A Group of Noble Dames
by Thomas Hardy
The pedigrees of our county families, arranged in diagrams on the
pages of county histories, mostly appear at first sight to be as
barren of any touch of nature as a table of logarithms. But given a
clue--the faintest tradition of what went on behind the scenes, and
this dryness as of dust may be transformed into a palpitating drama.
More, the careful comparison of dates alone--that of birth with
marriage, of marriage with death, of one marriage, birth, or death
with a kindred marriage, birth, or death--will often effect the same
transformation, and anybody practised in raising images from such
genealogies finds himself unconsciously filling into the framework
the motives, passions, and personal qualities which would appear to
be the single explanation possible of some extraordinary conjunction
in times, events, and personages that occasionally marks these
reticent family records.
Out of such pedigrees and supplementary material most of the
following stories have arisen and taken shape.
I would make this preface an opportunity of expressing my sense of
the courtesy and kindness of several bright-eyed Noble Dames yet in
the flesh, who, since the first publication of these tales in
periodicals, six or seven years ago, have given me interesting
comments and conjectures on such of the narratives as they have
recognized to be connected with their own families, residences, or
traditions; in which they have shown a truly philosophic absence of
prejudice in their regard of those incidents whose relation has
tended more distinctly to dramatize than to eulogize their
ancestors. The outlines they have also given of other singular
events in their family histories for use in a second "Group of Noble
Dames," will, I fear, never reach the printing-press through me; but
I shall store them up in memory of my informants' good nature.
DAME THE FIRST--THE FIRST COUNTESS OF WESSEX
By the Local Historian
King's-Hintock Court (said the narrator, turning over his memoranda
for reference)--King's-Hintock Court is, as we know, one of the most
imposing of the mansions that overlook our beautiful Blackmoor or
Blakemore Vale. On the particular occasion of which I have to speak
this building stood, as it had often stood before, in the perfect
silence of a calm clear night, lighted only by the cold shine of the
stars. The season was winter, in days long ago, the last century
having run but little more than a third of its length. North,
south, and west, not a casement was unfastened, not a curtain
undrawn; eastward, one window on the upper floor was open, and a
girl of twelve or thirteen was leaning over the sill. That she had
not taken up the position for purposes of observation was apparent
at a glance, for she kept her eyes covered with her hands.
The room occupied by the girl was an inner one of a suite, to be
reached only by passing through a large bedchamber adjoining. From
this apartment voices in altercation were audible, everything else
in the building being so still. It was to avoid listening to these
voices that the girl had left her little cot, thrown a cloak round
her head and shoulders, and stretched into the night air.
But she could not escape the conversation, try as she would. The
words reached her in all their painfulness, one sentence in
masculine tones, those of her father, being repeated many times.
'I tell 'ee there shall be no such betrothal! I tell 'ee there
sha'n't! A child like her!'
She knew the subject of dispute to be herself. A cool feminine
voice, her mother's, replied:
'Have done with you, and be wise. He is willing to wait a good five
or six years before the marriage takes place, and there's not a man
in the county to compare with him.'
'It shall not be! He is over thirty. It is wickedness.'
'He is just thirty, and the best and finest man alive--a perfect
match for her.'
'He is poor!'
'But his father and elder brothers are made much of at Court--none
so constantly at the palace as they; and with her fortune, who
knows? He may be able to get a barony.'
'I believe you are in love with en yourself!'
'How can you insult me so, Thomas! And is it not monstrous for you
to talk of my wickedness when you have a like scheme in your own
head? You know you have. Some bumpkin of your own choosing--some
petty gentleman who lives down at that outlandish place of yours,
Falls-Park--one of your pot-companions' sons--'
There was an outburst of imprecation on the part of her husband in
lieu of further argument. As soon as he could utter a connected
sentence he said: 'You crow and you domineer, mistress, because you
are heiress-general here. You are in your own house; you are on
your own land. But let me tell 'ee that if I did come here to you
instead of taking you to me, it was done at the dictates of
convenience merely. H-! I'm no beggar! Ha'n't I a place of my
own? Ha'n't I an avenue as long as thine? Ha'n't I beeches that
will more than match thy oaks? I should have lived in my own quiet
house and land, contented, if you had not called me off with your
airs and graces. Faith, I'll go back there; I'll not stay with thee
longer! If it had not been for our Betty I should have gone long
After this there were no more words; but presently, hearing the
sound of a door opening and shutting below, the girl again looked
from the window. Footsteps crunched on the gravel-walk, and a shape
in a drab greatcoat, easily distinguishable as her father, withdrew
from the house. He moved to the left, and she watched him diminish
down the long east front till he had turned the corner and vanished.
He must have gone round to the stables.
She closed the window and shrank into bed, where she cried herself
to sleep. This child, their only one, Betty, beloved ambitiously by
her mother, and with uncalculating passionateness by her father, was
frequently made wretched by such episodes as this; though she was
too young to care very deeply, for her own sake, whether her mother
betrothed her to the gentleman discussed or not.
The Squire had often gone out of the house in this manner, declaring
that he would never return, but he had always reappeared in the
morning. The present occasion, however, was different in the issue:
next day she was told that her father had ridden to his estate at
Falls-Park early in the morning on business with his agent, and
might not come back for some days.
Falls-Park was over twenty miles from King's-Hintock Court, and was
altogether a more modest centre-piece to a more modest possession
than the latter. But as Squire Dornell came in view of it that
February morning, he thought that he had been a fool ever to leave
it, though it was for the sake of the greatest heiress in Wessex.
Its classic front, of the period of the second Charles, derived from
its regular features a dignity which the great, battlemented,
heterogeneous mansion of his wife could not eclipse. Altogether he
was sick at heart, and the gloom which the densely-timbered park
threw over the scene did not tend to remove the depression of this
rubicund man of eight-and-forty, who sat so heavily upon his
gelding. The child, his darling Betty: there lay the root of his
trouble. He was unhappy when near his wife, he was unhappy when
away from his little girl; and from this dilemma there was no
practicable escape. As a consequence he indulged rather freely in
the pleasures of the table, became what was called a three bottle
man, and, in his wife's estimation, less and less presentable to her
polite friends from town.
He was received by the two or three old servants who were in charge
of the lonely place, where a few rooms only were kept habitable for
his use or that of his friends when hunting; and during the morning
he was made more comfortable by the arrival of his faithful servant
Tupcombe from King's-Hintock. But after a day or two spent here in
solitude he began to feel that he had made a mistake in coming. By
leaving King's-Hintock in his anger he had thrown away his best
opportunity of counteracting his wife's preposterous notion of
promising his poor little Betty's hand to a man she had hardly seen.
To protect her from such a repugnant bargain he should have remained
on the spot. He felt it almost as a misfortune that the child would
inherit so much wealth. She would be a mark for all the adventurers
in the kingdom. Had she been only the heiress to his own unassuming
little place at Falls, how much better would have been her chances
His wife had divined truly when she insinuated that he himself had a
lover in view for this pet child. The son of a dear deceased friend
of his, who lived not two miles from where the Squire now was, a lad
a couple of years his daughter's senior, seemed in her father's
opinion the one person in the world likely to make her happy. But
as to breathing such a scheme to either of the young people with the
indecent haste that his wife had shown, he would not dream of it;
years hence would be soon enough for that. They had already seen
each other, and the Squire fancied that he noticed a tenderness on
the youth's part which promised well. He was strongly tempted to
profit by his wife's example, and forestall her match-making by
throwing the two young people together there at Falls. The girl,
though marriageable in the views of those days, was too young to be
in love, but the lad was fifteen, and already felt an interest in
Still better than keeping watch over her at King's Hintock, where
she was necessarily much under her mother's influence, would it be
to get the child to stay with him at Falls for a time, under his
exclusive control. But how accomplish this without using main
force? The only possible chance was that his wife might, for
appearance' sake, as she had done before, consent to Betty paying
him a day's visit, when he might find means of detaining her till
Reynard, the suitor whom his wife favoured, had gone abroad, which
he was expected to do the following week. Squire Dornell determined
to return to King's-Hintock and attempt the enterprise. If he were
refused, it was almost in him to pick up Betty bodily and carry her
The journey back, vague and Quixotic as were his intentions, was
performed with a far lighter heart than his setting forth. He would
see Betty, and talk to her, come what might of his plan.
So he rode along the dead level which stretches between the hills
skirting Falls-Park and those bounding the town of Ivell, trotted
through that borough, and out by the King's-Hintock highway, till,
passing the villages he entered the mile-long drive through the park
to the Court. The drive being open, without an avenue, the Squire
could discern the north front and door of the Court a long way off,
and was himself visible from the windows on that side; for which
reason he hoped that Betty might perceive him coming, as she
sometimes did on his return from an outing, and run to the door or
wave her handkerchief.
But there was no sign. He inquired for his wife as soon as he set
foot to earth.
'Mistress is away. She was called to London, sir.'
'And Mistress Betty?' said the Squire blankly.
'Gone likewise, sir, for a little change. Mistress has left a
letter for you.'
The note explained nothing, merely stating that she had posted to
London on her own affairs, and had taken the child to give her a
holiday. On the fly-leaf were some words from Betty herself to the
same effect, evidently written in a state of high jubilation at the
idea of her jaunt. Squire Dornell murmured a few expletives, and
submitted to his disappointment. How long his wife meant to stay in
town she did not say; but on investigation he found that the
carriage had been packed with sufficient luggage for a sojourn of
two or three weeks.
King's-Hintock Court was in consequence as gloomy as Falls-Park had
been. He had lost all zest for hunting of late, and had hardly
attended a meet that season. Dornell read and re-read Betty's
scrawl, and hunted up some other such notes of hers to look over,
this seeming to be the only pleasure there was left for him. That
they were really in London he learnt in a few days by another letter
from Mrs. Dornell, in which she explained that they hoped to be home
in about a week, and that she had had no idea he was coming back to
King's-Hintock so soon, or she would not have gone away without
Squire Dornell wondered if, in going or returning, it had been her
plan to call at the Reynards' place near Melchester, through which
city their journey lay. It was possible that she might do this in
furtherance of her project, and the sense that his own might become
the losing game was harassing.
He did not know how to dispose of himself, till it occurred to him
that, to get rid of his intolerable heaviness, he would invite some
friends to dinner and drown his cares in grog and wine. No sooner
was the carouse decided upon than he put it in hand; those invited
being mostly neighbouring landholders, all smaller men than himself,
members of the hunt; also the doctor from Evershead, and the like--
some of them rollicking blades whose presence his wife would not
have countenanced had she been at home. 'When the cat's away--!'
said the Squire.
They arrived, and there were indications in their manner that they
meant to make a night of it. Baxby of Sherton Castle was late, and
they waited a quarter of an hour for him, he being one of the
liveliest of Dornell's friends; without whose presence no such
dinner as this would be considered complete, and, it may be added,
with whose presence no dinner which included both sexes could be
conducted with strict propriety. He had just returned from London,
and the Squire was anxious to talk to him--for no definite reason;
but he had lately breathed the atmosphere in which Betty was.
At length they heard Baxby driving up to the door, whereupon the
host and the rest of his guests crossed over to the dining-room. In
a moment Baxby came hastily in at their heels, apologizing for his
'I only came back last night, you know,' he said; 'and the truth o't
is, I had as much as I could carry.' He turned to the Squire.
'Well, Dornell--so cunning Reynard has stolen your little ewe lamb?
'What?' said Squire Dornell vacantly, across the dining-table, round
which they were all standing, the cold March sunlight streaming in
upon his full-clean shaven face.
'Surely th'st know what all the town knows?--you've had a letter by
this time?--that Stephen Reynard has married your Betty? Yes, as
I'm a living man. It was a carefully-arranged thing: they parted
at once, and are not to meet for five or six years. But, Lord, you
A thud on the floor was the only reply of the Squire. They quickly
turned. He had fallen down like a log behind the table, and lay
motionless on the oak boards.
Those at hand hastily bent over him, and the whole group were in
confusion. They found him to be quite unconscious, though puffing
and panting like a blacksmith's bellows. His face was livid, his
veins swollen, and beads of perspiration stood upon his brow.
'What's happened to him?' said several.
'An apoplectic fit,' said the doctor from Evershead, gravely.
He was only called in at the Court for small ailments, as a rule,
and felt the importance of the situation. He lifted the Squire's
head, loosened his cravat and clothing, and rang for the servants,
who took the Squire upstairs.
There he lay as if in a drugged sleep. The surgeon drew a basin-
full of blood from him, but it was nearly six o'clock before he came
to himself. The dinner was completely disorganized, and some had
gone home long ago; but two or three remained.
'Bless my soul,' Baxby kept repeating, 'I didn't know things had
come to this pass between Dornell and his lady! I thought the feast
he was spreading to-day was in honour of the event, though privately
kept for the present! His little maid married without his
As soon as the Squire recovered consciousness he gasped: ''Tis
abduction! 'Tis a capital felony! He can be hung! Where is Baxby?
I am very well now. What items have ye heard, Baxby?'
The bearer of the untoward news was extremely unwilling to agitate
Dornell further, and would say little more at first. But an hour
after, when the Squire had partially recovered and was sitting up,
Baxby told as much as he knew, the most important particular being
that Betty's mother was present at the marriage, and showed every
mark of approval. 'Everything appeared to have been done so
regularly that I, of course, thought you knew all about it,' he
'I knew no more than the underground dead that such a step was in
the wind! A child not yet thirteen! How Sue hath outwitted me!
Did Reynard go up to Lon'on with 'em, d'ye know?'
'I can't say. All I know is that your lady and daughter were
walking along the street, with the footman behind 'em; that they
entered a jeweller's shop, where Reynard was standing; and that
there, in the presence o' the shopkeeper and your man, who was
called in on purpose, your Betty said to Reynard--so the story goes:
'pon my soul I don't vouch for the truth of it--she said, "Will you
marry me?" or, "I want to marry you: will you have me--now or
never?" she said.'
'What she said means nothing,' murmured the Squire, with wet eyes.
'Her mother put the words into her mouth to avoid the serious
consequences that would attach to any suspicion of force. The words
be not the child's: she didn't dream of marriage--how should she,
poor little maid! Go on.'
'Well, be that as it will, they were all agreed apparently. They
bought the ring on the spot, and the marriage took place at the
nearest church within half-an-hour.'
A day or two later there came a letter from Mrs. Dornell to her
husband, written before she knew of his stroke. She related the
circumstances of the marriage in the gentlest manner, and gave
cogent reasons and excuses for consenting to the premature union,
which was now an accomplished fact indeed. She had no idea, till
sudden pressure was put upon her, that the contract was expected to
be carried out so soon, but being taken half unawares, she had
consented, having learned that Stephen Reynard, now their son-in-
law, was becoming a great favourite at Court, and that he would in
all likelihood have a title granted him before long. No harm could
come to their dear daughter by this early marriage-contract, seeing
that her life would be continued under their own eyes, exactly as
before, for some years. In fine, she had felt that no other such
fair opportunity for a good marriage with a shrewd courtier and wise
man of the world, who was at the same time noted for his excellent
personal qualities, was within the range of probability, owing to
the rusticated lives they led at King's-Hintock. Hence she had
yielded to Stephen's solicitation, and hoped her husband would
forgive her. She wrote, in short, like a woman who, having had her
way as to the deed, is prepared to make any concession as to words
and subsequent behaviour.
All this Dornell took at its true value, or rather, perhaps, at less
than its true value. As his life depended upon his not getting into
a passion, he controlled his perturbed emotions as well as he was
able, going about the house sadly and utterly unlike his former
self. He took every precaution to prevent his wife knowing of the
incidents of his sudden illness, from a sense of shame at having a
heart so tender; a ridiculous quality, no doubt, in her eyes, now
that she had become so imbued with town ideas. But rumours of his
seizure somehow reached her, and she let him know that she was about
to return to nurse him. He thereupon packed up and went off to his
own place at Falls-Park.
Here he lived the life of a recluse for some time. He was still too
unwell to entertain company, or to ride to hounds or elsewhither;
but more than this, his aversion to the faces of strangers and
acquaintances, who knew by that time of the trick his wife had
played him, operated to hold him aloof.
Nothing could influence him to censure Betty for her share in the
exploit. He never once believed that she had acted voluntarily.
Anxious to know how she was getting on, he despatched the trusty
servant Tupcombe to Evershead village, close to King's-Hintock,
timing his journey so that he should reach the place under cover of
dark. The emissary arrived without notice, being out of livery, and
took a seat in the chimney-corner of the Sow-and-Acorn.
The conversation of the droppers-in was always of the nine days'
wonder--the recent marriage. The smoking listener learnt that Mrs.
Dornell and the girl had returned to King's-Hintock for a day or
two, that Reynard had set out for the Continent, and that Betty had
since been packed off to school. She did not realize her position
as Reynard's child-wife--so the story went--and though somewhat awe-
stricken at first by the ceremony, she had soon recovered her
spirits on finding that her freedom was in no way to be interfered
After that, formal messages began to pass between Dornell and his
wife, the latter being now as persistently conciliating as she was
formerly masterful. But her rustic, simple, blustering husband
still held personally aloof. Her wish to be reconciled--to win his
forgiveness for her stratagem--moreover, a genuine tenderness and
desire to soothe his sorrow, which welled up in her at times,
brought her at last to his door at Falls-Park one day.
They had not met since that night of altercation, before her
departure for London and his subsequent illness. She was shocked at
the change in him. His face had become expressionless, as blank as
that of a puppet, and what troubled her still more was that she
found him living in one room, and indulging freely in stimulants, in
absolute disobedience to the physician's order. The fact was
obvious that he could no longer be allowed to live thus uncouthly.
So she sympathized, and begged his pardon, and coaxed. But though
after this date there was no longer such a complete estrangement as
before, they only occasionally saw each other, Dornell for the most
part making Falls his headquarters still.
Three or four years passed thus. Then she came one day, with more
animation in her manner, and at once moved him by the simple
statement that Betty's schooling had ended; she had returned, and
was grieved because he was away. She had sent a message to him in
these words: 'Ask father to come home to his dear Betty.'
'Ah! Then she is very unhappy!' said Squire Dornell.
His wife was silent.
''Tis that accursed marriage!' continued the Squire.
Still his wife would not dispute with him. 'She is outside in the
carriage,' said Mrs. Dornell gently.
'Why didn't you tell me?' Dornell rushed out, and there was the
girl awaiting his forgiveness, for she supposed herself, no less
than her mother, to be under his displeasure.
Yes, Betty had left school, and had returned to King's-Hintock. She
was nearly seventeen, and had developed to quite a young woman. She
looked not less a member of the household for her early marriage-
contract, which she seemed, indeed, to have almost forgotten. It
was like a dream to her; that clear cold March day, the London
church, with its gorgeous pews, and green-baize linings, and the
great organ in the west gallery--so different from their own little
church in the shrubbery of King's-Hintock Court--the man of thirty,
to whose face she had looked up with so much awe, and with a sense
that he was rather ugly and formidable; the man whom, though they
corresponded politely, she had never seen since; one to whose
existence she was now so indifferent that if informed of his death,
and that she would never see him more, she would merely have
replied, 'Indeed!' Betty's passions as yet still slept.
'Hast heard from thy husband lately?' said Squire Dornell, when they
were indoors, with an ironical laugh of fondness which demanded no
The girl winced, and he noticed that his wife looked appealingly at
him. As the conversation went on, and there were signs that Dornell
would express sentiments that might do harm to a position which they
could not alter, Mrs. Dornell suggested that Betty should leave the
room till her father and herself had finished their private
conversation; and this Betty obediently did.
Dornell renewed his animadversions freely. 'Did you see how the
sound of his name frightened her?' he presently added. 'If you
didn't, I did. Zounds! what a future is in store for that poor
little unfortunate wench o' mine! I tell 'ee, Sue, 'twas not a
marriage at all, in morality, and if I were a woman in such a
position, I shouldn't feel it as one. She might, without a sign of
sin, love a man of her choice as well now as if she were chained up
to no other at all. There, that's my mind, and I can't help it.
Ah, Sue, my man was best! He'd ha' suited her.'
'I don't believe it,' she replied incredulously.
'You should see him; then you would. He's growing up a fine fellow,
I can tell 'ee.'
'Hush! not so loud!' she answered, rising from her seat and going to
the door of the next room, whither her daughter had betaken herself.
To Mrs. Dornell's alarm, there sat Betty in a reverie, her round
eyes fixed on vacancy, musing so deeply that she did not perceive
her mother's entrance. She had heard every word, and was digesting
the new knowledge.
Her mother felt that Falls-Park was dangerous ground for a young
girl of the susceptible age, and in Betty's peculiar position, while
Dornell talked and reasoned thus. She called Betty to her, and they
took leave. The Squire would not clearly promise to return and make
King's-Hintock Court his permanent abode; but Betty's presence
there, as at former times, was sufficient to make him agree to pay
them a visit soon.
All the way home Betty remained preoccupied and silent. It was too
plain to her anxious mother that Squire Dornell's free views had
been a sort of awakening to the girl.
The interval before Dornell redeemed his pledge to come and see them
was unexpectedly short. He arrived one morning about twelve
o'clock, driving his own pair of black-bays in the curricle-phaeton
with yellow panels and red wheels, just as he had used to do, and
his faithful old Tupcombe on horseback behind. A young man sat
beside the Squire in the carriage, and Mrs. Dornell's consternation
could scarcely be concealed when, abruptly entering with his
companion, the Squire announced him as his friend Phelipson of Elm-
Dornell passed on to Betty in the background and tenderly kissed
her. 'Sting your mother's conscience, my maid!' he whispered.
'Sting her conscience by pretending you are struck with Phelipson,
and would ha' loved him, as your old father's choice, much more than
him she has forced upon 'ee.'
The simple-souled speaker fondly imagined that it as entirely in
obedience to this direction that Betty's eyes stole interested
glances at the frank and impulsive Phelipson that day at dinner, and
he laughed grimly within himself to see how this joke of his, as he
imagined it to be, was disturbing the peace of mind of the lady of
the house. 'Now Sue sees what a mistake she has made!' said he.
Mrs. Dornell was verily greatly alarmed, and as soon as she could
speak a word with him alone she upbraided him. 'You ought not to
have brought him here. Oh Thomas, how could you be so thoughtless!
Lord, don't you see, dear, that what is done cannot be undone, and
how all this foolery jeopardizes her happiness with her husband?
Until you interfered, and spoke in her hearing about this Phelipson,
she was as patient and as willing as a lamb, and looked forward to
Mr. Reynard's return with real pleasure. Since her visit to Falls-
Park she has been monstrous close-mouthed and busy with her own
thoughts. What mischief will you do? How will it end?'
'Own, then, that my man was best suited to her. I only brought him
to convince you.'
'Yes, yes; I do admit it. But oh! do take him back again at once!
Don't keep him here! I fear she is even attracted by him already.'
'Nonsense, Sue. 'Tis only a little trick to tease 'ee!'
Nevertheless her motherly eye was not so likely to be deceived as
his, and if Betty were really only playing at being love-struck that
day, she played at it with the perfection of a Rosalind, and would
have deceived the best professors into a belief that it was no
counterfeit. The Squire, having obtained his victory, was quite
ready to take back the too attractive youth, and early in the
afternoon they set out on their return journey.
A silent figure who rode behind them was as interested as Dornell in
that day's experiment. It was the staunch Tupcombe, who, with his
eyes on the Squire's and young Phelipson's backs, thought how well
the latter would have suited Betty, and how greatly the former had
changed for the worse during these last two or three years. He
cursed his mistress as the cause of the change.
After this memorable visit to prove his point, the lives of the
Dornell couple flowed on quietly enough for the space of a
twelvemonth, the Squire for the most part remaining at Falls, and
Betty passing and repassing between them now and then, once or twice
alarming her mother by not driving home from her father's house till
The repose of King's-Hintock was broken by the arrival of a special
messenger. Squire Dornell had had an access of gout so violent as
to be serious. He wished to see Betty again: why had she not come
for so long?
Mrs. Dornell was extremely reluctant to take Betty in that direction
too frequently; but the girl was so anxious to go, her interests
latterly seeming to be so entirely bound up in Falls-Park and its
neighbourhood, that there was nothing to be done but to let her set
out and accompany her.
Squire Dornell had been impatiently awaiting her arrival. They
found him very ill and irritable. It had been his habit to take
powerful medicines to drive away his enemy, and they had failed in
their effect on this occasion.
The presence of his daughter, as usual, calmed him much, even while,
as usual too, it saddened him; for he could never forget that she
had disposed of herself for life in opposition to his wishes, though
she had secretly assured him that she would never have consented had
she been as old as she was now.
As on a former occasion, his wife wished to speak to him alone about
the girl's future, the time now drawing nigh at which Reynard was
expected to come and claim her. He would have done so already, but
he had been put off by the earnest request of the young woman
herself, which accorded with that of her parents, on the score of
her youth. Reynard had deferentially submitted to their wishes in
this respect, the understanding between them having been that he
would not visit her before she was eighteen, except by the mutual
consent of all parties. But this could not go on much longer, and
there was no doubt, from the tenor of his last letter, that he would
soon take possession of her whether or no.
To be out of the sound of this delicate discussion Betty was
accordingly sent downstairs, and they soon saw her walking away into
the shrubberies, looking very pretty in her sweeping green gown, and
flapping broad-brimmed hat overhung with a feather.
On returning to the subject, Mrs. Dornell found her husband's
reluctance to reply in the affirmative to Reynard's letter to be as
great as ever.
'She is three months short of eighteen!' he exclaimed. ''Tis too
soon. I won't hear of it! If I have to keep him off sword in hand,
he shall not have her yet.'
'But, my dear Thomas,' she expostulated, 'consider if anything
should happen to you or to me, how much better it would be that she
should be settled in her home with him!'
'I say it is too soon!' he argued, the veins of his forehead
beginning to swell. 'If he gets her this side o' Candlemas I'll
challenge en--I'll take my oath on't! I'll be back to King's-
Hintock in two or three days, and I'll not lose sight of her day or
She feared to agitate him further, and gave way, assuring him, in
obedience to his demand, that if Reynard should write again before
he got back, to fix a time for joining Betty, she would put the
letter in her husband's hands, and he should do as he chose. This
was all that required discussion privately, and Mrs. Dornell went to
call in Betty, hoping that she had not heard her father's loud
She had certainly not done so this time. Mrs. Dornell followed the
path along which she had seen Betty wandering, but went a
considerable distance without perceiving anything of her. The
Squire's wife then turned round to proceed to the other side of the
house by a short cut across the grass, when, to her surprise and
consternation, she beheld the object of her search sitting on the
horizontal bough of a cedar, beside her being a young man, whose arm
was round her waist. He moved a little, and she recognized him as
Alas, then, she was right. The so-called counterfeit love was real.
What Mrs. Dornell called her husband at that moment, for his folly
in originally throwing the young people together, it is not
necessary to mention. She decided in a moment not to let the lovers
know that she had seen them. She accordingly retreated, reached the
front of the house by another route, and called at the top of her
voice from a window, 'Betty!'
For the first time since her strategic marriage of the child, Susan
Dornell doubted the wisdom of that step.
Her husband had, as it were, been assisted by destiny to make his
objection, originally trivial, a valid one. She saw the outlines of
trouble in the future. Why had Dornell interfered? Why had he
insisted upon producing his man? This, then, accounted for Betty's
pleading for postponement whenever the subject of her husband's
return was broached; this accounted for her attachment to Falls-
Park. Possibly this very meeting that she had witnessed had been
arranged by letter.
Perhaps the girl's thoughts would never have strayed for a moment if
her father had not filled her head with ideas of repugnance to her
early union, on the ground that she had been coerced into it before
she knew her own mind; and she might have rushed to meet her husband
with open arms on the appointed day.
Betty at length appeared in the distance in answer to the call, and
came up pale, but looking innocent of having seen a living soul.
Mrs. Dornell groaned in spirit at such duplicity in the child of her
bosom. This was the simple creature for whose development into
womanhood they had all been so tenderly waiting--a forward minx, old
enough not only to have a lover, but to conceal his existence as
adroitly as any woman of the world! Bitterly did the Squire's lady
regret that Stephen Reynard had not been allowed to come to claim
her at the time he first proposed.
The two sat beside each other almost in silence on their journey
back to King's-Hintock. Such words as were spoken came mainly from
Betty, and their formality indicated how much her mind and heart
were occupied with other things.
Mrs. Dornell was far too astute a mother to openly attack Betty on
the matter. That would be only fanning flame. The indispensable
course seemed to her to be that of keeping the treacherous girl
under lock and key till her husband came to take her off her
mother's hands. That he would disregard Dornell's opposition, and
come soon, was her devout wish.
It seemed, therefore, a fortunate coincidence that on her arrival at
King's-Hintock a letter from Reynard was put into Mrs. Dornell's
hands. It was addressed to both her and her husband, and
courteously informed them that the writer had landed at Bristol, and
proposed to come on to King's-Hintock in a few days, at last to meet
and carry off his darling Betty, if she and her parents saw no
Betty had also received a letter of the same tenor. Her mother had
only to look at her face to see how the girl received the
information. She was as pale as a sheet.
'You must do your best to welcome him this time, my dear Betty,' her
mother said gently.
'You are a woman now,' added her mother severely, 'and these
postponements must come to an end.'
'But my father--oh, I am sure he will not allow this! I am not
ready. If he could only wait a year longer--if he could only wait a
few months longer! Oh, I wish--I wish my dear father were here! I
will send to him instantly.' She broke off abruptly, and falling
upon her mother's neck, burst into tears, saying, 'O my mother, have
mercy upon me--I do not love this man, my husband!'
The agonized appeal went too straight to Mrs. Dornell's heart for
her to hear it unmoved. Yet, things having come to this pass, what
could she do? She was distracted, and for a moment was on Betty's
side. Her original thought had been to write an affirmative reply
to Reynard, allow him to come on to King's-Hintock, and keep her
husband in ignorance of the whole proceeding till he should arrive
from Falls on some fine day after his recovery, and find everything
settled, and Reynard and Betty living together in harmony. But the
events of the day, and her daughter's sudden outburst of feeling,
had overthrown this intention. Betty was sure to do as she had
threatened, and communicate instantly with her father, possibly
attempt to fly to him. Moreover, Reynard's letter was addressed to
Mr. Dornell and herself conjointly, and she could not in conscience
keep it from her husband.
'I will send the letter on to your father instantly,' she replied
soothingly. 'He shall act entirely as he chooses, and you know that
will not be in opposition to your wishes. He would ruin you rather
than thwart you. I only hope he may be well enough to bear the
agitation of this news. Do you agree to this?'
Poor Betty agreed, on condition that she should actually witness the
despatch of the letter. Her mother had no objection to offer to
this; but as soon as the horseman had cantered down the drive toward
the highway, Mrs. Dornell's sympathy with Betty's recalcitration
began to die out. The girl's secret affection for young Phelipson
could not possibly be condoned. Betty might communicate with him,
might even try to reach him. Ruin lay that way. Stephen Reynard
must be speedily installed in his proper place by Betty's side.
She sat down and penned a private letter to Reynard, which threw
light upon her plan.
'It is Necessary that I should now tell you,' she said, 'what I have
never Mentioned before--indeed I may have signified the Contrary--
that her Father's Objection to your joining her has not as yet been
overcome. As I personally Wish to delay you no longer--am indeed as
anxious for your Arrival as you can be yourself, having the good of
my Daughter at Heart--no course is left open to me but to assist
your Cause without my Husband's Knowledge. He, I am sorry to say,
is at present ill at Falls-Park, but I felt it my Duty to forward
him your Letter. He will therefore be like to reply with a
peremptory Command to you to go back again, for some Months, whence
you came, till the Time he originally stipulated has expir'd. My
Advice is, if you get such a Letter, to take no Notice of it, but to
come on hither as you had proposed, letting me know the Day and Hour
(after dark, if possible) at which we may expect you. Dear Betty is
with me, and I warrant ye that she shall be in the House when you
Mrs. Dornell, having sent away this epistle unsuspected of anybody,
next took steps to prevent her daughter leaving the Court, avoiding
if possible to excite the girl's suspicions that she was under
restraint. But, as if by divination, Betty had seemed to read the
husband's approach in the aspect of her mother's face.
'He is coming!' exclaimed the maiden.
'Not for a week,' her mother assured her.
'He is then--for certain?'
Betty hastily retired to her room, and would not be seen.
To lock her up, and hand over the key to Reynard when he should
appear in the hall, was a plan charming in its simplicity, till her
mother found, on trying the door of the girl's chamber softly, that
Betty had already locked and bolted it on the inside, and had given
directions to have her meals served where she was, by leaving them
on a dumb-waiter outside the door.
Thereupon Mrs. Dornell noiselessly sat down in her boudoir, which,
as well as her bed-chamber, was a passage-room to the girl's
apartment, and she resolved not to vacate her post night or day till
her daughter's husband should appear, to which end she too arranged
to breakfast, dine, and sup on the spot. It was impossible now that
Betty should escape without her knowledge, even if she had wished,
there being no other door to the chamber, except one admitting to a
small inner dressing-room inaccessible by any second way.
But it was plain that the young girl had no thought of escape. Her
ideas ran rather in the direction of intrenchment: she was prepared
to stand a siege, but scorned flight. This, at any rate, rendered
her secure. As to how Reynard would contrive a meeting with her coy
daughter while in such a defensive humour, that, thought her mother,
must be left to his own ingenuity to discover.
Betty had looked so wild and pale at the announcement of her
husband's approaching visit, that Mrs. Dornell, somewhat uneasy,
could not leave her to herself. She peeped through the keyhole an
hour later. Betty lay on the sofa, staring listlessly at the
'You are looking ill, child,' cried her mother. 'You've not taken
the air lately. Come with me for a drive.'
Betty made no objection. Soon they drove through the park towards
the village, the daughter still in the strained, strung-up silence
that had fallen upon her. They left the park to return by another
route, and on the open road passed a cottage.
Betty's eye fell upon the cottage-window. Within it she saw a young
girl about her own age, whom she knew by sight, sitting in a chair
and propped by a pillow. The girl's face was covered with scales,
which glistened in the sun. She was a convalescent from smallpox--a
disease whose prevalence at that period was a terror of which we at
present can hardly form a conception.
An idea suddenly energized Betty's apathetic features. She glanced
at her mother; Mrs. Dornell had been looking in the opposite
direction. Betty said that she wished to go back to the cottage for
a moment to speak to a girl in whom she took an interest. Mrs.
Dornell appeared suspicious, but observing that the cottage had no
back-door, and that Betty could not escape without being seen, she
allowed the carriage to be stopped. Betty ran back and entered the
cottage, emerging again in about a minute, and resuming her seat in
the carriage. As they drove on she fixed her eyes upon her mother
and said, 'There, I have done it now!' Her pale face was stormy,
and her eyes full of waiting tears.
'What have you done?' said Mrs. Dornell.
'Nanny Priddle is sick of the smallpox, and I saw her at the window,
and I went in and kissed her, so that I might take it; and now I
shall have it, and he won't be able to come near me!'
'Wicked girl!' cries her mother. 'Oh, what am I to do! What--bring
a distemper on yourself, and usurp the sacred prerogative of God,
because you can't palate the man you've wedded!'
The alarmed woman gave orders to drive home as rapidly as possible,
and on arriving, Betty, who was by this time also somewhat
frightened at her own enormity, was put into a bath, and fumigated,
and treated in every way that could be thought of to ward off the
dreadful malady that in a rash moment she had tried to acquire.
There was now a double reason for isolating the rebellious daughter
and wife in her own chamber, and there she accordingly remained for
the rest of the day and the days that followed; till no ill results
seemed likely to arise from her wilfulness.
Meanwhile the first letter from Reynard, announcing to Mrs. Dornell
and her husband jointly that he was coming in a few days, had sped
on its way to Falls-Park. It was directed under cover to Tupcombe,
the confidential servant, with instructions not to put it into his
master's hands till he had been refreshed by a good long sleep.
Tupcombe much regretted his commission, letters sent in this way
always disturbing the Squire; but guessing that it would be
infinitely worse in the end to withhold the news than to reveal it,
he chose his time, which was early the next morning, and delivered
The utmost effect that Mrs. Dornell had anticipated from the message
was a peremptory order from her husband to Reynard to hold aloof a
few months longer. What the Squire really did was to declare that
he would go himself and confront Reynard at Bristol, and have it out
with him there by word of mouth.
'But, master,' said Tupcombe, 'you can't. You cannot get out of
'You leave the room, Tupcombe, and don't say "can't" before me!
Have Jerry saddled in an hour.'
The long-tried Tupcombe thought his employer demented, so utterly
helpless was his appearance just then, and he went out reluctantly.
No sooner was he gone than the Squire, with great difficulty,
stretched himself over to a cabinet by the bedside, unlocked it, and
took out a small bottle. It contained a gout specific, against
whose use he had been repeatedly warned by his regular physician,
but whose warning he now cast to the winds.
He took a double dose, and waited half an hour. It seemed to
produce no effect. He then poured out a treble dose, swallowed it,
leant back upon his pillow, and waited. The miracle he anticipated
had been worked at last. It seemed as though the second draught had
not only operated with its own strength, but had kindled into power
the latent forces of the first. He put away the bottle, and rang up
Less than an hour later one of the housemaids, who of course was
quite aware that the Squire's illness was serious, was surprised to
hear a bold and decided step descending the stairs from the
direction of Mr. Dornell's room, accompanied by the humming of a
tune. She knew that the doctor had not paid a visit that morning,
and that it was too heavy to be the valet or any other man-servant.
Looking up, she saw Squire Dornell fully dressed, descending toward
her in his drab caped riding-coat and boots, with the swinging easy
movement of his prime. Her face expressed her amazement.
'What the devil beest looking at?' said the Squire. 'Did you never
see a man walk out of his house before, wench?'
Resuming his humming--which was of a defiant sort--he proceeded to
the library, rang the bell, asked if the horses were ready, and
directed them to be brought round. Ten minutes later he rode away
in the direction of Bristol, Tupcombe behind him, trembling at what
these movements might portend.
They rode on through the pleasant woodlands and the monotonous
straight lanes at an equal pace. The distance traversed might have
been about fifteen miles when Tupcombe could perceive that the
Squire was getting tired--as weary as he would have been after
riding three times the distance ten years before. However, they
reached Bristol without any mishap, and put up at the Squire's
accustomed inn. Dornell almost immediately proceeded on foot to the
inn which Reynard had given as his address, it being now about four
Reynard had already dined--for people dined early then--and he was
staying indoors. He had already received Mrs. Dornell's reply to
his letter; but before acting upon her advice and starting for
King's-Hintock he made up his mind to wait another day, that Betty's
father might at least have time to write to him if so minded. The
returned traveller much desired to obtain the Squire's assent, as
well as his wife's, to the proposed visit to his bride, that nothing
might seem harsh or forced in his method of taking his position as
one of the family. But though he anticipated some sort of objection
from his father-in-law, in consequence of Mrs. Dornell's warning, he
was surprised at the announcement of the Squire in person.
Stephen Reynard formed the completest of possible contrasts to
Dornell as they stood confronting each other in the best parlour of
the Bristol tavern. The Squire, hot-tempered, gouty, impulsive,
generous, reckless; the younger man, pale, tall, sedate, self-
possessed--a man of the world, fully bearing out at least one
couplet in his epitaph, still extant in King's-Hintock church, which
places in the inventory of his good qualities
'Engaging Manners, cultivated Mind,
Adorn'd by Letters, and in Courts refin'd.'
He was at this time about five-and-thirty, though careful living and
an even, unemotional temperament caused him to look much younger
than his years.
Squire Dornell plunged into his errand without much ceremony or
'I am your humble servant, sir,' he said. 'I have read your letter
writ to my wife and myself, and considered that the best way to
answer it would be to do so in person.'
'I am vastly honoured by your visit, sir,' said Mr. Stephen Reynard,
'Well, what's done can't be undone,' said Dornell, 'though it was
mighty early, and was no doing of mine. She's your wife; and
there's an end on't. But in brief, sir, she's too young for you to
claim yet; we mustn't reckon by years; we must reckon by nature.
She's still a girl; 'tis onpolite of 'ee to come yet; next year will
be full soon enough for you to take her to you.'
Now, courteous as Reynard could be, he was a little obstinate when
his resolution had once been formed. She had been promised him by
her eighteenth birthday at latest--sooner if she were in robust
health. Her mother had fixed the time on her own judgment, without
a word of interference on his part. He had been hanging about
foreign courts till he was weary. Betty was now as woman, if she
would ever be one, and there was not, in his mind, the shadow of an
excuse for putting him off longer. Therefore, fortified as he was
by the support of her mother, he blandly but firmly told the Squire
that he had been willing to waive his rights, out of deference to
her parents, to any reasonable extent, but must now, in justice to
himself and her insist on maintaining them. He therefore, since she
had not come to meet him, should proceed to King's-Hintock in a few
days to fetch her.
This announcement, in spite of the urbanity with which it was
delivered, set Dornell in a passion.
'Oh dammy, sir; you talk about rights, you do, after stealing her
away, a mere child, against my will and knowledge! If we'd begged
and prayed 'ee to take her, you could say no more.'
'Upon my honour, your charge is quite baseless, sir,' said his son-
in-law. 'You must know by this time--or if you do not, it has been
a monstrous cruel injustice to me that I should have been allowed to
remain in your mind with such a stain upon my character--you must
know that I used no seductiveness or temptation of any kind. Her
mother assented; she assented. I took them at their word. That you
was really opposed to the marriage was not known to me till
Dornell professed to believe not a word of it. 'You sha'n't have
her till she's dree sixes full--no maid ought to be married till
she's dree sixes!--and my daughter sha'n't be treated out of nater!'
So he stormed on till Tupcombe, who had been alarmedly listening in
the next room, entered suddenly, declaring to Reynard that his
master's life was in danger if the interview were prolonged, he
being subject to apoplectic strokes at these crises. Reynard
immediately said that he would be the last to wish to injure Squire
Dornell, and left the room, and as soon as the Squire had recovered
breath and equanimity, he went out of the inn, leaning on the arm of
Tupcombe was for sleeping in Bristol that night, but Dornell, whose
energy seemed as invincible as it was sudden, insisted upon mounting
and getting back as far as Falls-Park, to continue the journey to
King's-Hintock on the following day. At five they started, and took
the southern road toward the Mendip Hills. The evening was dry and
windy, and, excepting that the sun did not shine, strongly reminded
Tupcombe of the evening of that March month, nearly five years
earlier, when news had been brought to King's-Hintock Court of the
child Betty's marriage in London--news which had produced upon
Dornell such a marked effect for the worse ever since, and
indirectly upon the household of which he was the head. Before that
time the winters were lively at Falls-Park, as well as at King's-
Hintock, although the Squire had ceased to make it his regular
residence. Hunting-guests and shooting-guests came and went, and
open house was kept. Tupcombe disliked the clever courtier who had
put a stop to this by taking away from the Squire the only treasure
It grew darker with their progress along the lanes, and Tupcombe
discovered from Mr. Dornell's manner of riding that his strength was
giving way; and spurring his own horse close alongside, he asked him
how he felt.
'Oh, bad; damn bad, Tupcombe! I can hardly keep my seat. I shall
never be any better, I fear! Have we passed Three-Man-Gibbet yet?'
'Not yet by a long ways, sir.'
'I wish we had. I can hardly hold on.' The Squire could not
repress a groan now and then, and Tupcombe knew he was in great
pain. 'I wish I was underground--that's the place for such fools as
I! I'd gladly be there if it were not for Mistress Betty. He's
coming on to King's-Hintock to-morrow--he won't put it off any
longer; he'll set out and reach there to-morrow night, without
stopping at Falls; and he'll take her unawares, and I want to be
there before him.'
'I hope you may be well enough to do it, sir. But really--'
'I MUST, Tupcombe! You don't know what my trouble is; it is not so
much that she is married to this man without my agreeing--for, after
all, there's nothing to say against him, so far as I know; but that
she don't take to him at all, seems to fear him--in fact, cares
nothing about him; and if he comes forcing himself into the house
upon her, why, 'twill be rank cruelty. Would to the Lord something
would happen to prevent him!'
How they reached home that night Tupcombe hardly knew. The Squire
was in such pain that he was obliged to recline upon his horse, and
Tupcombe was afraid every moment lest he would fall into the road.
But they did reach home at last, and Mr. Dornell was instantly
assisted to bed.
Next morning it was obvious that he could not possibly go to King's-
Hintock for several days at least, and there on the bed he lay,
cursing his inability to proceed on an errand so personal and so
delicate that no emissary could perform it. What he wished to do
was to ascertain from Betty's own lips if her aversion to Reynard
was so strong that his presence would be positively distasteful to
her. Were that the case, he would have borne her away bodily on the
saddle behind him.
But all that was hindered now, and he repeated a hundred times in
Tupcombe's hearing, and in that of the nurse and other servants, 'I
wish to God something would happen to him!'
This sentiment, reiterated by the Squire as he tossed in the agony
induced by the powerful drugs of the day before, entered sharply
into the soul of Tupcombe and of all who were attached to the house
of Dornell, as distinct from the house of his wife at King's-
Hintock. Tupcombe, who was an excitable man, was hardly less
disquieted by the thought of Reynard's return than the Squire
himself was. As the week drew on, and the afternoon advanced at
which Reynard would in all probability be passing near Falls on his
way to the Court, the Squire's feelings became acuter, and the
responsive Tupcombe could hardly bear to come near him. Having left
him in the hands of the doctor, the former went out upon the lawn,
for he could hardly breathe in the contagion of excitement caught
from the employer who had virtually made him his confidant. He had
lived with the Dornells from his boyhood, had been born under the
shadow of their walls; his whole life was annexed and welded to the
life of the family in a degree which has no counterpart in these
He was summoned indoors, and learnt that it had been decided to send
for Mrs. Dornell: her husband was in great danger. There were two
or three who could have acted as messenger, but Dornell wished
Tupcombe to go, the reason showing itself when, Tupcombe being ready
to start, Squire Dornell summoned him to his chamber and leaned down
so that he could whisper in his ear:
'Put Peggy along smart, Tupcombe, and get there before him, you
know--before him. This is the day he fixed. He has not passed
Falls cross-roads yet. If you can do that you will be able to get
Betty to come--d'ye see?--after her mother has started; she'll have
a reason for not waiting for him. Bring her by the lower road--
he'll go by the upper. Your business is to make 'em miss each
other--d'ye see?--but that's a thing I couldn't write down.'
Five minutes after, Tupcombe was astride the horse and on his way--
the way he had followed so many times since his master, a florid
young countryman, had first gone wooing to King's-Hintock Court. As
soon as he had crossed the hills in the immediate neighbourhood of
the manor, the road lay over a plain, where it ran in long straight
stretches for several miles. In the best of times, when all had
been gay in the united houses, that part of the road had seemed
tedious. It was gloomy in the extreme now that he pursued it, at
night and alone, on such an errand.
He rode and brooded. If the Squire were to die, he, Tupcombe, would
be alone in the world and friendless, for he was no favourite with
Mrs. Dornell; and to find himself baffled, after all, in what he had
set his mind on, would probably kill the Squire. Thinking thus,
Tupcombe stopped his horse every now and then, and listened for the
coming husband. The time was drawing on to the moment when Reynard
might be expected to pass along this very route. He had watched the
road well during the afternoon, and had inquired of the tavern-
keepers as he came up to each, and he was convinced that the
premature descent of the stranger-husband upon his young mistress
had not been made by this highway as yet.
Besides the girl's mother, Tupcombe was the only member of the
household who suspected Betty's tender feelings towards young
Phelipson, so unhappily generated on her return from school; and he
could therefore imagine, even better than her fond father, what
would be her emotions on the sudden announcement of Reynard's advent
that evening at King's-Hintock Court.
So he rode and rode, desponding and hopeful by turns. He felt
assured that, unless in the unfortunate event of the almost
immediate arrival of her son-in law at his own heels, Mrs. Dornell
would not be able to hinder Betty's departure for her father's
It was about nine o'clock that, having put twenty miles of country
behind him, he turned in at the lodge-gate nearest to Ivell and
King's-Hintock village, and pursued the long north drive--itself
much like a turnpike road--which led thence through the park to the
Court. Though there were so many trees in King's-Hintock park, few
bordered the carriage roadway; he could see it stretching ahead in
the pale night light like an unrolled deal shaving. Presently the
irregular frontage of the house came in view, of great extent, but
low, except where it rose into the outlines of a broad square tower.
As Tupcombe approached he rode aside upon the grass, to make sure,
if possible, that he was the first comer, before letting his
presence be known. The Court was dark and sleepy, in no respect as
if a bridegroom were about to arrive.
While pausing he distinctly heard the tread of a horse upon the
track behind him, and for a moment despaired of arriving in time:
here, surely, was Reynard! Pulling up closer to the densest tree at
hand he waited, and found he had retreated nothing too soon, for the
second rider avoided the gravel also, and passed quite close to him.
In the profile he recognized young Phelipson.
Before Tupcombe could think what to do, Phelipson had gone on; but
not to the door of the house. Swerving to the left, he passed round
to the east angle, where, as Tupcombe knew, were situated Betty's
apartments. Dismounting, he left the horse tethered to a hanging
bough, and walked on to the house.
Suddenly his eye caught sight of an object which explained the
position immediately. It was a ladder stretching from beneath the
trees, which there came pretty close to the house, up to a first-
floor window--one which lighted Miss Betty's rooms. Yes, it was
Betty's chamber; he knew every room in the house well.
The young horseman who had passed him, having evidently left his
steed somewhere under the trees also, was perceptible at the top of
the ladder, immediately outside Betty's window. While Tupcombe
watched, a cloaked female figure stepped timidly over the sill, and
the two cautiously descended, one before the other, the young man's
arms enclosing the young woman between his grasp of the ladder, so
that she could not fall. As soon as they reached the bottom, young
Phelipson quickly removed the ladder and hid it under the bushes.
The pair disappeared; till, in a few minutes, Tupcombe could discern
a horse emerging from a remoter part of the umbrage. The horse
carried double, the girl being on a pillion behind her lover.
Tupcombe hardly knew what to do or think; yet, though this was not
exactly the kind of flight that had been intended, she had certainly
escaped. He went back to his own animal, and rode round to the
servants' door, where he delivered the letter for Mrs. Dornell. To
leave a verbal message for Betty was now impossible.
The Court servants desired him to stay over the night, but he would
not do so, desiring to get back to the Squire as soon as possible
and tell what he had seen. Whether he ought not to have intercepted
the young people, and carried off Betty himself to her father, he
did not know. However, it was too late to think of that now, and
without wetting his lips or swallowing a crumb, Tupcombe turned his
back upon King's-Hintock Court.
It was not till he had advanced a considerable distance on his way
homeward that, halting under the lantern of a roadside-inn while the
horse was watered, there came a traveller from the opposite
direction in a hired coach; the lantern lit the stranger's face as
he passed along and dropped into the shade. Tupcombe exulted for
the moment, though he could hardly have justified his exultation.
The belated traveller was Reynard; and another had stepped in before
You may now be willing to know of the fortunes of Miss Betty. Left
much to herself through the intervening days, she had ample time to
brood over her desperate attempt at the stratagem of infection--
thwarted, apparently, by her mother's promptitude. In what other
way to gain time she could not think. Thus drew on the day and the
hour of the evening on which her husband was expected to announce
At some period after dark, when she could not tell, a tap at the
window, twice and thrice repeated, became audible. It caused her to
start up, for the only visitant in her mind was the one whose
advances she had so feared as to risk health and life to repel them.
She crept to the window, and heard a whisper without.
'It is I--Charley,' said the voice.
Betty's face fired with excitement. She had latterly begun to doubt
her admirer's staunchness, fancying his love to be going off in mere
attentions which neither committed him nor herself very deeply. She
opened the window, saying in a joyous whisper, 'Oh Charley; I
thought you had deserted me quite!'
He assured her he had not done that, and that he had a horse in
waiting, if she would ride off with him. 'You must come quickly,'
he said; 'for Reynard's on the way!'
To throw a cloak round herself was the work of a moment, and
assuring herself that her door was locked against a surprise, she
climbed over the window-sill and descended with him as we have seen.
Her mother meanwhile, having received Tupcombe's note, found the
news of her husband's illness so serious, as to displace her
thoughts of the coming son-in-law, and she hastened to tell her
daughter of the Squire's dangerous condition, thinking it might be
desirable to take her to her father's bedside. On trying the door
of the girl's room, she found it still locked. Mrs. Dornell called,
but there was no answer. Full of misgivings, she privately fetched
the old house-steward and bade him burst open the door--an order by
no means easy to execute, the joinery of the Court being massively
constructed. However, the lock sprang open at last, and she entered
Betty's chamber only to find the window unfastened and the bird
For a moment Mrs. Dornell was staggered. Then it occurred to her
that Betty might have privately obtained from Tupcombe the news of
her father's serious illness, and, fearing she might be kept back to
meet her husband, have gone off with that obstinate and biassed
servitor to Falls-Park. The more she thought it over the more
probable did the supposition appear; and binding her own head-man to
secrecy as to Betty's movements, whether as she conjectured, or
otherwise, Mrs. Dornell herself prepared to set out.
She had no suspicion how seriously her husband's malady had been
aggravated by his ride to Bristol, and thought more of Betty's
affairs than of her own. That Betty's husband should arrive by some
other road to-night, and find neither wife nor mother-in-law to
receive him, and no explanation of their absence, was possible; but
never forgetting chances, Mrs. Dornell as she journeyed kept her
eyes fixed upon the highway on the off-side, where, before she had
reached the town of Ivell, the hired coach containing Stephen
Reynard flashed into the lamplight of her own carriage.
Mrs. Dornell's coachman pulled up, in obedience to a direction she
had given him at starting; the other coach was hailed, a few words
passed, and Reynard alighted and came to Mrs. Dornell's carriage-
'Come inside,' says she. 'I want to speak privately to you. Why
are you so late?'
'One hindrance and another,' says he. 'I meant to be at the Court
by eight at latest. My gratitude for your letter. I hope--'
'You must not try to see Betty yet,' said she. 'There be far other
and newer reasons against your seeing her now than there were when I
The circumstances were such that Mrs. Dornell could not possibly
conceal them entirely; nothing short of knowing some of the facts
would prevent his blindly acting in a manner which might be fatal to
the future. Moreover, there are times when deeper intriguers than
Mrs. Dornell feel that they must let out a few truths, if only in
self-indulgence. So she told so much of recent surprises as that
Betty's heart had been attracted by another image than his, and that
his insisting on visiting her now might drive the girl to
desperation. 'Betty has, in fact, rushed off to her father to avoid
you,' she said. 'But if you wait she will soon forget this young
man, and you will have nothing to fear.'
As a woman and a mother she could go no further, and Betty's
desperate attempt to infect herself the week before as a means of
repelling him, together with the alarming possibility that, after
all, she had not gone to her father but to her lover, was not
'Well,' sighed the diplomatist, in a tone unexpectedly quiet, 'such
things have been known before. After all, she may prefer me to him
some day, when she reflects how very differently I might have acted
than I am going to act towards her. But I'll say no more about that
now. I can have a bed at your house for to-night?'
'To-night, certainly. And you leave to-morrow morning early?' She
spoke anxiously, for on no account did she wish him to make further
discoveries. 'My husband is so seriously ill,' she continued, 'that
my absence and Betty's on your arrival is naturally accounted for.'
He promised to leave early, and to write to her soon. 'And when I
think the time is ripe,' he said, 'I'll write to her. I may have
something to tell her that will bring her to graciousness.'
It was about one o'clock in the morning when Mrs. Dornell reached
Falls-Park. A double blow awaited her there. Betty had not
arrived; her flight had been elsewhither; and her stricken mother
divined with whom. She ascended to the bedside of her husband,
where to her concern she found that the physician had given up all
hope. The Squire was sinking, and his extreme weakness had almost
changed his character, except in the particular that his old
obstinacy sustained him in a refusal to see a clergyman. He shed
tears at the least word, and sobbed at the sight of his wife. He
asked for Betty, and it was with a heavy heart that Mrs. Dornell
told him that the girl had not accompanied her.
'He is not keeping her away?'
'No, no. He is going back--he is not coming to her for some time.'
'Then what is detaining her--cruel, neglectful maid!'
'No, no, Thomas; she is-- She could not come.'
Somehow the solemnity of these last moments of his gave him
inquisitorial power, and the too cold wife could not conceal from
him the flight which had taken place from King's-Hintock that night.
To her amazement, the effect upon him was electrical.
'What--Betty--a trump after all? Hurrah! She's her father's own
maid! She's game! She knew he was her father's own choice! She
vowed that my man should win! Well done, Bet!--haw! haw! Hurrah!'
He had raised himself in bed by starts as he spoke, and now fell
back exhausted. He never uttered another word, and died before the
dawn. People said there had not been such an ungenteel death in a
good county family for years.
Now I will go back to the time of Betty's riding off on the pillion
behind her lover. They left the park by an obscure gate to the
east, and presently found themselves in the lonely and solitary
length of the old Roman road now called Long-Ash Lane.
By this time they were rather alarmed at their own performance, for
they were both young and inexperienced. Hence they proceeded almost
in silence till they came to a mean roadside inn which was not yet
closed; when Betty, who had held on to him with much misgiving all
this while, felt dreadfully unwell, and said she thought she would
like to get down.
They accordingly dismounted from the jaded animal that had brought
them, and were shown into a small dark parlour, where they stood
side by side awkwardly, like the fugitives they were. A light was
brought, and when they were left alone Betty threw off the cloak
which had enveloped her. No sooner did young Phelipson see her face
than he uttered an alarmed exclamation.
'Why, Lord, Lord, you are sickening for the small-pox!' he cried.
'Oh--I forgot!' faltered Betty. And then she informed him that, on
hearing of her husband's approach the week before, in a desperate
attempt to keep him from her side, she had tried to imbibe the
infection--an act which till this moment she had supposed to have
been ineffectual, imagining her feverishness to be the result of her
The effect of this discovery upon young Phelipson was overwhelming.
Better-seasoned men than he would not have been proof against it,
and he was only a little over her own age. 'And you've been holding
on to me!' he said. 'And suppose you get worse, and we both have
it, what shall we do? Won't you be a fright in a month or two,
poor, poor Betty!'
In his horror he attempted to laugh, but the laugh ended in a weakly
giggle. She was more woman than girl by this time, and realized his
'What--in trying to keep off him, I keep off you?' she said
miserably. 'Do you hate me because I am going to be ugly and ill?'
'Oh--no, no!' he said soothingly. 'But I--I am thinking if it is
quite right for us to do this. You see, dear Betty, if you was not
married it would be different. You are not in honour married to him
we've often said; still you are his by law, and you can't be mine
whilst he's alive. And with this terrible sickness coming on,
perhaps you had better let me take you back, and--climb in at the
'Is THIS your love?' said Betty reproachfully. 'Oh, if you was
sickening for the plague itself, and going to be as ugly as the
Ooser in the church-vestry, I wouldn't--'
'No, no, you mistake, upon my soul!'
But Betty with a swollen heart had rewrapped herself and gone out of
the door. The horse was still standing there. She mounted by the
help of the upping-stock, and when he had followed her she said, 'Do
not come near me, Charley; but please lead the horse, so that if
you've not caught anything already you'll not catch it going back.
After all, what keeps off you may keep off him. Now onward.'
He did not resist her command, and back they went by the way they
had come, Betty shedding bitter tears at the retribution she had
already brought upon herself; for though she had reproached
Phelipson, she was staunch enough not to blame him in her secret
heart for showing that his love was only skin-deep. The horse was
stopped in the plantation, and they walked silently to the lawn,
reaching the bushes wherein the ladder still lay.
'Will you put it up for me?' she asked mournfully.
He re-erected the ladder without a word; but when she approached to
ascend he said, 'Good-bye, Betty!'
'Good-bye!' said she; and involuntarily turned her face towards his.
He hung back from imprinting the expected kiss: at which Betty
started as if she had received a poignant wound. She moved away so
suddenly that he hardly had time to follow her up the ladder to
prevent her falling.
'Tell your mother to get the doctor at once!' he said anxiously.
She stepped in without looking behind; he descended, withdrew the
ladder, and went away.
Alone in her chamber, Betty flung herself upon her face on the bed,
and burst into shaking sobs. Yet she would not admit to herself
that her lover's conduct was unreasonable; only that her rash act of
the previous week had been wrong. No one had heard her enter, and
she was too worn out, in body and mind, to think or care about
medical aid. In an hour or so she felt yet more unwell, positively
ill; and nobody coming to her at the usual bedtime, she looked
towards the door. Marks of the lock having been forced were
visible, and this made her chary of summoning a servant. She opened
the door cautiously and sallied forth downstairs.
In the dining-parlour, as it was called, the now sick and sorry
Betty was startled to see at that late hour not her mother, but a
man sitting, calmly finishing his supper. There was no servant in
the room. He turned, and she recognized her husband.
'Where's my mamma?' she demanded without preface.
'Gone to your father's. Is that--' He stopped, aghast.
'Yes, sir. This spotted object is your wife! I've done it because
I don't want you to come near me!'
He was sixteen years her senior; old enough to be compassionate.
'My poor child, you must get to bed directly! Don't be afraid of
me--I'll carry you upstairs, and send for a doctor instantly.'
'Ah, you don't know what I am!' she cried. 'I had a lover once; but
now he's gone! 'Twasn't I who deserted him. He has deserted me;
because I am ill he wouldn't kiss me, though I wanted him to!'
'Wouldn't he? Then he was a very poor slack-twisted sort of fellow.
Betty, I'VE never kissed you since you stood beside me as my little
wife, twelve years and a half old! May I kiss you now?'
Though Betty by no means desired his kisses, she had enough of the
spirit of Cunigonde in Schiller's ballad to test his daring. 'If
you have courage to venture, yes sir!' said she. 'But you may die
for it, mind!'
He came up to her and imprinted a deliberate kiss full upon her
mouth, saying, 'May many others follow!'
She shook her head, and hastily withdrew, though secretly pleased at
his hardihood. The excitement had supported her for the few minutes
she had passed in his presence, and she could hardly drag herself
back to her room. Her husband summoned the servants, and, sending
them to her assistance, went off himself for a doctor.
The next morning Reynard waited at the Court till he had learnt from
the medical man that Betty's attack promised to be a very light one-
-or, as it was expressed, 'very fine'; and in taking his leave sent
up a note to her:
'Now I must be Gone. I promised your Mother I would not see You
yet, and she may be anger'd if she finds me here. Promise to see me
as Soon as you are well?'
He was of all men then living one of the best able to cope with such
an untimely situation as this. A contriving, sagacious, gentle-
mannered man, a philosopher who saw that the only constant attribute
of life is change, he held that, as long as she lives, there is
nothing finite in the most impassioned attitude a woman may take up.
In twelve months his girl-wife's recent infatuation might be as
distasteful to her mind as it was now to his own. In a few years
her very flesh would change--so said the scientific;--her spirit, so
much more ephemeral, was capable of changing in one. Betty was his,
and it became a mere question of means how to effect that change.
During the day Mrs. Dornell, having closed her husband's eyes,
returned to the Court. She was truly relieved to find Betty there,
even though on a bed of sickness. The disease ran its course, and
in due time Betty became convalescent, without having suffered
deeply for her rashness, one little speck beneath her ear, and one
beneath her chin, being all the marks she retained.
The Squire's body was not brought back to King's-Hintock. Where he
was born, and where he had lived before wedding his Sue, there he
had wished to be buried. No sooner had she lost him than Mrs.
Dornell, like certain other wives, though she had never shown any
great affection for him while he lived, awoke suddenly to his many
virtues, and zealously embraced his opinion about delaying Betty's
union with her husband, which she had formerly combated strenuously.
'Poor man! how right he was, and how wrong was I!' Eighteen was
certainly the lowest age at which Mr. Reynard should claim her
child--nay, it was too low! Far too low!
So desirous was she of honouring her lamented husband's sentiments
in this respect, that she wrote to her son-in-law suggesting that,
partly on account of Betty's sorrow for her father's loss, and out
of consideration for his known wishes for delay, Betty should not be
taken from her till her nineteenth birthday.
However much or little Stephen Reynard might have been to blame in
his marriage, the patient man now almost deserved to be pitied.
First Betty's skittishness; now her mother's remorseful volte-face:
it was enough to exasperate anybody; and he wrote to the widow in a
tone which led to a little coolness between those hitherto firm
friends. However, knowing that he had a wife not to claim but to
win, and that young Phelipson had been packed off to sea by his
parents, Stephen was complaisant to a degree, returning to London,
and holding quite aloof from Betty and her mother, who remained for
the present in the country. In town he had a mild visitation of the
distemper he had taken from Betty, and in writing to her he took
care not to dwell upon its mildness. It was now that Betty began to
pity him for what she had inflicted upon him by the kiss, and her
correspondence acquired a distinct flavour of kindness
Owing to his rebuffs, Reynard had grown to be truly in love with
Betty in his mild, placid, durable way--in that way which perhaps,
upon the whole, tends most generally to the woman's comfort under
the institution of marriage, if not particularly to her ecstasy.
Mrs. Dornell's exaggeration of her husband's wish for delay in their
living together was inconvenient, but he would not openly infringe
it. He wrote tenderly to Betty, and soon announced that he had a
little surprise in store for her. The secret was that the King had
been graciously pleased to inform him privately, through a relation,
that His Majesty was about to offer him a Barony. Would she like
the title to be Ivell? Moreover, he had reason for knowing that in
a few years the dignity would be raised to that of an Earl, for
which creation he thought the title of Wessex would be eminently
suitable, considering the position of much of their property. As
Lady Ivell, therefore, and future Countess of Wessex, he should beg
leave to offer her his heart a third time.
He did not add, as he might have added, how greatly the
consideration of the enormous estates at King's-Hintock and
elsewhere which Betty would inherit, and her children after her, had
conduced to this desirable honour.
Whether the impending titles had really any effect upon Betty's
regard for him I cannot state, for she was one of those close
characters who never let their minds be known upon anything. That
such honour was absolutely unexpected by her from such a quarter is,
however, certain; and she could not deny that Stephen had shown her
kindness, forbearance, even magnanimity; had forgiven her for an
errant passion which he might with some reason have denounced,
notwithstanding her cruel position as a child entrapped into
marriage ere able to understand its bearings.
Her mother, in her grief and remorse for the loveless life she had
led with her rough, though open-hearted, husband, made now a creed
of his merest whim; and continued to insist that, out of respect to
his known desire, her son-in-law should not reside with Betty till
the girl's father had been dead a year at least, at which time the
girl would still be under nineteen. Letters must suffice for
Stephen till then.
'It is rather long for him to wait,' Betty hesitatingly said one
'What!' said her mother. 'From YOU? not to respect your dear
'Of course it is quite proper,' said Betty hastily. 'I don't
gainsay it. I was but thinking that--that--'
In the long slow months of the stipulated interval her mother tended
and trained Betty carefully for her duties. Fully awake now to the
many virtues of her dear departed one, she, among other acts of
pious devotion to his memory, rebuilt the church of King's-Hintock
village, and established valuable charities in all the villages of
that name, as far as to Little-Hintock, several miles eastward.
In superintending these works, particularly that of the church-
building, her daughter Betty was her constant companion, and the
incidents of their execution were doubtless not without a soothing
effect upon the young creature's heart. She had sprung from girl to
woman by a sudden bound, and few would have recognized in the
thoughtful face of Betty now the same person who, the year before,
had seemed to have absolutely no idea whatever of responsibility,
moral or other. Time passed thus till the Squire had been nearly a
year in his vault; and Mrs. Dornell was duly asked by letter by the
patient Reynard if she were willing for him to come soon. He did
not wish to take Betty away if her mother's sense of loneliness
would be too great, but would willingly live at King's-Hintock
awhile with them.
Before the widow had replied to this communication, she one day
happened to observe Betty walking on the south terrace in the full
sunlight, without hat or mantle, and was struck by her child's
figure. Mrs. Dornell called her in, and said suddenly: 'Have you
seen your husband since the time of your poor father's death?'
'Well--yes, mamma,' says Betty, colouring.
'What--against my wishes and those of your dear father! I am
shocked at your disobedience!'
'But my father said eighteen, ma'am, and you made it much longer--'
'Why, of course--out of consideration for you! When have ye seen
'Well,' stammered Betty, 'in the course of his letters to me he said
that I belonged to him, and if nobody knew that we met it would make
no difference. And that I need not hurt your feelings by telling
'So I went to Casterbridge that time you went to London about five
'And met him there? When did you come back?'
'Dear mamma, it grew very late, and he said it was safer not to go
back till next day, as the roads were bad; and as you were away from
'I don't want to hear any more! This is your respect for your
father's memory,' groaned the widow. 'When did you meet him again?'
'Oh--not for more than a fortnight.'
'A fortnight! How many times have ye seen him altogether?'
'I'm sure, mamma, I've not seen him altogether a dozen times.'
'A dozen! And eighteen and a half years old barely!'
'Twice we met by accident,' pleaded Betty. 'Once at Abbot's-Cernel,
and another time at the Red Lion, Melchester.'
'O thou deceitful girl!' cried Mrs. Dornell. 'An accident took you
to the Red Lion whilst I was staying at the White Hart! I remember-
-you came in at twelve o'clock at night and said you'd been to see
the cathedral by the light o' the moon!'
'My ever-honoured mamma, so I had! I only went to the Red Lion with
'Oh Betty, Betty! That my child should have deceived me even in my
'But, my dearest mamma, you made me marry him!' says Betty with
spirit, 'and of course I've to obey him more than you now!'
Mrs. Dornell sighed. 'All I have to say is, that you'd better get
your husband to join you as soon as possible,' she remarked. 'To go
on playing the maiden like this--I'm ashamed to see you!'
She wrote instantly to Stephen Reynard: 'I wash my hands of the
whole matter as between you two; though I should advise you to
OPENLY join each other as soon as you can--if you wish to avoid
He came, though not till the promised title had been granted, and he
could call Betty archly 'My Lady.'
People said in after years that she and her husband were very happy.
However that may be, they had a numerous family; and she became in
due course first Countess of Wessex, as he had foretold.
The little white frock in which she had been married to him at the
tender age of twelve was carefully preserved among the relics at
King's-Hintock Court, where it may still be seen by the curious--a
yellowing, pathetic testimony to the small count taken of the
happiness of an innocent child in the social strategy of those days,
which might have led, but providentially did not lead, to great
When the Earl died Betty wrote him an epitaph, in which she
described him as the best of husbands, fathers, and friends, and
called herself his disconsolate widow.
Such is woman; or rather (not to give offence by so sweeping an
assertion), such was Betty Dornell.
It was at a meeting of one of the Wessex Field and Antiquarian Clubs
that the foregoing story, partly told, partly read from a
manuscript, was made to do duty for the regulation papers on
deformed butterflies, fossil ox-horns, prehistoric dung-mixens, and
such like, that usually occupied the more serious attention of the
This Club was of an inclusive and intersocial character; to a
degree, indeed, remarkable for the part of England in which it had
its being--dear, delightful Wessex, whose statuesque dynasties are
even now only just beginning to feel the shaking of the new and
strange spirit without, like that which entered the lonely valley of
Ezekiel's vision and made the dry bones move: where the honest
squires, tradesmen, parsons, clerks, and people still praise the
Lord with one voice for His best of all possible worlds.
The present meeting, which was to extend over two days, had opened
its proceedings at the museum of the town whose buildings and
environs were to be visited by the members. Lunch had ended, and
the afternoon excursion had been about to be undertaken, when the
rain came down in an obstinate spatter, which revealed no sign of
cessation. As the members waited they grew chilly, although it was
only autumn, and a fire was lighted, which threw a cheerful shine
upon the varnished skulls, urns, penates, tesserae, costumes, coats
of mail, weapons, and missals, animated the fossilized ichthyosaurus
and iguanodon; while the dead eyes of the stuffed birds--those
never-absent familiars in such collections, though murdered to
extinction out of doors--flashed as they had flashed to the rising
sun above the neighbouring moors on the fatal morning when the
trigger was pulled which ended their little flight. It was then
that the historian produced his manuscript, which he had prepared,
he said, with a view to publication. His delivery of the story
having concluded as aforesaid, the speaker expressed his hope that
the constraint of the weather, and the paucity of more scientific
papers, would excuse any inappropriateness in his subject.
Several members observed that a storm-bound club could not presume
to be selective, and they were all very much obliged to him for such
a curious chapter from the domestic histories of the county.
The President looked gloomily from the window at the descending
rain, and broke a short silence by saying that though the Club had
met, there seemed little probability of its being able to visit the
objects of interest set down among the agenda.
The Treasurer observed that they had at least a roof over their
heads; and they had also a second day before them.
A sentimental member, leaning back in his chair, declared that he
was in no hurry to go out, and that nothing would please him so much
as another county story, with or without manuscript.
The Colonel added that the subject should be a lady, like the
former, to which a gentleman known as the Spark said 'Hear, hear!'
Though these had spoken in jest, a rural dean who was present
observed blandly that there was no lack of materials. Many, indeed,
were the legends and traditions of gentle and noble dames, renowned
in times past in that part of England, whose actions and passions
were now, but for men's memories, buried under the brief inscription
on a tomb or an entry of dates in a dry pedigree.
Another member, an old surgeon, a somewhat grim though sociable
personage, was quite of the speaker's opinion, and felt quite sure
that the memory of the reverend gentleman must abound with such
curious tales of fair dames, of their loves and hates, their joys
and their misfortunes, their beauty and their fate.
The parson, a trifle confused, retorted that their friend the
surgeon, the son of a surgeon, seemed to him, as a man who had seen
much and heard more during the long course of his own and his
father's practice, the member of all others most likely to be
acquainted with such lore.
The bookworm, the Colonel, the historian, the Vice-president, the
churchwarden, the two curates, the gentleman-tradesman, the
sentimental member, the crimson maltster, the quiet gentleman, the
man of family, the Spark, and several others, quite agreed, and
begged that he would recall something of the kind. The old surgeon
said that, though a meeting of the Mid-Wessex Field and Antiquarian
Club was the last place at which he should have expected to be
called upon in this way, he had no objection; and the parson said he
would come next. The surgeon then reflected, and decided to relate
the history of a lady named Barbara, who lived towards the end of
the last century, apologizing for his tale as being perhaps a little
too professional. The crimson maltster winked to the Spark at
hearing the nature of the apology, and the surgeon began.
DAME THE SECOND: BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE
By the Old Surgeon
It was apparently an idea, rather than a passion, that inspired Lord
Uplandtowers' resolve to win her. Nobody ever knew when he formed
it, or whence he got his assurance of success in the face of her
manifest dislike of him. Possibly not until after that first
important act of her life which I shall presently mention. His
matured and cynical doggedness at the age of nineteen, when impulse
mostly rules calculation, was remarkable, and might have owed its
existence as much to his succession to the earldom and its
accompanying local honours in childhood, as to the family character;
an elevation which jerked him into maturity, so to speak, without
his having known adolescence. He had only reached his twelfth year
when his father, the fourth Earl, died, after a course of the Bath
Nevertheless, the family character had a great deal to do with it.
Determination was hereditary in the bearers of that escutcheon;
sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.
The seats of the two families were about ten miles apart, the way
between them lying along the now old, then new, turnpike-road
connecting Havenpool and Warborne with the city of Melchester: a
road which, though only a branch from what was known as the Great
Western Highway, is probably, even at present, as it has been for
the last hundred years, one of the finest examples of a macadamized
turnpike-track that can be found in England.
The mansion of the Earl, as well as that of his neighbour, Barbara's
father, stood back about a mile from the highway, with which each
was connected by an ordinary drive and lodge. It was along this
particular highway that the young Earl drove on a certain evening at
Christmastide some twenty years before the end of the last century,
to attend a ball at Chene Manor, the home of Barbara, and her
parents Sir John and Lady Grebe. Sir John's was a baronetcy created
a few years before the breaking out of the Civil War, and his lands
were even more extensive than those of Lord Uplandtowers himself;
comprising this Manor of Chene, another on the coast near, half the
Hundred of Cockdene, and well-enclosed lands in several other
parishes, notably Warborne and those contiguous. At this time
Barbara was barely seventeen, and the ball is the first occasion on
which we have any tradition of Lord Uplandtowers attempting tender
relations with her; it was early enough, God knows.
An intimate friend--one of the Drenkhards--is said to have dined
with him that day, and Lord Uplandtowers had, for a wonder,
communicated to his guest the secret design of his heart.
'You'll never get her--sure; you'll never get her!' this friend had
said at parting. 'She's not drawn to your lordship by love: and as
for thought of a good match, why, there's no more calculation in her
than in a bird.'
'We'll see,' said Lord Uplandtowers impassively.
He no doubt thought of his friend's forecast as he travelled along
the highway in his chariot; but the sculptural repose of his profile
against the vanishing daylight on his right hand would have shown
his friend that the Earl's equanimity was undisturbed. He reached
the solitary wayside tavern called Lornton Inn--the rendezvous of
many a daring poacher for operations in the adjoining forest; and he
might have observed, if he had taken the trouble, a strange post-
chaise standing in the halting-space before the inn. He duly sped
past it, and half-an-hour after through the little town of Warborne.
Onward, a mile farther, was the house of his entertainer.
At this date it was an imposing edifice--or, rather, congeries of
edifices--as extensive as the residence of the Earl himself; though
far less regular. One wing showed extreme antiquity, having huge
chimneys, whose substructures projected from the external walls like
towers; and a kitchen of vast dimensions, in which (it was said)
breakfasts had been cooked for John of Gaunt. Whilst he was yet in
the forecourt he could hear the rhythm of French horns and
clarionets, the favourite instruments of those days at such
Entering the long parlour, in which the dance had just been opened
by Lady Grebe with a minuet--it being now seven o'clock, according
to the tradition--he was received with a welcome befitting his rank,
and looked round for Barbara. She was not dancing, and seemed to be
preoccupied--almost, indeed, as though she had been waiting for him.
Barbara at this time was a good and pretty girl, who never spoke ill
of any one, and hated other pretty women the very least possible.
She did not refuse him for the country-dance which followed, and
soon after was his partner in a second.
The evening wore on, and the horns and clarionets tootled merrily.
Barbara evinced towards her lover neither distinct preference nor
aversion; but old eyes would have seen that she pondered something.
However, after supper she pleaded a headache, and disappeared. To
pass the time of her absence, Lord Uplandtowers went into a little
room adjoining the long gallery, where some elderly ones were
sitting by the fire--for he had a phlegmatic dislike of dancing for
its own sake,--and, lifting the window-curtains, he looked out of
the window into the park and wood, dark now as a cavern. Some of
the guests appeared to be leaving even so soon as this, two lights
showing themselves as turning away from the door and sinking to
nothing in the distance.
His hostess put her head into the room to look for partners for the
ladies, and Lord Uplandtowers came out. Lady Grebe informed him
that Barbara had not returned to the ball-room: she had gone to bed
in sheer necessity.
'She has been so excited over the ball all day,' her mother
continued, 'that I feared she would be worn out early . . . But
sure, Lord Uplandtowers, you won't be leaving yet?'
He said that it was near twelve o'clock, and that some had already
'I protest nobody has gone yet,' said Lady Grebe.
To humour her he stayed till midnight, and then set out. He had
made no progress in his suit; but he had assured himself that
Barbara gave no other guest the preference, and nearly everybody in
the neighbourhood was there.
''Tis only a matter of time,' said the calm young philosopher.
The next morning he lay till near ten o'clock, and he had only just
come out upon the head of the staircase when he heard hoofs upon the
gravel without; in a few moments the door had been opened, and Sir
John Grebe met him in the hall, as he set foot on the lowest stair.
'My lord--where's Barbara--my daughter?'
Even the Earl of Uplandtowers could not repress amazement. 'What's
the matter, my dear Sir John,' says he.
The news was startling, indeed. From the Baronet's disjointed
explanation Lord Uplandtowers gathered that after his own and the
other guests' departure Sir John and Lady Grebe had gone to rest
without seeing any more of Barbara; it being understood by them that
she had retired to bed when she sent word to say that she could not
join the dancers again. Before then she had told her maid that she
would dispense with her services for this night; and there was
evidence to show that the young lady had never lain down at all, the
bed remaining unpressed. Circumstances seemed to prove that the
deceitful girl had feigned indisposition to get an excuse for
leaving the ball-room, and that she had left the house within ten
minutes, presumably during the first dance after supper.
'I saw her go,' said Lord Uplandtowers.
'The devil you did!' says Sir John.
'Yes.' And he mentioned the retreating carriage-lights, and how he
was assured by Lady Grebe that no guest had departed.
'Surely that was it!' said the father. 'But she's not gone alone,
'Ah--who is the young man?'
'I can on'y guess. My worst fear is my most likely guess. I'll say
no more. I thought--yet I would not believe--it possible that you
was the sinner. Would that you had been! But 'tis t'other, 'tis
t'other, by G-! I must e'en up, and after 'em!'
'Whom do you suspect?'
Sir John would not give a name, and, stultified rather than
agitated, Lord Uplandtowers accompanied him back to Chene. He again
asked upon whom were the Baronet's suspicions directed; and the
impulsive Sir John was no match for the insistence of Uplandtowers.
He said at length, 'I fear 'tis Edmond Willowes.'
'A young fellow of Shottsford-Forum--a widow-woman's son,' the other
told him, and explained that Willowes's father, or grandfather, was
the last of the old glass-painters in that place, where (as you may
know) the art lingered on when it had died out in every other part
'By G- that's bad--mighty bad!' said Lord Uplandtowers, throwing
himself back in the chaise in frigid despair.
They despatched emissaries in all directions; one by the Melchester
Road, another by Shottsford-Forum, another coastwards.
But the lovers had a ten-hours' start; and it was apparent that
sound judgment had been exercised in choosing as their time of
flight the particular night when the movements of a strange carriage
would not be noticed, either in the park or on the neighbouring
highway, owing to the general press of vehicles. The chaise which
had been seen waiting at Lornton Inn was, no doubt, the one they had
escaped in; and the pair of heads which had planned so cleverly thus
far had probably contrived marriage ere now.
The fears of her parents were realized. A letter sent by special
messenger from Barbara, on the evening of that day, briefly informed
them that her lover and herself were on the way to London, and
before this communication reached her home they would be united as
husband and wife. She had taken this extreme step because she loved
her dear Edmond as she could love no other man, and because she had
seen closing round her the doom of marriage with Lord Uplandtowers,
unless she put that threatened fate out of possibility by doing as
she had done. She had well considered the step beforehand, and was
prepared to live like any other country-townsman's wife if her
father repudiated her for her action.
'D- her!' said Lord Uplandtowers, as he drove homeward that night.
'D- her for a fool!'--which shows the kind of love he bore her.
Well; Sir John had already started in pursuit of them as a matter of
duty, driving like a wild man to Melchester, and thence by the
direct highway to the capital. But he soon saw that he was acting
to no purpose; and by and by, discovering that the marriage had
actually taken place, he forebore all attempts to unearth them in
the City, and returned and sat down with his lady to digest the
event as best they could.
To proceed against this Willowes for the abduction of our heiress
was, possibly, in their power; yet, when they considered the now
unalterable facts, they refrained from violent retribution. Some
six weeks passed, during which time Barbara's parents, though they
keenly felt her loss, held no communication with the truant, either
for reproach or condonation. They continued to think of the
disgrace she had brought upon herself; for, though the young man was
an honest fellow, and the son of an honest father, the latter had
died so early, and his widow had had such struggles to maintain
herself; that the son was very imperfectly educated. Moreover, his
blood was, as far as they knew, of no distinction whatever, whilst
hers, through her mother, was compounded of the best juices of
ancient baronial distillation, containing tinctures of Maundeville,
and Mohun, and Syward, and Peverell, and Culliford, and Talbot, and
Plantagenet, and York, and Lancaster, and God knows what besides,
which it was a thousand pities to throw away.
The father and mother sat by the fireplace that was spanned by the
four-centred arch bearing the family shields on its haunches, and
groaned aloud--the lady more than Sir John.
'To think this should have come upon us in our old age!' said he.
'Speak for yourself!' she snapped through her sobs. 'I am only one-
and-forty! . . . Why didn't ye ride faster and overtake 'em!'
In the meantime the young married lovers, caring no more about their
blood than about ditch-water, were intensely happy--happy, that is,
in the descending scale which, as we all know, Heaven in its wisdom
has ordained for such rash cases; that is to say, the first week
they were in the seventh heaven, the second in the sixth, the third
week temperate, the fourth reflective, and so on; a lover's heart
after possession being comparable to the earth in its geologic
stages, as described to us sometimes by our worthy President; first
a hot coal, then a warm one, then a cooling cinder, then chilly--the
simile shall be pursued no further. The long and the short of it
was that one day a letter, sealed with their daughter's own little
seal, came into Sir John and Lady Grebe's hands; and, on opening it,
they found it to contain an appeal from the young couple to Sir John
to forgive them for what they had done, and they would fall on their
naked knees and be most dutiful children for evermore.
Then Sir John and his lady sat down again by the fireplace with the
four-centred arch, and consulted, and re-read the letter. Sir John
Grebe, if the truth must be told, loved his daughter's happiness far
more, poor man, than he loved his name and lineage; he recalled to
his mind all her little ways, gave vent to a sigh; and, by this time
acclimatized to the idea of the marriage, said that what was done
could not be undone, and that he supposed they must not be too harsh
with her. Perhaps Barbara and her husband were in actual need; and
how could they let their only child starve?
A slight consolation had come to them in an unexpected manner. They
had been credibly informed that an ancestor of plebeian Willowes was
once honoured with intermarriage with a scion of the aristocracy who
had gone to the dogs. In short, such is the foolishness of
distinguished parents, and sometimes of others also, that they wrote
that very day to the address Barbara had given them, informing her
that she might return home and bring her husband with her; they
would not object to see him, would not reproach her, and would
endeavour to welcome both, and to discuss with them what could best
be arranged for their future.
In three or four days a rather shabby post-chaise drew up at the
door of Chene Manor-house, at sound of which the tender-hearted
baronet and his wife ran out as if to welcome a prince and princess
of the blood. They were overjoyed to see their spoilt child return
safe and sound--though she was only Mrs. Willowes, wife of Edmond
Willowes of nowhere. Barbara burst into penitential tears, and both
husband and wife were contrite enough, as well they might be,
considering that they had not a guinea to call their own.
When the four had calmed themselves, and not a word of chiding had
been uttered to the pair, they discussed the position soberly, young
Willowes sitting in the background with great modesty till invited
forward by Lady Grebe in no frigid tone.
'How handsome he is!' she said to herself. 'I don't wonder at
Barbara's craze for him.'
He was, indeed, one of the handsomest men who ever set his lips on a
maid's. A blue coat, murrey waistcoat, and breeches of drab set off
a figure that could scarcely be surpassed. He had large dark eyes,
anxious now, as they glanced from Barbara to her parents and
tenderly back again to her; observing whom, even now in her
trepidation, one could see why the sang froid of Lord Uplandtowers
had been raised to more than lukewarmness. Her fair young face
(according to the tale handed down by old women) looked out from
under a gray conical hat, trimmed with white ostrich-feathers, and
her little toes peeped from a buff petticoat worn under a puce gown.
Her features were not regular: they were almost infantine, as you
may see from miniatures in possession of the family, her mouth
showing much sensitiveness, and one could be sure that her faults
would not lie on the side of bad temper unless for urgent reasons.
Well, they discussed their state as became them, and the desire of
the young couple to gain the goodwill of those upon whom they were
literally dependent for everything induced them to agree to any
temporizing measure that was not too irksome. Therefore, having
been nearly two months united, they did not oppose Sir John's
proposal that he should furnish Edmond Willowes with funds
sufficient for him to travel a year on the Continent in the company
of a tutor, the young man undertaking to lend himself with the
utmost diligence to the tutor's instructions, till he became
polished outwardly and inwardly to the degree required in the
husband of such a lady as Barbara. He was to apply himself to the
study of languages, manners, history, society, ruins, and everything
else that came under his eyes, till he should return to take his
place without blushing by Barbara's side.
'And by that time,' said worthy Sir John, 'I'll get my little place
out at Yewsholt ready for you and Barbara to occupy on your return.
The house is small and out of the way; but it will do for a young
couple for a while.'
'If 'twere no bigger than a summer-house it would do!' says Barbara.
'If 'twere no bigger than a sedan-chair!' says Willowes. 'And the
more lonely the better.'
'We can put up with the loneliness,' said Barbara, with less zest.
'Some friends will come, no doubt.'
All this being laid down, a travelled tutor was called in--a man of
many gifts and great experience,--and on a fine morning away tutor
and pupil went. A great reason urged against Barbara accompanying
her youthful husband was that his attentions to her would naturally
be such as to prevent his zealously applying every hour of his time
to learning and seeing--an argument of wise prescience, and
unanswerable. Regular days for letter-writing were fixed, Barbara
and her Edmond exchanged their last kisses at the door, and the
chaise swept under the archway into the drive.
He wrote to her from Le Havre, as soon as he reached that port,
which was not for seven days, on account of adverse winds; he wrote
from Rouen, and from Paris; described to her his sight of the King
and Court at Versailles, and the wonderful marble-work and mirrors
in that palace; wrote next from Lyons; then, after a comparatively
long interval, from Turin, narrating his fearful adventures in
crossing Mont Cenis on mules, and how he was overtaken with a
terrific snowstorm, which had well-nigh been the end of him, and his
tutor, and his guides. Then he wrote glowingly of Italy; and
Barbara could see the development of her husband's mind reflected in
his letters month by month; and she much admired the forethought of
her father in suggesting this education for Edmond. Yet she sighed
sometimes--her husband being no longer in evidence to fortify her in
her choice of him--and timidly dreaded what mortifications might be
in store for her by reason of this mesalliance. She went out very
little; for on the one or two occasions on which she had shown
herself to former friends she noticed a distinct difference in their
manner, as though they should say, 'Ah, my happy swain's wife;
Edmond's letters were as affectionate as ever; even more
affectionate, after a while, than hers were to him. Barbara
observed this growing coolness in herself; and like a good and
honest lady was horrified and grieved, since her only wish was to
act faithfully and uprightly. It troubled her so much that she
prayed for a warmer heart, and at last wrote to her husband to beg
him, now that he was in the land of Art, to send her his portrait,
ever so small, that she might look at it all day and every day, and
never for a moment forget his features.
Willowes was nothing loth, and replied that he would do more than
she wished: he had made friends with a sculptor in Pisa, who was
much interested in him and his history; and he had commissioned this
artist to make a bust of himself in marble, which when finished he
would send her. What Barbara had wanted was something immediate;
but she expressed no objection to the delay; and in his next
communication Edmund told her that the sculptor, of his own choice,
had decided to increase the bust to a full-length statue, so anxious
was he to get a specimen of his skill introduced to the notice of
the English aristocracy. It was progressing well, and rapidly.
Meanwhile, Barbara's attention began to be occupied at home with
Yewsholt Lodge, the house that her kind-hearted father was preparing
for her residence when her husband returned. It was a small place
on the plan of a large one--a cottage built in the form of a
mansion, having a central hall with a wooden gallery running round
it, and rooms no bigger than closets to follow this introduction.
It stood on a slope so solitary, and surrounded by trees so dense,
that the birds who inhabited the boughs sang at strange hours, as if
they hardly could distinguish night from day.
During the progress of repairs at this bower Barbara frequently
visited it. Though so secluded by the dense growth, it was near the
high road, and one day while looking over the fence she saw Lord
Uplandtowers riding past. He saluted her courteously, yet with
mechanical stiffness, and did not halt. Barbara went home, and
continued to pray that she might never cease to love her husband.
After that she sickened, and did not come out of doors again for a
The year of education had extended to fourteen months, and the house
was in order for Edmond's return to take up his abode there with
Barbara, when, instead of the accustomed letter for her, came one to
Sir John Grebe in the handwriting of the said tutor, informing him
of a terrible catastrophe that had occurred to them at Venice. Mr
Willowes and himself had attended the theatre one night during the
Carnival of the preceding week, to witness the Italian comedy, when,
owing to the carelessness of one of the candle-snuffers, the theatre
had caught fire, and been burnt to the ground. Few persons had lost
their lives, owing to the superhuman exertions of some of the
audience in getting out the senseless sufferers; and, among them
all, he who had risked his own life the most heroically was Mr.
Willowes. In re-entering for the fifth time to save his fellow-
creatures some fiery beams had fallen upon him, and he had been
given up for lost. He was, however, by the blessing of Providence,
recovered, with the life still in him, though he was fearfully
burnt; and by almost a miracle he seemed likely to survive, his
constitution being wondrously sound. He was, of course, unable to
write, but he was receiving the attention of several skilful
surgeons. Further report would be made by the next mail or by
The tutor said nothing in detail of poor Willowes's sufferings, but
as soon as the news was broken to Barbara she realized how intense
they must have been, and her immediate instinct was to rush to his
side, though, on consideration, the journey seemed impossible to
her. Her health was by no means what it had been, and to post
across Europe at that season of the year, or to traverse the Bay of
Biscay in a sailing-craft, was an undertaking that would hardly be
justified by the result. But she was anxious to go till, on reading
to the end of the letter, her husband's tutor was found to hint very
strongly against such a step if it should be contemplated, this
being also the opinion of the surgeons. And though Willowes's
comrade refrained from giving his reasons, they disclosed themselves
plainly enough in the sequel.
The truth was that the worst of the wounds resulting from the fire
had occurred to his head and face--that handsome face which had won
her heart from her,--and both the tutor and the surgeons knew that
for a sensitive young woman to see him before his wounds had healed
would cause more misery to her by the shock than happiness to him by
Lady Grebe blurted out what Sir John and Barbara had thought, but
had had too much delicacy to express.
'Sure, 'tis mighty hard for you, poor Barbara, that the one little
gift he had to justify your rash choice of him--his wonderful good
looks--should be taken away like this, to leave 'ee no excuse at all
for your conduct in the world's eyes . . . Well, I wish you'd
married t'other--that do I!' And the lady sighed.
'He'll soon get right again,' said her father soothingly.
Such remarks as the above were not often made; but they were
frequent enough to cause Barbara an uneasy sense of self-
stultification. She determined to hear them no longer; and the
house at Yewsholt being ready and furnished, she withdrew thither
with her maids, where for the first time she could feel mistress of
a home that would be hers and her husband's exclusively, when he
After long weeks Willowes had recovered sufficiently to be able to
write himself; and slowly and tenderly he enlightened her upon the
full extent of his injuries. It was a mercy, he said, that he had
not lost his sight entirely; but he was thankful to say that he
still retained full vision in one eye, though the other was dark for
ever. The sparing manner in which he meted out particulars of his
condition told Barbara how appalling had been his experience. He
was grateful for her assurance that nothing could change her; but
feared she did not fully realize that he was so sadly disfigured as
to make it doubtful if she would recognize him. However, in spite
of all, his heart was as true to her as it ever had been.
Barbara saw from his anxiety how much lay behind. She replied that
she submitted to the decrees of Fate, and would welcome him in any
shape as soon as he could come. She told him of the pretty retreat
in which she had taken up her abode, pending their joint occupation
of it, and did not reveal how much she had sighed over the
information that all his good looks were gone. Still less did she
say that she felt a certain strangeness in awaiting him, the weeks
they had lived together having been so short by comparison with the
length of his absence.
Slowly drew on the time when Willowes found himself well enough to
come home. He landed at Southampton, and posted thence towards
Yewsholt. Barbara arranged to go out to meet him as far as Lornton
Inn--the spot between the Forest and the Chase at which he had
waited for night on the evening of their elopement. Thither she
drove at the appointed hour in a little pony-chaise, presented her
by her father on her birthday for her especial use in her new house;
which vehicle she sent back on arriving at the inn, the plan agreed
upon being that she should perform the return journey with her
husband in his hired coach.
There was not much accommodation for a lady at this wayside tavern;
but, as it was a fine evening in early summer, she did not mind--
walking about outside, and straining her eyes along the highway for
the expected one. But each cloud of dust that enlarged in the
distance and drew near was found to disclose a conveyance other than
his post-chaise. Barbara remained till the appointment was two
hours passed, and then began to fear that owing to some adverse wind
in the Channel he was not coming that night.
While waiting she was conscious of a curious trepidation that was
not entirely solicitude, and did not amount to dread; her tense
state of incertitude bordered both on disappointment and on relief.
She had lived six or seven weeks with an imperfectly educated yet
handsome husband whom now she had not seen for seventeen months, and
who was so changed physically by an accident that she was assured
she would hardly know him. Can we wonder at her compound state of
But her immediate difficulty was to get away from Lornton Inn, for
her situation was becoming embarrassing. Like too many of Barbara's
actions, this drive had been undertaken without much reflection.
Expecting to wait no more than a few minutes for her husband in his
post-chaise, and to enter it with him, she had not hesitated to
isolate herself by sending back her own little vehicle. She now
found that, being so well known in this neighbourhood, her excursion
to meet her long-absent husband was exciting great interest. She
was conscious that more eyes were watching her from the inn-windows
than met her own gaze. Barbara had decided to get home by hiring
whatever kind of conveyance the tavern afforded, when, straining her
eyes for the last time over the now darkening highway, she perceived
yet another dust-cloud drawing near. She paused; a chariot ascended
to the inn, and would have passed had not its occupant caught sight
of her standing expectantly. The horses were checked on the
'You here--and alone, my dear Mrs. Willowes?' said Lord
Uplandtowers, whose carriage it was.
She explained what had brought her into this lonely situation; and,
as he was going in the direction of her own home, she accepted his
offer of a seat beside him. Their conversation was embarrassed and
fragmentary at first; but when they had driven a mile or two she was
surprised to find herself talking earnestly and warmly to him: her
impulsiveness was in truth but the natural consequence of her late
existence--a somewhat desolate one by reason of the strange marriage
she had made; and there is no more indiscreet mood than that of a
woman surprised into talk who has long been imposing upon herself a
policy of reserve. Therefore her ingenuous heart rose with a bound
into her throat when, in response to his leading questions, or
rather hints, she allowed her troubles to leak out of her. Lord
Uplandtowers took her quite to her own door, although he had driven
three miles out of his way to do so; and in handing her down she
heard from him a whisper of stern reproach: 'It need not have been
thus if you had listened to me!'
She made no reply, and went indoors. There, as the evening wore
away, she regretted more and more that she had been so friendly with
Lord Uplandtowers. But he had launched himself upon her so
unexpectedly: if she had only foreseen the meeting with him, what a
careful line of conduct she would have marked out! Barbara broke
into a perspiration of disquiet when she thought of her unreserve,
and, in self-chastisement, resolved to sit up till midnight on the
bare chance of Edmond's return; directing that supper should be laid
for him, improbable as his arrival till the morrow was.
The hours went past, and there was dead silence in and round about
Yewsholt Lodge, except for the soughing of the trees; till, when it
was near upon midnight, she heard the noise of hoofs and wheels
approaching the door. Knowing that it could only be her husband,
Barbara instantly went into the hall to meet him. Yet she stood
there not without a sensation of faintness, so many were the changes
since their parting! And, owing to her casual encounter with Lord
Uplandtowers, his voice and image still remained with her, excluding
Edmond, her husband, from the inner circle of her impressions.
But she went to the door, and the next moment a figure stepped
inside, of which she knew the outline, but little besides. Her
husband was attired in a flapping black cloak and slouched hat,
appearing altogether as a foreigner, and not as the young English
burgess who had left her side. When he came forward into the light
of the lamp, she perceived with surprise, and almost with fright,
that he wore a mask. At first she had not noticed this--there being
nothing in its colour which would lead a casual observer to think he
was looking on anything but a real countenance.
He must have seen her start of dismay at the unexpectedness of his
appearance, for he said hastily: 'I did not mean to come in to you
like this--I thought you would have been in bed. How good you are,
dear Barbara!' He put his arm round her, but he did not attempt to
'O Edmond--it IS you?--it must be?' she said, with clasped hands,
for though his figure and movement were almost enough to prove it,
and the tones were not unlike the old tones, the enunciation was so
altered as to seem that of a stranger.
'I am covered like this to hide myself from the curious eyes of the
inn-servants and others,' he said, in a low voice. 'I will send
back the carriage and join you in a moment.'
'You are quite alone?'
'Quite. My companion stopped at Southampton.'
The wheels of the post-chaise rolled away as she entered the dining-
room, where the supper was spread; and presently he rejoined her
there. He had removed his cloak and hat, but the mask was still
retained; and she could now see that it was of special make, of some
flexible material like silk, coloured so as to represent flesh; it
joined naturally to the front hair, and was otherwise cleverly
'Barbara--you look ill,' he said, removing his glove, and taking her
'Yes--I have been ill,' said she.
'Is this pretty little house ours?'
'O--yes.' She was hardly conscious of her words, for the hand he
had ungloved in order to take hers was contorted, and had one or two
of its fingers missing; while through the mask she discerned the
twinkle of one eye only.
'I would give anything to kiss you, dearest, now, at this moment!'
he continued, with mournful passionateness. 'But I cannot--in this
guise. The servants are abed, I suppose?'
'Yes,' said she. 'But I can call them? You will have some supper?'
He said he would have some, but that it was not necessary to call
anybody at that hour. Thereupon they approached the table, and sat
down, facing each other.
Despite Barbara's scared state of mind, it was forced upon her
notice that her husband trembled, as if he feared the impression he
was producing, or was about to produce, as much as, or more than,
she. He drew nearer, and took her hand again.
'I had this mask made at Venice,' he began, in evident
embarrassment. 'My darling Barbara--my dearest wife--do you think
you--will mind when I take it off? You will not dislike me--will
'O Edmond, of course I shall not mind,' said she. 'What has
happened to you is our misfortune; but I am prepared for it.'
'Are you sure you are prepared?'
'O yes! You are my husband.'
'You really feel quite confident that nothing external can affect
you?' he said again, in a voice rendered uncertain by his agitation.
'I think I am--quite,' she answered faintly.
He bent his head. 'I hope, I hope you are,' he whispered.
In the pause which followed, the ticking of the clock in the hall
seemed to grow loud; and he turned a little aside to remove the
mask. She breathlessly awaited the operation, which was one of some
tediousness, watching him one moment, averting her face the next;
and when it was done she shut her eyes at the hideous spectacle that
was revealed. A quick spasm of horror had passed through her; but
though she quailed she forced herself to regard him anew, repressing
the cry that would naturally have escaped from her ashy lips.
Unable to look at him longer, Barbara sank down on the floor beside
her chair, covering her eyes.
'You cannot look at me!' he groaned in a hopeless way. 'I am too
terrible an object even for you to bear! I knew it; yet I hoped
against it. Oh, this is a bitter fate--curse the skill of those
Venetian surgeons who saved me alive! . . . Look up, Barbara,' he
continued beseechingly; 'view me completely; say you loathe me, if
you do loathe me, and settle the case between us for ever!'
His unhappy wife pulled herself together for a desperate strain. He
was her Edmond; he had done her no wrong; he had suffered. A
momentary devotion to him helped her, and lifting her eyes as bidden
she regarded this human remnant, this ecorche, a second time. But
the sight was too much. She again involuntarily looked aside and
'Do you think you can get used to this?' he said. 'Yes or no! Can
you bear such a thing of the charnel-house near you? Judge for
yourself; Barbara. Your Adonis, your matchless man, has come to
The poor lady stood beside him motionless, save for the restlessness
of her eyes. All her natural sentiments of affection and pity were
driven clean out of her by a sort of panic; she had just the same
sense of dismay and fearfulness that she would have had in the
presence of an apparition. She could nohow fancy this to be her
chosen one--the man she had loved; he was metamorphosed to a
specimen of another species. 'I do not loathe you,' she said with
trembling. 'But I am so horrified--so overcome! Let me recover
myself. Will you sup now? And while you do so may I go to my room
to--regain my old feeling for you? I will try, if I may leave you
awhile? Yes, I will try!'
Without waiting for an answer from him, and keeping her gaze
carefully averted, the frightened woman crept to the door and out of
the room. She heard him sit down to the table, as if to begin
supper though, Heaven knows, his appetite was slight enough after a
reception which had confirmed his worst surmises. When Barbara had
ascended the stairs and arrived in her chamber she sank down, and
buried her face in the coverlet of the bed.
Thus she remained for some time. The bed-chamber was over the
dining-room, and presently as she knelt Barbara heard Willowes
thrust back his chair, and rise to go into the hall. In five
minutes that figure would probably come up the stairs and confront
her again; it,--this new and terrible form, that was not her
husband's. In the loneliness of this night, with neither maid nor
friend beside her, she lost all self-control, and at the first sound
of his footstep on the stairs, without so much as flinging a cloak
round her, she flew from the room, ran along the gallery to the back
staircase, which she descended, and, unlocking the back door, let
herself out. She scarcely was aware what she had done till she
found herself in the greenhouse, crouching on a flower-stand.
Here she remained, her great timid eyes strained through the glass
upon the garden without, and her skirts gathered up, in fear of the
field-mice which sometimes came there. Every moment she dreaded to
hear footsteps which she ought by law to have longed for, and a
voice that should have been as music to her soul. But Edmond
Willowes came not that way. The nights were getting short at this
season, and soon the dawn appeared, and the first rays of the sun.
By daylight she had less fear than in the dark. She thought she
could meet him, and accustom herself to the spectacle.
So the much-tried young woman unfastened the door of the hot-house,
and went back by the way she had emerged a few hours ago. Her poor
husband was probably in bed and asleep, his journey having been
long; and she made as little noise as possible in her entry. The
house was just as she had left it, and she looked about in the hall
for his cloak and hat, but she could not see them; nor did she
perceive the small trunk which had been all that he brought with
him, his heavier baggage having been left at Southampton for the
road-waggon. She summoned courage to mount the stairs; the bedroom-
door was open as she had left it. She fearfully peeped round; the
bed had not been pressed. Perhaps he had lain down on the dining-
room sofa. She descended and entered; he was not there. On the
table beside his unsoiled plate lay a note, hastily written on the
leaf of a pocket-book. It was something like this:
'MY EVER-BELOVED WIFE--The effect that my forbidding appearance has
produced upon you was one which I foresaw as quite possible. I
hoped against it, but foolishly so. I was aware that no HUMAN love
could survive such a catastrophe. I confess I thought yours DIVINE;
but, after so long an absence, there could not be left sufficient
warmth to overcome the too natural first aversion. It was an
experiment, and it has failed. I do not blame you; perhaps, even,
it is better so. Good-bye. I leave England for one year. You will
see me again at the expiration of that time, if I live. Then I will
ascertain your true feeling; and, if it be against me, go away for
ever. E. W.'
On recovering from her surprise, Barbara's remorse was such that she
felt herself absolutely unforgiveable. She should have regarded him
as an afflicted being, and not have been this slave to mere
eyesight, like a child. To follow him and entreat him to return was
her first thought. But on making inquiries she found that nobody
had seen him: he had silently disappeared.
More than this, to undo the scene of last night was impossible. Her
terror had been too plain, and he was a man unlikely to be coaxed
back by her efforts to do her duty. She went and confessed to her
parents all that had occurred; which, indeed, soon became known to
more persons than those of her own family.
The year passed, and he did not return; and it was doubted if he
were alive. Barbara's contrition for her unconquerable repugnance
was now such that she longed to build a church-aisle, or erect a
monument, and devote herself to deeds of charity for the remainder
of her days. To that end she made inquiry of the excellent parson
under whom she sat on Sundays, at a vertical distance of twenty
feet. But he could only adjust his wig and tap his snuff-box; for
such was the lukewarm state of religion in those days, that not an
aisle, steeple, porch, east window, Ten-Commandment board, lion-and-
unicorn, or brass candlestick, was required anywhere at all in the
neighbourhood as a votive offering from a distracted soul--the last
century contrasting greatly in this respect with the happy times in
which we live, when urgent appeals for contributions to such objects
pour in by every morning's post, and nearly all churches have been
made to look like new pennies. As the poor lady could not ease her
conscience this way, she determined at least to be charitable, and
soon had the satisfaction of finding her porch thronged every
morning by the raggedest, idlest, most drunken, hypocritical, and
worthless tramps in Christendom.
But human hearts are as prone to change as the leaves of the creeper
on the wall, and in the course of time, hearing nothing of her
husband, Barbara could sit unmoved whilst her mother and friends
said in her hearing, 'Well, what has happened is for the best.' She
began to think so herself; for even now she could not summon up that
lopped and mutilated form without a shiver, though whenever her mind
flew back to her early wedded days, and the man who had stood beside
her then, a thrill of tenderness moved her, which if quickened by
his living presence might have become strong. She was young and
inexperienced, and had hardly on his late return grown out of the
capricious fancies of girlhood.
But he did not come again, and when she thought of his word that he
would return once more, if living, and how unlikely he was to break
his word, she gave him up for dead. So did her parents; so also did
another person--that man of silence, of irresistible incisiveness,
of still countenance, who was as awake as seven sentinels when he
seemed to be as sound asleep as the figures on his family monument.
Lord Uplandtowers, though not yet thirty, had chuckled like a
caustic fogey of threescore when he heard of Barbara's terror and
flight at her husband's return, and of the latter's prompt
departure. He felt pretty sure, however, that Willowes, despite his
hurt feelings, would have reappeared to claim his bright-eyed
property if he had been alive at the end of the twelve months.
As there was no husband to live with her, Barbara had relinquished
the house prepared for them by her father, and taken up her abode
anew at Chene Manor, as in the days of her girlhood. By degrees the
episode with Edmond Willowes seemed but a fevered dream, and as the
months grew to years Lord Uplandtowers' friendship with the people
at Chene--which had somewhat cooled after Barbara's elopement--
revived considerably, and he again became a frequent visitor there.
He could not make the most trivial alteration or improvement at
Knollingwood Hall, where he lived, without riding off to consult
with his friend Sir John at Chene; and thus putting himself
frequently under her eyes, Barbara grew accustomed to him, and
talked to him as freely as to a brother. She even began to look up
to him as a person of authority, judgment, and prudence; and though
his severity on the bench towards poachers, smugglers, and turnip-
stealers was matter of common notoriety, she trusted that much of
what was said might be misrepresentation.
Thus they lived on till her husband's absence had stretched to
years, and there could be no longer any doubt of his death. A
passionless manner of renewing his addresses seemed no longer out of
place in Lord Uplandtowers. Barbara did not love him, but hers was
essentially one of those sweet-pea or with-wind natures which
require a twig of stouter fibre than its own to hang upon and bloom.
Now, too, she was older, and admitted to herself that a man whose
ancestor had run scores of Saracens through and through in fighting
for the site of the Holy Sepulchre was a more desirable husband,
socially considered, than one who could only claim with certainty to
know that his father and grandfather were respectable burgesses.
Sir John took occasion to inform her that she might legally consider
herself a widow; and, in brief; Lord Uplandtowers carried his point
with her, and she married him, though he could never get her to own
that she loved him as she had loved Willowes. In my childhood I
knew an old lady whose mother saw the wedding, and she said that
when Lord and Lady Uplandtowers drove away from her father's house
in the evening it was in a coach-and-four, and that my lady was
dressed in green and silver, and wore the gayest hat and feather
that ever were seen; though whether it was that the green did not
suit her complexion, or otherwise, the Countess looked pale, and the
reverse of blooming. After their marriage her husband took her to
London, and she saw the gaieties of a season there; then they
returned to Knollingwood Hall, and thus a year passed away.
Before their marriage her husband had seemed to care but little
about her inability to love him passionately. 'Only let me win
you,' he had said, 'and I will submit to all that.' But now her
lack of warmth seemed to irritate him, and he conducted himself
towards her with a resentfulness which led to her passing many hours
with him in painful silence. The heir-presumptive to the title was
a remote relative, whom Lord Uplandtowers did not exclude from the
dislike he entertained towards many persons and things besides, and
he had set his mind upon a lineal successor. He blamed her much
that there was no promise of this, and asked her what she was good
On a particular day in her gloomy life a letter, addressed to her as
Mrs. Willowes, reached Lady Uplandtowers from an unexpected quarter.
A sculptor in Pisa, knowing nothing of her second marriage, informed
her that the long-delayed life-size statue of Mr. Willowes, which,
when her husband left that city, he had been directed to retain till
it was sent for, was still in his studio. As his commission had not
wholly been paid, and the statue was taking up room he could ill
spare, he should be glad to have the debt cleared off, and
directions where to forward the figure. Arriving at a time when the
Countess was beginning to have little secrets (of a harmless kind,
it is true) from her husband, by reason of their growing
estrangement, she replied to this letter without saying a word to
Lord Uplandtowers, sending off the balance that was owing to the
sculptor, and telling him to despatch the statue to her without
It was some weeks before it arrived at Knollingwood Hall, and, by a
singular coincidence, during the interval she received the first
absolutely conclusive tidings of her Edmond's death. It had taken
place years before, in a foreign land, about six months after their
parting, and had been induced by the sufferings he had already
undergone, coupled with much depression of spirit, which had caused
him to succumb to a slight ailment. The news was sent her in a
brief and formal letter from some relative of Willowes's in another
part of England.
Her grief took the form of passionate pity for his misfortunes, and
of reproach to herself for never having been able to conquer her
aversion to his latter image by recollection of what Nature had
originally made him. The sad spectacle that had gone from earth had
never been her Edmond at all to her. O that she could have met him
as he was at first! Thus Barbara thought. It was only a few days
later that a waggon with two horses, containing an immense packing-
case, was seen at breakfast-time both by Barbara and her husband to
drive round to the back of the house, and by-and-by they were
informed that a case labelled 'Sculpture' had arrived for her
'What can that be?' said Lord Uplandtowers.
'It is the statue of poor Edmond, which belongs to me, but has never
been sent till now,' she answered.
'Where are you going to put it?' asked he.
'I have not decided,' said the Countess. 'Anywhere, so that it will
not annoy you.'
'Oh, it won't annoy me,' says he.
When it had been unpacked in a back room of the house, they went to
examine it. The statue was a full-length figure, in the purest
Carrara marble, representing Edmond Willowes in all his original
beauty, as he had stood at parting from her when about to set out on
his travels; a specimen of manhood almost perfect in every line and
contour. The work had been carried out with absolute fidelity.
'Phoebus-Apollo, sure,' said the Earl of Uplandtowers, who had never
seen Willowes, real or represented, till now.
Barbara did not hear him. She was standing in a sort of trance
before the first husband, as if she had no consciousness of the
other husband at her side. The mutilated features of Willowes had
disappeared from her mind's eye; this perfect being was really the
man she had loved, and not that later pitiable figure; in whom love
and truth should have seen this image always, but had not done so.
It was not till Lord Uplandtowers said roughly, 'Are you going to
stay here all the morning worshipping him?' that she roused herself.
Her husband had not till now the least suspicion that Edmond
Willowes originally looked thus, and he thought how deep would have
been his jealousy years ago if Willowes had been known to him.
Returning to the Hall in the afternoon he found his wife in the
gallery, whither the statue had been brought.
She was lost in reverie before it, just as in the morning.
'What are you doing?' he asked.
She started and turned. 'I am looking at my husb- my statue, to see
if it is well done,' she stammered. 'Why should I not?'
'There's no reason why,' he said. 'What are you going to do with
the monstrous thing? It can't stand here for ever.'
'I don't wish it,' she said. 'I'll find a place.'
In her boudoir there was a deep recess, and while the Earl was
absent from home for a few days in the following week, she hired
joiners from the village, who under her directions enclosed the
recess with a panelled door. Into the tabernacle thus formed she
had the statue placed, fastening the door with a lock, the key of
which she kept in her pocket.
When her husband returned he missed the statue from the gallery,
and, concluding that it had been put away out of deference to his
feelings, made no remark. Yet at moments he noticed something on
his lady's face which he had never noticed there before. He could
not construe it; it was a sort of silent ecstasy, a reserved
beatification. What had become of the statue he could not divine,
and growing more and more curious, looked about here and there for
it till, thinking of her private room, he went towards that spot.
After knocking he heard the shutting of a door, and the click of a
key; but when he entered his wife was sitting at work, on what was
in those days called knotting. Lord Uplandtowers' eye fell upon the
newly-painted door where the recess had formerly been.
'You have been carpentering in my absence then, Barbara,' he said
'Why did you go putting up such a tasteless enclosure as that--
spoiling the handsome arch of the alcove?'
'I wanted more closet-room; and I thought that as this was my own
'Of course,' he returned. Lord Uplandtowers knew now where the
statue of young Willowes was.
One night, or rather in the smallest hours of the morning, he missed
the Countess from his side. Not being a man of nervous imaginings
he fell asleep again before he had much considered the matter, and
the next morning had forgotten the incident. But a few nights later
the same circumstances occurred. This time he fully roused himself;
but before he had moved to search for her, she entered the chamber
in her dressing-gown, carrying a candle, which she extinguished as
she approached, deeming him asleep. He could discover from her
breathing that she was strangely moved; but not on this occasion
either did he reveal that he had seen her. Presently, when she had
lain down, affecting to wake, he asked her some trivial questions.
'Yes, EDMOND,' she replied absently.
Lord Uplandtowers became convinced that she was in the habit of
leaving the chamber in this queer way more frequently than he had
observed, and he determined to watch. The next midnight he feigned
deep sleep, and shortly after perceived her stealthily rise and let
herself out of the room in the dark. He slipped on some clothing
and followed. At the farther end of the corridor, where the clash
of flint and steel would be out of the hearing of one in the bed-
chamber, she struck a light. He stepped aside into an empty room
till she had lit a taper and had passed on to her boudoir. In a
minute or two he followed. Arrived at the door of the boudoir, he
beheld the door of the private recess open, and Barbara within it,
standing with her arms clasped tightly round the neck of her Edmond,
and her mouth on his. The shawl which she had thrown round her
nightclothes had slipped from her shoulders, and her long white robe
and pale face lent her the blanched appearance of a second statue
embracing the first. Between her kisses, she apostrophized it in a
low murmur of infantine tenderness:
'My only love--how could I be so cruel to you, my perfect one--so
good and true--I am ever faithful to you, despite my seeming
infidelity! I always think of you--dream of you--during the long
hours of the day, and in the night-watches! O Edmond, I am always
yours!' Such words as these, intermingled with sobs, and streaming
tears, and dishevelled hair, testified to an intensity of feeling in
his wife which Lord Uplandtowers had not dreamed of her possessing.
'Ha, ha!' says he to himself. 'This is where we evaporate--this is
where my hopes of a successor in the title dissolve--ha, ha! This
must be seen to, verily!'
Lord Uplandtowers was a subtle man when once he set himself to
strategy; though in the present instance he never thought of the
simple stratagem of constant tenderness. Nor did he enter the room
and surprise his wife as a blunderer would have done, but went back
to his chamber as silently as he had left it. When the Countess
returned thither, shaken by spent sobs and sighs, he appeared to be
soundly sleeping as usual. The next day he began his countermoves
by making inquiries as to the whereabouts of the tutor who had
travelled with his wife's first husband; this gentleman, he found,
was now master of a grammar-school at no great distance from
Knollingwood. At the first convenient moment Lord Uplandtowers went
thither and obtained an interview with the said gentleman. The
schoolmaster was much gratified by a visit from such an influential
neighbour, and was ready to communicate anything that his lordship
desired to know.
After some general conversation on the school and its progress, the
visitor observed that he believed the schoolmaster had once
travelled a good deal with the unfortunate Mr. Willowes, and had
been with him on the occasion of his accident. He, Lord
Uplandtowers, was interested in knowing what had really happened at
that time, and had often thought of inquiring. And then the Earl
not only heard by word of mouth as much as he wished to know, but,
their chat becoming more intimate, the schoolmaster drew upon paper
a sketch of the disfigured head, explaining with bated breath
various details in the representation.
'It was very strange and terrible!' said Lord Uplandtowers, taking
the sketch in his hand. 'Neither nose nor ears!'
A poor man in the town nearest to Knollingwood Hall, who combined
the art of sign-painting with ingenious mechanical occupations, was
sent for by Lord Uplandtowers to come to the Hall on a day in that
week when the Countess had gone on a short visit to her parents.
His employer made the man understand that the business in which his
assistance was demanded was to be considered private, and money
insured the observance of this request. The lock of the cupboard
was picked, and the ingenious mechanic and painter, assisted by the
schoolmaster's sketch, which Lord Uplandtowers had put in his
pocket, set to work upon the god-like countenance of the statue
under my lord's direction. What the fire had maimed in the original
the chisel maimed in the copy. It was a fiendish disfigurement,
ruthlessly carried out, and was rendered still more shocking by
being tinted to the hues of life, as life had been after the wreck.
Six hours after, when the workman was gone, Lord Uplandtowers looked
upon the result, and smiled grimly, and said:
'A statue should represent a man as he appeared in life, and that's
as he appeared. Ha! ha! But 'tis done to good purpose, and not
He locked the door of the closet with a skeleton key, and went his
way to fetch the Countess home.
That night she slept, but he kept awake. According to the tale, she
murmured soft words in her dream; and he knew that the tender
converse of her imaginings was held with one whom he had supplanted
but in name. At the end of her dream the Countess of Uplandtowers
awoke and arose, and then the enactment of former nights was
repeated. Her husband remained still and listened. Two strokes
sounded from the clock in the pediment without, when, leaving the
chamber-door ajar, she passed along the corridor to the other end,
where, as usual, she obtained a light. So deep was the silence that
he could even from his bed hear her softly blowing the tinder to a
glow after striking the steel. She moved on into the boudoir, and
he heard, or fancied he heard, the turning of the key in the closet-
door. The next moment there came from that direction a loud and
prolonged shriek, which resounded to the farthest corners of the
house. It was repeated, and there was the noise of a heavy fall.
Lord Uplandtowers sprang out of bed. He hastened along the dark
corridor to the door of the boudoir, which stood ajar, and, by the
light of the candle within, saw his poor young Countess lying in a
heap in her nightdress on the floor of the closet. When he reached
her side he found that she had fainted, much to the relief of his
fears that matters were worse. He quickly shut up and locked in the
hated image which had done the mischief; and lifted his wife in his
arms, where in a few instants she opened her eyes. Pressing her
face to his without saying a word, he carried her back to her room,
endeavouring as he went to disperse her terrors by a laugh in her
ear, oddly compounded of causticity, predilection, and brutality.
'Ho--ho--ho!' says he. 'Frightened, dear one, hey? What a baby
'tis! Only a joke, sure, Barbara--a splendid joke! But a baby
should not go to closets at midnight to look for the ghost of the
dear departed! If it do it must expect to be terrified at his
When she was in her bed-chamber, and had quite come to herself;
though her nerves were still much shaken, he spoke to her more
sternly. 'Now, my lady, answer me: do you love him--eh?'
'No--no!' she faltered, shuddering, with her expanded eyes fixed on
her husband. 'He is too terrible--no, no!'
'You are sure?'
'Quite sure!' replied the poor broken-spirited Countess. But her
natural elasticity asserted itself. Next morning he again inquired
of her: 'Do you love him now?'
She quailed under his gaze, but did not reply.
'That means that you do still, by G-!' he continued.
'It means that I will not tell an untruth, and do not wish to
incense my lord,' she answered, with dignity.
'Then suppose we go and have another look at him?' As he spoke, he
suddenly took her by the wrist, and turned as if to lead her towards
the ghastly closet.
'No--no! Oh--no!' she cried, and her desperate wriggle out of his
hand revealed that the fright of the night had left more impression
upon her delicate soul than superficially appeared.
'Another dose or two, and she will be cured,' he said to himself.
It was now so generally known that the Earl and Countess were not in
accord, that he took no great trouble to disguise his deeds in
relation to this matter. During the day he ordered four men with
ropes and rollers to attend him in the boudoir. When they arrived,
the closet was open, and the upper part of the statue tied up in
canvas. He had it taken to the sleeping-chamber. What followed is
more or less matter of conjecture. The story, as told to me, goes
on to say that, when Lady Uplandtowers retired with him that night,
she saw near the foot of the heavy oak four-poster, a tall dark
wardrobe, which had not stood there before; but she did not ask what
its presence meant.
'I have had a little whim,' he explained when they were in the dark.
'Have you?' says she.
'To erect a little shrine, as it may be called.'
'A little shrine?'
'Yes; to one whom we both equally adore--eh? I'll show you what it
He pulled a cord which hung covered by the bed-curtains, and the
doors of the wardrobe slowly opened, disclosing that the shelves
within had been removed throughout, and the interior adapted to
receive the ghastly figure, which stood there as it had stood in the
boudoir, but with a wax-candle burning on each side of it to throw
the cropped and distorted features into relief. She clutched him,
uttered a low scream, and buried her head in the bedclothes. 'Oh,
take it away--please take it away!' she implored.
'All in good time namely, when you love me best,' he returned
calmly. 'You don't quite yet--eh?'
'I don't know--I think--O Uplandtowers, have mercy--I cannot bear
it--O, in pity, take it away!'
'Nonsense; one gets accustomed to anything. Take another gaze.'
In short, he allowed the doors to remain unclosed at the foot of the
bed, and the wax-tapers burning; and such was the strange
fascination of the grisly exhibition that a morbid curiosity took
possession of the Countess as she lay, and, at his repeated request,
she did again look out from the coverlet, shuddered, hid her eyes,
and looked again, all the while begging him to take it away, or it
would drive her out of her senses. But he would not do so as yet,
and the wardrobe was not locked till dawn.
The scene was repeated the next night. Firm in enforcing his
ferocious correctives, he continued the treatment till the nerves of
the poor lady were quivering in agony under the virtuous tortures
inflicted by her lord, to bring her truant heart back to
The third night, when the scene had opened as usual, and she lay
staring with immense wild eyes at the horrid fascination, on a
sudden she gave an unnatural laugh; she laughed more and more,
staring at the image, till she literally shrieked with laughter:
then there was silence, and he found her to have become insensible.
He thought she had fainted, but soon saw that the event was worse:
she was in an epileptic fit. He started up, dismayed by the sense
that, like many other subtle personages, he had been too exacting
for his own interests. Such love as he was capable of, though
rather a selfish gloating than a cherishing solicitude, was fanned
into life on the instant. He closed the wardrobe with the pulley,
clasped her in his arms, took her gently to the window, and did all
he could to restore her.
It was a long time before the Countess came to herself, and when she
did so, a considerable change seemed to have taken place in her
emotions. She flung her arms around him, and with gasps of fear
abjectly kissed him many times, at last bursting into tears. She
had never wept in this scene before.
'You'll take it away, dearest--you will!' she begged plaintively.
'If you love me.'
'I do--oh, I do!'
'And hate him, and his memory?'
'I cannot endure recollection of him!' cried the poor Countess
slavishly. 'It fills me with shame--how could I ever be so
depraved! I'll never behave badly again, Uplandtowers; and you will
never put the hated statue again before my eyes?'
He felt that he could promise with perfect safety. 'Never,' said
'And then I'll love you,' she returned eagerly, as if dreading lest
the scourge should be applied anew. 'And I'll never, never dream of
thinking a single thought that seems like faithlessness to my
The strange thing now was that this fictitious love wrung from her
by terror took on, through mere habit of enactment, a certain
quality of reality. A servile mood of attachment to the Earl became
distinctly visible in her contemporaneously with an actual dislike
for her late husband's memory. The mood of attachment grew and
continued when the statue was removed. A permanent revulsion was
operant in her, which intensified as time wore on. How fright could
have effected such a change of idiosyncrasy learned physicians alone
can say; but I believe such cases of reactionary instinct are not
The upshot was that the cure became so permanent as to be itself a
new disease. She clung to him so tightly, that she would not
willingly be out of his sight for a moment. She would have no
sitting-room apart from his, though she could not help starting when
he entered suddenly to her. Her eyes were well-nigh always fixed
upon him. If he drove out, she wished to go with him; his slightest
civilities to other women made her frantically jealous; till at
length her very fidelity became a burden to him, absorbing his time,
and curtailing his liberty, and causing him to curse and swear. If
he ever spoke sharply to her now, she did not revenge herself by
flying off to a mental world of her own; all that affection for
another, which had provided her with a resource, was now a cold
From that time the life of this scared and enervated lady--whose
existence might have been developed to so much higher purpose but
for the ignoble ambition of her parents and the conventions of the
time--was one of obsequious amativeness towards a perverse and cruel
man. Little personal events came to her in quick succession--half a
dozen, eight, nine, ten such events,--in brief; she bore him no less
than eleven children in the eight following years, but half of them
came prematurely into the world, or died a few days old; only one, a
girl, attained to maturity; she in after years became the wife of
the Honourable Mr. Beltonleigh, who was created Lord D'Almaine, as
may be remembered.
There was no living son and heir. At length, completely worn out in
mind and body, Lady Uplandtowers was taken abroad by her husband, to
try the effect of a more genial climate upon her wasted frame. But
nothing availed to strengthen her, and she died at Florence, a few
months after her arrival in Italy.
Contrary to expectation, the Earl of Uplandtowers did not marry
again. Such affection as existed in him--strange, hard, brutal as
it was--seemed untransferable, and the title, as is known, passed at
his death to his nephew. Perhaps it may not be so generally known
that, during the enlargement of the Hall for the sixth Earl, while
digging in the grounds for the new foundations, the broken fragments
of a marble statue were unearthed. They were submitted to various
antiquaries, who said that, so far as the damaged pieces would allow
them to form an opinion, the statue seemed to be that of a mutilated
Roman satyr; or if not, an allegorical figure of Death. Only one or
two old inhabitants guessed whose statue those fragments had
I should have added that, shortly after the death of the Countess,
an excellent sermon was preached by the Dean of Melchester, the
subject of which, though names were not mentioned, was
unquestionably suggested by the aforesaid events. He dwelt upon the
folly of indulgence in sensuous love for a handsome form merely; and
showed that the only rational and virtuous growths of that affection
were those based upon intrinsic worth. In the case of the tender
but somewhat shallow lady whose life I have related, there is no
doubt that an infatuation for the person of young Willowes was the
chief feeling that induced her to marry him; which was the more
deplorable in that his beauty, by all tradition, was the least of
his recommendations, every report bearing out the inference that he
must have been a man of steadfast nature, bright intelligence, and
The company thanked the old surgeon for his story, which the rural
dean declared to be a far more striking one than anything he could
hope to tell. An elderly member of the Club, who was mostly called
the Bookworm, said that a woman's natural instinct of fidelity
would, indeed, send back her heart to a man after his death in a
truly wonderful manner sometimes--if anything occurred to put before
her forcibly the original affection between them, and his original
aspect in her eyes,--whatever his inferiority may have been, social
or otherwise; and then a general conversation ensued upon the power
that a woman has of seeing the actual in the representation, the
reality in the dream--a power which (according to the sentimental
member) men have no faculty of equalling.
The rural dean thought that such cases as that related by the
surgeon were rather an illustration of passion electrified back to
life than of a latent, true affection. The story had suggested that
he should try to recount to them one which he had used to hear in
his youth, and which afforded an instance of the latter and better
kind of feeling, his heroine being also a lady who had married
beneath her, though he feared his narrative would be of a much
slighter kind than the surgeon's. The Club begged him to proceed,
and the parson began.
DAME THE THIRD: THE MARCHIONESS OF STONEHENGE
By the Rural Dean
I would have you know, then, that a great many years ago there lived
in a classical mansion with which I used to be familiar, standing
not a hundred miles from the city of Melchester, a lady whose
personal charms were so rare and unparalleled that she was courted,
flattered, and spoilt by almost all the young noblemen and gentlemen
in that part of Wessex. For a time these attentions pleased her
well. But as, in the words of good Robert South (whose sermons
might be read much more than they are), the most passionate lover of
sport, if tied to follow his hawks and hounds every day of his life,
would find the pursuit the greatest torment and calamity, and would
fly to the mines and galleys for his recreation, so did this lofty
and beautiful lady after a while become satiated with the constant
iteration of what she had in its novelty enjoyed; and by an almost
natural revulsion turned her regards absolutely netherward, socially
speaking. She perversely and passionately centred her affection on
quite a plain-looking young man of humble birth and no position at
all; though it is true that he was gentle and delicate in nature, of
good address, and guileless heart. In short, he was the parish-
clerk's son, acting as assistant to the land-steward of her father,
the Earl of Avon, with the hope of becoming some day a land-steward
himself. It should be said that perhaps the Lady Caroline (as she
was called) was a little stimulated in this passion by the discovery
that a young girl of the village already loved the young man fondly,
and that he had paid some attentions to her, though merely of a
casual and good-natured kind.
Since his occupation brought him frequently to the manor-house and
its environs, Lady Caroline could make ample opportunities of seeing
and speaking to him. She had, in Chaucer's phrase, 'all the craft
of fine loving' at her fingers' ends, and the young man, being of a
readily-kindling heart, was quick to notice the tenderness in her
eyes and voice. He could not at first believe in his good fortune,
having no understanding of her weariness of more artificial men; but
a time comes when the stupidest sees in an eye the glance of his
other half; and it came to him, who was quite the reverse of dull.
As he gained confidence accidental encounters led to encounters by
design; till at length when they were alone together there was no
reserve on the matter. They whispered tender words as other lovers
do, and were as devoted a pair as ever was seen. But not a ray or
symptom of this attachment was allowed to show itself to the outer
Now, as she became less and less scrupulous towards him under the
influence of her affection, and he became more and more reverential
under the influence of his, and they looked the situation in the
face together, their condition seemed intolerable in its
hopelessness. That she could ever ask to be allowed to marry him,
or could hold her tongue and quietly renounce him, was equally
beyond conception. They resolved upon a third course, possessing
neither of the disadvantages of these two: to wed secretly, and
live on in outward appearance the same as before. In this they
differed from the lovers of my friend's story.
Not a soul in the parental mansion guessed, when Lady Caroline came
coolly into the hall one day after a visit to her aunt, that, during
that visit, her lover and herself had found an opportunity of
uniting themselves till death should part them. Yet such was the
fact; the young woman who rode fine horses, and drove in pony-
chaises, and was saluted deferentially by every one, and the young
man who trudged about, and directed the tree-felling, and the laying
out of fish-ponds in the park, were husband and wife.
As they had planned, so they acted to the letter for the space of a
month and more, clandestinely meeting when and where they best could
do so; both being supremely happy and content. To be sure, towards
the latter part of that month, when the first wild warmth of her
love had gone off, the Lady Caroline sometimes wondered within
herself how she, who might have chosen a peer of the realm, baronet,
knight; or, if serious-minded, a bishop or judge of the more gallant
sort who prefer young wives, could have brought herself to do a
thing so rash as to make this marriage; particularly when, in their
private meetings, she perceived that though her young husband was
full of ideas, and fairly well read, they had not a single social
experience in common. It was his custom to visit her after
nightfall, in her own house, when he could find no opportunity for
an interview elsewhere; and to further this course she would
contrive to leave unfastened a window on the ground-floor
overlooking the lawn, by entering which a back stair-case was
accessible; so that he could climb up to her apartments, and gain
audience of his lady when the house was still.
One dark midnight, when he had not been able to see her during the
day, he made use of this secret method, as he had done many times
before; and when they had remained in company about an hour he
declared that it was time for him to descend.
He would have stayed longer, but that the interview had been a
somewhat painful one. What she had said to him that night had much
excited and angered him, for it had revealed a change in her; cold
reason had come to his lofty wife; she was beginning to have more
anxiety about her own position and prospects than ardour for him.
Whether from the agitation of this perception or not, he was seized
with a spasm; he gasped, rose, and in moving towards the window for
air he uttered in a short thick whisper, 'Oh, my heart!'
With his hand upon his chest he sank down to the floor before he had
gone another step. By the time that she had relighted the candle,
which had been extinguished in case any eye in the opposite grounds
should witness his egress, she found that his poor heart had ceased
to beat; and there rushed upon her mind what his cottage-friends had
once told her, that he was liable to attacks of heart-disease, one
of which, the doctor had informed them, might some day carry him
Accustomed as she was to doctoring the other parishioners, nothing
that she could effect upon him in that kind made any difference
whatever; and his stillness, and the increasing coldness of his feet
and hands, disclosed too surely to the affrighted young woman that
her husband was dead indeed. For more than an hour, however, she
did not abandon her efforts to restore him; when she fully realized
the fact that he was a corpse she bent over his body, distracted and
bewildered as to what step she next should take.
Her first feelings had undoubtedly been those of passionate grief at
the loss of him; her second thoughts were concern at her own
position as the daughter of an earl. 'Oh, why, why, my unfortunate
husband, did you die in my chamber at this hour!' she said piteously
to the corpse. 'Why not have died in your own cottage if you would
die! Then nobody would ever have known of our imprudent union, and
no syllable would have been breathed of how I mismated myself for
love of you!'
The clock in the courtyard striking the hour of one aroused Lady
Caroline from the stupor into which she had fallen, and she stood
up, and went towards the door. To awaken and tell her mother seemed
her only way out of this terrible situation; yet when she put her
hand on the key to unlock it she withdrew herself again. It would
be impossible to call even her mother's assistance without risking a
revelation to all the world through the servants; while if she could
remove the body unassisted to a distance she might avert suspicion
of their union even now. This thought of immunity from the social
consequences of her rash act, of renewed freedom, was indubitably a
relief to her, for, as has been said, the constraint and riskiness
of her position had begun to tell upon the Lady Caroline's nerves.
She braced herself for the effort, and hastily dressed herself; and
then dressed him. Tying his dead hands together with a
handkerchief; she laid his arms round her shoulders, and bore him to
the landing and down the narrow stairs. Reaching the bottom by the
window, she let his body slide slowly over the sill till it lay on
the ground without. She then climbed over the window-sill herself,
and, leaving the sash open, dragged him on to the lawn with a rustle
not louder than the rustle of a broom. There she took a securer
hold, and plunged with him under the trees.
Away from the precincts of the house she could apply herself more
vigorously to her task, which was a heavy one enough for her, robust
as she was; and the exertion and fright she had already undergone
began to tell upon her by the time she reached the corner of a
beech-plantation which intervened between the manor-house and the
village. Here she was so nearly exhausted that she feared she might
have to leave him on the spot. But she plodded on after a while,
and keeping upon the grass at every opportunity she stood at last
opposite the poor young man's garden-gate, where he lived with his
father, the parish-clerk. How she accomplished the end of her task
Lady Caroline never quite knew; but, to avoid leaving traces in the
road, she carried him bodily across the gravel, and laid him down at
the door. Perfectly aware of his ways of coming and going, she
searched behind the shutter for the cottage door-key, which she
placed in his cold hand. Then she kissed his face for the last
time, and with silent little sobs bade him farewell.
Lady Caroline retraced her steps, and reached the mansion without
hindrance; and to her great relief found the window open just as she
had left it. When she had climbed in she listened attentively,
fastened the window behind her, and ascending the stairs noiselessly
to her room, set everything in order, and returned to bed.
The next morning it was speedily echoed around that the amiable and
gentle young villager had been found dead outside his father's door,
which he had apparently been in the act of unlocking when he fell.
The circumstances were sufficiently exceptional to justify an
inquest, at which syncope from heart-disease was ascertained to be
beyond doubt the explanation of his death, and no more was said
about the matter then. But, after the funeral, it was rumoured that
some man who had been returning late from a distant horse-fair had
seen in the gloom of night a person, apparently a woman, dragging a
heavy body of some sort towards the cottage-gate, which, by the
light of after events, would seem to have been the corpse of the
young fellow. His clothes were thereupon examined more particularly
than at first, with the result that marks of friction were visible
upon them here and there, precisely resembling such as would be left
by dragging on the ground.
Our beautiful and ingenious Lady Caroline was now in great
consternation; and began to think that, after all, it might have
been better to honestly confess the truth. But having reached this
stage without discovery or suspicion, she determined to make another
effort towards concealment; and a bright idea struck her as a means
of securing it. I think I mentioned that, before she cast eyes on
the unfortunate steward's clerk, he had been the beloved of a
certain village damsel, the woodman's daughter, his neighbour, to
whom he had paid some attentions; and possibly he was beloved of her
still. At any rate, the Lady Caroline's influence on the estates of
her father being considerable, she resolved to seek an interview
with the young girl in furtherance of her plan to save her
reputation, about which she was now exceedingly anxious; for by this
time, the fit being over, she began to be ashamed of her mad passion
for her late husband, and almost wished she had never seen him.
In the course of her parish-visiting she lighted on the young girl
without much difficulty, and found her looking pale and sad, and
wearing a simple black gown, which she had put on out of respect for
the young man's memory, whom she had tenderly loved, though he had
not loved her.
'Ah, you have lost your lover, Milly,' said Lady Caroline.
The young woman could not repress her tears. 'My lady, he was not
quite my lover,' she said. 'But I was his--and now he is dead I
don't care to live any more!'
'Can you keep a secret about him?' asks the lady; 'one in which his
honour is involved--which is known to me alone, but should be known
The girl readily promised, and, indeed, could be safely trusted on
such a subject, so deep was her affection for the youth she mourned.
'Then meet me at his grave to-night, half-an-hour after sunset, and
I will tell it to you,' says the other.
In the dusk of that spring evening the two shadowy figures of the
young women converged upon the assistant-steward's newly-turfed
mound; and at that solemn place and hour, the one of birth and
beauty unfolded her tale: how she had loved him and married him
secretly; how he had died in her chamber; and how, to keep her
secret, she had dragged him to his own door.
'Married him, my lady!' said the rustic maiden, starting back.
'I have said so,' replied Lady Caroline. 'But it was a mad thing,
and a mistaken course. He ought to have married you. You, Milly,
were peculiarly his. But you lost him.'
'Yes,' said the poor girl; 'and for that they laughed at me. "Ha--
ha, you mid love him, Milly," they said; "but he will not love
'Victory over such unkind jeerers would be sweet,' said Lady
Caroline. 'You lost him in life; but you may have him in death AS
IF you had had him in life; and so turn the tables upon them.'
'How?' said the breathless girl.
The young lady then unfolded her plan, which was that Milly should
go forward and declare that the young man had contracted a secret
marriage (as he truly had done); that it was with her, Milly, his
sweetheart; that he had been visiting her in her cottage on the
evening of his death; when, on finding he was a corpse, she had
carried him to his house to prevent discovery by her parents, and
that she had meant to keep the whole matter a secret till the
rumours afloat had forced it from her.
'And how shall I prove this?' said the woodman's daughter, amazed at
the boldness of the proposal.
'Quite sufficiently. You can say, if necessary, that you were
married to him at the church of St. Michael, in Bath City, in my
name, as the first that occurred to you, to escape detection. That
was where he married me. I will support you in this.'
'Oh--I don't quite like--'
'If you will do so,' said the lady peremptorily, 'I will always be
your father's friend and yours; if not, it will be otherwise. And I
will give you my wedding-ring, which you shall wear as yours.'
'Have you worn it, my lady?'
'Only at night.'
There was not much choice in the matter, and Milly consented. Then
this noble lady took from her bosom the ring she had never been able
openly to exhibit, and, grasping the young girl's hand, slipped it
upon her finger as she stood upon her lover's grave.
Milly shivered, and bowed her head, saying, 'I feel as if I had
become a corpse's bride!'
But from that moment the maiden was heart and soul in the
substitution. A blissful repose came over her spirit. It seemed to
her that she had secured in death him whom in life she had vainly
idolized; and she was almost content. After that the lady handed
over to the young man's new wife all the little mementoes and
trinkets he had given herself; even to a locket containing his hair.
The next day the girl made her so-called confession, which the
simple mourning she had already worn, without stating for whom,
seemed to bear out; and soon the story of the little romance spread
through the village and country-side, almost as far as Melchester.
It was a curious psychological fact that, having once made the
avowal, Milly seemed possessed with a spirit of ecstasy at her
position. With the liberal sum of money supplied to her by Lady
Caroline she now purchased the garb of a widow, and duly appeared at
church in her weeds, her simple face looking so sweet against its
margin of crape that she was almost envied her state by the other
village-girls of her age. And when a woman's sorrow for her beloved
can maim her young life so obviously as it had done Milly's there
was, in truth, little subterfuge in the case. Her explanation
tallied so well with the details of her lover's latter movements--
those strange absences and sudden returnings, which had occasionally
puzzled his friends--that nobody supposed for a moment that the
second actor in these secret nuptials was other than she. The
actual and whole truth would indeed have seemed a preposterous
assertion beside this plausible one, by reason of the lofty
demeanour of the Lady Caroline and the unassuming habits of the late
villager. There being no inheritance in question, not a soul took
the trouble to go to the city church, forty miles off, and search
the registers for marriage signatures bearing out so humble a
In a short time Milly caused a decent tombstone to be erected over
her nominal husband's grave, whereon appeared the statement that it
was placed there by his heartbroken widow, which, considering that
the payment for it came from Lady Caroline and the grief from Milly,
was as truthful as such inscriptions usually are, and only required
pluralizing to render it yet more nearly so.
The impressionable and complaisant Milly, in her character of widow,
took delight in going to his grave every day, and indulging in
sorrow which was a positive luxury to her. She placed fresh flowers
on his grave, and so keen was her emotional imaginativeness that she
almost believed herself to have been his wife indeed as she walked
to and fro in her garb of woe. One afternoon, Milly being busily
engaged in this labour of love at the grave, Lady Caroline passed
outside the churchyard wall with some of her visiting friends, who,
seeing Milly there, watched her actions with interest, remarked upon
the pathos of the scene, and upon the intense affection the young
man must have felt for such a tender creature as Milly. A strange
light, as of pain, shot from the Lady Caroline's eye, as if for the
first time she begrudged to the young girl the position she had been
at such pains to transfer to her; it showed that a slumbering
affection for her husband still had life in Lady Caroline, obscured
and stifled as it was by social considerations.
An end was put to this smooth arrangement by the sudden appearance
in the churchyard one day of the Lady Caroline, when Milly had come
there on her usual errand of laying flowers. Lady Caroline had been
anxiously awaiting her behind the chancel, and her countenance was
pale and agitated.
'Milly!' she said, 'come here! I don't know how to say to you what
I am going to say. I am half dead!'
'I am sorry for your ladyship,' says Milly, wondering.
'Give me that ring!' says the lady, snatching at the girl's left
Milly drew it quickly away.
'I tell you give it to me!' repeated Caroline, almost fiercely.
'Oh--but you don't know why? I am in a grief and a trouble I did
not expect!' And Lady Caroline whispered a few words to the girl.
'O my lady!' said the thunderstruck Milly. 'What WILL you do?'
'You must say that your statement was a wicked lie, an invention, a
scandal, a deadly sin--that I told you to make it to screen me!
That it was I whom he married at Bath. In short, we must tell the
truth, or I am ruined--body, mind, and reputation--for ever!'
But there is a limit to the flexibility of gentle-souled women.
Milly by this time had so grown to the idea of being one flesh with
this young man, of having the right to bear his name as she bore it;
had so thoroughly come to regard him as her husband, to dream of him
as her husband, to speak of him as her husband, that she could not
relinquish him at a moment's peremptory notice.
'No, no,' she said desperately, 'I cannot, I will not give him up!
Your ladyship took him away from me alive, and gave him back to me
only when he was dead. Now I will keep him! I am truly his widow.
More truly than you, my lady! for I love him and mourn for him, and
call myself by his dear name, and your ladyship does neither!'
'I DO love him!' cries Lady Caroline with flashing eyes, 'and I
cling to him, and won't let him go to such as you! How can I, when
he is the father of this poor babe that's coming to me? I must have
him back again! Milly, Milly, can't you pity and understand me,
perverse girl that you are, and the miserable plight that I am in?
Oh, this precipitancy--it is the ruin of women! Why did I not
consider, and wait! Come, give me back all that I have given you,
and assure me you will support me in confessing the truth!'
'Never, never!' persisted Milly, with woe-begone passionateness.
'Look at this headstone! Look at my gown and bonnet of crape--this
ring: listen to the name they call me by! My character is worth as
much to me as yours is to you! After declaring my Love mine, myself
his, taking his name, making his death my own particular sorrow, how
can I say it was not so? No such dishonour for me! I will outswear
you, my lady; and I shall be believed. My story is so much the more
likely that yours will be thought false. But, O please, my lady, do
not drive me to this! In pity let me keep him!'
The poor nominal widow exhibited such anguish at a proposal which
would have been truly a bitter humiliation to her, that Lady
Caroline was warmed to pity in spite of her own condition.
'Yes, I see your position,' she answered. 'But think of mine! What
can I do? Without your support it would seem an invention to save
me from disgrace; even if I produced the register, the love of
scandal in the world is such that the multitude would slur over the
fact, say it was a fabrication, and believe your story. I do not
know who were the witnesses, or anything!'
In a few minutes these two poor young women felt, as so many in a
strait have felt before, that union was their greatest strength,
even now; and they consulted calmly together. The result of their
deliberations was that Milly went home as usual, and Lady Caroline
also, the latter confessing that very night to the Countess her
mother of the marriage, and to nobody else in the world. And, some
time after, Lady Caroline and her mother went away to London, where
a little while later still they were joined by Milly, who was
supposed to have left the village to proceed to a watering-place in
the North for the benefit of her health, at the expense of the
ladies of the Manor, who had been much interested in her state of
lonely and defenceless widowhood.
Early the next year the widow Milly came home with an infant in her
arms, the family at the Manor House having meanwhile gone abroad.
They did not return from their tour till the autumn ensuing, by
which time Milly and the child had again departed from the cottage
of her father the woodman, Milly having attained to the dignity of
dwelling in a cottage of her own, many miles to the eastward of her
native village; a comfortable little allowance had moreover been
settled on her and the child for life, through the instrumentality
of Lady Caroline and her mother.
Two or three years passed away, and the Lady Caroline married a
nobleman--the Marquis of Stonehenge--considerably her senior, who
had wooed her long and phlegmatically. He was not rich, but she led
a placid life with him for many years, though there was no child of
the marriage. Meanwhile Milly's boy, as the youngster was called,
and as Milly herself considered him, grew up, and throve
wonderfully, and loved her as she deserved to be loved for her
devotion to him, in whom she every day traced more distinctly the
lineaments of the man who had won her girlish heart, and kept it
even in the tomb.
She educated him as well as she could with the limited means at her
disposal, for the allowance had never been increased, Lady Caroline,
or the Marchioness of Stonehenge as she now was, seeming by degrees
to care little what had become of them. Milly became extremely
ambitious on the boy's account; she pinched herself almost of
necessaries to send him to the Grammar School in the town to which
they retired, and at twenty he enlisted in a cavalry regiment,
joining it with a deliberate intent of making the Army his
profession, and not in a freak of idleness. His exceptional
attainments, his manly bearing, his steady conduct, speedily won him
promotion, which was furthered by the serious war in which this
country was at that time engaged. On his return to England after
the peace he had risen to the rank of riding-master, and was soon
after advanced another stage, and made quartermaster, though still a
His mother--his corporeal mother, that is, the Marchioness of
Stonehenge--heard tidings of this unaided progress; it reawakened
her maternal instincts, and filled her with pride. She became
keenly interested in her successful soldier-son; and as she grew
older much wished to see him again, particularly when, the Marquis
dying, she was left a solitary and childless widow. Whether or not
she would have gone to him of her own impulse I cannot say; but one
day, when she was driving in an open carriage in the outskirts of a
neighbouring town, the troops lying at the barracks hard by passed
her in marching order. She eyed them narrowly, and in the finest of
the horsemen recognized her son from his likeness to her first
This sight of him doubly intensified the motherly emotions which had
lain dormant in her for so many years, and she wildly asked herself
how she could so have neglected him? Had she possessed the true
courage of affection she would have owned to her first marriage, and
have reared him as her son! What would it have mattered if she had
never obtained this precious coronet of pearls and gold leaves, by
comparison with the gain of having the love and protection of such a
noble and worthy son? These and other sad reflections cut the
gloomy and solitary lady to the heart; and she repented of her pride
in disclaiming her first husband more bitterly than she had ever
repented of her infatuation in marrying him.
Her yearning was so strong, that at length it seemed to her that she
could not live without announcing herself to him as his mother.
Come what might, she would do it: late as it was, she would have
him away from that woman whom she began to hate with the fierceness
of a deserted heart, for having taken her place as the mother of her
only child. She felt confidently enough that her son would only too
gladly exchange a cottage-mother for one who was a peeress of the
realm. Being now, in her widowhood, free to come and go as she
chose, without question from anybody, Lady Stonehenge started next
day for the little town where Milly yet lived, still in her robes of
sable for the lost lover of her youth.
'He is MY son,' said the Marchioness, as soon as she was alone in
the cottage with Milly. 'You must give him back to me, now that I
am in a position in which I can defy the world's opinion. I suppose
he comes to see you continually?'
'Every month since he returned from the war, my lady. And sometimes
he stays two or three days, and takes me about seeing sights
everywhere!' She spoke with quiet triumph.
'Well, you will have to give him up,' said the Marchioness calmly.
'It shall not be the worse for you--you may see him when you choose.
I am going to avow my first marriage, and have him with me.'
'You forget that there are two to be reckoned with, my lady. Not
only me, but himself.'
'That can be arranged. You don't suppose that he wouldn't--' But
not wishing to insult Milly by comparing their positions, she said,
'He is my own flesh and blood, not yours.'
'Flesh and blood's nothing!' said Milly, flashing with as much scorn
as a cottager could show to a peeress, which, in this case, was not
so little as may be supposed. 'But I will agree to put it to him,
and let him settle it for himself.'
'That's all I require,' said Lady Stonehenge. 'You must ask him to
come, and I will meet him here.'
The soldier was written to, and the meeting took place. He was not
so much astonished at the disclosure of his parentage as Lady
Stonehenge had been led to expect, having known for years that there
was a little mystery about his birth. His manner towards the
Marchioness, though respectful, was less warm than she could have
hoped. The alternatives as to his choice of a mother were put
before him. His answer amazed and stupefied her.
'No, my lady,' he said. 'Thank you much, but I prefer to let things
be as they have been. My father's name is mine in any case. You
see, my lady, you cared little for me when I was weak and helpless;
why should I come to you now I am strong? She, dear devoted soul
[pointing to Milly], tended me from my birth, watched over me,
nursed me when I was ill, and deprived herself of many a little
comfort to push me on. I cannot love another mother as I love her.
She IS my mother, and I will always be her son!' As he spoke he put
his manly arm round Milly's neck, and kissed her with the tenderest
The agony of the poor Marchioness was pitiable. 'You kill me!' she
said, between her shaking sobs. 'Cannot you--love--me--too?'
'No, my lady. If I must say it, you were ashamed of my poor father,
who was a sincere and honest man; therefore, I am ashamed of you.'
Nothing would move him; and the suffering woman at last gasped,
'Cannot--oh, cannot you give one kiss to me--as you did to her? It
is not much--it is all I ask--all!'
'Certainly,' he replied.
He kissed her coldly, and the painful scene came to an end. That
day was the beginning of death to the unfortunate Marchioness of
Stonehenge. It was in the perverseness of her human heart that his
denial of her should add fuel to the fire of her craving for his
love. How long afterwards she lived I do not know with any
exactness, but it was no great length of time. That anguish that is
sharper than a serpent's tooth wore her out soon. Utterly reckless
of the world, its ways, and its opinions, she allowed her story to
become known; and when the welcome end supervened (which, I grieve
to say, she refused to lighten by the consolations of religion), a
broken heart was the truest phrase in which to sum up its cause.
The rural dean having concluded, some observations upon his tale
were made in due course. The sentimental member said that Lady
Caroline's history afforded a sad instance of how an honest human
affection will become shamefaced and mean under the frost of class-
division and social prejudices. She probably deserved some pity;
though her offspring, before he grew up to man's estate, had
deserved more. There was no pathos like the pathos of childhood,
when a child found itself in a world where it was not wanted, and
could not understand the reason why. A tale by the speaker, further
illustrating the same subject, though with different results from
the last, naturally followed.
DAME THE FOURTH: LADY MOTTISFONT
By the Sentimental Member
Of all the romantic towns in Wessex, Wintoncester is probably the
most convenient for meditative people to live in; since there you
have a cathedral with a nave so long that it affords space in which
to walk and summon your remoter moods without continually turning on
your heel, or seeming to do more than take an afternoon stroll under
cover from the rain or sun. In an uninterrupted course of nearly
three hundred steps eastward, and again nearly three hundred steps
westward amid those magnificent tombs, you can, for instance,
compare in the most leisurely way the dry dustiness which ultimately
pervades the persons of kings and bishops with the damper dustiness
that is usually the final shape of commoners, curates, and others
who take their last rest out of doors. Then, if you are in love,
you can, by sauntering in the chapels and behind the episcopal
chantries with the bright-eyed one, so steep and mellow your ecstasy
in the solemnities around, that it will assume a rarer and finer
tincture, even more grateful to the understanding, if not to the
senses, than that form of the emotion which arises from such
companionship in spots where all is life, and growth, and fecundity.
It was in this solemn place, whither they had withdrawn from the
sight of relatives on one cold day in March, that Sir Ashley
Mottisfont asked in marriage, as his second wife, Philippa, the
gentle daughter of plain Squire Okehall. Her life had been an
obscure one thus far; while Sir Ashley, though not a rich man, had a
certain distinction about him; so that everybody thought what a
convenient, elevating, and, in a word, blessed match it would be for
such a supernumerary as she. Nobody thought so more than the
amiable girl herself. She had been smitten with such affection for
him that, when she walked the cathedral aisles at his side on the
before-mentioned day, she did not know that her feet touched hard
pavement; it seemed to her rather that she was floating in space.
Philippa was an ecstatic, heart-thumping maiden, and could not
understand how she had deserved to have sent to her such an
illustrious lover, such a travelled personage, such a handsome man.
When he put the question, it was in no clumsy language, such as the
ordinary bucolic county landlords were wont to use on like quivering
occasions, but as elegantly as if he had been taught it in Enfield's
Speaker. Yet he hesitated a little--for he had something to add.
'My pretty Philippa,' he said (she was not very pretty by the way),
'I have, you must know, a little girl dependent upon me: a little
waif I found one day in a patch of wild oats [such was this worthy
baronet's humour] when I was riding home: a little nameless
creature, whom I wish to take care of till she is old enough to take
care of herself; and to educate in a plain way. She is only fifteen
months old, and is at present in the hands of a kind villager's wife
in my parish. Will you object to give some attention to the little
thing in her helplessness?'
It need hardly be said that our innocent young lady, loving him so
deeply and joyfully as she did, replied that she would do all she
could for the nameless child; and, shortly afterwards, the pair were
married in the same cathedral that had echoed the whispers of his
declaration, the officiating minister being the Bishop himself; a
venerable and experienced man, so well accomplished in uniting
people who had a mind for that sort of experiment, that the couple,
with some sense of surprise, found themselves one while they were
still vaguely gazing at each other as two independent beings.
After this operation they went home to Deansleigh Park, and made a
beginning of living happily ever after. Lady Mottisfont, true to
her promise, was always running down to the village during the
following weeks to see the baby whom her husband had so mysteriously
lighted on during his ride home--concerning which interesting
discovery she had her own opinion; but being so extremely amiable
and affectionate that she could have loved stocks and stones if
there had been no living creatures to love, she uttered none of her
thoughts. The little thing, who had been christened Dorothy, took
to Lady Mottisfont as if the baronet's young wife had been her
mother; and at length Philippa grew so fond of the child that she
ventured to ask her husband if she might have Dorothy in her own
home, and bring her up carefully, just as if she were her own. To
this he answered that, though remarks might be made thereon, he had
no objection; a fact which was obvious, Sir Ashley seeming rather
pleased than otherwise with the proposal.
After this they lived quietly and uneventfully for two or three
years at Sir Ashley Mottisfont's residence in that part of England,
with as near an approach to bliss as the climate of this country
allows. The child had been a godsend to Philippa, for there seemed
no great probability of her having one of her own: and she wisely
regarded the possession of Dorothy as a special kindness of
Providence, and did not worry her mind at all as to Dorothy's
possible origin. Being a tender and impulsive creature, she loved
her husband without criticism, exhaustively and religiously, and the
child not much otherwise. She watched the little foundling as if
she had been her own by nature, and Dorothy became a great solace to
her when her husband was absent on pleasure or business; and when he
came home he looked pleased to see how the two had won each other's
hearts. Sir Ashley would kiss his wife, and his wife would kiss
little Dorothy, and little Dorothy would kiss Sir Ashley, and after
this triangular burst of affection Lady Mottisfont would say, 'Dear
me--I forget she is not mine!'
'What does it matter?' her husband would reply. 'Providence is
fore-knowing. He has sent us this one because he is not intending
to send us one by any other channel.'
Their life was of the simplest. Since his travels the baronet had
taken to sporting and farming; while Philippa was a pattern of
domesticity. Their pleasures were all local. They retired early to
rest, and rose with the cart-horses and whistling waggoners. They
knew the names of every bird and tree not exceptionally uncommon,
and could foretell the weather almost as well as anxious farmers and
old people with corns.
One day Sir Ashley Mottisfont received a letter, which he read, and
musingly laid down on the table without remark.
'What is it, dearest?' asked his wife, glancing at the sheet.
'Oh, it is from an old lawyer at Bath whom I used to know. He
reminds me of something I said to him four or five years ago--some
little time before we were married--about Dorothy.'
'What about her?'
'It was a casual remark I made to him, when I thought you might not
take kindly to her, that if he knew a lady who was anxious to adopt
a child, and could insure a good home to Dorothy, he was to let me
'But that was when you had nobody to take care of her,' she said
quickly. 'How absurd of him to write now! Does he know you are
married? He must, surely.'
He handed her the letter. The solicitor stated that a widow-lady of
position, who did not at present wish her name to be disclosed, had
lately become a client of his while taking the waters, and had
mentioned to him that she would like a little girl to bring up as
her own, if she could be certain of finding one of good and pleasing
disposition; and, the better to insure this, she would not wish the
child to be too young for judging her qualities. He had remembered
Sir Ashley's observation to him a long while ago, and therefore
brought the matter before him. It would be an excellent home for
the little girl--of that he was positive--if she had not already
found such a home.
'But it is absurd of the man to write so long after!' said Lady
Mottisfont, with a lumpiness about the back of her throat as she
thought how much Dorothy had become to her. 'I suppose it was when
you first--found her--that you told him this?'
'Exactly--it was then.'
He fell into thought, and neither Sir Ashley nor Lady Mottisfont
took the trouble to answer the lawyer's letter; and so the matter
ended for the time.
One day at dinner, on their return from a short absence in town,
whither they had gone to see what the world was doing, hear what it
was saying, and to make themselves generally fashionable after
rusticating for so long--on this occasion, I say, they learnt from
some friend who had joined them at dinner that Fernell Hall--the
manorial house of the estate next their own, which had been offered
on lease by reason of the impecuniosity of its owner--had been taken
for a term by a widow lady, an Italian Contessa, whose name I will
not mention for certain reasons which may by and by appear. Lady
Mottisfont expressed her surprise and interest at the probability of
having such a neighbour. 'Though, if I had been born in Italy, I
think I should have liked to remain there,' she said.
'She is not Italian, though her husband was,' said Sir Ashley.
'Oh, you have heard about her before now?'
'Yes; they were talking of her at Grey's the other evening. She is
English.' And then, as her husband said no more about the lady, the
friend who was dining with them told Lady Mottisfont that the
Countess's father had speculated largely in East-India Stock, in
which immense fortunes were being made at that time; through this
his daughter had found herself enormously wealthy at his death,
which had occurred only a few weeks after the death of her husband.
It was supposed that the marriage of an enterprising English
speculator's daughter to a poor foreign nobleman had been matter of
arrangement merely. As soon as the Countess's widowhood was a
little further advanced she would, no doubt, be the mark of all the
schemers who came near her, for she was still quite young. But at
present she seemed to desire quiet, and avoided society and town.
Some weeks after this time Sir Ashley Mottisfont sat looking fixedly
at his lady for many moments. He said:
'It might have been better for Dorothy if the Countess had taken
her. She is so wealthy in comparison with ourselves, and could have
ushered the girl into the great world more effectually than we ever
shall be able to do.'
'The Contessa take Dorothy?' said Lady Mottisfont with a start.
'What--was she the lady who wished to adopt her?'
'Yes; she was staying at Bath when Lawyer Gayton wrote to me.'
'But how do you know all this, Ashley?'
He showed a little hesitation. 'Oh, I've seen her,' he says. 'You
know, she drives to the meet sometimes, though she does not ride;
and she has informed me that she was the lady who inquired of
'You have talked to her as well as seen her, then?'
'Oh yes, several times; everybody has.'
'Why didn't you tell me?' says his lady. 'I had quite forgotten to
call upon her. I'll go to-morrow, or soon . . . But I can't think,
Ashley, how you can say that it might have been better for Dorothy
to have gone to her; she is so much our own now that I cannot admit
any such conjectures as those, even in jest.' Her eyes reproached
him so eloquently that Sir Ashley Mottisfont did not answer.
Lady Mottisfont did not hunt any more than the Anglo-Italian
Countess did; indeed, she had become so absorbed in household
matters and in Dorothy's wellbeing that she had no mind to waste a
minute on mere enjoyments. As she had said, to talk coolly of what
might have been the best destination in days past for a child to
whom they had become so attached seemed quite barbarous, and she
could not understand how her husband should consider the point so
abstractedly; for, as will probably have been guessed, Lady
Mottisfont long before this time, if she had not done so at the very
beginning, divined Sir Ashley's true relation to Dorothy. But the
baronet's wife was so discreetly meek and mild that she never told
him of her surmise, and took what Heaven had sent her without cavil,
her generosity in this respect having been bountifully rewarded by
the new life she found in her love for the little girl.
Her husband recurred to the same uncomfortable subject when, a few
days later, they were speaking of travelling abroad. He said that
it was almost a pity, if they thought of going, that they had not
fallen in with the Countess's wish. That lady had told him that she
had met Dorothy walking with her nurse, and that she had never seen
a child she liked so well.
'What--she covets her still? How impertinent of the woman!' said
'She seems to do so . . . You see, dearest Philippa, the advantage
to Dorothy would have been that the Countess would have adopted her
legally, and have made her as her own daughter; while we have not
done that--we are only bringing up and educating a poor child in
'But I'll adopt her fully--make her mine legally!' cried his wife in
an anxious voice. 'How is it to be done?'
'H'm.' He did not inform her, but fell into thought; and, for
reasons of her own, his lady was restless and uneasy.
The very next day Lady Mottisfont drove to Fernell Hall to pay the
neglected call upon her neighbour. The Countess was at home, and
received her graciously. But poor Lady Mottisfont's heart died
within her as soon as she set eyes on her new acquaintance. Such
wonderful beauty, of the fully-developed kind, had never confronted
her before inside the lines of a human face. She seemed to shine
with every light and grace that woman can possess. Her finished
Continental manners, her expanded mind, her ready wit, composed a
study that made the other poor lady sick; for she, and latterly Sir
Ashley himself, were rather rural in manners, and she felt abashed
by new sounds and ideas from without. She hardly knew three words
in any language but her own, while this divine creature, though
truly English, had, apparently, whatever she wanted in the Italian
and French tongues to suit every impression; which was considered a
great improvement to speech in those days, and, indeed, is by many
considered as such in these.
'How very strange it was about the little girl!' the Contessa said
to Lady Mottisfont, in her gay tones. 'I mean, that the child the
lawyer recommended should, just before then, have been adopted by
you, who are now my neighbour. How is she getting on? I must come
and see her.'
'Do you still want her?' asks Lady Mottisfont suspiciously.
'Oh, I should like to have her!'
'But you can't! She's mine!' said the other greedily.
A drooping mariner appeared in the Countess from that moment.
Lady Mottisfont, too, was in a wretched mood all the way home that
day. The Countess was so charming in every way that she had charmed
her gentle ladyship; how should it be possible that she had failed
to charm Sir Ashley? Moreover, she had awakened a strange thought
in Philippa's mind. As soon as she reached home she rushed to the
nursery, and there, seizing Dorothy, frantically kissed her; then,
holding her at arm's length, she gazed with a piercing
inquisitiveness into the girl's lineaments. She sighed deeply,
abandoned the wondering Dorothy, and hastened away.
She had seen there not only her husband's traits, which she had
often beheld before, but others, of the shade, shape, and expression
which characterized those of her new neighbour.
Then this poor lady perceived the whole perturbing sequence of
things, and asked herself how she could have been such a walking
piece of simplicity as not to have thought of this before. But she
did not stay long upbraiding herself for her shortsightedness, so
overwhelmed was she with misery at the spectacle of herself as an
intruder between these. To be sure she could not have foreseen such
a conjuncture; but that did not lessen her grief. The woman who had
been both her husband's bliss and his backsliding had reappeared
free when he was no longer so, and she evidently was dying to claim
her own in the person of Dorothy, who had meanwhile grown to be, to
Lady Mottisfont, almost the only source of each day's happiness,
supplying her with something to watch over, inspiring her with the
sense of maternity, and so largely reflecting her husband's nature
as almost to deceive her into the pleasant belief that she reflected
her own also.
If there was a single direction in which this devoted and virtuous
lady erred, it was in the direction of over-submissiveness. When
all is said and done, and the truth told, men seldom show much self-
sacrifice in their conduct as lords and masters to helpless women
bound to them for life, and perhaps (though I say it with all
uncertainty) if she had blazed up in his face like a furze-faggot,
directly he came home, she might have helped herself a little. But
God knows whether this is a true supposition; at any rate she did no
such thing; and waited and prayed that she might never do despite to
him who, she was bound to admit, had always been tender and
courteous towards her; and hoped that little Dorothy might never be
By degrees the two households became friendly, and very seldom did a
week pass without their seeing something of each other. Try as she
might, and dangerous as she assumed the acquaintanceship to be, Lady
Mottisfont could detect no fault or flaw in her new friend. It was
obvious that Dorothy had been the magnet which had drawn the
Contessa hither, and not Sir Ashley.
Such beauty, united with such understanding and brightness, Philippa
had never before known in one of her own sex, and she tried to think
(whether she succeeded I do not know) that she did not mind the
propinquity; since a woman so rich, so fair, and with such a command
of suitors, could not desire to wreck the happiness of so
inoffensive a person as herself.
The season drew on when it was the custom for families of
distinction to go off to The Bath, and Sir Ashley Mottisfont
persuaded his wife to accompany him thither with Dorothy. Everybody
of any note was there this year. From their own part of England
came many that they knew; among the rest, Lord and Lady Purbeck, the
Earl and Countess of Wessex, Sir John Grebe, the Drenkhards, Lady
Stourvale, the old Duke of Hamptonshire, the Bishop of Melchester,
the Dean of Exonbury, and other lesser lights of Court, pulpit, and
field. Thither also came the fair Contessa, whom, as soon as
Philippa saw how much she was sought after by younger men, she could
not conscientiously suspect of renewed designs upon Sir Ashley.
But the Countess had finer opportunities than ever with Dorothy; for
Lady Mottisfont was often indisposed, and even at other times could
not honestly hinder an intercourse which gave bright ideas to the
child. Dorothy welcomed her new acquaintance with a strange and
instinctive readiness that intimated the wonderful subtlety of the
threads which bind flesh and flesh together.
At last the crisis came: it was precipitated by an accident.
Dorothy and her nurse had gone out one day for an airing, leaving
Lady Mottisfont alone indoors. While she sat gloomily thinking that
in all likelihood the Countess would contrive to meet the child
somewhere, and exchange a few tender words with her, Sir Ashley
Mottisfont rushed in and informed her that Dorothy had just had the
narrowest possible escape from death. Some workmen were undermining
a house to pull it down for rebuilding, when, without warning, the
front wall inclined slowly outwards for its fall, the nurse and
child passing beneath it at the same moment. The fall was
temporarily arrested by the scaffolding, while in the meantime the
Countess had witnessed their imminent danger from the other side of
the street. Springing across, she snatched Dorothy from under the
wall, and pulled the nurse after her, the middle of the way being
barely reached before they were enveloped in the dense dust of the
descending mass, though not a stone touched them.
'Where is Dorothy?' says the excited Lady Mottisfont.
'She has her--she won't let her go for a time--'
'Has her? But she's MINE--she's mine!' cries Lady Mottisfont.
Then her quick and tender eyes perceived that her husband had almost
forgotten her intrusive existence in contemplating the oneness of
Dorothy's, the Countess's, and his own: he was in a dream of
exaltation which recognized nothing necessary to his well-being
outside that welded circle of three lives.
Dorothy was at length brought home; she was much fascinated by the
Countess, and saw nothing tragic, but rather all that was truly
delightful, in what had happened. In the evening, when the
excitement was over, and Dorothy was put to bed, Sir Ashley said,
'She has saved Dorothy; and I have been asking myself what I can do
for her as a slight acknowledgment of her heroism. Surely we ought
to let her have Dorothy to bring up, since she still desires to do
it? It would be so much to Dorothy's advantage. We ought to look
at it in that light, and not selfishly.'
Philippa seized his hand. 'Ashley, Ashley! You don't mean it--that
I must lose my pretty darling--the only one I have?' She met his
gaze with her piteous mouth and wet eyes so painfully strained, that
he turned away his face.
The next morning, before Dorothy was awake, Lady Mottisfont stole to
the girl's bedside, and sat regarding her. When Dorothy opened her
eyes, she fixed them for a long time upon Philippa's features.
'Mamma--you are not so pretty as the Contessa, are you?' she said at
'I am not, Dorothy.'
'Why are you not, mamma?'
'Dorothy--where would you rather live, always; with me, or with
The little girl looked troubled. 'I am sorry, mamma; I don't mean
to be unkind; but I would rather live with her; I mean, if I might
without trouble, and you did not mind, and it could be just the same
to us all, you know.'
'Has she ever asked you the same question?'
There lay the sting of it: the Countess seemed the soul of honour
and fairness in this matter, test her as she might. That afternoon
Lady Mottisfont went to her husband with singular firmness upon her
'Ashley, we have been married nearly five years, and I have never
challenged you with what I know perfectly well--the parentage of
'Never have you, Philippa dear. Though I have seen that you knew
from the first.'
'From the first as to her father, not as to her mother. Her I did
not know for some time; but I know now.'
'Ah! you have discovered that too?' says he, without much surprise.
'Could I help it? Very well, that being so, I have thought it over;
and I have spoken to Dorothy. I agree to her going. I can do no
less than grant to the Countess her wish, after her kindness to my--
Then this self-sacrificing woman went hastily away that he might not
see that her heart was bursting; and thereupon, before they left the
city, Dorothy changed her mother and her home. After this, the
Countess went away to London for a while, taking Dorothy with her;
and the baronet and his wife returned to their lonely place at
Deansleigh Park without her.
To renounce Dorothy in the bustle of Bath was a different thing from
living without her in this quiet home. One evening Sir Ashley
missed his wife from the supper-table; her manner had been so
pensive and woeful of late that he immediately became alarmed. He
said nothing, but looked about outside the house narrowly, and
discerned her form in the park, where recently she had been
accustomed to walk alone. In its lower levels there was a pool fed
by a trickling brook, and he reached this spot in time to hear a
splash. Running forward, he dimly perceived her light gown floating
in the water. To pull her out was the work of a few instants, and
bearing her indoors to her room, he undressed her, nobody in the
house knowing of the incident but himself. She had not been
immersed long enough to lose her senses, and soon recovered. She
owned that she had done it because the Contessa had taken away her
child, as she persisted in calling Dorothy. Her husband spoke
sternly to her, and impressed upon her the weakness of giving way
thus, when all that had happened was for the best. She took his
reproof meekly, and admitted her fault.
After that she became more resigned, but he often caught her in
tears over some doll, shoe, or ribbon of Dorothy's, and decided to
take her to the North of England for change of air and scene. This
was not without its beneficial effect, corporeally no less than
mentally, as later events showed, but she still evinced a
preternatural sharpness of ear at the most casual mention of the
child. When they reached home, the Countess and Dorothy were still
absent from the neighbouring Fernell Hall, but in a month or two
they returned, and a little later Sir Ashley Mottisfont came into
his wife's room full of news.
'Well--would you think it, Philippa! After being so desperate, too,
about getting Dorothy to be with her!'
'Our neighbour, the Countess, is going to be married again! It is
to somebody she has met in London.'
Lady Mottisfont was much surprised; she had never dreamt of such an
event. The conflict for the possession of Dorothy's person had
obscured the possibility of it; yet what more likely, the Countess
being still under thirty, and so good-looking?
'What is of still more interest to us, or to you,' continued her
husband, 'is a kind offer she has made. She is willing that you
should have Dorothy back again. Seeing what a grief the loss of her
has been to you, she will try to do without her.'
'It is not for that; it is not to oblige me,' said Lady Mottisfont
quickly. 'One can see well enough what it is for!'
'Well, never mind; beggars mustn't be choosers. The reason or
motive is nothing to us, so that you obtain your desire.'
'I am not a beggar any longer,' said Lady Mottisfont, with proud
'What do you mean by that?'
Lady Mottisfont hesitated. However, it was only too plain that she
did not now jump at a restitution of one for whom some months before
she had been breaking her heart.
The explanation of this change of mood became apparent some little
time farther on. Lady Mottisfont, after five years of wedded life,
was expecting to become a mother, and the aspect of many things was
greatly altered in her view. Among the more important changes was
that of no longer feeling Dorothy to be absolutely indispensable to
Meanwhile, in view of her coming marriage, the Countess decided to
abandon the remainder of her term at Fernell Hall, and return to her
pretty little house in town. But she could not do this quite so
quickly as she had expected, and half a year or more elapsed before
she finally quitted the neighbourhood, the interval being passed in
alternations between the country and London. Prior to her last
departure she had an interview with Sir Ashley Mottisfont, and it
occurred three days after his wife had presented him with a son and
'I wanted to speak to you,' said the Countess, looking him
luminously in the face, 'about the dear foundling I have adopted
temporarily, and thought to have adopted permanently. But my
marriage makes it too risky!'
'I thought it might be that,' he answered, regarding her steadfastly
back again, and observing two tears come slowly into her eyes as she
heard her own voice describe Dorothy in those words.
'Don't criticize me,' she said hastily; and recovering herself, went
on. 'If Lady Mottisfont could take her back again, as I suggested,
it would be better for me, and certainly no worse for Dorothy. To
every one but ourselves she is but a child I have taken a fancy to,
and Lady Mottisfont coveted her so much, and was very reluctant to
let her go . . . I am sure she will adopt her again?' she added
'I will sound her afresh,' said the baronet. 'You leave Dorothy
behind for the present?'
'Yes; although I go away, I do not give up the house for another
He did not speak to his wife about the proposal till some few days
after, when Lady Mottisfont had nearly recovered, and news of the
Countess's marriage in London had just reached them. He had no
sooner mentioned Dorothy's name than Lady Mottisfont showed symptoms
'I have not acquired any dislike of Dorothy,' she said, 'but I feel
that there is one nearer to me now. Dorothy chose the alternative
of going to the Countess, you must remember, when I put it to her as
between the Countess and myself.'
'But, my dear Philippa, how can you argue thus about a child, and
that child our Dorothy?'
'Not OURS,' said his wife, pointing to the cot. 'Ours is here.'
'What, then, Philippa,' he said, surprised, 'you won't have her
back, after nearly dying of grief at the loss of her?'
'I cannot argue, dear Ashley. I should prefer not to have the
responsibility of Dorothy again. Her place is filled now.'
Her husband sighed, and went out of the chamber. There had been a
previous arrangement that Dorothy should be brought to the house on
a visit that day, but instead of taking her up to his wife, he did
not inform Lady Mottisfont of the child's presence. He entertained
her himself as well as he could, and accompanied her into the park,
where they had a ramble together. Presently he sat down on the root
of an elm and took her upon his knee.
'Between this husband and this baby, little Dorothy, you who had two
homes are left out in the cold,' he said.
'Can't I go to London with my pretty mamma?' said Dorothy,
perceiving from his manner that there was a hitch somewhere.
'I am afraid not, my child. She only took you to live with her
because she was lonely, you know.'
'Then can't I stay at Deansleigh Park with my other mamma and you?'
'I am afraid that cannot be done either,' said he sadly. 'We have a
baby in the house now.' He closed the reply by stooping down and
kissing her, there being a tear in his eye.
'Then nobody wants me!' said Dorothy pathetically.
'Oh yes, somebody wants you,' he assured her. 'Where would you like
to live besides?'
Dorothy's experiences being rather limited, she mentioned the only
other place in the world that she was acquainted with, the cottage
of the villager who had taken care of her before Lady Mottisfont had
removed her to the Manor House.
'Yes; that's where you'll be best off and most independent,' he
answered. 'And I'll come to see you, my dear girl, and bring you
pretty things; and perhaps you'll be just as happy there.'
Nevertheless, when the change came, and Dorothy was handed over to
the kind cottage-woman, the poor child missed the luxurious
roominess of Fernell Hall and Deansleigh; and for a long time her
little feet, which had been accustomed to carpets and oak floors,
suffered from the cold of the stone flags on which it was now her
lot to live and to play; while chilblains came upon her fingers with
washing at the pump. But thicker shoes with nails in them somewhat
remedied the cold feet, and her complaints and tears on this and
other scores diminished to silence as she became inured anew to the
hardships of the farm-cottage, and she grew up robust if not
handsome. She was never altogether lost sight of by Sir Ashley,
though she was deprived of the systematic education which had been
devised and begun for her by Lady Mottisfont, as well as by her
other mamma, the enthusiastic Countess. The latter soon had other
Dorothys to think of, who occupied her time and affection as fully
as Lady Mottisfont's were occupied by her precious boy. In the
course of time the doubly-desired and doubly-rejected Dorothy
married, I believe, a respectable road-contractor--the same, if I
mistake not, who repaired and improved the old highway running from
Wintoncester south-westerly through the New Forest--and in the heart
of this worthy man of business the poor girl found the nest which
had been denied her by her own flesh and blood of higher degree.
Several of the listeners wished to hear another story from the
sentimental member after this, but he said that he could recall
nothing else at the moment, and that it seemed to him as if his
friend on the other side of the fireplace had something to say from
the look of his face.
The member alluded to was a respectable churchwarden, with a sly
chink to one eyelid--possibly the result of an accident--and a
regular attendant at the Club meetings. He replied that his looks
had been mainly caused by his interest in the two ladies of the last
story, apparently women of strong motherly instincts, even though
they were not genuinely staunch in their tenderness. The tale had
brought to his mind an instance of a firmer affection of that sort
on the paternal side, in a nature otherwise culpable. As for
telling the story, his manner was much against him, he feared; but
he would do his best, if they wished.
Here the President interposed with a suggestion that as it was
getting late in the afternoon it would be as well to adjourn to
their respective inns and lodgings for dinner, after which those who
cared to do so could return and resume these curious domestic
traditions for the remainder of the evening, which might otherwise
prove irksome enough. The curator had told him that the room was at
their service. The churchwarden, who was beginning to feel hungry
himself, readily acquiesced, and the Club separated for an hour and
a half. Then the faithful ones began to drop in again--among whom
were not the President; neither came the rural dean, nor the two
curates, though the Colonel, and the man of family, cigars in mouth,
were good enough to return, having found their hotel dreary. The
museum had no regular means of illumination, and a solitary candle,
less powerful than the rays of the fire, was placed on the table;
also bottles and glasses, provided by some thoughtful member. The
chink-eyed churchwarden, now thoroughly primed, proceeded to relate
in his own terms what was in substance as follows, while many of his
DAME THE FIFTH--THE LADY ICENWAY
By the Churchwarden
In the reign of His Most Excellent Majesty King George the Third,
Defender of the Faith and of the American Colonies, there lived in
'a faire maner-place' (so Leland called it in his day, as I have
been told), in one o' the greenest bits of woodland between Bristol
and the city of Exonbury, a young lady who resembled some aforesaid
ones in having many talents and exceeding great beauty. With these
gifts she combined a somewhat imperious temper and arbitrary mind,
though her experience of the world was not actually so large as her
conclusive manner would have led the stranger to suppose. Being an
orphan, she resided with her uncle, who, though he was fairly
considerate as to her welfare, left her pretty much to herself.
Now it chanced that when this lovely young lady was about nineteen,
she (being a fearless horsewoman) was riding, with only a young lad
as an attendant, in one o' the woods near her uncle's house, and, in
trotting along, her horse stumbled over the root of a felled tree.
She slipped to the ground, not seriously hurt, and was assisted home
by a gentleman who came in view at the moment of her mishap. It
turned out that this gentleman, a total stranger to her, was on a
visit at the house of a neighbouring landowner. He was of Dutch
extraction, and occasionally came to England on business or pleasure
from his plantations in Guiana, on the north coast of South America,
where he usually resided.
On this account he was naturally but little known in Wessex, and was
but a slight acquaintance of the gentleman at whose mansion he was a
guest. However, the friendship between him and the Heymeres--as the
uncle and niece were named--warmed and warmed by degrees, there
being but few folk o' note in the vicinity at that time, which made
a newcomer, if he were at all sociable and of good credit, always
sure of a welcome. A tender feeling (as it is called by the
romantic) sprang up between the two young people, which ripened into
intimacy. Anderling, the foreign gentleman, was of an amorous
temperament; and, though he endeavoured to conceal his feeling, it
could be seen that Miss Maria Heymere had impressed him rather more
deeply than would be represented by a scratch upon a stone. He
seemed absolutely unable to free himself from her fascination; and
his inability to do so, much as he tried--evidently thinking he had
not the ghost of a chance with her--gave her the pleasure of power;
though she more than sympathized when she overheard him heaving his
deep drawn sighs--privately to himself, as he supposed.
After prolonging his visit by every conceivable excuse in his power,
he summoned courage, and offered her his hand and his heart. Being
in no way disinclined to him, though not so fervid as he, and her
uncle making no objection to the match, she consented to share his
fate, for better or otherwise, in the distant colony where, as he
assured her, his rice, and coffee, and maize, and timber, produced
him ample means--a statement which was borne out by his friend, her
uncle's neighbour. In short, a day for their marriage was fixed,
earlier in the engagement than is usual or desirable between
comparative strangers, by reason of the necessity he was under of
returning to look after his properties.
The wedding took place, and Maria left her uncle's mansion with her
husband, going in the first place to London, and about a fortnight
after sailing with him across the great ocean for their distant
home--which, however, he assured her, should not be her home for
long, it being his intention to dispose of his interests in this
part of the world as soon as the war was over, and he could do so
advantageously; when they could come to Europe, and reside in some
As they advanced on the voyage she observed that he grew more and
more constrained; and, by the time they had crossed the Line, he was
quite depressed, just as he had been before proposing to her. A day
or two before landing at Paramaribo, he embraced her in a very
tearful and passionate manner, and said he wished to make a
confession. It had been his misfortune, he said, to marry at Quebec
in early life a woman whose reputation proved to be in every way bad
and scandalous. The discovery had nearly killed him; but he had
ultimately separated from her, and had never seen her since. He had
hoped and prayed she might be dead; but recently in London, when
they were starting on this journey, he had discovered that she was
still alive. At first he had decided to keep this dark intelligence
from her beloved ears; but he had felt that he could not do it. All
he hoped was that such a condition of things would make no
difference in her feelings for him, as it need make no difference in
the course of their lives.
Thereupon the spirit of this proud and masterful lady showed itself
in violent turmoil, like the raging of a nor'-west thunderstorm--as
well it might, God knows. But she was of too stout a nature to be
broken down by his revelation, as many ladies of my acquaintance
would have been--so far from home, and right under the Line in the
blaze o' the sun. Of the two, indeed, he was the more wretched and
shattered in spirit, for he loved her deeply, and (there being a
foreign twist in his make) had been tempted to this crime by her
exceeding beauty, against which he had struggled day and night, till
he had no further resistance left in him. It was she who came first
to a decision as to what should be done--whether a wise one I do not
attempt to judge.
'I put it to you,' says she, when many useless self-reproaches and
protestations on his part had been uttered--'I put it to you
whether, if any manliness is left in you, you ought not to do
exactly what I consider the best thing for me in this strait to
which you have reduced me?'
He promised to do anything in the whole world. She then requested
him to allow her to return, and announce him as having died of
malignant ague immediately on their arrival at Paramaribo; that she
should consequently appear in weeds as his widow in her native
place; and that he would never molest her, or come again to that
part of the world during the whole course of his life--a good reason
for which would be that the legal consequences might be serious.
He readily acquiesced in this, as he would have acquiesced in
anything for the restitution of one he adored so deeply--even to the
yielding of life itself. To put her in an immediate state of
independence he gave her, in bonds and jewels, a considerable sum
(for his worldly means had been in no way exaggerated); and by the
next ship she sailed again for England, having travelled no farther
than to Paramaribo. At parting he declared it to be his intention
to turn all his landed possessions into personal property, and to be
a wanderer on the face of the earth in remorse for his conduct
Maria duly arrived in England, and immediately on landing apprised
her uncle of her return, duly appearing at his house in the garb of
a widow. She was commiserated by all the neighbours as soon as her
story was told; but only to her uncle did she reveal the real state
of affairs, and her reason for concealing it. For, though she had
been innocent of wrong, Maria's pride was of that grain which could
not brook the least appearance of having been fooled, or deluded, or
nonplussed in her worldly aims.
For some time she led a quiet life with her relative, and in due
course a son was born to her. She was much respected for her
dignity and reserve, and the portable wealth which her temporary
husband had made over to her enabled her to live in comfort in a
wing of the mansion, without assistance from her uncle at all. But,
knowing that she was not what she seemed to be, her life was an
uneasy one, and she often said to herself: 'Suppose his continued
existence should become known here, and people should discern the
pride of my motive in hiding my humiliation? It would be worse than
if I had been frank at first, which I should have been but for the
credit of this child.'
Such grave reflections as these occupied her with increasing force;
and during their continuance she encountered a worthy man of noble
birth and title--Lord Icenway his name--whose seat was beyond
Wintoncester, quite at t'other end of Wessex. He being anxious to
pay his addresses to her, Maria willingly accepted them, though he
was a plain man, older than herself; for she discerned in a re-
marriage a method of fortifying her position against mortifying
discoveries. In a few months their union took place, and Maria
lifted her head as Lady Icenway, and left with her husband and child
for his home as aforesaid, where she was quite unknown.
A justification, or a condemnation, of her step (according as you
view it) was seen when, not long after, she received a note from her
former husband Anderling. It was a hasty and tender epistle, and
perhaps it was fortunate that it arrived during the temporary
absence of Lord Icenway. His worthless wife, said Anderling, had
just died in Quebec; he had gone there to ascertain particulars, and
had seen the unfortunate woman buried. He now was hastening to
England to repair the wrong he had done his Maria. He asked her to
meet him at Southampton, his port of arrival; which she need be in
no fear of doing, as he had changed his name, and was almost
absolutely unknown in Europe. He would remarry her immediately, and
live with her in any part of the Continent, as they had originally
intended, where, for the great love he still bore her, he would
devote himself to her service for the rest of his days.
Lady Icenway, self-possessed as it was her nature to be, was yet
much disturbed at this news, and set off to meet him, unattended, as
soon as she heard that the ship was in sight. As soon as they stood
face to face she found that she still possessed all her old
influence over him, though his power to fascinate her had quite
departed. In his sorrow for his offence against her, he had become
a man of strict religious habits, self-denying as a lenten saint,
though formerly he had been a free and joyous liver. Having first
got him to swear to make her any amends she should choose (which he
was imagining must be by a true marriage), she informed him that she
had already wedded another husband, an excellent man of ancient
family and possessions, who had given her a title, in which she much
At this the countenance of the poor foreign gentleman became cold as
clay, and his heart withered within him; for as it had been her
beauty and bearing which had led him to sin to obtain her, so, now
that her beauty was in fuller bloom, and her manner more haughty by
her success, did he feel her fascination to be almost more than he
could bear. Nevertheless, having sworn his word, he undertook to
obey her commands, which were simply a renewal of her old request--
that he would depart for some foreign country, and never reveal his
existence to her friends, or husband, or any person in England;
never trouble her more, seeing how great a harm it would do her in
the high position which she at present occupied.
He bowed his head. 'And the child--our child?' he said.
'He is well,' says she. 'Quite well.'
With this the unhappy gentleman departed, much sadder in his heart
than on his voyage to England; for it had never occurred to him that
a woman who rated her honour so highly as Maria had done, and who
was the mother of a child of his, would have adopted such means as
this for the restoration of that honour, and at so surprisingly
early a date. He had fully calculated on making her his wife in law
and truth, and of living in cheerful unity with her and his
offspring, for whom he felt a deep and growing tenderness, though he
had never once seen the child.
The lady returned to her mansion beyond Wintoncester, and told
nothing of the interview to her noble husband, who had fortunately
gone that day to do a little cocking and ratting out by Weydon
Priors, and knew nothing of her movements. She had dismissed her
poor Anderling peremptorily enough; yet she would often after this
look in the face of the child of her so-called widowhood, to
discover what and how many traits of his father were to be seen in
his lineaments. For this she had ample opportunity during the
following autumn and winter months, her husband being a matter-of-
fact nobleman, who spent the greater part of his time in field-
sports and agriculture.
One winter day, when he had started for a meet of the hounds a long
way from the house--it being his custom to hunt three or four times
a week at this season of the year--she had walked into the sunshine
upon the terrace before the windows, where there fell at her feet
some little white object that had come over a boundary wall hard by.
It proved to be a tiny note wrapped round a stone. Lady Icenway
opened it and read it, and immediately (no doubt, with a stern
fixture of her queenly countenance) walked hastily along the
terrace, and through the door into the shrubbery, whence the note
had come. The man who had first married her stood under the bushes
before her. It was plain from his appearance that something had
gone wrong with him.
'You notice a change in me, my best-beloved,' he said. 'Yes, Maria-
-I have lost all the wealth I once possessed--mainly by reckless
gambling in the Continental hells to which you banished me. But one
thing in the world remains to me--the child--and it is for him that
I have intruded here. Don't fear me, darling! I shall not
inconvenience you long; I love you too well! But I think of the boy
day and night--I cannot help it--I cannot keep my feeling for him
down; and I long to see him, and speak a word to him once in my
'But your oath?' says she. 'You promised never to reveal by word or
'I will reveal nothing. Only let me see the child. I know what I
have sworn to you, cruel mistress, and I respect my oath. Otherwise
I might have seen him by some subterfuge. But I preferred the frank
course of asking your permission.'
She demurred, with the haughty severity which had grown part of her
character, and which her elevation to the rank of a peeress had
rather intensified than diminished. She said that she would
consider, and would give him an answer the day after the next, at
the same hour and place, when her husband would again be absent with
his pack of hounds.
The gentleman waited patiently. Lady Icenway, who had now no
conscious love left for him, well considered the matter, and felt
that it would be advisable not to push to extremes a man of so
passionate a heart. On the day and hour she met him as she had
promised to do.
'You shall see him,' she said, 'of course on the strict condition
that you do not reveal yourself, and hence, though you see him, he
must not see you, or your manner might betray you and me. I will
lull him into a nap in the afternoon, and then I will come to you
here, and fetch you indoors by a private way.'
The unfortunate father, whose misdemeanour had recoiled upon his own
head in a way he could not have foreseen, promised to adhere to her
instructions, and waited in the shrubberies till the moment when she
should call him. This she duly did about three o'clock that day,
leading him in by a garden door, and upstairs to the nursery where
the child lay. He was in his little cot, breathing calmly, his arm
thrown over his head, and his silken curls crushed into the pillow.
His father, now almost to be pitied, bent over him, and a tear from
his eye wetted the coverlet.
She held up a warning finger as he lowered his mouth to the lips of
'But oh, why not?' implored he.
'Very well, then,' said she, relenting. 'But as gently as
He kissed the child without waking him, turned, gave him a last
look, and followed her out of the chamber, when she conducted him
off the premises by the way he had come.
But this remedy for his sadness of heart at being a stranger to his
own son, had the effect of intensifying the malady; for while
originally, not knowing or having ever seen the boy, he had loved
him vaguely and imaginatively only, he now became attached to him in
flesh and bone, as any parent might; and the feeling that he could
at best only see his child at the rarest and most cursory moments,
if at all, drove him into a state of distraction which threatened to
overthrow his promise to the boy's mother to keep out of his sight.
But such was his chivalrous respect for Lady Icenway, and his regret
at having ever deceived her, that he schooled his poor heart into
submission. Owing to his loneliness, all the fervour of which he
was capable--and that was much--flowed now in the channel of
parental and marital love--for a child who did not know him, and a
woman who had ceased to love him.
At length this singular punishment became such a torture to the poor
foreigner that he resolved to lessen it at all hazards, compatible
with punctilious care for the name of the lady his former wife, to
whom his attachment seemed to increase in proportion to her punitive
treatment of him. At one time of his life he had taken great
interest in tulip-culture, as well as gardening in general; and
since the ruin of his fortunes, and his arrival in England, he had
made of his knowledge a precarious income in the hot-houses of
nurserymen and others. With the new idea in his head he applied
himself zealously to the business, till he acquired in a few months
great skill in horticulture. Waiting till the noble lord, his
lady's husband, had room for an under-gardener of a general sort, he
offered himself for the place, and was engaged immediately by reason
of his civility and intelligence, before Lady Icenway knew anything
of the matter. Much therefore did he surprise her when she found
him in the conservatories of her mansion a week or two after his
arrival. The punishment of instant dismissal, with which at first
she haughtily threatened him, my lady thought fit, on reflection,
not to enforce. While he served her thus she knew he would not harm
her by a word, while, if he were expelled, chagrin might induce him
to reveal in a moment of exasperation what kind treatment would
assist him to conceal.
So he was allowed to remain on the premises, and had for his
residence a little cottage by the garden-wall which had been the
domicile of some of his predecessors in the same occupation. Here
he lived absolutely alone, and spent much of his leisure in reading,
but the greater part in watching the windows and lawns of his lady's
house for glimpses of the form of the child. It was for that
child's sake that he abandoned the tenets of the Roman Catholic
Church in which he had been reared, and became the most regular
attendant at the services in the parish place of worship hard by,
where, sitting behind the pew of my lady, my lord, and his stepson,
the gardener could pensively study the traits and movements of the
youngster at only a few feet distance, without suspicion or
He filled his post for more than two years with a pleasure to
himself which, though mournful, was soothing, his lady never
forgiving him, or allowing him to be anything more than 'the
gardener' to her child, though once or twice the boy said, 'That
gardener's eyes are so sad! Why does he look so sadly at me?' He
sunned himself in her scornfulness as if it were love, and his ears
drank in her curt monosyllables as though they were rhapsodies of
endearment. Strangely enough, the coldness with which she treated
her foreigner began to be the conduct of Lord Icenway towards
herself. It was a matter of great anxiety to him that there should
be a lineal successor to the title, yet no sign of that successor
appeared. One day he complained to her quite roughly of his fate.
'All will go to that dolt of a cousin!' he cried. 'I'd sooner see
my name and place at the bottom of the sea!'
The lady soothed him and fell into thought, and did not recriminate.
But one day, soon after, she went down to the cottage of the
gardener to inquire how he was getting on, for he had been ailing of
late, though, as was supposed, not seriously. Though she often
visited the poor, she had never entered her under-gardener's home
before, and was much surprised--even grieved and dismayed--to find
that he was too ill to rise from his bed. She went back to her
mansion and returned with some delicate soup, that she might have a
reason for seeing him.
His condition was so feeble and alarming, and his face so thin, that
it quite shocked her softening heart, and gazing upon him she said,
'You must get well--you must! I have been hard with you--I know it.
I will not be so again.'
The sick and dying man--for he was dying indeed--took her hand and
pressed it to his lips. 'Too late, my darling, too late!' he
'But you MUST NOT die! Oh, you must not!' she said. And on an
impulse she bent down and whispered some words to him, blushing as
she had blushed in her maiden days.
He replied by a faint wan smile. 'Time was! . . . but that's past!'
he said, 'I must die!'
And die he did, a few days later, as the sun was going down behind
the garden-wall. Her harshness seemed to come trebly home to her
then, and she remorsefully exclaimed against herself in secret and
alone. Her one desire now was to erect some tribute to his memory,
without its being recognized as her handiwork. In the completion of
this scheme there arrived a few months later a handsome stained-
glass window for the church; and when it was unpacked and in course
of erection Lord Icenway strolled into the building with his wife.
'"Erected to his memory by his grieving widow,"' he said, reading
the legend on the glass. 'I didn't know that he had a wife; I've
never seen her.'
'Oh yes, you must have, Icenway; only you forget,' replied his lady
blandly. 'But she didn't live with him, and was seldom seen
visiting him, because there were differences between them; which, as
is usually the case, makes her all the more sorry now.'
'And go ruining herself by this expensive ruby-and-azure glass-
'She is not poor, they say.'
As Lord Icenway grew older he became crustier and crustier, and
whenever he set eyes on his wife's boy by her other husband he would
burst out morosely, saying,
''Tis a very odd thing, my lady, that you could oblige your first
husband, and couldn't oblige me.'
'Ah! if I had only thought of it sooner!' she murmured.
'What?' said he.
'Nothing, dearest,' replied Lady Icenway.
The Colonel was the first to comment upon the Churchwarden's tale,
by saying that the fate of the poor fellow was rather a hard one.
The gentleman-tradesman could not see that his fate was at all too
hard for him. He was legally nothing to her, and he had served her
shamefully. If he had been really her husband it would have stood
The Bookworm remarked that Lord Icenway seemed to have been a very
unsuspicious man, with which view a fat member with a crimson face
agreed. It was true his wife was a very close-mouthed personage,
which made a difference. If she had spoken out recklessly her lord
might have been suspicious enough, as in the case of that lady who
lived at Stapleford Park in their great-grandfathers' time. Though
there, to be sure, considerations arose which made her husband view
matters with much philosophy.
A few of the members doubted the possibility of this.
The crimson man, who was a retired maltster of comfortable means,
ventru, and short in stature, cleared his throat, blew off his
superfluous breath, and proceeded to give the instance before
alluded to of such possibility, first apologizing for his heroine's
lack of a title, it never having been his good fortune to know many
of the nobility. To his style of narrative the following is only an
DAME THE SIXTH: SQUIRE PETRICK'S LADY
By the Crimson Maltster
Folk who are at all acquainted with the traditions of Stapleford
Park will not need to be told that in the middle of the last century
it was owned by that trump of mortgagees, Timothy Petrick, whose
skill in gaining possession of fair estates by granting sums of
money on their title-deeds has seldom if ever been equalled in our
part of England. Timothy was a lawyer by profession, and agent to
several noblemen, by which means his special line of business became
opened to him by a sort of revelation. It is said that a relative
of his, a very deep thinker, who afterwards had the misfortune to be
transported for life for mistaken notions on the signing of a will,
taught him considerable legal lore, which he creditably resolved
never to throw away for the benefit of other people, but to reserve
it entirely for his own.
However, I have nothing in particular to say about his early and
active days, but rather of the time when, an old man, he had become
the owner of vast estates by the means I have signified--among them
the great manor of Stapleford, on which he lived, in the splendid
old mansion now pulled down; likewise estates at Marlott, estates
near Sherton Abbas, nearly all the borough of Millpool, and many
properties near Ivell. Indeed, I can't call to mind half his landed
possessions, and I don't know that it matters much at this time of
day, seeing that he's been dead and gone many years. It is said
that when he bought an estate he would not decide to pay the price
till he had walked over every single acre with his own two feet, and
prodded the soil at every point with his own spud, to test its
quality, which, if we regard the extent of his properties, must have
been a stiff business for him.
At the time I am speaking of he was a man over eighty, and his son
was dead; but he had two grandsons, the eldest of whom, his
namesake, was married, and was shortly expecting issue. Just then
the grandfather was taken ill, for death, as it seemed, considering
his age. By his will the old man had created an entail (as I
believe the lawyers call it), devising the whole of the estates to
his elder grandson and his issue male, failing which, to his younger
grandson and his issue male, failing which, to remoter relatives,
who need not be mentioned now.
While old Timothy Petrick was lying ill, his elder grandson's wife,
Annetta, gave birth to her expected child, who, as fortune would
have it, was a son. Timothy, her husband, through sprung of a
scheming family, was no great schemer himself; he was the single one
of the Petricks then living whose heart had ever been greatly moved
by sentiments which did not run in the groove of ambition; and on
this account he had not married well, as the saying is; his wife
having been the daughter of a family of no better beginnings than
his own; that is to say, her father was a country townsman of the
professional class. But she was a very pretty woman, by all
accounts, and her husband had seen, courted, and married her in a
high tide of infatuation, after a very short acquaintance, and with
very little knowledge of her heart's history. He had never found
reason to regret his choice as yet, and his anxiety for her recovery
She was supposed to be out of danger, and herself and the child
progressing well, when there was a change for the worse, and she
sank so rapidly that she was soon given over. When she felt that
she was about to leave him, Annetta sent for her husband, and, on
his speedy entry and assurance that they were alone, she made him
solemnly vow to give the child every care in any circumstances that
might arise, if it should please Heaven to take her. This, of
course, he readily promised. Then, after some hesitation, she told
him that she could not die with a falsehood upon her soul, and dire
deceit in her life; she must make a terrible confession to him
before her lips were sealed for ever. She thereupon related an
incident concerning the baby's parentage, which was not as he
Timothy Petrick, though a quick-feeling man, was not of a sort to
show nerves outwardly; and he bore himself as heroically as he
possibly could do in this trying moment of his life. That same
night his wife died; and while she lay dead, and before her funeral,
he hastened to the bedside of his sick grandfather, and revealed to
him all that had happened: the baby's birth, his wife's confession,
and her death, beseeching the aged man, as he loved him, to bestir
himself now, at the eleventh hour, and alter his will so as to dish
the intruder. Old Timothy, seeing matters in the same light as his
grandson, required no urging against allowing anything to stand in
the way of legitimate inheritance; he executed another will,
limiting the entail to Timothy his grandson, for life, and his male
heirs thereafter to be born; after them to his other grandson
Edward, and Edward's heirs. Thus the newly-born infant, who had
been the centre of so many hopes, was cut off and scorned as none of
The old mortgagee lived but a short time after this, the excitement
of the discovery having told upon him considerably, and he was
gathered to his fathers like the most charitable man in his
neighbourhood. Both wife and grandparent being buried, Timothy
settled down to his usual life as well as he was able, mentally
satisfied that he had by prompt action defeated the consequences of
such dire domestic treachery as had been shown towards him, and
resolving to marry a second time as soon as he could satisfy himself
in the choice of a wife.
But men do not always know themselves. The embittered state of
Timothy Petrick's mind bred in him by degrees such a hatred and
mistrust of womankind that, though several specimens of high
attractiveness came under his eyes, he could not bring himself to
the point of proposing marriage. He dreaded to take up the position
of husband a second time, discerning a trap in every petticoat, and
a Slough of Despond in possible heirs. 'What has happened once,
when all seemed so fair, may happen again,' he said to himself.
'I'll risk my name no more.' So he abstained from marriage, and
overcame his wish for a lineal descendant to follow him in the
ownership of Stapleford.
Timothy had scarcely noticed the unfortunate child that his wife had
borne, after arranging for a meagre fulfilment of his promise to her
to take care of the boy, by having him brought up in his house.
Occasionally, remembering this promise, he went and glanced at the
child, saw that he was doing well, gave a few special directions,
and again went his solitary way. Thus he and the child lived on in
the Stapleford mansion-house till two or three years had passed by.
One day he was walking in the garden, and by some accident left his
snuff-box on a bench. When he came back to find it he saw the
little boy standing there; he had escaped his nurse, and was making
a plaything of the box, in spite of the convulsive sneezings which
the game brought in its train. Then the man with the encrusted
heart became interested in the little fellow's persistence in his
play under such discomforts; he looked in the child's face, saw
there his wife's countenance, though he did not see his own, and
fell into thought on the piteousness of childhood--particularly of
despised and rejected childhood, like this before him.
From that hour, try as he would to counteract the feeling, the human
necessity to love something or other got the better of what he had
called his wisdom, and shaped itself in a tender anxiety for the
youngster Rupert. This name had been given him by his dying mother
when, at her request, the child was baptized in her chamber, lest he
should not survive for public baptism; and her husband had never
thought of it as a name of any significance till, about this time,
he learnt by accident that it was the name of the young Marquis of
Christminster, son of the Duke of Southwesterland, for whom Annetta
had cherished warm feelings before her marriage. Recollecting some
wandering phrases in his wife's last words, which he had not
understood at the time, he perceived at last that this was the
person to whom she had alluded when affording him a clue to little
He would sit in silence for hours with the child, being no great
speaker at the best of times; but the boy, on his part, was too
ready with his tongue for any break in discourse to arise because
Timothy Petrick had nothing to say. After idling away his mornings
in this manner, Petrick would go to his own room and swear in long
loud whispers, and walk up and down, calling himself the most
ridiculous dolt that ever lived, and declaring that he would never
go near the little fellow again; to which resolve he would adhere
for the space perhaps of a day. Such cases are happily not new to
human nature, but there never was a case in which a man more
completely befocled his former self than in this.
As the child grew up, Timothy's attachment to him grew deeper, till
Rupert became almost the sole object for which he lived. There had
been enough of the family ambition latent in him for Timothy Petrick
to feel a little envy when, some time before this date, his brother
Edward had been accepted by the Honourable Harriet Mountclere,
daughter of the second Viscount of that name and title; but having
discovered, as I have before stated, the paternity of his boy Rupert
to lurk in even a higher stratum of society, those envious feelings
speedily dispersed. Indeed, the more he reflected thereon, after
his brother's aristocratic marriage, the more content did he become.
His late wife took softer outline in his memory, as he thought of
the lofty taste she had displayed, though only a plain burgher's
daughter, and the justification for his weakness in loving the
child--the justification that he had longed for--was afforded now in
the knowledge that the boy was by nature, if not by name, a
representative of one of the noblest houses in England.
'She was a woman of grand instincts, after all,' he said to himself
proudly. 'To fix her choice upon the immediate successor in that
ducal line--it was finely conceived! Had he been of low blood like
myself or my relations she would scarce have deserved the harsh
measure that I have dealt out to her and her offspring. How much
less, then, when such grovelling tastes were farthest from her soul!
The man Annetta loved was noble, and my boy is noble in spite of
The afterclap was inevitable, and it soon came. 'So far,' he
reasoned, 'from cutting off this child from inheritance of my
estates, as I have done, I should have rejoiced in the possession of
him! He is of pure stock on one side at least, whilst in the
ordinary run of affairs he would have been a commoner to the bone.'
Being a man, whatever his faults, of good old beliefs in the
divinity of kings and those about 'em, the more he overhauled the
case in this light, the more strongly did his poor wife's conduct in
improving the blood and breed of the Petrick family win his heart.
He considered what ugly, idle, hard-drinking scamps many of his own
relations had been; the miserable scriveners, usurers, and
pawnbrokers that he had numbered among his forefathers, and the
probability that some of their bad qualities would have come out in
a merely corporeal child, to give him sorrow in his old age, turn
his black hairs gray, his gray hairs white, cut down every stick of
timber, and Heaven knows what all, had he not, like a skilful
gardener, minded his grafting and changed the sort; till at length
this right-minded man fell down on his knees every night and morning
and thanked God that he was not as other meanly descended fathers in
It was in the peculiar disposition of the Petrick family that the
satisfaction which ultimately settled in Timothy's breast found
nourishment. The Petricks had adored the nobility, and plucked them
at the same time. That excellent man Izaak Walton's feelings about
fish were much akin to those of old Timothy Petrick, and of his
descendants in a lesser degree, concerning the landed aristocracy.
To torture and to love simultaneously is a proceeding strange to
reason, but possible to practice, as these instances show.
Hence, when Timothy's brother Edward said slightingly one day that
Timothy's son was well enough, but that he had nothing but shops and
offices in his backward perspective, while his own children, should
he have any, would be far different, in possessing such a mother as
the Honourable Harriet, Timothy felt a bound of triumph within him
at the power he possessed of contradicting that statement if he
So much was he interested in his boy in this new aspect that he now
began to read up chronicles of the illustrious house ennobled as the
Dukes of Southwesterland, from their very beginning in the glories
of the Restoration of the blessed Charles till the year of his own
time. He mentally noted their gifts from royalty, grants of lands,
purchases, intermarriages, plantings and buildings; more
particularly their political and military achievements, which had
been great, and their performances in art and letters, which had
been by no means contemptible. He studied prints of the portraits
of that family, and then, like a chemist watching a crystallization,
began to examine young Rupert's face for the unfolding of those
historic curves and shades that the painters Vandyke and Lely had
perpetuated on canvas.
When the boy reached the most fascinating age of childhood, and his
shouts of laughter ran through Stapleford House from end to end, the
remorse that oppressed Timothy Petrick knew no bounds. Of all
people in the world this Rupert was the one on whom he could have
wished the estates to devolve; yet Rupert, by Timothy's own
desperate strategy at the time of his birth, had been ousted from
all inheritance of them; and, since he did not mean to remarry, the
manors would pass to his brother and his brother's children, who
would be nothing to him, whose boasted pedigree on one side would be
nothing to his Rupert's.
Had he only left the first will of his grandfather alone!
His mind ran on the wills continually, both of which were in
existence, and the first, the cancelled one, in his own possession.
Night after night, when the servants were all abed, and the click of
safety locks sounded as loud as a crash, he looked at that first
will, and wished it had been the second and not the first.
The crisis came at last. One night, after having enjoyed the boy's
company for hours, he could no longer bear that his beloved Rupert
should be dispossessed, and he committed the felonious deed of
altering the date of the earlier will to a fortnight later, which
made its execution appear subsequent to the date of the second will
already proved. He then boldly propounded the first will as the
His brother Edward submitted to what appeared to be not only
incontestible fact, but a far more likely disposition of old
Timothy's property; for, like many others, he had been much
surprised at the limitations defined in the other will, having no
clue to their cause. He joined his brother Timothy in setting aside
the hitherto accepted document, and matters went on in their usual
course, there being no dispositions in the substituted will
differing from those in the other, except such as related to a
future which had not yet arrived.
The years moved on. Rupert had not yet revealed the anxiously
expected historic lineaments which should foreshadow the political
abilities of the ducal family aforesaid when it happened on a
certain day that Timothy Petrick made the acquaintance of a well-
known physician of Budmouth, who had been the medical adviser and
friend of the late Mrs. Petrick's family for many years; though
after Annetta's marriage, and consequent removal to Stapleford, he
had seen no more of her, the neighbouring practitioner who attended
the Petricks having then become her doctor as a matter of course.
Timothy was impressed by the insight and knowledge disclosed in the
conversation of the Budmouth physician, and the acquaintance
ripening to intimacy, the physician alluded to a form of
hallucination to which Annetta's mother and grandmother had been
subject--that of believing in certain dreams as realities. He
delicately inquired if Timothy had ever noticed anything of the sort
in his wife during her lifetime; he, the physician, had fancied that
he discerned germs of the same peculiarity in Annetta when he
attended her in her girlhood. One explanation begat another, till
the dumbfoundered Timothy Petrick was persuaded in his own mind that
Annetta's confession to him had been based on a delusion.
'You look down in the mouth?' said the doctor, pausing.
'A bit unmanned. 'Tis unexpected-like,' sighed Timothy.
But he could hardly believe it possible; and, thinking it best to be
frank with the doctor, told him the whole story which, till now, he
had never related to living man, save his dying grandfather. To his
surprise, the physician informed him that such a form of delusion
was precisely what he would have expected from Annetta's antecedents
at such a physical crisis in her life.
Petrick prosecuted his inquiries elsewhere; and the upshot of his
labours was, briefly, that a comparison of dates and places showed
irrefutably that his poor wife's assertion could not possibly have
foundation in fact. The young Marquis of her tender passion--a
highly moral and bright-minded nobleman--had gone abroad the year
before Annetta's marriage, and had not returned till after her
death. The young girl's love for him had been a delicate ideal
Timothy went home, and the boy ran out to meet him; whereupon a
strangely dismal feeling of discontent took possession of his soul.
After all, then, there was nothing but plebeian blood in the veins
of the heir to his name and estates; he was not to be succeeded by a
noble-natured line. To be sure, Rupert was his son; but that glory
and halo he believed him to have inherited from the ages, outshining
that of his brother's children, had departed from Rupert's brow for
ever; he could no longer read history in the boy's face, and
centuries of domination in his eyes.
His manner towards his son grew colder and colder from that day
forward; and it was with bitterness of heart that he discerned the
characteristic features of the Petricks unfolding themselves by
degrees. Instead of the elegant knife-edged nose, so typical of the
Dukes of Southwesterland, there began to appear on his face the
broad nostril and hollow bridge of his grandfather Timothy. No
illustrious line of politicians was promised a continuator in that
graying blue eye, for it was acquiring the expression of the orb of
a particularly objectionable cousin of his own; and, instead of the
mouth-curves which had thrilled Parliamentary audiences in speeches
now bound in calf in every well-ordered library, there was the bull-
lip of that very uncle of his who had had the misfortune with the
signature of a gentleman's will, and had been transported for life
To think how he himself, too, had sinned in this same matter of a
will for this mere fleshly reproduction of a wretched old uncle
whose very name he wished to forget! The boy's Christian name,
even, was an imposture and an irony, for it implied hereditary force
and brilliancy to which he plainly would never attain. The
consolation of real sonship was always left him certainly; but he
could not help groaning to himself, 'Why cannot a son be one's own
and somebody else's likewise!'
The Marquis was shortly afterwards in the neighbourhood of
Stapleford, and Timothy Petrick met him, and eyed his noble
countenance admiringly. The next day, when Petrick was in his
study, somebody knocked at the door.
'I'll Rupert thee, you young impostor! Say, only a poor commonplace
Petrick!' his father grunted. 'Why didn't you have a voice like the
Marquis's I saw yesterday?' he continued, as the lad came in. 'Why
haven't you his looks, and a way of commanding, as if you'd done it
'Why? How can you expect it, father, when I'm not related to him?'
'Ugh! Then you ought to be!' growled his father.
As the narrator paused, the surgeon, the Colonel, the historian, the
Spark, and others exclaimed that such subtle and instructive
psychological studies as this (now that psychology was so much in
demand) were precisely the tales they desired, as members of a
scientific club, and begged the master-maltster to tell another
curious mental delusion.
The maltster shook his head, and feared he was not genteel enough to
tell another story with a sufficiently moral tone in it to suit the
club; he would prefer to leave the next to a better man.
The Colonel had fallen into reflection. True it was, he observed,
that the more dreamy and impulsive nature of woman engendered within
her erratic fancies, which often started her on strange tracks, only
to abandon them in sharp revulsion at the dictates of her common
sense--sometimes with ludicrous effect. Events which had caused a
lady's action to set in a particular direction might continue to
enforce the same line of conduct, while she, like a mangle, would
start on a sudden in a contrary course, and end where she began.
The Vice-President laughed, and applauded the Colonel, adding that
there surely lurked a story somewhere behind that sentiment, if he
were not much mistaken.
The Colonel fixed his face to a good narrative pose, and went on
without further preamble.
DAME THE SEVENTH: ANNA, LADY BAXBY
By the Colonel
It was in the time of the great Civil War--if I should not rather,
as a loyal subject, call it, with Clarendon, the Great Rebellion.
It was, I say, at that unhappy period of our history, that towards
the autumn of a particular year, the Parliament forces sat down
before Sherton Castle with over seven thousand foot and four pieces
of cannon. The Castle, as we all know, was in that century owned
and occupied by one of the Earls of Severn, and garrisoned for his
assistance by a certain noble Marquis who commanded the King's
troops in these parts. The said Earl, as well as the young Lord
Baxby, his eldest son, were away from home just now, raising forces
for the King elsewhere. But there were present in the Castle, when
the besiegers arrived before it, the son's fair wife Lady Baxby, and
her servants, together with some friends and near relatives of her
husband; and the defence was so good and well-considered that they
anticipated no great danger.
The Parliamentary forces were also commanded by a noble lord--for
the nobility were by no means, at this stage of the war, all on the
King's side--and it had been observed during his approach in the
night-time, and in the morning when the reconnoitring took place,
that he appeared sad and much depressed. The truth was that, by a
strange freak of destiny, it had come to pass that the stronghold he
was set to reduce was the home of his own sister, whom he had
tenderly loved during her maidenhood, and whom he loved now, in
spite of the estrangement which had resulted from hostilities with
her husband's family. He believed, too, that, notwithstanding this
cruel division, she still was sincerely attached to him.
His hesitation to point his ordnance at the walls was inexplicable
to those who were strangers to his family history. He remained in
the field on the north side of the Castle (called by his name to
this day because of his encampment there) till it occurred to him to
send a messenger to his sister Anna with a letter, in which he
earnestly requested her, as she valued her life, to steal out of the
place by the little gate to the south, and make away in that
direction to the residence of some friends.
Shortly after he saw, to his great surprise, coming from the front
of the Castle walls a lady on horseback, with a single attendant.
She rode straight forward into the field, and up the slope to where
his army and tents were spread. It was not till she got quite near
that he discerned her to be his sister Anna; and much was he alarmed
that she should have run such risk as to sally out in the face of
his forces without knowledge of their proceedings, when at any
moment their first discharge might have burst forth, to her own
destruction in such exposure. She dismounted before she was quite
close to him, and he saw that her familiar face, though pale, was
not at all tearful, as it would have been in their younger days.
Indeed, if the particulars as handed down are to be believed, he was
in a more tearful state than she, in his anxiety about her. He
called her into his tent, out of the gaze of those around; for
though many of the soldiers were honest and serious-minded men, he
could not bear that she who had been his dear companion in childhood
should be exposed to curious observation in this her great grief.
When they were alone in the tent he clasped her in his arms, for he
had not seen her since those happier days when, at the commencement
of the war, her husband and himself had been of the same mind about
the arbitrary conduct of the King, and had little dreamt that they
would not go to extremes together. She was the calmest of the two,
it is said, and was the first to speak connectedly.
'William, I have come to you,' said she, 'but not to save myself as
you suppose. Why, oh, why do you persist in supporting this
disloyal cause, and grieving us so?'
'Say not that,' he replied hastily. 'If truth hides at the bottom
of a well, why should you suppose justice to be in high places? I
am for the right at any price. Anna, leave the Castle; you are my
sister; come away, my dear, and save thy life!'
'Never!' says she. 'Do you plan to carry out this attack, and level
the Castle indeed?'
'Most certainly I do,' says he. 'What meaneth this army around us
if not so?'
'Then you will find the bones of your sister buried in the ruins you
cause!' said she. And without another word she turned and left him.
'Anna--abide with me!' he entreated. 'Blood is thicker than water,
and what is there in common between you and your husband now?'
But she shook her head and would not hear him and hastening out,
mounted her horse, and returned towards the Castle as she had come.
Ay, many's the time when I have been riding to hounds across that
field that I have thought of that scene!
When she had quite gone down the field, and over the intervening
ground, and round the bastion, so that he could no longer even see
the tip of her mare's white tail, he was much more deeply moved by
emotions concerning her and her welfare than he had been while she
was before him. He wildly reproached himself that he had not
detained her by force for her own good, so that, come what might,
she would be under his protection and not under that of her husband,
whose impulsive nature rendered him too open to instantaneous
impressions and sudden changes of plan; he was now acting in this
cause and now in that, and lacked the cool judgment necessary for
the protection of a woman in these troubled times. Her brother
thought of her words again and again, and sighed, and even
considered if a sister were not of more value than a principle, and
if he would not have acted more naturally in throwing in his lot
The delay of the besiegers in attacking the Castle was said to be
entirely owing to this distraction on the part of their leader, who
remained on the spot attempting some indecisive operations, and
parleying with the Marquis, then in command, with far inferior
forces, within the Castle. It never occurred to him that in the
meantime the young Lady Baxby, his sister, was in much the same mood
as himself. Her brother's familiar voice and eyes, much worn and
fatigued by keeping the field, and by family distractions on account
of this unhappy feud, rose upon her vision all the afternoon, and as
day waned she grew more and more Parliamentarian in her principles,
though the only arguments which had addressed themselves to her were
those of family ties.
Her husband, General Lord Baxby, had been expected to return all the
day from his excursion into the east of the county, a message having
been sent to him informing him of what had happened at home; and in
the evening he arrived with reinforcements in unexpected numbers.
Her brother retreated before these to a hill near Ivell, four or
five miles off, to afford the men and himself some repose. Lord
Baxby duly placed his forces, and there was no longer any immediate
danger. By this time Lady Baxby's feelings were more
Parliamentarian than ever, and in her fancy the fagged countenance
of her brother, beaten back by her husband, seemed to reproach her
for heartlessness. When her husband entered her apartment, ruddy
and boisterous, and full of hope, she received him but sadly; and
upon his casually uttering some slighting words about her brother's
withdrawal, which seemed to convey an imputation upon his courage,
she resented them, and retorted that he, Lord Baxby himself, had
been against the Court-party at first, where it would be much more
to his credit if he were at present, and showing her brother's
consistency of opinion, instead of supporting the lying policy of
the King (as she called it) for the sake of a barren principle of
loyalty, which was but an empty expression when a King was not at
one with his people. The dissension grew bitter between them,
reaching to little less than a hot quarrel, both being quick-
Lord Baxby was weary with his long day's march and other
excitements, and soon retired to bed. His lady followed some time
after. Her husband slept profoundly, but not so she; she sat
brooding by the window-slit, and lifting the curtain looked forth
upon the hills without.
In the silence between the footfalls of the sentinels she could hear
faint sounds of her brother's camp on the distant hills, where the
soldiery had hardly settled as yet into their bivouac since their
evening's retreat. The first frosts of autumn had touched the
grass, and shrivelled the more delicate leaves of the creepers; and
she thought of William sleeping on the chilly ground, under the
strain of these hardships. Tears flooded her eyes as she returned
to her husband's imputations upon his courage, as if there could be
any doubt of Lord William's courage after what he had done in the
Lord Baxby's long and reposeful breathings in his comfortable bed
vexed her now, and she came to a determination on an impulse.
Hastily lighting a taper, she wrote on a scrap of paper:
'Blood is thicker than water, dear William--I will come;' and with
this in her hand, she went to the door of the room, and out upon the
stairs; on second thoughts turning back for a moment, to put on her
husband's hat and cloak--not the one he was daily wearing--that if
seen in the twilight she might at a casual glance appear as some lad
or hanger-on of one of the household women; thus accoutred she
descended a flight of circular stairs, at the bottom of which was a
door opening upon the terrace towards the west, in the direction of
her brother's position. Her object was to slip out without the
sentry seeing her, get to the stables, arouse one of the varlets,
and send him ahead of her along the highway with the note to warn
her brother of her approach, to throw in her lot with his.
She was still in the shadow of the wall on the west terrace, waiting
for the sentinel to be quite out of the way, when her ears were
greeted by a voice, saying, from the adjoining shade -
'Here I be!'
The tones were the tones of a woman. Lady Baxby made no reply, and
stood close to the wall.
'My Lord Baxby,' the voice continued; and she could recognize in it
the local accent of some girl from the little town of Sherton, close
at hand. 'I be tired of waiting, my dear Lord Baxby! I was afeard
you would never come!'
Lady Baxby flushed hot to her toes.
'How the wench loves him!' she said to herself, reasoning from the
tones of the voice, which were plaintive and sweet and tender as a
bird's. She changed from the home-hating truant to the strategic
wife in one moment.
'Hist!' she said.
'My lord, you told me ten o'clock, and 'tis near twelve now,'
continues the other. 'How could ye keep me waiting so if you love
me as you said? I should have stuck to my lover in the Parliament
troops if it had not been for thee, my dear lord!'
There was not the least doubt that Lady Baxby had been mistaken for
her husband by this intriguing damsel. Here was a pretty underhand
business! Here were sly manoeuvrings! Here was faithlessness!
Here was a precious assignation surprised in the midst! Her wicked
husband, whom till this very moment she had ever deemed the soul of
good faith--how could he!
Lady Baxby precipitately retreated to the door in the turret, closed
it, locked it, and ascended one round of the staircase, where there
was a loophole. 'I am not coming! I, Lord Baxby, despise ye and
all your wanton tribe!' she hissed through the opening; and then
crept upstairs, as firmly rooted in Royalist principles as any man
in the Castle.
Her husband still slept the sleep of the weary, well-fed, and well-
drunken, if not of the just; and Lady Baxby quickly disrobed herself
without assistance--being, indeed, supposed by her woman to have
retired to rest long ago. Before lying down, she noiselessly locked
the door and placed the key under her pillow. More than that, she
got a staylace, and, creeping up to her lord, in great stealth tied
the lace in a tight knot to one of his long locks of hair, attaching
the other end of the lace to the bedpost; for, being tired herself
now, she feared she might sleep heavily; and, if her husband should
wake, this would be a delicate hint that she had discovered all.
It is added that, to make assurance trebly sure, her gentle
ladyship, when she had lain down to rest, held her lord's hand in
her own during the whole of the night. But this is old-wives'
gossip, and not corroborated. What Lord Baxby thought and said when
he awoke the next morning, and found himself so strangely tethered,
is likewise only matter of conjecture; though there is no reason to
suppose that his rage was great. The extent of his culpability as
regards the intrigue was this much; that, while halting at a cross-
road near Sherton that day, he had flirted with a pretty young
woman, who seemed nothing loth, and had invited her to the Castle
terrace after dark--an invitation which he quite forgot on his
The subsequent relations of Lord and Lady Baxby were not again
greatly embittered by quarrels, so far as is known; though the
husband's conduct in later life was occasionally eccentric, and the
vicissitudes of his public career culminated in long exile. The
siege of the Castle was not regularly undertaken till two or three
years later than the time I have been describing, when Lady Baxby
and all the women therein, except the wife of the then Governor, had
been removed to safe distance. That memorable siege of fifteen days
by Fairfax, and the surrender of the old place on an August evening,
is matter of history, and need not be told by me.
The Man of Family spoke approvingly across to the Colonel when the
Club had done smiling, declaring that the story was an absolutely
faithful page of history, as he had good reason to know, his own
people having been engaged in that well-known scrimmage. He asked
if the Colonel had ever heard the equally well-authenticated, though
less martial tale of a certain Lady Penelope, who lived in the same
century, and not a score of miles from the same place?
The Colonel had not heard it, nor had anybody except the local
historian; and the inquirer was induced to proceed forthwith.
DAME THE EIGHTH: THE LADY PENELOPE
By the man of Family
In going out of Casterbridge by the low-lying road which eventually
conducts to the town of Ivell, you see on the right hand an ivied
manor-house, flanked by battlemented towers, and more than usually
distinguished by the size of its many mullioned windows. Though
still of good capacity, the building is much reduced from its
original grand proportions; it has, moreover, been shorn of the fair
estate which once appertained to its lord, with the exception of a
few acres of park-land immediately around the mansion. This was
formerly the seat of the ancient and knightly family of the
Drenghards, or Drenkhards, now extinct in the male line, whose name,
according to the local chronicles, was interpreted to mean Strenuus
Miles, vel Potator, though certain members of the family were averse
to the latter signification, and a duel was fought by one of them on
that account, as is well known. With this, however, we are not now
In the early part of the reign of the first King James, there was
visiting near this place of the Drenghards a lady of noble family
and extraordinary beauty. She was of the purest descent; ah,
there's seldom such blood nowadays as hers! She possessed no great
wealth, it was said, but was sufficiently endowed. Her beauty was
so perfect, and her manner so entrancing, that suitors seemed to
spring out of the ground wherever she went, a sufficient cause of
anxiety to the Countess her mother, her only living parent. Of
these there were three in particular, whom neither her mother's
complaints of prematurity, nor the ready raillery of the maiden
herself, could effectually put off. The said gallants were a
certain Sir John Gale, a Sir William Hervy, and the well-known Sir
George Drenghard, one of the Drenghard family before-mentioned.
They had, curiously enough, all been equally honoured with the
distinction of knighthood, and their schemes for seeing her were
manifold, each fearing that one of the others would steal a march
over himself. Not content with calling, on every imaginable excuse,
at the house of the relative with whom she sojourned, they
intercepted her in rides and in walks; and if any one of them
chanced to surprise another in the act of paying her marked
attentions, the encounter often ended in an altercation of great
violence. So heated and impassioned, indeed, would they become,
that the lady hardly felt herself safe in their company at such
times, notwithstanding that she was a brave and buxom damsel, not
easily put out, and with a daring spirit of humour in her
composition, if not of coquetry.
At one of these altercations, which had place in her relative's
grounds, and was unusually bitter, threatening to result in a duel,
she found it necessary to assert herself. Turning haughtily upon
the pair of disputants, she declared that whichever should be the
first to break the peace between them, no matter what the
provocation, that man should never be admitted to her presence
again; and thus would she effectually stultify the aggressor by
making the promotion of a quarrel a distinct bar to its object.
While the two knights were wearing rather a crest-fallen appearance
at her reprimand, the third, never far off, came upon the scene, and
she repeated her caveat to him also. Seeing, then, how great was
the concern of all at her peremptory mood, the lady's manner
softened, and she said with a roguish smile -
'Have patience, have patience, you foolish men! Only bide your time
quietly, and, in faith, I will marry you all in turn!'
They laughed heartily at this sally, all three together, as though
they were the best of friends; at which she blushed, and showed some
embarrassment, not having realized that her arch jest would have
sounded so strange when uttered. The meeting which resulted thus,
however, had its good effect in checking the bitterness of their
rivalry; and they repeated her speech to their relatives and
acquaintance with a hilarious frequency and publicity that the lady
little divined, or she might have blushed and felt more
In the course of time the position resolved itself, and the
beauteous Lady Penelope (as she was called) made up her mind; her
choice being the eldest of the three knights, Sir George Drenghard,
owner of the mansion aforesaid, which thereupon became her home; and
her husband being a pleasant man, and his family, though not so
noble, of as good repute as her own, all things seemed to show that
she had reckoned wisely in honouring him with her preference.
But what may lie behind the still and silent veil of the future none
can foretell. In the course of a few months the husband of her
choice died of his convivialities (as if, indeed, to bear out his
name), and the Lady Penelope was left alone as mistress of his
house. By this time she had apparently quite forgotten her careless
declaration to her lovers collectively; but the lovers themselves
had not forgotten it; and, as she would now be free to take a second
one of them, Sir John Gale appeared at her door as early in her
widowhood as it was proper and seemly to do so.
She gave him little encouragement; for, of the two remaining, her
best beloved was Sir William, of whom, if the truth must be told,
she had often thought during her short married life. But he had not
yet reappeared. Her heart began to be so much with him now that she
contrived to convey to him, by indirect hints through his friends,
that she would not be displeased by a renewal of his former
attentions. Sir William, however, misapprehended her gentle
signalling, and from excellent, though mistaken motives of delicacy,
delayed to intrude himself upon her for a long time. Meanwhile Sir
John, now created a baronet, was unremitting, and she began to grow
somewhat piqued at the backwardness of him she secretly desired to
'Never mind,' her friends said jestingly to her (knowing of her
humorous remark, as everybody did, that she would marry them all
three if they would have patience)--'never mind; why hesitate upon
the order of them? Take 'em as they come.'
This vexed her still more, and regretting deeply, as she had often
done, that such a careless speech should ever have passed her lips,
she fairly broke down under Sir John's importunity, and accepted his
hand. They were married on a fine spring morning, about the very
time at which the unfortunate Sir William discovered her preference
for him, and was beginning to hasten home from a foreign court to
declare his unaltered devotion to her. On his arrival in England he
learnt the sad truth.
If Sir William suffered at her precipitancy under what she had
deemed his neglect, the Lady Penelope herself suffered more. She
had not long been the wife of Sir John Gale before he showed a
disposition to retaliate upon her for the trouble and delay she had
put him to in winning her. With increasing frequency he would tell
her that, as far as he could perceive, she was an article not worth
such labour as he had bestowed in obtaining it, and such snubbings
as he had taken from his rivals on the same account. These and
other cruel things he repeated till he made the lady weep sorely,
and wellnigh broke her spirit, though she had formerly been such a
mettlesome dame. By degrees it became perceptible to all her
friends that her life was a very unhappy one; and the fate of the
fair woman seemed yet the harder in that it was her own stately
mansion, left to her sole use by her first husband, which her second
had entered into and was enjoying, his being but a mean and meagre
But such is the flippancy of friends that when she met them, and
secretly confided her grief to their ears, they would say cheerily,
'Lord, never mind, my dear; there's a third to come yet!'--at which
maladroit remark she would show much indignation, and tell them they
should know better than to trifle on so solemn a theme. Yet that
the poor lady would have been only too happy to be the wife of the
third, instead of Sir John whom she had taken, was painfully
obvious, and much she was blamed for her foolish choice by some
people. Sir William, however, had returned to foreign cities on
learning the news of her marriage, and had never been heard of
Two or three years of suffering were passed by Lady Penelope as the
despised and chidden wife of this man Sir John, amid regrets that
she had so greatly mistaken him, and sighs for one whom she thought
never to see again, till it chanced that her husband fell sick of
some slight ailment. One day after this, when she was sitting in
his room, looking from the window upon the expanse in front, she
beheld, approaching the house on foot, a form she seemed to know
well. Lady Penelope withdrew silently from the sickroom, and
descended to the hall, whence, through the doorway, she saw entering
between the two round towers, which at that time flanked the
gateway, Sir William Hervy, as she had surmised, but looking thin
and travel-worn. She advanced into the courtyard to meet him.
'I was passing through Casterbridge,' he said, with faltering
deference, 'and I walked out to ask after your ladyship's health. I
felt that I could do no less; and, of course, to pay my respects to
your good husband, my heretofore acquaintance . . . But oh,
Penelope, th'st look sick and sorry!'
'I am heartsick, that's all,' said she.
They could see in each other an emotion which neither wished to
express, and they stood thus a long time with tears in their eyes.
'He does not treat 'ee well, I hear,' said Sir William in a low
voice. 'May God in Heaven forgive him; but it is asking a great
'Hush, hush!' said she hastily.
'Nay, but I will speak what I may honestly say,' he answered. 'I am
not under your roof, and my tongue is free. Why didst not wait for
me, Penelope, or send to me a more overt letter? I would have
travelled night and day to come!'
'Too late, William; you must not ask it,' said she, endeavouring to
quiet him as in old times. 'My husband just now is unwell. He will
grow better in a day or two, maybe. You must call again and see him
before you leave Casterbridge.'
As she said this their eyes met. Each was thinking of her lightsome
words about taking the three men in turn; each thought that two-
thirds of that promise had been fulfilled. But, as if it were
unpleasant to her that this recollection should have arisen, she
spoke again quickly: 'Come again in a day or two, when my husband
will be well enough to see you.'
Sir William departed without entering the house, and she returned to
Sir John's chamber. He, rising from his pillow, said, 'To whom hast
been talking, wife, in the courtyard? I heard voices there.'
She hesitated, and he repeated the question more impatiently.
'I do not wish to tell you now,' said she.
'But I wooll know!' said he.
Then she answered, 'Sir William Hervy.'
'By G- I thought as much!' cried Sir John, drops of perspiration
standing on his white face. 'A skulking villain! A sick man's ears
are keen, my lady. I heard that they were lover-like tones, and he
called 'ee by your Christian name. These be your intrigues, my
lady, when I am off my legs awhile!'
'On my honour,' cried she, 'you do me a wrong. I swear I did not
know of his coming!'
'Swear as you will,' said Sir John, 'I don't believe 'ee.' And with
this he taunted her, and worked himself into a greater passion,
which much increased his illness. His lady sat still, brooding.
There was that upon her face which had seldom been there since her
marriage; and she seemed to think anew of what she had so lightly
said in the days of her freedom, when her three lovers were one and
all coveting her hand. 'I began at the wrong end of them,' she
murmured. 'My God--that did I!'
'What?' said he.
'A trifle,' said she. 'I spoke to myself only.'
It was somewhat strange that after this day, while she went about
the house with even a sadder face than usual, her churlish husband
grew worse; and what was more, to the surprise of all, though to the
regret of few, he died a fortnight later. Sir William had not
called upon him as he had promised, having received a private
communication from Lady Penelope, frankly informing him that to do
so would be inadvisable, by reason of her husband's temper.
Now when Sir John was gone, and his remains carried to his family
burying-place in another part of England, the lady began in due time
to wonder whither Sir William had betaken himself. But she had been
cured of precipitancy (if ever woman were), and was prepared to wait
her whole lifetime a widow if the said Sir William should not
reappear. Her life was now passed mostly within the walls, or in
promenading between the pleasaunce and the bowling-green; and she
very seldom went even so far as the high road which then skirted the
grounds on the north, though it has now, and for many years, been
diverted to the south side. Her patience was rewarded (if love be
in any case a reward); for one day, many months after her second
husband's death, a messenger arrived at her gate with the
intelligence that Sir William Hervy was again in Casterbridge, and
would be glad to know if it were her pleasure that he should wait
It need hardly be said that permission was joyfully granted, and
within two hours her lover stood before her, a more thoughtful man
than formerly, but in all essential respects the same man, generous,
modest to diffidence, and sincere. The reserve which womanly
decorum threw over her manner was but too obviously artificial, and
when he said 'the ways of Providence are strange,' and added after a
moment, 'and merciful likewise,' she could not conceal her
agitation, and burst into tears upon his neck.
'But this is too soon,' she said, starting back.
'But no,' said he. 'You are eleven months gone in widowhood, and it
is not as if Sir John had been a good husband to you.'
His visits grew pretty frequent now, as may well be guessed, and in
a month or two he began to urge her to an early union. But she
counselled a little longer delay.
'Why?' said he. 'Surely I have waited long! Life is short; we are
getting older every day, and I am the last of the three.'
'Yes,' said the lady frankly. 'And that is why I would not have you
hasten. Our marriage may seem so strange to everybody, after my
unlucky remark on that occasion we know so well, and which so many
others know likewise, thanks to talebearers.'
On this representation he conceded a little space, for the sake of
her good name. But the destined day of their marriage at last
arrived, and it was a gay time for the villagers and all concerned,
and the bells in the parish church rang from noon till night. Thus
at last she was united to the man who had loved her the most
tenderly of them all, who but for his reticence might perhaps have
been the first to win her. Often did he say to himself; 'How
wondrous that her words should have been fulfilled! Many a truth
hath been spoken in jest, but never a more remarkable one!' The
noble lady herself preferred not to dwell on the coincidence, a
certain shyness, if not shame, crossing her fair face at any
But people will have their say, sensitive souls or none, and their
sayings on this third occasion took a singular shape. 'Surely,'
they whispered, 'there is something more than chance in this . . .
The death of the first was possibly natural; but what of the death
of the second, who ill-used her, and whom, loving the third so
desperately, she must have wished out of the way?'
Then they pieced together sundry trivial incidents of Sir John's
illness, and dwelt upon the indubitable truth that he had grown
worse after her lover's unexpected visit; till a very sinister
theory was built up as to the hand she may have had in Sir John's
premature demise. But nothing of this suspicion was said openly,
for she was a lady of noble birth--nobler, indeed, than either of
her husbands--and what people suspected they feared to express in
The mansion that she occupied had been left to her for so long a
time as she should choose to reside in it, and, having a regard for
the spot, she had coaxed Sir William to remain there. But in the
end it was unfortunate; for one day, when in the full tide of his
happiness, he was walking among the willows near the gardens, where
he overheard a conversation between some basket-makers who were
cutting the osiers for their use. In this fatal dialogue the
suspicions of the neighbouring townsfolk were revealed to him for
the first time.
'A cupboard close to his bed, and the key in her pocket. Ah!' said
'And a blue phial therein--h'm!' said another.
'And spurge-laurel leaves among the hearth-ashes. Oh-oh!' said a
On his return home Sir William seemed to have aged years. But he
said nothing; indeed, it was a thing impossible. And from that hour
a ghastly estrangement began. She could not understand it, and
simply waited. One day he said, however, 'I must go abroad.'
'Why?' said she. 'William, have I offended you?'
'No,' said he; 'but I must go.'
She could coax little more out of him, and in itself there was
nothing unnatural in his departure, for he had been a wanderer from
his youth. In a few days he started off, apparently quite another
man than he who had rushed to her side so devotedly a few months
It is not known when, or how, the rumours, which were so thick in
the atmosphere around her, actually reached the Lady Penelope's
ears, but that they did reach her there is no doubt. It was
impossible that they should not; the district teemed with them; they
rustled in the air like night-birds of evil omen. Then a reason for
her husband's departure occurred to her appalled mind, and a loss of
health became quickly apparent. She dwindled thin in the face, and
the veins in her temples could all be distinctly traced. An inner
fire seemed to be withering her away. Her rings fell off her
fingers, and her arms hung like the flails of the threshers, though
they had till lately been so round and so elastic. She wrote to her
husband repeatedly, begging him to return to her; but he, being in
extreme and wretched doubt, moreover, knowing nothing of her ill-
health, and never suspecting that the rumours had reached her also,
deemed absence best, and postponed his return awhile, giving various
good reasons for his delay.
At length, however, when the Lady Penelope had given birth to a
still-born child, her mother, the Countess, addressed a letter to
Sir William, requesting him to come back to her if he wished to see
her alive; since she was wasting away of some mysterious disease,
which seemed to be rather mental than physical. It was evident that
his mother-in-law knew nothing of the secret, for she lived at a
distance; but Sir William promptly hastened home, and stood beside
the bed of his now dying wife.
'Believe me, William,' she said when they were alone, 'I am
'Of what?' said he. 'Heaven forbid that I should accuse you of
'But you do accuse me--silently!' she gasped. 'I could not write
thereon--and ask you to hear me. It was too much, too degrading.
But would that I had been less proud! They suspect me of poisoning
him, William! But, oh my dear husband, I am innocent of that wicked
crime! He died naturally. I loved you--too soon; but that was
Nothing availed to save her. The worm had gnawed too far into her
heart before Sir William's return for anything to be remedial now;
and in a few weeks she breathed her last. After her death the
people spoke louder, and her conduct became a subject of public
discussion. A little later on, the physician, who had attended the
late Sir John, heard the rumour, and came down from the place near
London to which he latterly had retired, with the express purpose of
calling upon Sir William Hervy, now staying in Casterbridge.
He stated that, at the request of a relative of Sir John's, who
wished to be assured on the matter by reason of its suddenness, he
had, with the assistance of a surgeon, made a private examination of
Sir John's body immediately after his decease, and found that it had
resulted from purely natural causes. Nobody at this time had
breathed a suspicion of foul play, and therefore nothing was said
which might afterwards have established her innocence.
It being thus placed beyond doubt that this beautiful and noble lady
had been done to death by a vile scandal that was wholly unfounded,
her husband was stung with a dreadful remorse at the share he had
taken in her misfortunes, and left the country anew, this time never
to return alive. He survived her but a few years, and his body was
brought home and buried beside his wife's under the tomb which is
still visible in the parish church. Until lately there was a good
portrait of her, in weeds for her first husband, with a cross in her
hand, at the ancestral seat of her family, where she was much
pitied, as she deserved to be. Yet there were some severe enough to
say--and these not unjust persons in other respects--that though
unquestionably innocent of the crime imputed to her, she had shown
an unseemly wantonness in contracting three marriages in such rapid
succession; that the untrue suspicion might have been ordered by
Providence (who often works indirectly) as a punishment for her
self-indulgence. Upon that point I have no opinion to offer.
The reverend the Vice-President, however, the tale being ended,
offered as his opinion that her fate ought to be quite clearly
recognized as a punishment. So thought the Churchwarden, and also
the quiet gentleman sitting near. The latter knew many other
instances in point, one of which could be narrated in a few words.
DAME THE NINTH: THE DUCHESS OF HAMPTONSHIRE
By the Quiet Gentleman
Some fifty years ago, the then Duke of Hamptonshire, fifth of that
title, was incontestibly the head man in his county, and
particularly in the neighbourhood of Batton. He came of the ancient
and loyal family of Saxelbye, which, before its ennoblement, had
numbered many knightly and ecclesiastical celebrities in its male
line. It would have occupied a painstaking county historian a whole
afternoon to take rubbings of the numerous effigies and heraldic
devices graven to their memory on the brasses, tablets, and altar-
tombs in the aisle of the parish-church. The Duke himself, however,
was a man little attracted by ancient chronicles in stone and metal,
even when they concerned his own beginnings. He allowed his mind to
linger by preference on the many graceless and unedifying pleasures
which his position placed at his command. He could on occasion
close the mouths of his dependents by a good bomb-like oath, and he
argued doggedly with the parson on the virtues of cock-fighting and
baiting the bull.
This nobleman's personal appearance was somewhat impressive. His
complexion was that of the copper-beech tree. His frame was
stalwart, though slightly stooping. His mouth was large, and he
carried an unpolished sapling as his walking-stick, except when he
carried a spud for cutting up any thistle he encountered on his
walks. His castle stood in the midst of a park, surrounded by dusky
elms, except to the southward; and when the moon shone out, the
gleaming stone facade, backed by heavy boughs, was visible from the
distant high road as a white spot on the surface of darkness.
Though called a castle, the building was little fortified, and had
been erected with greater eye to internal convenience than those
crannied places of defence to which the name strictly appertains.
It was a castellated mansion as regular as a chessboard on its
ground-plan, ornamented with make-believe bastions and
machicolations, behind which were stacks of battlemented chimneys.
On still mornings, at the fire-lighting hour, when ghostly house-
maids stalk the corridors, and thin streaks of light through the
shutter-chinks lend startling winks and smiles to ancestors on
canvas, twelve or fifteen thin stems of blue smoke sprouted upwards
from these chimney-tops, and spread into a flat canopy on high.
Around the site stretched ten thousand acres of good, fat,
unimpeachable soil, plentiful in glades and lawns wherever visible
from the castle-windows, and merging in homely arable where screened
from the too curious eye by ingeniously-contrived plantations.
Some way behind the owner of all this came the second man in the
parish, the rector, the Honourable and Reverend Mr. Oldbourne, a
widower, over stiff and stern for a clergyman, whose severe white
neckcloth, well-kept gray hair, and right-lined face betokened none
of those sympathetic traits whereon depends so much of a parson's
power to do good among his fellow-creatures. The last, far-removed
man of the series--altogether the Neptune of these local primaries--
was the curate, Mr. Alwyn Hill. He was a handsome young deacon with
curly hair, dreamy eyes--so dreamy that to look long into them was
like ascending and floating among summer clouds--a complexion as
fresh as a flower, and a chin absolutely beardless. Though his age
was about twenty-five, he looked not much over nineteen.
The rector had a daughter called Emmeline, of so sweet and simple a
nature that her beauty was discovered, measured, and inventoried by
almost everybody in that part of the country before it was suspected
by herself to exist. She had been bred in comparative solitude; a
rencounter with men troubled and confused her. Whenever a strange
visitor came to her father's house she slipped into the orchard and
remained till he was gone, ridiculing her weakness in apostrophes,
but unable to overcome it. Her virtues lay in no resistant force of
character, but in a natural inappetency for evil things, which to
her were as unmeaning as joints of flesh to a herbivorous creature.
Her charms of person, manner, and mind, had been clear for some time
to the Antinous in orders, and no less so to the Duke, who, though
scandalously ignorant of dainty phrases, ever showing a clumsy
manner towards the gentler sex, and, in short, not at all a lady's
man, took fire to a degree that was wellnigh terrible at sudden
sight of Emmeline, a short time after she was turned seventeen.
It occurred one afternoon at the corner of a shrubbery between the
castle and the rectory, where the Duke was standing to watch the
heaving of a mole, when the fair girl brushed past at a distance of
a few yards, in the full light of the sun, and without hat or
bonnet. The Duke went home like a man who had seen a spirit. He
ascended to the picture-gallery of his castle, and there passed some
time in staring at the bygone beauties of his line as if he had
never before considered what an important part those specimens of
womankind had played in the evolution of the Saxelbye race. He
dined alone, drank rather freely, and declared to himself that
Emmeline Oldbourne must be his.
Meanwhile there had unfortunately arisen between the curate and this
girl some sweet and secret understanding. Particulars of the
attachment remained unknown then and always, but it was plainly not
approved of by her father. His procedure was cold, hard, and
inexorable. Soon the curate disappeared from the parish, almost
suddenly, after bitter and hard words had been heard to pass between
him and the rector one evening in the garden, intermingled with
which, like the cries of the dying in the din of battle, were the
beseeching sobs of a woman. Not long after this it was announced
that a marriage between the Duke and Miss Oldbourne was to be
solemnized at a surprisingly early date.
The wedding-day came and passed; and she was a Duchess. Nobody
seemed to think of the ousted man during the day, or else those who
thought of him concealed their meditations. Some of the less
subservient ones were disposed to speak in a jocular manner of the
august husband and wife, others to make correct and pretty speeches
about them, according as their sex and nature dictated. But in the
evening, the ringers in the belfry, with whom Alwyn had been a
favourite, eased their minds a little concerning the gentle young
man, and the possible regrets of the woman he had loved.
'Don't you see something wrong in it all?' said the third bell as he
wiped his face. 'I know well enough where she would have liked to
stable her horses to-night, when they have done their journey.'
'That is, you would know if you could tell where young Mr. Hill is
living, which is known to none in the parish.'
'Except to the lady that this ring o' grandsire triples is in honour
Yet these friendly cottagers were at this time far from suspecting
the real dimensions of Emmeline's misery, nor was it clear even to
those who came into much closer communion with her than they, so
well had she concealed her heart-sickness. But bride and bridegroom
had not long been home at the castle when the young wife's
unhappiness became plainly enough perceptible. Her maids and men
said that she was in the habit of turning to the wainscot and
shedding stupid scalding tears at a time when a right-minded lady
would have been overhauling her wardrobe. She prayed earnestly in
the great church-pew, where she sat lonely and insignificant as a
mouse in a cell, instead of counting her rings, falling asleep, or
amusing herself in silent laughter at the queer old people in the
congregation, as previous beauties of the family had done in their
time. She seemed to care no more for eating and drinking out of
crystal and silver than from a service of earthen vessels. Her head
was, in truth, full of something else; and that such was the case
was only too obvious to the Duke, her husband. At first he would
only taunt her for her folly in thinking of that milk-and-water
parson; but as time went on his charges took a more positive shape.
He would not believe her assurance that she had in no way
communicated with her former lover, nor he with her, since their
parting in the presence of her father. This led to some strange
scenes between them which need not be detailed; their result was
soon to take a catastrophic shape.
One dark quiet evening, about two months after the marriage, a man
entered the gate admitting from the highway to the park and avenue
which ran up to the house. He arrived within two hundred yards of
the walls, when he left the gravelled drive and drew near to the
castle by a roundabout path leading into a shrubbery. Here he stood
still. In a few minutes the strokes of the castle-clock resounded,
and then a female figure entered the same secluded nook from an
opposite direction. There the two indistinct persons leapt together
like a pair of dewdrops on a leaf; and then they stood apart, facing
each other, the woman looking down.
'Emmeline, you begged me to come, and here I am, Heaven forgive me!'
said the man hoarsely.
'You are going to emigrate, Alwyn,' she said in broken accents. 'I
have heard of it; you sail from Plymouth in three days in the
'Yes. I can live in England no longer. Life is as death to me
here,' says he.
'My life is even worse--worse than death. Death would not have
driven me to this extremity. Listen, Alwyn--I have sent for you to
beg to go with you, or at least to be near you--to do anything so
that it be not to stay here.'
'To go away with me?' he said in a startled tone.
'Yes, yes--or under your direction, or by your help in some way!
Don't be horrified at me--you must bear with me whilst I implore it.
Nothing short of cruelty would have driven me to this. I could have
borne my doom in silence had I been left unmolested; but he tortures
me, and I shall soon be in the grave if I cannot escape.'
To his shocked inquiry how her husband tortured her, the Duchess
said that it was by jealousy. 'He tries to wring admissions from me
concerning you,' she said, 'and will not believe that I have not
communicated with you since my engagement to him was settled by my
father, and I was forced to agree to it.'
The poor curate said that this was the heaviest news of all. 'He
has not personally ill-used you?' he asked.
'Yes,' she whispered.
'What has he done?'
She looked fearfully around, and said, sobbing: 'In trying to make
me confess to what I have never done, he adopts plans I dare not
describe for terrifying me into a weak state, so that I may own to
anything! I resolved to write to you, as I had no other friend.'
She added, with dreary irony, 'I thought I would give him some
ground for his suspicion, so as not to disgrace his judgment.'
'Do you really mean, Emmeline,' he tremblingly inquired, 'that you--
that you want to fly with me?'
'Can you think that I would act otherwise than in earnest at such a
time as this?'
He was silent for a minute or more. 'You must not go with me,' he
'It would be sin.'
'It CANNOT be sin, for I have never wanted to commit sin in my life;
and it isn't likely I would begin now, when I pray every day to die
and be sent to Heaven out of my misery!'
'But it is wrong, Emmeline, all the same.'
'Is it wrong to run away from the fire that scorches you?'
'It would look wrong, at any rate, in this case.'
'Alwyn, Alwyn, take me, I beseech you!' she burst out. 'It is not
right in general, I know, but it is such an exceptional instance,
this. Why has such a severe strain been put upon me? I was doing
no harm, injuring no one, helping many people, and expecting
happiness; yet trouble came. Can it be that God holds me in
derision? I had no supporter--I gave way; and now my life is a
burden and a shame to me . . . Oh, if you only knew how much to me
this request to you is--how my life is wrapped up in it, you could
not deny me!'
'This is almost beyond endurance--Heaven support us,' he groaned.
'Emmy, you are the Duchess of Hamptonshire, the Duke of
Hamptonshire's wife; you must not go with me!'
'And am I then refused?--Oh, am I refused?' she cried frantically.
'Alwyn, Alwyn, do you say it indeed to me?'
'Yes, I do, dear, tender heart! I do most sadly say it. You must
not go. Forgive me, for there is no alternative but refusal.
Though I die, though you die, we must not fly together. It is
forbidden in God's law. Good-bye, for always and ever!'
He tore himself away, hastened from the shrubbery, and vanished
among the trees.
Three days after this meeting and farewell, Alwyn, his soft,
handsome features stamped with a haggard hardness that ten years of
ordinary wear and tear in the world could scarcely have produced,
sailed from Plymouth on a drizzling morning, in the passenger-ship
Western Glory. When the land had faded behind him he mechanically
endeavoured to school himself into a stoical frame of mind. His
attempt, backed up by the strong moral staying power that had
enabled him to resist the passionate temptation to which Emmeline,
in her reckless trustfulness, had exposed him, was rewarded by a
certain kind of success, though the murmuring stretch of waters
whereon he gazed day after day too often seemed to be articulating
to him in tones of her well-remembered voice.
He framed on his journey rules of conduct for reducing to mild
proportions the feverish regrets which would occasionally arise and
agitate him, when he indulged in visions of what might have been had
he not hearkened to the whispers of conscience. He fixed his
thoughts for so many hours a day on philosophical passages in the
volumes he had brought with him, allowing himself now and then a few
minutes' thought of Emmeline, with the strict yet reluctant
niggardliness of an ailing epicure proportioning the rank drinks
that cause his malady. The voyage was marked by the usual incidents
of a sailing-passage in those days--a storm, a calm, a man
overboard, a birth, and a funeral--the latter sad event being one in
which he, as the only clergyman on board, officiated, reading the
service ordained for the purpose. The ship duly arrived at Boston
early in the month following, and thence he proceeded to Providence
to seek out a distant relative.
After a short stay at Providence he returned again to Boston, and by
applying himself to a serious occupation made good progress in
shaking off the dreary melancholy which enveloped him even now.
Distracted and weakened in his beliefs by his recent experiences, he
decided that he could not for a time worthily fill the office of a
minister of religion, and applied for the mastership of a school.
Some introductions, given him before starting, were useful now, and
he soon became known as a respectable scholar and gentleman to the
trustees of one of the colleges. This ultimately led to his
retirement from the school and installation in the college as
Professor of rhetoric and oratory.
Here and thus he lived on, exerting himself solely because of a
conscientious determination to do his duty. He passed his winter
evenings in turning sonnets and elegies, often giving his thoughts
voice in 'Lines to an Unfortunate Lady,' while his summer leisure at
the same hour would be spent in watching the lengthening shadows
from his window, and fancifully comparing them with the shades of
his own life. If he walked, he mentally inquired which was the
eastern quarter of the landscape, and thought of two thousand miles
of water that way, and of what was beyond it. In a word he was at
all spare times dreaming of her who was only a memory to him, and
would probably never be more.
Nine years passed by, and under their wear and tear Alwyn Hill's
face lost a great many of the attractive characteristics which had
formerly distinguished it. He was kind to his pupils and affable to
all who came in contact with him; but the kernel of his life, his
secret, was kept as snugly shut up as though he had been dumb. In
talking to his acquaintances of England and his life there, he
omitted the episode of Batton Castle and Emmeline as if it had no
existence in his calendar at all. Though of towering importance to
himself, it had filled but a short and small fragment of time, an
ephemeral season which would have been wellnigh imperceptible, even
to him, at this distance, but for the incident it enshrined.
One day, at this date, when cursorily glancing over an old English
newspaper, he observed a paragraph which, short as it was, contained
for him whole tomes of thrilling information--rung with more
passion-stirring rhythm than the collected cantos of all the poets.
It was an announcement of the death of the Duke of Hamptonshire,
leaving behind him a widow, but no children.
The current of Alwyn's thoughts now completely changed. On looking
again at the newspaper he found it to be one that was sent him long
ago, and had been carelessly thrown aside. But for an accidental
overhauling of the waste journals in his study he might not have
known of the event for years. At this moment of reading the Duke
had already been dead seven months. Alwyn could now no longer bind
himself down to machine-made synecdoche, antithesis, and climax,
being full of spontaneous specimens of all these rhetorical forms,
which he dared not utter. Who shall wonder that his mind luxuriated
in dreams of a sweet possibility now laid open for the first time
these many years? for Emmeline was to him now as ever the one dear
thing in all the world. The issue of his silent romancing was that
he resolved to return to her at the very earliest moment.
But he could not abandon his professional work on the instant. He
did not get really quite free from engagements till four months
later; but, though suffering throes of impatience continually, he
said to himself every day: 'If she has continued to love me nine
years she will love me ten; she will think the more tenderly of me
when her present hours of solitude shall have done their proper
work; old times will revive with the cessation of her recent
experience, and every day will favour my return.'
The enforced interval soon passed, and he duly arrived in England,
reaching the village of Batton on a certain winter day between
twelve and thirteen months subsequent to the time of the Duke's
It was evening; yet such was Alwyn's impatience that he could not
forbear taking, this very night, one look at the castle which
Emmeline had entered as unhappy mistress ten years before. He
threaded the park trees, gazed in passing at well-known outlines
which rose against the dim sky, and was soon interested in observing
that lively country-people, in parties of two and three, were
walking before and behind him up the interlaced avenue to the castle
gateway. Knowing himself to be safe from recognition, Alwyn
inquired of one of these pedestrians what was going on.
'Her Grace gives her tenantry a ball to-night, to keep up the old
custom of the Duke and his father before him, which she does not
wish to change.'
'Indeed. Has she lived here entirely alone since the Duke's death?'
'Quite alone. But though she doesn't receive company herself, she
likes the village people to enjoy themselves, and often has 'em
'Kind-hearted, as always!' thought Alwyn.
On reaching the castle he found that the great gates at the
tradesmen's entrance were thrown back against the wall as if they
were never to be closed again; that the passages and rooms in that
wing were brilliantly lighted up, some of the numerous candles
guttering down over the green leaves which decorated them, and upon
the silk dresses of the happy farmers' wives as they passed beneath,
each on her husband's arm. Alwyn found no difficulty in marching in
along with the rest, the castle being Liberty Hall to-night. He
stood unobserved in a corner of the large apartment where dancing
was about to begin.
'Her Grace, though hardly out of mourning, will be sure to come down
and lead off the dance with neighbour Bates,' said one.
'Who is neighbour Bates?' asked Alwyn.
'An old man she respects much--the oldest of her tenant-farmers. He
was seventy-eight his last birthday.'
'Ah, to be sure!' said Alwyn, at his ease. 'I remember.'
The dancers formed in line, and waited. A door opened at the
farther end of the hall, and a lady in black silk came forth. She
bowed, smiled, and proceeded to the top of the dance.
'Who is that lady?' said Alwyn, in a puzzled tone. 'I thought you
told me that the Duchess of Hamptonshire--'
'That is the Duchess,' said his informant.
'But there is another?'
'No; there is no other.'
'But she is not the Duchess of Hamptonshire--who used to--' Alwyn's
tongue stuck to his mouth, he could get no farther.
'What's the matter?' said his acquaintance. Alwyn had retired, and
was supporting himself against the wall.
The wretched Alwyn murmured something about a stitch in his side
from walking. Then the music struck up, the dance went on, and his
neighbour became so interested in watching the movements of this
strange Duchess through its mazes as to forget Alwyn for a while.
It gave him an opportunity to brace himself up. He was a man who
had suffered, and he could suffer again. 'How came that person to
be your Duchess?' he asked in a firm, distinct voice, when he had
attained complete self-command. 'Where is her other Grace of
Hamptonshire? There certainly was another. I know it.'
'Oh, the previous one! Yes, yes. She ran away years and years ago
with the young curate. Mr. Hill was the young man's name, if I
'No! She never did. What do you mean by that?' he said.
'Yes, she certainly ran away. She met the curate in the shrubbery
about a couple of months after her marriage with the Duke. There
were folks who saw the meeting and heard some words of their talk.
They arranged to go, and she sailed from Plymouth with him a day or
'That's not true.'
'Then 'tis the queerest lie ever told by man. Her father believed
and knew to his dying day that she went with him; and so did the
Duke, and everybody about here. Ay, there was a fine upset about it
at the time. The Duke traced her to Plymouth.'
'Traced her to Plymouth?'
'He traced her to Plymouth, and set on his spies; and they found
that she went to the shipping-office, and inquired if Mr. Alwyn Hill
had entered his name as passenger by the Western Glory; and when she
found that he had, she booked herself for the same ship, but not in
her real name. When the vessel had sailed a letter reached the Duke
from her, telling him what she had done. She never came back here
again. His Grace lived by himself a number of years, and married
this lady only twelve months before he died.'
Alwyn was in a state of indescribable bewilderment. But, unmanned
as he was, he called the next day on the, to him, spurious Duchess
of Hamptonshire. At first she was alarmed at his statement, then
cold, then she was won over by his condition to give confidence for
confidence. She showed him a letter which had been found among the
papers of the late Duke, corroborating what Alwyn's informant had
detailed. It was from Emmeline, bearing the postmarked date at
which the Western Glory sailed, and briefly stated that she had
emigrated by that ship to America.
Alwyn applied himself body and mind to unravel the remainder of the
mystery. The story repeated to him was always the same: 'She ran
away with the curate.' A strangely circumstantial piece of
intelligence was added to this when he had pushed his inquiries a
little further. There was given him the name of a waterman at
Plymouth, who had come forward at the time that she was missed and
sought for by her husband, and had stated that he put her on board
the Western Glory at dusk one evening before that vessel sailed.
After several days of search about the alleys and quays of Plymouth
Barbican, during which these impossible words, 'She ran off with the
curate,' became branded on his brain, Alwyn found this important
waterman. He was positive as to the truth of his story, still
remembering the incident well, and he described in detail the lady's
dress, as he had long ago described it to her husband, which
description corresponded in every particular with the dress worn by
Emmeline on the evening of their parting.
Before proceeding to the other side of the Atlantic to continue his
inquiries there, the puzzled and distracted Alwyn set himself to
ascertain the address of Captain Wheeler, who had commanded the
Western Glory in the year of Alwyn's voyage out, and immediately
wrote a letter to him on the subject.
The only circumstances which the sailor could recollect or discover
from his papers in connection with such a story were, that a woman
bearing the name which Alwyn had mentioned as fictitious certainly
did come aboard for a voyage he made about that time; that she took
a common berth among the poorest emigrants; that she died on the
voyage out, at about five days' sail from Plymouth; that she seemed
a lady in manners and education. Why she had not applied for a
first-class passage, why she had no trunks, they could not guess,
for though she had little money in her pocket she had that about her
which would have fetched it. 'We buried her at sea,' continued the
captain. 'A young parson, one of the cabin-passengers, read the
burial-service over her, I remember well.'
The whole scene and proceedings darted upon Alwyn's recollection in
a moment. It was a fine breezy morning on that long-past voyage
out, and he had been told that they were running at the rate of a
hundred and odd miles a day. The news went round that one of the
poor young women in the other part of the vessel was ill of fever,
and delirious. The tidings caused no little alarm among all the
passengers, for the sanitary conditions of the ship were anything
but satisfactory. Shortly after this the doctor announced that she
had died. Then Alwyn had learnt that she was laid out for burial in
great haste, because of the danger that would have been incurred by
delay. And next the funeral scene rose before him, and the
prominent part that he had taken in that solemn ceremony. The
captain had come to him, requesting him to officiate, as there was
no chaplain on board. This he had agreed to do; and as the sun went
down with a blaze in his face he read amidst them all assembled:
'We therefore commit her body to the deep, to be turned into
corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body when the sea
shall give up her dead.'
The captain also forwarded the addresses of the ship's matron and of
other persons who had been engaged on board at the date. To these
Alwyn went in the course of time. A categorical description of the
clothes of the dead truant, the colour of her hair, and other
things, extinguished for ever all hope of a mistake in identity.
At last, then, the course of events had become clear. On that
unhappy evening when he left Emmeline in the shrubbery, forbidding
her to follow him because it would be a sin, she must have
disobeyed. She must have followed at his heels silently through the
darkness, like a poor pet animal that will not be driven back. She
could have accumulated nothing for the journey more than she might
have carried in her hand; and thus poorly provided she must have
embarked. Her intention had doubtless been to make her presence on
board known to him as soon as she could muster courage to do so.
Thus the ten years' chapter of Alwyn Hill's romance wound itself up
under his eyes. That the poor young woman in the steerage had been
the young Duchess of Hamptonshire was never publicly disclosed.
Hill had no longer any reason for remaining in England, and soon
after left its shores with no intention to return. Previous to his
departure he confided his story to an old friend from his native
town--grandfather of the person who now relates it to you.
A few members, including the Bookworm, seemed to be impressed by the
quiet gentleman's tale; but the member we have called the Spark--
who, by the way, was getting somewhat tinged with the light of other
days, and owned to eight-and-thirty--walked daintily about the room
instead of sitting down by the fire with the majority and said that
for his part he preferred something more lively than the last story-
-something in which such long-separated lovers were ultimately
united. He also liked stories that were more modern in their date
of action than those he had heard to-day.
Members immediately requested him to give them a specimen, to which
the Spark replied that he didn't mind, as far as that went. And
though the Vice-President, the Man of Family, the Colonel, and
others, looked at their watches, and said they must soon retire to
their respective quarters in the hotel adjoining, they all decided
to sit out the Spark's story.
DAME THE TENTH: THE HONOURABLE LAURA
By the Spark
It was a cold and gloomy Christmas Eve. The mass of cloud overhead
was almost impervious to such daylight as still lingered on; the
snow lay several inches deep upon the ground, and the slanting
downfall which still went on threatened to considerably increase its
thickness before the morning. The Prospect Hotel, a building
standing near the wild north coast of Lower Wessex, looked so lonely
and so useless at such a time as this that a passing wayfarer would
have been led to forget summer possibilities, and to wonder at the
commercial courage which could invest capital, on the basis of the
popular taste for the picturesque, in a country subject to such
dreary phases. That the district was alive with visitors in August
seemed but a dim tradition in weather so totally opposed to all that
tempts mankind from home. However, there the hotel stood immovable;
and the cliffs, creeks, and headlands which were the primary
attractions of the spot, rising in full view on the opposite side of
the valley, were now but stern angular outlines, while the townlet
in front was tinged over with a grimy dirtiness rather than the
pearly gray that in summer lent such beauty to its appearance.
Within the hotel commanding this outlook the landlord walked idly
about with his hands in his pockets, not in the least expectant of a
visitor, and yet unable to settle down to any occupation which
should compensate in some degree for the losses that winter idleness
entailed on his regular profession. So little, indeed, was anybody
expected, that the coffee-room waiter--a genteel boy, whose plated
buttons in summer were as close together upon the front of his short
jacket as peas in a pod--now appeared in the back yard,
metamorphosed into the unrecognizable shape of a rough country lad
in corduroys and hobnailed boots, sweeping the snow away, and
talking the local dialect in all its purity, quite oblivious of the
new polite accent he had learned in the hot weather from the well-
behaved visitors. The front door was closed, and, as if to express
still more fully the sealed and chrysalis state of the
establishment, a sand-bag was placed at the bottom to keep out the
insidious snowdrift, the wind setting in directly from that quarter.
The landlord, entering his own parlour, walked to the large fire
which it was absolutely necessary to keep up for his comfort, no
such blaze burning in the coffee-room or elsewhere, and after giving
it a stir returned to a table in the lobby, whereon lay the
visitors' book--now closed and pushed back against the wall. He
carelessly opened it; not a name had been entered there since the
19th of the previous November, and that was only the name of a man
who had arrived on a tricycle, who, indeed, had not been asked to
enter at all.
While he was engaged thus the evening grew darker; but before it was
as yet too dark to distinguish objects upon the road winding round
the back of the cliffs, the landlord perceived a black spot on the
distant white, which speedily enlarged itself and drew near. The
probabilities were that this vehicle--for a vehicle of some sort it
seemed to be--would pass by and pursue its way to the nearest
railway-town as others had done. But, contrary to the landlord's
expectation, as he stood conning it through the yet unshuttered
windows, the solitary object, on reaching the corner, turned into
the hotel-front, and drove up to the door.
It was a conveyance particularly unsuited to such a season and
weather, being nothing more substantial than an open basket-carriage
drawn by a single horse. Within sat two persons, of different
sexes, as could soon be discerned, in spite of their muffled attire.
The man held the reins, and the lady had got some shelter from the
storm by clinging close to his side. The landlord rang the
hostler's bell to attract the attention of the stable-man, for the
approach of the visitors had been deadened to noiselessness by the
snow, and when the hostler had come to the horse's head the
gentleman and lady alighted, the landlord meeting them in the hall.
The male stranger was a foreign-looking individual of about eight-
and-twenty. He was close-shaven, excepting a moustache, his
features being good, and even handsome. The lady, who stood timidly
behind him, seemed to be much younger--possibly not more than
eighteen, though it was difficult to judge either of her age or
appearance in her present wrappings.
The gentleman expressed his wish to stay till the morning,
explaining somewhat unnecessarily, considering that the house was an
inn, that they had been unexpectedly benighted on their drive. Such
a welcome being given them as landlords can give in dull times, the
latter ordered fires in the drawing and coffee-rooms, and went to
the boy in the yard, who soon scrubbed himself up, dragged his
disused jacket from its box, polished the buttons with his sleeve,
and appeared civilized in the hall. The lady was shown into a room
where she could take off her snow-damped garments, which she sent
down to be dried, her companion, meanwhile, putting a couple of
sovereigns on the table, as if anxious to make everything smooth and
comfortable at starting, and requesting that a private sitting-room
might be got ready. The landlord assured him that the best upstairs
parlour--usually public--should be kept private this evening, and
sent the maid to light the candles. Dinner was prepared for them,
and, at the gentleman's desire, served in the same apartment; where,
the young lady having joined him, they were left to the rest and
refreshment they seemed to need.
That something was peculiar in the relations of the pair had more
than once struck the landlord, though wherein that peculiarity lay
it was hard to decide. But that his guest was one who paid his way
readily had been proved by his conduct, and dismissing conjectures,
he turned to practical affairs.
About nine o'clock he re-entered the hall, and, everything being
done for the day, again walked up and down, occasionally gazing
through the glass door at the prospect without, to ascertain how the
weather was progressing. Contrary to prognostication, snow had
ceased falling, and, with the rising of the moon, the sky had
partially cleared, light fleeces of cloud drifting across the
silvery disk. There was every sign that a frost was going to set in
later on. For these reasons the distant rising road was even more
distinct now between its high banks than it had been in the
declining daylight. Not a track or rut broke the virgin surface of
the white mantle that lay along it, all marks left by the lately
arrived travellers having been speedily obliterated by the flakes
falling at the time.
And now the landlord beheld by the light of the moon a sight very
similar to that he had seen by the light of day. Again a black spot
was advancing down the road that margined the coast. He was in a
moment or two enabled to perceive that the present vehicle moved
onward at a more headlong pace than the little carriage which had
preceded it; next, that it was a brougham drawn by two powerful
horses; next, that this carriage, like the former one, was bound for
the hotel-door. This desirable feature of resemblance caused the
landlord to once more withdraw the sand-bag and advance into the
An old gentleman was the first to alight. He was followed by a
young one, and both unhesitatingly came forward.
'Has a young lady, less than nineteen years of age, recently arrived
here in the company of a man some years her senior?' asked the old
gentleman, in haste. 'A man cleanly shaven for the most part,
having the appearance of an opera-singer, and calling himself Signor
'We have had arrivals lately,' said the landlord, in the tone of
having had twenty at least--not caring to acknowledge the attenuated
state of business that afflicted Prospect Hotel in winter.
'And among them can your memory recall two persons such as those I
describe?--the man a sort of baritone?'
'There certainly is or was a young couple staying in the hotel; but
I could not pronounce on the compass of the gentleman's voice.'
'No, no; of course not. I am quite bewildered. They arrived in a
basket-carriage, altogether badly provided?'
'They came in a carriage, I believe, as most of our visitors do.'
'Yes, yes. I must see them at once. Pardon my want of ceremony,
and show us in to where they are.'
'But, sir, you forget. Suppose the lady and gentleman I mean are
not the lady and gentleman you mean? It would be awkward to allow
you to rush in upon them just now while they are at dinner, and
might cause me to lose their future patronage.'
'True, true. They may not be the same persons. My anxiety, I
perceive, makes me rash in my assumptions!'
'Upon the whole, I think they must be the same, Uncle Quantock,'
said the young man, who had not till now spoken. And turning to the
landlord: 'You possibly have not such a large assemblage of
visitors here, on this somewhat forbidding evening, that you quite
forget how this couple arrived, and what the lady wore?' His tone
of addressing the landlord had in it a quiet frigidity that was not
'Ah! what she wore; that's it, James. What did she wear?'
'I don't usually take stock of my guests' clothing,' replied the
landlord drily, for the ready money of the first arrival had
decidedly biassed him in favour of that gentleman's cause. 'You can
certainly see some of it if you want to,' he added carelessly, 'for
it is drying by the kitchen fire.'
Before the words were half out of his mouth the old gentleman had
exclaimed, 'Ah!' and precipitated himself along what seemed to be
the passage to the kitchen; but as this turned out to be only the
entrance to a dark china-closet, he hastily emerged again, after a
collision with the inn-crockery had told him of his mistake.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure; but if you only knew my feelings
(which I cannot at present explain), you would make allowances.
Anything I have broken I will willingly pay for.'
'Don't mention it, sir,' said the landlord. And showing the way,
they adjourned to the kitchen without further parley. The eldest of
the party instantly seized the lady's cloak, that hung upon a
clothes-horse, exclaiming: 'Ah! yes, James, it is hers. I knew we
were on their track.'
'Yes, it is hers,' answered the nephew quietly, for he was much less
excited than his companion.
'Show us their room at once,' said the old man.
'William, have the lady and gentleman in the front sitting-room
'Yes, sir, long ago,' said the hundred plated buttons.
'Then show up these gentlemen to them at once. You stay here to-
night, gentlemen, I presume? Shall the horses be taken out?'
'Feed the horses and wash their mouths. Whether we stay or not
depends upon circumstances,' said the placid younger man, as he
followed his uncle and the waiter to the staircase.
'I think, Nephew James,' said the former, as he paused with his foot
on the first step--'I think we had better not be announced, but take
them by surprise. She may go throwing herself out of the window, or
do some equally desperate thing!'
'Yes, certainly, we'll enter unannounced.' And he called back the
lad who preceded them.
'I cannot sufficiently thank you, James, for so effectually aiding
me in this pursuit!' exclaimed the old gentleman, taking the other
by the hand. 'My increasing infirmities would have hindered my
overtaking her to-night, had it not been for your timely aid.'
'I am only too happy, uncle, to have been of service to you in this
or any other matter. I only wish I could have accompanied you on a
pleasanter journey. However, it is advisable to go up to them at
once, or they may hear us.' And they softly ascended the stairs.
On the door being opened, a room too large to be comfortable, lit by
the best branch-candlesticks of the hotel, was disclosed, before the
fire of which apartment the truant couple were sitting, very
innocently looking over the hotel scrap-book and the album
containing views of the neighbourhood. No sooner had the old man
entered than the young lady--who now showed herself to be quite as
young as described, and remarkably prepossessing as to features--
perceptibly turned pale. When the nephew entered, she turned still
paler, as if she were going to faint. The young man described as an
opera-singer rose with grim civility, and placed chairs for his
'Caught you, thank God!' said the old gentleman breathlessly.
'Yes, worse luck, my lord!' murmured Signor Smithozzi, in native
London-English, that distinguished alien having, in fact, first seen
the light in the vicinity of the City Road. 'She would have been
mine to-morrow. And I think that under the peculiar circumstances
it would be wiser--considering how soon the breath of scandal will
tarnish a lady's fame--to let her be mine to-morrow, just the same.'
'Never!' said the old man. 'Here is a lady under age, without
experience--child-like in her maiden innocence and virtue--whom you
have plied by your vile arts, till this morning at dawn--'
'Lord Quantock, were I not bound to respect your gray hairs--'
'Till this morning at dawn you tempted her away from her father's
roof. What blame can attach to her conduct that will not, on a full
explanation of the matter, be readily passed over in her and thrown
entirely on you? Laura, you return at once with me. I should not
have arrived, after all, early enough to deliver you, if it had not
been for the disinterestedness of your cousin, Captain Northbrook,
who, on my discovering your flight this morning, offered with a
promptitude for which I can never sufficiently thank him, to
accompany me on my journey, as the only male relative I have near
me. Come, do you hear? Put on your things; we are off at once.'
'I don't want to go!' pouted the young lady.
'I daresay you don't,' replied her father drily. 'But children
never know what's best for them. So come along, and trust to my
Laura was silent, and did not move, the opera gentleman looking
helplessly into the fire, and the lady's cousin sitting meditatively
calm, as the single one of the four whose position enabled him to
survey the whole escapade with the cool criticism of a comparative
'I say to you, Laura, as the father of a daughter under age, that
you instantly come with me. What? Would you compel me to use
physical force to reclaim you?'
'I don't want to return!' again declared Laura.
'It is your duty to return nevertheless, and at once, I inform you.'
'I don't want to!'
'Now, dear Laura, this is what I say: return with me and your
cousin James quietly, like a good and repentant girl, and nothing
will be said. Nobody knows what has happened as yet, and if we
start at once, we shall be home before it is light to-morrow
'I am not obliged to come at your bidding, father, and I would
Now James, the cousin, during this dialogue might have been observed
to grow somewhat restless, and even impatient. More than once he
had parted his lips to speak, but second thoughts each time held him
back. The moment had come, however, when he could keep silence no
'Come, madam!' he spoke out, 'this farce with your father has, in my
opinion, gone on long enough. Just make no more ado, and step
downstairs with us.'
She gave herself an intractable little twist, and did not reply.
'By the Lord Harry, Laura, I won't stand this!' he said angrily.
'Come, get on your things before I come and compel you. There is a
kind of compulsion to which this talk is child's play. Come, madam-
-instantly, I say!'
The old nobleman turned to his nephew and said mildly: 'Leave me to
insist, James. It doesn't become you. I can speak to her sharply
enough, if I choose.'
James, however, did not heed his uncle, and went on to the
troublesome young woman: 'You say you don't want to come, indeed!
A pretty story to tell me, that! Come, march out of the room at
once, and leave that hulking fellow for me to deal with afterward.
Get on quickly--come!' and he advanced toward her as if to pull her
by the hand.
'Nay, nay,' expostulated Laura's father, much surprised at his
nephew's sudden demeanour. 'You take too much upon yourself. Leave
her to me.'
'I won't leave her to you any longer!'
'You have no right, James, to address either me or her in this way;
so just hold your tongue. Come, my dear.'
'I have every right!' insisted James.
'How do you make that out?'
'I have the right of a husband.'
'She's my wife.'
'Well, to cut a long story short, I may say that she secretly
married me, in spite of your lordship's prohibition, about three
months ago. And I must add that, though she cooled down rather
quickly, everything went on smoothly enough between us for some
time; in spite of the awkwardness of meeting only by stealth. We
were only waiting for a convenient moment to break the news to you
when this idle Adonis turned up, and after poisoning her mind
against me, brought her into this disgrace.'
Here the operatic luminary, who had sat in rather an abstracted and
nerveless attitude till the cousin made his declaration, fired up
and cried: 'I declare before Heaven that till this moment I never
knew she was a wife! I found her in her father's house an unhappy
girl--unhappy, as I believe, because of the loneliness and
dreariness of that establishment, and the want of society, and for
nothing else whatever. What this statement about her being your
wife means I am quite at a loss to understand. Are you indeed
married to him, Laura?'
Laura nodded from within her tearful handkerchief. 'It was because
of my anomalous position in being privately married to him,' she
sobbed, 'that I was unhappy at home--and--and I didn't like him so
well as I did at first--and I wished I could get out of the mess I
was in! And then I saw you a few times, and when you said, "We'll
run off," I thought I saw a way out of it all, and then I agreed to
come with you--oo-oo!'
'Well! well! well! And is this true?' murmured the bewildered old
nobleman, staring from James to Laura, and from Laura to James, as
if he fancied they might be figments of the imagination. 'Is this,
then, James, the secret of your kindness to your old uncle in
helping him to find his daughter? Good Heavens! What further
depths of duplicity are there left for a man to learn!'
'I have married her, Uncle Quantock, as I said,' answered James
coolly. 'The deed is done, and can't be undone by talking here.'
'Where were you married?'
'At St. Mary's, Toneborough.'
'On the 29th of September, during the time she was visiting there.'
'Who married you?'
'I don't know. One of the curates--we were quite strangers to the
place. So, instead of my assisting you to recover her, you may as
well assist me.'
'Never! never!' said Lord Quantock. 'Madam, and sir, I beg to tell
you that I wash my hands of the whole affair! If you are man and
wife, as it seems you are, get reconciled as best you may. I have
no more to say or do with either of you. I leave you, Laura, in the
hands of your husband, and much joy may you bring him; though the
situation, I own, is not encouraging.'
Saying this, the indignant speaker pushed back his chair against the
table with such force that the candlesticks rocked on their bases,
and left the room.
Laura's wet eyes roved from one of the young men to the other, who
now stood glaring face to face, and, being much frightened at their
aspect, slipped out of the room after her father. Him, however, she
could hear going out of the front door, and, not knowing where to
take shelter, she crept into the darkness of an adjoining bedroom,
and there awaited events with a palpitating heart.
Meanwhile the two men remaining in the sitting-room drew nearer to
each other, and the opera-singer broke the silence by saying, 'How
could you insult me in the way you did, calling me a fellow, and
accusing me of poisoning her mind toward you, when you knew very
well I was as ignorant of your relation to her as an unborn babe?'
'Oh yes, you were quite ignorant; I can believe that readily,'
sneered Laura's husband.
'I here call Heaven to witness that I never knew!'
'Recitativo--the rhythm excellent, and the tone well sustained. Is
it likely that any man could win the confidence of a young fool her
age, and not get that out of her? Preposterous! Tell it to the
most improved new pit-stalls.'
'Captain Northbrook, your insinuations are as despicable as your
wretched person!' cried the baritone, losing all patience. And
springing forward he slapped the captain in the face with the palm
of his hand.
Northbrook flinched but slightly, and calmly using his handkerchief
to learn if his nose was bleeding, said, 'I quite expected this
insult, so I came prepared.' And he drew forth from a black valise
which he carried in his hand a small case of pistols.
The baritone started at the unexpected sight, but recovering from
his surprise said, 'Very well, as you will,' though perhaps his tone
showed a slight want of confidence.
'Now,' continued the husband, quite confidingly, 'we want no parade,
no nonsense, you know. Therefore we'll dispense with seconds?'
The signor slightly nodded.
'Do you know this part of the country well?' Cousin James went on,
in the same cool and still manner. 'If you don't, I do. Quite at
the bottom of the rocks out there, just beyond the stream which
falls over them to the shore, is a smooth sandy space, not so much
shut in as to be out of the moonlight; and the way down to it from
this side is over steps cut in the cliff; and we can find our way
down without trouble. We--we two--will find our way down; but only
one of us will find his way up, you understand?'
'Then suppose we start; the sooner it is over the better. We can
order supper before we go out--supper for two; for though we are
three at present--'
'Yes; you and I and she--'
'--We shall be only two by and by; so that, as I say, we will order
supper for two; for the lady and a gentleman. Whichever comes back
alive will tap at her door, and call her in to share the repast with
him--she's not off the premises. But we must not alarm her now; and
above all things we must not let the inn-people see us go out; it
would look so odd for two to go out, and only one come in. Ha! ha!'
'Ha! ha! exactly.'
'Are you ready?'
'Then I'll lead the way.'
He went softly to the door and downstairs, ordering supper to be
ready in an hour, as he had said; then making a feint of returning
to the room again, he beckoned to the singer, and together they
slipped out of the house by a side door.
The sky was now quite clear, and the wheelmarks of the brougham
which had borne away Laura's father, Lord Quantock, remained
distinctly visible. Soon the verge of the down was reached, the
captain leading the way, and the baritone following silently,
casting furtive glances at his companion, and beyond him at the
scene ahead. In due course they arrived at the chasm in the cliff
which formed the waterfall. The outlook here was wild and
picturesque in the extreme, and fully justified the many praises,
paintings, and photographic views to which the spot had given birth.
What in summer was charmingly green and gray, was now rendered weird
and fantastic by the snow.
From their feet the cascade plunged downward almost vertically to a
depth of eighty or a hundred feet before finally losing itself in
the sand, and though the stream was but small, its impact upon
jutting rocks in its descent divided it into a hundred spirts and
splashes that sent up a mist into the upper air. A few marginal
drippings had been frozen into icicles, but the centre flowed on
The operatic artist looked down as he halted, but his thoughts were
plainly not of the beauty of the scene. His companion with the
pistols was immediately in front of him, and there was no handrail
on the side of the path toward the chasm. Obeying a quick impulse,
he stretched out his arm, and with a superhuman thrust sent Laura's
husband reeling over. A whirling human shape, diminishing downward
in the moon's rays farther and farther toward invisibility, a smack-
smack upon the projecting ledges of rock--at first louder and
heavier than that of the brook, and then scarcely to be
distinguished from it--then a cessation, then the splashing of the
stream as before, and the accompanying murmur of the sea, were all
the incidents that disturbed the customary flow of the little
The singer waited in a fixed attitude for a few minutes, then
turning, he rapidly retraced his steps over the intervening upland
toward the road, and in less than a quarter of an hour was at the
door of the hotel. Slipping quietly in as the clock struck ten, he
said to the landlord, over the bar hatchway -
'The bill as soon as you can let me have it, including charges for
the supper that was ordered, though we cannot stay to eat it, I am
sorry to say.' He added with forced gaiety, 'The lady's father and
cousin have thought better of intercepting the marriage, and after
quarrelling with each other have gone home independently.'
'Well done, sir!' said the landlord, who still sided with this
customer in preference to those who had given trouble and barely
paid for baiting the horses. '"Love will find out the way!" as the
saying is. Wish you joy, sir!'
Signor Smithozzi went upstairs, and on entering the sitting-room
found that Laura had crept out from the dark adjoining chamber in
his absence. She looked up at him with eyes red from weeping, and
with symptoms of alarm.
'What is it?--where is he?' she said apprehensively.
'Captain Northbrook has gone back. He says he will have no more to
do with you.'
'And I am quite abandoned by them!--and they'll forget me, and
nobody care about me any more!' She began to cry afresh.
'But it is the luckiest thing that could have happened. All is just
as it was before they came disturbing us. But, Laura, you ought to
have told me about that private marriage, though it is all the same
now; it will be dissolved, of course. You are a wid--virtually a
'It is no use to reproach me for what is past. What am I to do
'We go at once to Cliff-Martin. The horse has rested thoroughly
these last three hours, and he will have no difficulty in doing an
additional half-dozen miles. We shall be there before twelve, and
there are late taverns in the place, no doubt. There we'll sell
both horse and carriage to-morrow morning; and go by the coach to
Downstaple. Once in the train we are safe.'
'I agree to anything,' she said listlessly.
In about ten minutes the horse was put in, the bill paid, the lady's
dried wraps put round her, and the journey resumed.
When about a mile on their way, they saw a glimmering light in
advance of them. 'I wonder what that is?' said the baritone, whose
manner had latterly become nervous, every sound and sight causing
him to turn his head.
'It is only a turnpike,' said she. 'That light is the lamp kept
burning over the door.'
'Of course, of course, dearest. How stupid I am!'
On reaching the gate they perceived that a man on foot had
approached it, apparently by some more direct path than the roadway
they pursued, and was, at the moment they drew up, standing in
conversation with the gatekeeper.
'It is quite impossible that he could fall over the cliff by
accident or the will of God on such a light night as this,' the
pedestrian was saying. 'These two children I tell you of saw two
men go along the path toward the waterfall, and ten minutes later
only one of 'em came back, walking fast, like a man who wanted to
get out of the way because he had done something queer. There is no
manner of doubt that he pushed the other man over, and, mark me, it
will soon cause a hue and cry for that man.'
The candle shone in the face of the Signor and showed that there had
arisen upon it a film of ghastliness. Laura, glancing toward him
for a few moments observed it, till, the gatekeeper having
mechanically swung open the gate, her companion drove through, and
they were soon again enveloped in the white silence.
Her conductor had said to Laura, just before, that he meant to
inquire the way at this turnpike; but he had certainly not done so.
As soon as they had gone a little farther the omission, intentional
or not, began to cause them some trouble. Beyond the secluded
district which they now traversed ran the more frequented road,
where progress would be easy, the snow being probably already beaten
there to some extent by traffic; but they had not yet reached it,
and having no one to guide them their journey began to appear less
feasible than it had done before starting. When the little lane
which they had entered ascended another hill, and seemed to wind
round in a direction contrary to the expected route to Cliff-Martin,
the question grew serious. Ever since overhearing the conversation
at the turnpike, Laura had maintained a perfect silence, and had
even shrunk somewhat away from the side of her lover.
'Why don't you talk, Laura,' he said with forced buoyancy, 'and
suggest the way we should go?'
'Oh yes, I will,' she responded, a curious fearfulness being audible
in her voice.
After this she uttered a few occasional sentences which seemed to
persuade him that she suspected nothing. At last he drew rein, and
the weary horse stood still.
'We are in a fix,' he said.
She answered eagerly: 'I'll hold the reins while you run forward to
the top of the ridge, and see if the road takes a favourable turn
beyond. It would give the horse a few minutes' rest, and if you
find out no change in the direction, we will retrace this lane, and
take the other turning.'
The expedient seemed a good one in the circumstances, especially
when recommended by the singular eagerness of her voice; and placing
the reins in her hands--a quite unnecessary precaution, considering
the state of their hack--he stepped out and went forward through the
snow till she could see no more of him.
No sooner was he gone than Laura, with a rapidity which contrasted
strangely with her previous stillness, made fast the reins to the
corner of the phaeton, and slipping out on the opposite side, ran
back with all her might down the hill, till, coming to an opening in
the fence, she scrambled through it, and plunged into the copse
which bordered this portion of the lane. Here she stood in hiding
under one of the large bushes, clinging so closely to its umbrage as
to seem but a portion of its mass, and listening intently for the
faintest sound of pursuit. But nothing disturbed the stillness save
the occasional slipping of gathered snow from the boughs, or the
rustle of some wild animal over the crisp flake-bespattered herbage.
At length, apparently convinced that her former companion was either
unable to find her, or not anxious to do so, in the present strange
state of affairs, she crept out from the bushes, and in less than an
hour found herself again approaching the door of the Prospect Hotel.
As she drew near, Laura could see that, far from being wrapped in
darkness, as she might have expected, there were ample signs that
all the tenants were on the alert, lights moving about the open
space in front. Satisfaction was expressed in her face when she
discerned that no reappearance of her baritone and his pony-carriage
was causing this sensation; but it speedily gave way to grief and
dismay when she saw by the lights the form of a man borne on a
stretcher by two others into the porch of the hotel.
'I have caused all this,' she murmured between her quivering lips.
'He has murdered him!' Running forward to the door, she hastily
asked of the first person she met if the man on the stretcher was
'No, miss,' said the labourer addressed, eyeing her up and down as
an unexpected apparition. 'He is still alive, they say, but not
sensible. He either fell or was pushed over the waterfall; 'tis
thoughted he was pushed. He is the gentleman who came here just now
with the old lord, and went out afterward (as is thoughted) with a
stranger who had come a little earlier. Anyhow, that's as I had
Laura entered the house, and acknowledging without the least reserve
that she was the injured man's wife, had soon installed herself as
head nurse by the bed on which he lay. When the two surgeons who
had been sent for arrived, she learned from them that his wounds
were so severe as to leave but a slender hope of recovery, it being
little short of miraculous that he was not killed on the spot, which
his enemy had evidently reckoned to be the case. She knew who that
enemy was, and shuddered.
Laura watched all night, but her husband knew nothing of her
presence. During the next day he slightly recognized her, and in
the evening was able to speak. He informed the surgeons that, as
was surmised, he had been pushed over the cascade by Signor
Smithozzi; but he communicated nothing to her who nursed him, not
even replying to her remarks; he nodded courteously at any act of
attention she rendered, and that was all.
In a day or two it was declared that everything favoured his
recovery, notwithstanding the severity of his injuries. Full search
was made for Smithozzi, but as yet there was no intelligence of his
whereabouts, though the repentant Laura communicated all she knew.
As far as could be judged, he had come back to the carriage after
searching out the way, and finding the young lady missing, had
looked about for her till he was tired; then had driven on to Cliff-
Martin, sold the horse and carriage next morning, and disappeared,
probably by one of the departing coaches which ran thence to the
nearest station, the only difference from his original programme
being that he had gone alone.
During the days and weeks of that long and tedious recovery, Laura
watched by her husband's bedside with a zeal and assiduity which
would have considerably extenuated any fault save one of such
magnitude as hers. That her husband did not forgive her was soon
obvious. Nothing that she could do in the way of smoothing pillows,
easing his position, shifting bandages, or administering draughts,
could win from him more than a few measured words of thankfulness,
such as he would probably have uttered to any other woman on earth
who had performed these particular services for him.
'Dear, dear James,' she said one day, bending her face upon the bed
in an excess of emotion. 'How you have suffered! It has been too
cruel. I am more glad you are getting better than I can say. I
have prayed for it--and I am sorry for what I have done; I am
innocent of the worst, and--I hope you will not think me so very
'Oh no. On the contrary, I shall think you very good--as a nurse,'
he answered, the caustic severity of his tone being apparent through
Laura let fall two or three silent tears, and said no more that day.
Somehow or other Signor Smithozzi seemed to be making good his
escape. It transpired that he had not taken a passage in either of
the suspected coaches, though he had certainly got out of the
county; altogether, the chance of finding him was problematical.
Not only did Captain Northbrook survive his injuries, but it soon
appeared that in the course of a few weeks he would find himself
little if any the worse for the catastrophe. It could also be seen
that Laura, while secretly hoping for her husband's forgiveness for
a piece of folly of which she saw the enormity more clearly every
day, was in great doubt as to what her future relations with him
would be. Moreover, to add to the complication, whilst she, as a
runaway wife, was unforgiven by her husband, she and her husband, as
a runaway couple, were unforgiven by her father, who had never once
communicated with either of them since his departure from the inn.
But her immediate anxiety was to win the pardon of her husband, who
possibly might be bearing in mind, as he lay upon his couch, the
familiar words of Brabantio, 'She has deceived her father, and may
Matters went on thus till Captain Northbrook was able to walk about.
He then removed with his wife to quiet apartments on the south
coast, and here his recovery was rapid. Walking up the cliffs one
day, supporting him by her arm as usual, she said to him, simply,
'James, if I go on as I am going now, and always attend to your
smallest want, and never think of anything but devotion to you, will
you--try to like me a little?'
'It is a thing I must carefully consider,' he said, with the same
gloomy dryness which characterized all his words to her now. 'When
I have considered, I will tell you.'
He did not tell her that evening, though she lingered long at her
routine work of making his bedroom comfortable, putting the light so
that it would not shine into his eyes, seeing him fall asleep, and
then retiring noiselessly to her own chamber. When they met in the
morning at breakfast, and she had asked him as usual how he had
passed the night, she added timidly, in the silence which followed
his reply, 'Have you considered?'
'No, I have not considered sufficiently to give you an answer.'
Laura sighed, but to no purpose; and the day wore on with intense
heaviness to her, and the customary modicum of strength gained to
The next morning she put the same question, and looked up
despairingly in his face, as though her whole life hung upon his
'Yes, I have considered,' he said.
'We must part.'
'I cannot forgive you; no man would. Enough is settled upon you to
keep you in comfort, whatever your father may do. I shall sell out,
and disappear from this hemisphere.'
'You have absolutely decided?' she asked miserably. 'I have nobody
now to c-c-care for--'
'I have absolutely decided,' he shortly returned. 'We had better
part here. You will go back to your father. There is no reason why
I should accompany you, since my presence would only stand in the
way of the forgiveness he will probably grant you if you appear
before him alone. We will say farewell to each other in three days
from this time. I have calculated on being ready to go on that
Bowed down with trouble, she withdrew to her room, and the three
days were passed by her husband in writing letters and attending to
other business-matters, saying hardly a word to her the while. The
morning of departure came; but before the horses had been put in to
take the severed twain in different directions, out of sight of each
other, possibly for ever, the postman arrived with the morning
There was one for the captain; none for her--there were never any
for her. However, on this occasion something was enclosed for her
in his, which he handed her. She read it and looked up helpless.
'My dear father--is dead!' she said. In a few moments she added, in
a whisper, 'I must go to the Manor to bury him . . . Will you go
with me, James?'
He musingly looked out of the window. 'I suppose it is an awkward
and melancholy undertaking for a woman alone,' he said coldly.
'Well, well--my poor uncle!--Yes, I'll go with you, and see you
through the business.'
So they went off together instead of asunder, as planned. It is
unnecessary to record the details of the journey, or of the sad week
which followed it at her father's house. Lord Quantock's seat was a
fine old mansion standing in its own park, and there were plenty of
opportunities for husband and wife either to avoid each other, or to
get reconciled if they were so minded, which one of them was at
least. Captain Northbrook was not present at the reading of the
will. She came to him afterward, and found him packing up his
papers, intending to start next morning, now that he had seen her
through the turmoil occasioned by her father's death.
'He has left me everything that he could!' she said to her husband.
'James, will you forgive me now, and stay?'
'I cannot stay.'
'I cannot stay,' he repeated.
'I don't like you.'
He acted up to his word. When she came downstairs the next morning
she was told that he had gone.
Laura bore her double bereavement as best she could. The vast
mansion in which she had hitherto lived, with all its historic
contents, had gone to her father's successor in the title; but her
own was no unhandsome one. Around lay the undulating park, studded
with trees a dozen times her own age; beyond it, the wood; beyond
the wood, the farms. All this fair and quiet scene was hers. She
nevertheless remained a lonely, repentant, depressed being, who
would have given the greater part of everything she possessed to
ensure the presence and affection of that husband whose very
austerity and phlegm--qualities that had formerly led to the
alienation between them--seemed now to be adorable features in his
She hoped and hoped again, but all to no purpose. Captain
Northbrook did not alter his mind and return. He was quite a
different sort of man from one who altered his mind; that she was at
last despairingly forced to admit. And then she left off hoping,
and settled down to a mechanical routine of existence which in some
measure dulled her grief; but at the expense of all her natural
animation and the sprightly wilfulness which had once charmed those
who knew her, though it was perhaps all the while a factor in the
production of her unhappiness.
To say that her beauty quite departed as the years rolled on would
be to overstate the truth. Time is not a merciful master, as we all
know, and he was not likely to act exceptionally in the case of a
woman who had mental troubles to bear in addition to the ordinary
weight of years. Be this as it may, eleven other winters came and
went, and Laura Northbrook remained the lonely mistress of house and
lands without once hearing of her husband. Every probability seemed
to favour the assumption that he had died in some foreign land; and
offers for her hand were not few as the probability verged on
certainty with the long lapse of time. But the idea of remarriage
seemed never to have entered her head for a moment. Whether she
continued to hope even now for his return could not be distinctly
ascertained; at all events she lived a life unmodified in the
slightest degree from that of the first six months of his absence.
This twelfth year of Laura's loneliness, and the thirtieth of her
life drew on apace, and the season approached that had seen the
unhappy adventure for which she so long had suffered. Christmas
promised to be rather wet than cold, and the trees on the outskirts
of Laura's estate dripped monotonously from day to day upon the
turnpike-road which bordered them. On an afternoon in this week
between three and four o'clock a hired fly might have been seen
driving along the highway at this point, and on reaching the top of
the hill it stopped. A gentleman of middle age alighted from the
'You need drive no farther,' he said to the coachman. 'The rain
seems to have nearly ceased. I'll stroll a little way, and return
on foot to the inn by dinner-time.'
The flyman touched his hat, turned the horse, and drove back as
directed. When he was out of sight, the gentleman walked on, but he
had not gone far before the rain again came down pitilessly, though
of this the pedestrian took little heed, going leisurely onward till
he reached Laura's park gate, which he passed through. The clouds
were thick and the days were short, so that by the time he stood in
front of the mansion it was dark. In addition to this his
appearance, which on alighting from the carriage had been
untarnished, partook now of the character of a drenched wayfarer not
too well blessed with this world's goods. He halted for no more
than a moment at the front entrance, and going round to the
servants' quarter, as if he had a preconceived purpose in so doing,
there rang the bell. When a page came to him he inquired if they
would kindly allow him to dry himself by the kitchen fire.
The page retired, and after a murmured colloquy returned with the
cook, who informed the wet and muddy man that though it was not her
custom to admit strangers, she should have no particular objection
to his drying himself; the night being so damp and gloomy.
Therefore the wayfarer entered and sat down by the fire.
'The owner of this house is a very rich gentleman, no doubt?' he
asked, as he watched the meat turning on the spit.
''Tis not a gentleman, but a lady,' said the cook.
'A widow, I presume?'
'A sort of widow. Poor soul, her husband is gone abroad, and has
never been heard of for many years.'
'She sees plenty of company, no doubt, to make up for his absence?'
'No, indeed--hardly a soul. Service here is as bad as being in a
In short, the wayfarer, who had at first been so coldly received,
contrived by his frank and engaging manner to draw the ladies of the
kitchen into a most confidential conversation, in which Laura's
history was minutely detailed, from the day of her husband's
departure to the present. The salient feature in all their
discourse was her unflagging devotion to his memory.
Having apparently learned all that he wanted to know--among other
things that she was at this moment, as always, alone--the traveller
said he was quite dry; and thanking the servants for their kindness,
departed as he had come. On emerging into the darkness he did not,
however, go down the avenue by which he had arrived. He simply
walked round to the front door. There he rang, and the door was
opened to him by a man-servant whom he had not seen during his
sojourn at the other end of the house.
In answer to the servant's inquiry for his name, he said
ceremoniously, 'Will you tell The Honourable Mrs. Northbrook that
the man she nursed many years ago, after a frightful accident, has
called to thank her?'
The footman retreated, and it was rather a long time before any
further signs of attention were apparent. Then he was shown into
the drawing-room, and the door closed behind him.
On the couch was Laura, trembling and pale. She parted her lips and
held out her hands to him, but could not speak. But he did not
require speech, and in a moment they were in each other's arms.
Strange news circulated through that mansion and the neighbouring
town on the next and following days. But the world has a way of
getting used to things, and the intelligence of the return of The
Honourable Mrs. Northbrook's long-absent husband was soon received
with comparative calm.
A few days more brought Christmas, and the forlorn home of Laura
Northbrook blazed from basement to attic with light and
cheerfulness. Not that the house was overcrowded with visitors, but
many were present, and the apathy of a dozen years came at length to
an end. The animation which set in thus at the close of the old
year did not diminish on the arrival of the new; and by the time its
twelve months had likewise run the course of its predecessors, a son
had been added to the dwindled line of the Northbrook family.
At the conclusion of this narrative the Spark was thanked, with a
manner of some surprise, for nobody had credited him with a taste
for tale-telling. Though it had been resolved that this story
should be the last, a few of the weather-bound listeners were for
sitting on into the small hours over their pipes and glasses, and
raking up yet more episodes of family history. But the majority
murmured reasons for soon getting to their lodgings.
It was quite dark without, except in the immediate neighbourhood of
the feeble street-lamps, and before a few shop-windows which had
been hardily kept open in spite of the obvious unlikelihood of any
chance customer traversing the muddy thoroughfares at that hour.
By one, by two, and by three the benighted members of the Field-Club
rose from their seats, shook hands, made appointments, and dropped
away to their respective quarters, free or hired, hoping for a fair
morrow. It would probably be not until the next summer meeting,
months away in the future, that the easy intercourse which now
existed between them all would repeat itself. The crimson maltster,
for instance, knew that on the following market-day his friends the
President, the Rural Dean, and the bookworm would pass him in the
street, if they met him, with the barest nod of civility, the
President and the Colonel for social reasons, the bookworm for
intellectual reasons, and the Rural Dean for moral ones, the latter
being a staunch teetotaller, dead against John Barleycorn. The
sentimental member knew that when, on his rambles, he met his friend
the bookworm with a pocket-copy of something or other under his
nose, the latter would not love his companionship as he had done to-
day; and the President, the aristocrat, and the farmer knew that
affairs political, sporting, domestic, or agricultural would exclude
for a long time all rumination on the characters of dames gone to
dust for scores of years, however beautiful and noble they may have
been in their day.
The last member at length departed, the attendant at the museum
lowered the fire, the curator locked up the rooms, and soon there
was only a single pirouetting flame on the top of a single coal to
make the bones of the ichthyosaurus seem to leap, the stuffed birds
to wink, and to draw a smile from the varnished skulls of