was a very great pity," observed
"I can show you the original copy and the first
proof, if you like," continued Mr. Jones; "and you may then judge for
yourself how far I was justified in being angry with the printers."
Mr. Chichester of course expressed the utmost curiosity
to see the poem and the proof; and the favour was conceded by Mr. Jones, after
some slight opposition on the part of Clarissa, who thought that such a display
was improper in respect to a lady "in her situation."
The papers were, however, handed over to Mr. Chichester,
who began by reading aloud the following manuscript copy of verses:
TO CLARISSA JEMIMA.
Oh! sweet Clarissa ever dearest love!
What palpitations does my fond heart prove
When thy coy hand I press!
Who can depict th' ineffable delight
With which thy glances break upon the night
Of my sad loneliness?
True as the Boreal Lights unto the Pole,
Those looks shed lustre on my sadden'd soul,
And bid sweet visions rise
To cheer me in my wandering path, and give
A plea to nurse the thought that I may live
To bask in thy bless'd eyes!
Yes dark as seemeth this wide world to me,
Perverse as human hearts appear to be,
Thou art all truth and joy!
For thee the incense of my altar burns;
To thee my grateful memory ever turns
With bliss that ne'er can cloy!
These verses were received with great applause by all
present; but during the reading of them Clarissa had thought it quite becoming
for a young lady "in her situation" to burst into tears, and throw
herself in a sort of hysterical frenzy into her mamma's arms.
This little bit of tragedy was, however, soon got over;
and, the manuscript copy of the verses having been disposed of, Mr. Chichester
proceeded to read aloud the first proof of the stanzas in print
TO ALRISSA GEMINI.
Oh! sweet Alrissa ever cleanest bore!
What fluctuations does my proud heart pour
When thy toy's hand I guess!
Who can defect th' inexorable delight
With which thy flounces break upon the sight
Of my bad loveliness?
Trim as the Rascal Sights unto the Pole,
Those locks shed lustre on my padded soul,
And bid smart onions rise
To churn me in my mantling path and give
A flea to nerve the thought that I may live
To bask in thy blear'd eyes!
You bark as smelleth this vile work to me,
Peruse as human beasts appear to be,
Then act all trash and gag!
For thee the nonsense of my utter brims;
To thee my platefull simmering ever trims
With flies that now can't bag!
"I think you will grant that the printers made a
slight mull of my writing?" said Mr. Jones, when Chichester had brought
this specimen of typography to a conclusion.
"Yes-a slight mull, as you observe," returned
this gentleman, who, together with his own friends, was scarcely able to repress
a boisterous outbreak of mirth. "But it is impossible to feel any annoyance
at that strange assemblage of misconceptions on the part of the printer, since
the original itself is so perfectly beautiful."
"Oh! yes so very charming!"
whispered Clarissa Jemima to her lover.
Mr. Jones looked a complete encyclopζdia of tender
emotions; and the happy couple, forgetting that other persons were present,
continued their discourse in whispers.
"Well, I declare," said Miss Susannah Rachel,
after a pause, "I don't think I shall ever again be able to sleep without a
light in the room, after all that has been told us about the ghost."
"And I shall always cover my head over with the
clothes," lisped another female specimen of the Bustard race.
"I've been told," remarked the fourth
daughter, "that a horse-shoe nailed to the door of a room will prevent evil
spirits from passing the threshold."
"Or sleep with a Bible under your pillow,"
said the fifth Miss Bustard.
"That's all very well, gals," observed the
parent of this most interesting family; "but ghostesses won't be kept away
by such means as them. Where there's evil spirits, there evil spirits will
"Nothing can possibly be clearer, madam,"
exclaimed Lord Dunstable.
"And if they must walk, they will walk,"
continued Mrs. Bustard.
"Your arguments are really admirable, madam."
"And so it's of no use bothering oneself about
it-beyond getting away as soon as possible from the place where ghostesses
are," added the lady.
"Were you of the other sex, madam, I should say you
had graduated at Oxford," remarked the nobleman; "for you reason with
all the logic of Euclid."
"Is Mr. Euclid such a very clever man, my
lord?" asked Mrs. Bustard.
Dunstable was suddenly seized with a violent fit of
coughing: at least so it appeared to the good-natured old lady;
inasmuch as he was forced to keep his handkerchief to his mouth for a
Egerton now reappeared, and suggested a ramble about the
grounds, while the collation was being spread. Mrs. Bustard was anxious to go
over the mansion; but Egerton negatived that proposal by stating that as he had
not yet compared the contents of the various rooms with the inventory, it would
not be fair to institute any such examination unless attended by the persons in
charge of the place; and they were too busy with the preparations for the
luncheon to spare time for that purpose.
The ramble was accordingly agreed to; and the party
descended to the gardens.
"Well, my dear Albert," said Mrs. Bastard, as
they roved through the grounds, "I admire the edifisk and I admire the
gardens very much; but I don't like the evil spirit. You'll never be happy [-380-]
in this lonely place until you marry, and have a companion."
"Marry!" exclaimed Egerton, into whose head
the idea had only entered as one suggesting a means to repair his fortunes, when
they should be completely shattered.
"Yes marry, to be sure!"
continued his good-natured but garrulous relative. "Let me see I
think I could make up an excellent match for you. What should you say to Miss
Posselwaithe, the great paviour's daughter!"
"Oh! my dear madam," exclaimed Lord Dunstable,
"your nephew may look somewhat higher than a paviour's daughter. I
intend that he shall marry a lady of title as well as of fortune. Only think how
well it will sound in the Morning Herald 'Mr. and Lady Egerton,
of Ravensworth & Park.'"
"So it would so it would!" cried
the aunt, delighted with the prospect thus held out.
And in this way they chatted until the bell on the roof
of the Hall rang to summon them to the collation.
The table was spread in "the haunted room;"
and the company took their places with a determination to do ample justice to
the excellent cheer.
We have already given the reader to understand that
there was a most liberal supply of eatables provided for this occasion: we
should also state that the wine was equally plentiful and good; and the
champagne soon circulated with great. freedom. Mrs. Bustard permitted Lord
Dunstable to fill her glass as often as he chose; and that was very often
indeed. As for her daughters, they one and all declared to the gentlemen who
respectively sate next to them, that they really could not possibly think of
taking more than a quarter of a glass; but it happened that, after a great deal
of simpering, giggling, and blushing, they managed to toss off each a bumper;
and somehow or another their eyes were averted when their glasses were being
refilled; and on the third occasion of such replenishment, they took it as a
matter of course.
Things went on so comfortably, that Egerton's spirits
rose to as high a state of exuberance as if he were really the owner of the
splendid mansion in which be was entertaining his relations and friends: Mrs.
Bustard declared that she never had seen any thing so pleasant since the day
when her poor deceased husband and herself dined with the Lord Mayor; Mr.
Tedworth Jones insisted upon singing a song which he had himself composed to his
intended, and the two first lines of which delicately eulogised the fair
"Clarissa," and plainly stated how grieved the poet would be to
"miss her;" and even the young lady herself was so happy
and contented that she forgot to reproach her lover for thus publicly
complimenting one "in her situation."
Dunstable flattered the old lady: Cholmondeley,
Harborough, and Chichester made themselves agreeable to the young ones; and
every thing was progressing as "merry as a marriage bell," when the
old gardener rushed franticly into the room, carrying his paper cap in one hand,
his wig in the other, and bawling at the top of his cracked voice, "A
corpse! a corpse!"
Every one started from his seat around the table, and
surveyed the gardener with looks of astonishment.
For a moment Egerton and his four fashionable friends
imagined that this was some scheme of the gardener to break up the party, and
was therefore to some extent a stratagem in favour of Egerton himself: but a
second glance at the horror-struck countenance of the old man convinced them
that his present conduct was far different from a mere feint.
"A corpse! a corpse!" he repeated, casting
haggard looks around.
"What in the name of heaven do you mean!"
demanded Egerton, now advancing towards him.
The gardener sank, trembling all over, upon a seat; and
Egerton made him swallow a glass of wine.
In a few minutes he grew more composed, put on his
wig, which, it seemed, had fallen off as he was rushing up the
stairs, and then related in his characteristic round-about manner
the causes of his ejaculations and his alarms.
But it will perhaps suit the convenience of the reader
much better if we explain the whole affair in our own language, and as
succinctly as possible.
It appeared, then, that while the company in the
drawing-room were discussing their wine, and the gardener, his wife, and the
servants in attendance upon the vehicles, were dining off the remains of the
banquet in the kitchen, a stout, hearty, decently dressed man, of about
eight-and-forty years of age, was passing through a field near Ravensworth Hall.
He was accompanied by a beautiful terrier, with which he amused himself by
throwing a small stick to as great a distance as he could, and making the dog
fetch it back to him. The little animal was very sagacious, and performed its
duty well: until at last the man threw the stick into a certain part of the
field where the dog persisted in remaining, instead of hastening back to its
master. Vainly did the man whistle and call from a distance: the dog would not
obey him, but kept scratching in a particular spot from which it would not stir.
Thither did the man accordingly proceed; and, on reaching the spot, he found the
dog working away with its little paws in a hollow which had doubtless been
caused by the recent rains. At the same time a nauseous effluvium assailed the
man's nostrils; and, on examining the spot more attentively, he discovered to
his indescribable horror a human hand protruding from the soil!
It was almost a skeleton-hand; but the black and rotting
flesh still clung to it, and the fibres were not so far decomposed as to cease
to hold the joints of the fingers together.
Seizing the dog in his arms, the man tore the little
animal away from the spot where so appalling a spectacle appeared; and, without
farther hesitation, he hurried to the Hall. Having found his way to the
servants' offices, he communicated his discovery to the old gardener and to the
servants who had accompanied Egerton's party to the mansion. The first impulse
of Abraham Squiggs was to hurry up stairs and alarm the guests with the strange
news thus brought; but Lord Dunstable's lacquey suggested the impropriety of
disturbing the company and proposed that the spot should be first examined by
means of mattocks and spades.
This plan was immediately assented to: and, the gardener
having procured the implements required, the owner of the dog hastened to lead
the way to the place where the human hand appeared above the ground. Mrs.
Squiggs protested against being [-381-] left behind: she was accordingly allowed
to form one of the party.
On reaching the spot, the news which the stranger had
imparted were found to be correct; and the exposed member was viewed with looks
of horror and alarm.
"Some foul deed has been committed," said the
stranger; but I have always heard and read that God will sooner or later bring
murder to light."
"Ah! and that's true enow, I'll warrant!"
exclaimed the old gardener. "The body which that hand belongs to, was no
doubt buried deep; but the rains overflowed yonder pond, and the water made
itself a way along here, you see so that it has hollered the earth
out several foot."
"Well it's of no use talking,"
said the stranger: "but make haste and dig down here, old gentleman so
that we may see whether the hand has an arm, and the arm a body."
The gardener took the spade, and set to work; but he
trembled so violently that he was unable to proceed for many minutes. The
stranger accordingly snatched the spade from his hands, and addressed himself
resolutely to the task.
While he was thus employed, the others stood by in
profound silence; but the dog ran in a timid manner round the spot, sometimes
barking then whining mournfully.
His master worked speedily, but carefully; and as each
shovel-full of earth was thrown up, and as the proofs that an entire human body
lay beneath became every instant more apparent, the spectators exchanged glances
of augmenting horror.
But when at length the entire form of a human being was
laid bare scarcely two feet below the bottom of the hollow, when
their eyes fell upon the blackened flesh of the decomposing head, the features
of which were no longer traceable, and when the rotting remnants
of attire showed that the being who had there found a grave was of the female
sex, a cry burst simultaneously from every lip.
"Here's work for the Coroner, at all events,"
observed the stranger, after a long pause. "We must move the body to the
big house there "
"Move the body to the Hall!" cried the old
gardener and his wife, in the same breath, and both looking aghast at this
"Yes most certainly," answered
"Would you leave a Christian as I
hope that poor woman was to be devoured by rats and other vermin?
I might have done so once: but, thank God! I have become a better man since
then. Howsomever, get us a plank or two, old gentleman; and we'll do our duty in
a proper manner."
The gardener retraced his way, in a sulky mood, and with
much mumbling to himself, to the Hall, and presently returned with a couple of
planks and two stout pieces of wood to serve as cross-beams to form the bier.
The corpse was then carefully placed upon the planks, but not without great risk
of its falling to pieces while being thus moved; and, the bier having been
hoisted on the shoulders of the stranger, Dunstable's lacquey, the seedy
coach-man, and Colonel Cholmondeley's groom, the procession moved towards the
Hall, the gardener and his wife at the head.
But when the party arrived, with its appalling burden,
near the mansion, the old man and woman began to exchange hasty whispers
What is the matter now!" asked the stranger.
"Why, sir," replied the gardener, in a
hesitating manner, "me and my wife has been a-thinking together that it
would be as well to put the remains of that poor creetur as far from our own
rooms as possible: 'cos what with a sperret here and a dead body there "
"Well, well old man,"
interrupted the stranger, impatiently; "this load is heavy, and I for one
shall be glad to put it down somewhere. So leave off chattering uselessly and
tell us in a word what you do mean."
"To be sure," returned the gardener "this
way this way."
And, as he spoke, he opened a small door at the southern
end of the building, by means of a key which be selected from a bunch hanging
beneath his apron.
"We never can get up that staircase, old
gentleman," said the stranger, plunging his glances through the door-way.
"It's easier than you think the
stairs isn't so steep as they seem," returned the gardener; "and
what's more," he added, doggedly, "you may either bring your burden
this way, or leave it in the open air altogether."
"To be sure," chimed in the old woman:
"if you don't choose to put the body in the very farthermost room from our
end of the building, you may take it back again; and them stairs leads to the
room that farthermost off."
The stranger, who was a willing, good-natured man, and
who seemed to study only how he should best perform a Christian duty, offered no
farther remonstrance; but, respecting the prejudices of the old people,
succeeded, by the aid of his co-operators, in conveying the bier up the
staircase. On reaching the landing, the gardener opened the door of a room the
shutters of which were closed; but through the chinks there streamed sufficient
light to show that the apartment was a bed-chamber.
"Put it down there on the
carpet," said the gardener, who was anxious to terminate a proceeding by no
means agreeable to him.
The bier was conveyed into the room, and placed upon the
At that moment while the gardener and his
wife remained standing in the passage the old man suddenly caught
hold of the woman's arm with a convulsive grasp, and whispered in a hasty and
hollow tone, "Hark! there's a footstep!"
"Yes I hear it too!" returned
his wife, in a scarcely audible tone: and, through very fright, she repeated,
"There there there!" as often as the
footstep fell or seemed to fall upon her ears.
"At the end of the passage "
murmured the gardener.
"Do you see any thing?" asked his wife,
clinging to him.
"No but it's certain to be the
sperret," returned the man.
And they leant on each other for support.
At the next moment the four men came from the interior
of the room where they had deposited the corpse; and the two old people began to
breathe more freely.
The gardener hurried his wife and companions down the
narrow staircase, and pushed them all hastily from the threshold of the little
door, which he carefully locked behind him.
Then, having given the stranger a surly kind of [-382-]
invitation to step in and refresh himself, he led the way to the offices at the
opposite extremity of the building.
But scarcely had the party gained the servants' hall,
when the old gardener, whose mind was powerfully excited by all that had just
occurred, hastened abruptly away; and, rushing up the great staircase, he burst
into the drawing-room, exclaiming, '"A corpse! a corpse!"
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