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Title: Griffith Gaunt; or, Jealousy - Volumes 1 to 3 (of 3)
Author: Reade, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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at Free Literature (Images generously made available by
the Internet Archive.)



GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY

BY CHARLES READE

In Three Volumes. Vol I

London

CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY

1866



TABLE OF CONTENTS


    CHAPTER   I
    CHAPTER   II
    CHAPTER   III
    CHAPTER   IV
    CHAPTER   V
    CHAPTER   VI
    CHAPTER   VII
    CHAPTER   VIII
    CHAPTER   IX
    CHAPTER   X
    CHAPTER   XI
    CHAPTER   XII
    CHAPTER   XIII
    CHAPTER   XIV



CHAPTER I


"Then I say once for all, that priest shall never darken my doors
again."

"Then I say they are my doors and not yours, and that holy man shall
brighten them whenever he will."

The gentleman and lady, who faced each other pale and furious, and
interchanged this bitter defiance, were man and wife. And had loved
each other well.

Miss Catherine Peyton was a young lady of ancient family in Cumberland,
and the most striking, but least popular, beauty in the county. She was
very tall and straight, and carried herself a little too imperiously;
yet she would sometimes relax and all but dissolve that haughty figure,
and hang sweetly drooping over her favorites: then the contrast was
delicious, and the woman fascinating.

Her hair was golden and glossy; her eyes a lovely grey; and she had a
way of turning them on slowly and full, so that their victim could not
fail to observe two things: 1. that they were grand and beautiful orbs;
2. that they were thoughtfully overlooking him instead of looking at
him.

So contemplated by glorious eyes, a man feels small; and bitter.

Catherine was apt to receive the blunt compliments of the Cumberland
squires with this sweet, celestial, superior gaze, and for this, and
other imperial charms, was more admired than liked.

The family estate was entailed on her brother; her father spent every
farthing he could; so she had no money, and no expectations, except
from a distant cousin, Mr. Charlton, of Hernshaw Castle and Bolton Hall.

Even these soon dwindled: Mr. Charlton took a fancy to his late wife's
relation, Griffith Gaunt, and had him into his house, and treated him
as his heir. This disheartened two admirers who had hitherto sustained
Catherine Peyton's gaze, and they retired. Comely girls, girls
long-nosed but rich, girls snub-nosed but winning, married on all sides
of her, but the imperial beauty remained Miss Peyton at two-and-twenty.

She was rather kind to the poor; would give them money out of her
slender purse, and would even make clothes for the women, and sometimes
read to them (very few of them could read to themselves in that day).
All she required in return was that they should be Roman Catholics,
like herself, or at least pretend they might be brought to that faith
by little and little.

She was a high-minded girl; and could be a womanly one--whenever she
chose.

She hunted about twice a week in the season, and was at home in the
saddle, for she had ridden from a child; but so ingrained was her
character, that this sport, which more or less unsexes most women, had
no perceptible effect on her mind nor even on her manners. The scarlet
riding-habit, and little purple cap, and the great white bony horse
she rode, were often seen in a good place at the end of a long run:
but, for all that, the lady was a most ungenial fox-huntress; she never
spoke a word but to her acquaintances, and wore a settled air of dreamy
indifference, except when the hounds happened to be in full cry, and
she galloping at their heels. Worse than that, when the hounds were
running into the fox, and his fate certain, she had been known to rein
in her struggling horse, and pace thoughtfully home, instead of coming
in at the death, and claiming the brush.

One day being complimented, at the end of a hard run, by the gentleman
who kept the hounds, she turned her celestial orbs on him and said,
"Nay, Sir Ralph, I love to gallop; and this sorry business it gives me
an excuse."


It was full a hundred years ago: the country teemed with foxes; but
it abounded in stiff coverts, and a knowing fox was sure to run from
one to another; and then came wearisome efforts to dislodge him; and
then Miss Peyton's grey eyes used to explore vacancy, and ignore her
companions, biped and quadruped.

But one day they drew Yew-tree Brow and found a stray fox. At Gaylad's
first note he broke cover and went away for home across the open
country. A hedger saw him steal out, and gave a view halloo; the riders
came round halter skelter; the hounds in cover one by one threw up
their noses and voices; the horns blew, the canine music swelled to a
strong chorus, and away they swept across country, dogs, horses, men;
and the deuce take the hindmost.

It was a gallant chase, and our dreamy virgin's blood got up. Erect,
but lithe and vigorous, and one with her great white gelding, she came
flying behind the foremost riders, and took leap for leap with them;
one glossy, golden curl streamed back in the rushing air, her grey eyes
glowed with earthly fire, and two red spots on the upper part of her
cheeks showed she was much excited without a grain of fear; yet in the
first ten minutes one gentleman was unhorsed before her eyes, and one
came to grief along with his animal, and a thorough-bred chestnut was
galloping and snorting beside her with empty saddle. Presently young
Featherstone, who led her by about fifteen yards, crashed through a
high hedge, and was seen no more, but heard wallowing in the deep
unsuspected ditch beyond. There was no time to draw bridle. "Lie still,
sir, if you please," said Catherine, with cool civility; then up rein,
in spur, and she cleared the ditch and its muddy contents, alive and
dead, and away without looking behind her.

On, on, on, till all the pinks and buckskins, erst so smart, were
splashed with clay and dirt of every hue, and all the horses' late
glossy coats were bathed with sweat and lathered with foam, and their
gaping nostrils blowing and glowing red; and then it was that Harrowden
brook, swollen wide and deep by the late rains, came right between the
fox and Dogmore underwood, for which he was making.

The hunt sweeping down a hill-side caught sight of Reynard running for
the brook. They made sure of him now. But he lapped a drop, and then
slipped in, and soon crawled out on the other side, and made feebly for
the covert, weighted with wet fur.

At sight of him the hunt hallooed and trumpeted, and came tearing on
with fresh vigor.

But, when they came near the brook, lo! it was twenty feet wide, and
running fast and brown. Some riders skirted it, looking for a narrow
part. Two horses, being spurred at it, came to the bank, and then went
rearing round on their heels, depositing one hat and another rider
in the current. One gallant steed planted his feet like a tower, and
snorted down at the water. One flopped gravely in and had to swim, and
be dragged out. Another leaped, and landed with his feet on the other
bank, his haunches in the water, and his rider curled round his neck
and glaring out between his retroverted ears.

But Miss Peyton encouraged her horse with spur and voice, set her
teeth, turned rather pale this time, and went at the brook with a rush,
and cleared it like a deer. She and the huntsman were almost alone
together on the other side, and were as close to the hounds as the
hounds were to poor pug, when he slipped through a run in a quickset
hedge, and glided into Dogmore underwood, a stiff hazel coppice of five
years' growth.

The other riders soon straggled up, and then the thing was to get
him out again. There were a few narrow roads cut in the underwood,
and up and down these the huntsman and whipper-in went trotting, and
encouraged the staunch hounds, and whipped the skulkers back into
covert. Others galloped uselessly about, pounding the earth, for
daisy-cutters were few in those days; and Miss Peyton relapsed into the
transcendental. She sat in one place with her elbow on her knee, and
her fair chin supported by two fingers, as undisturbed by the fracas of
horns and voices as an equestrian statue of Diana.

She sat so still, and so long, at a corner of the underwood, that at
last the harassed fox stole out close to her, with lolling tongue
and eye askant, and took the open field again. She thrilled at first
sight of him, and her cheeks burned; but her quick eye took in all the
signs of his distress, and she sat quiet and watched him coolly. Not
so her horse; he plunged and then trembled all over, and planted his
fore-feet together at this angle \, and parted his hind-legs a little,
and so stood quivering, with cocked ears, and peeped over a low paling
at the retiring quadruped; and fretted and sweated, in anticipation
of the gallop his long head told him was to follow. He looked a deal
more statuesque than any three statues in England; and all about a
creature not up to his knee--and by-the-by; the gentlemen that carve
horses in our native isle, did they ever see one?--Out of an omnibus?
The whipper-in came by and found him in this gallant attitude, and
suspected the truth; but, observing the rider's tranquil position,
thought the fox had only popped out and then in again. However, he
fell in with the huntsman and told him Miss Peyton's grey had seen
something. The hounds appeared puzzled; and so the huntsman rode round
to Miss Peyton, and, touching his cap, asked her if she had seen
anything of the fox.

She looked him dreamily in the face. "The fox," said she: "he broke
cover ten minutes ago."

The man blew his horn lustily, and then asked her reproachfully why
she had not tally-hoed him, or winded her horn; with that he blew his
own again impatiently. Miss Peyton replied very slowly and pensively
that the fox had come out soiled and fatigued, and trailing his brush.
"I looked at him," said she, "and I pitied him; he was one, and we
are many; he was so little, and we are so big: he had given us a good
gallop; and so I made up my mind he should live to run another day."

The huntsman stared stupidly at her for a moment, then burst into a
torrent of oaths, then blew his horn till it was hoarse, then cursed
and swore till he was hoarse himself; then to his horn again, and dogs
and men came rushing to the sound.

"Couple up and go home to supper," said Miss Peyton, quietly. "The fox
is half-way to Gallowstree Gorse, and you won't get him out of that
this afternoon, I promise you."

As she said this, she just touched her horse with the spur, leaped the
low hedge in front of her, and cantered slowly home across country; she
was one that seldom troubled the hard road, go where she would.

She had ridden about a mile when she heard a horse's feet behind her;
she smiled, and her color rose a little, but she cantered on.

"Halt! in the King's name," shouted a mellow voice, and a gentleman
galloped up to her side, and reined in his mare.

"What! have they killed?" inquired Catherine, demurely.

"Not they; he is in the middle of Gallowstree Gorse by now."

"And is this the way to Gallowstree Gorse?"

"Nay, mistress," said the young man; "but, when the fox heads one way
and the deer another, what is a poor hunter to do?"

"Follow the slower, it seems."

"Say the lovelier and the dearer, sweet Kate."

"Now, Griffith, you know I hate flattery," said Kate; and the next
moment came a soft smile, and belied this unsocial sentiment.

"Flattery?" said the lover. "I have no tongue to speak half your
praise. I think the people in this country are as blind as bats, or
they'd--"

"All except Mr. Griffith Gaunt; he has found a paragon where wiser
people see a wayward, capricious girl."

"Then _he_ is the man for you. Don't you see that, mistress?"

"No, I don't quite see that," said the lady, drily.

This cavalier reply caused a dismay the speaker never intended. The
fact is, Mr. George Neville, young, handsome, and rich, had lately
settled in the county, and had been greatly smitten with Kate. The
county was talking about it, and Griffith had been secretly on thorns
for some days past. And now he could hide his uneasiness no longer;
he cried out, in a sharp, trembling voice, "Why, Kate, my dear Kate,
what, could you love any man but me? Could you be so cruel?--could you?
There, let me get off my horse, and lie down on this stubble, and you
ride over me, and trample me to death. I would rather have you trample
on my ribs, than on my heart with loving any one but me."

"Why, what now?" said Catherine, drawing herself up. "I must scold
you handsomely;" and she drew rein and turned full upon him; but by
this means she saw his face was full of real distress; so, instead of
reprimanding him, she said gently, "Why, Griffith, what is to do? Are
you not my servant? Do not I send you word whenever I dine from home?"

"Yes, dearest; and then I call at that house, and stick there till they
guess what I would be at, and ask me too."

Catherine smiled; and proceeded to remind him that thrice a week she
permitted him to ride over from Bolton (a distance of fifteen miles) to
see her.

"Yes," replied Griffith, "and I must say you always come, wet or dry,
to the shrubbery gate, and put your hand in mine a minute. And Kate,"
said he piteously, "at the bare thought of your putting that same dear
hand in another man's, my heart turns sick within me, and my skin burns
and trembles on me."

"But you have no cause," said Catherine, soothingly. "Nobody, except
yourself, doubts my affection for you. You are often thrown in my
teeth, Griffith--and (clenching her own) I like you all the better--of
course."

Griffith replied with a burst of gratitude: and then, as men will,
proceeded to encroach. "Ah," said he, "if you would but pluck up
courage, and take the matrimonial fence with me at once."

Miss Peyton sighed at that and drooped a little upon her saddle. After
a pause, she enumerated the "just impediments." She reminded him that
neither of them had means to marry on.

He made light of that, he should soon have plenty; Mr. Charlton had as
good as told him he was to have Bolton Hall and Grange: "Six hundred
acres, Kate, besides the park and paddocks."

In his warmth he forgot that Catherine was to have been Mr. Charlton's
heir. Catherine was too high-minded to bear Griffith any grudge;
but she colored a little, and said she was averse to come to him a
penniless bride.

"Why, what matters it which of us has the dross, so that there is
enough for both?" said Griffith, with an air of astonishment.

Catherine smiled approbation, and tacitly yielded that point. But then
she objected the difference in their faith.

"Oh, honest folk get to heaven by different roads," said Griffith,
carelessly.

"I have been taught otherwise," replied Catherine, gravely.

"Then give me your hand and I'll give you my soul," said Griffith
Gaunt, impetuously. "I'll go to heaven your way, if you can't go mine.
Anything sooner than be parted in this world, or the next."

She looked at him in silence; and it was in a faint half apologetic
tone she objected that "all her kinsfolk were set against it."

"It is not their business; it is ours," was the prompt reply.

"Well, then," said Catherine, sadly, "I suppose I must tell you the
true reason; I feel I should not make you happy; I do not love you
quite as you want to be loved, as you deserve to be loved. You need
not look so; nothing in flesh and blood is your rival. But my heart it
bleeds for the church I think of her ancient glory in this kingdom,
and, when I see her present condition, I long to devote myself to her
service. I am very fit to be an abbess or a nun; most unfit to be a
wife. No, no; I must not, ought not, dare not, many a Protestant.
Take the advice of one who esteems you dearly; leave me--fly from me
--forget me--do everything but hate me. Nay, do not hate me: you little
know the struggle in my mind. Farewell; the saints, whom you scorn,
watch over and protect you: farewell."

And with this she sighed, and struck her spur into the grey, and he
darted off at a gallop.

Griffith, little able to cope with such a character as this, sat
petrified, and would have been rooted to the spot if he had happened to
be on foot. But his mare set off after her companion, and a chase of
a novel kind commenced. Catherine's horse was fresher than Griffith's
mare, and the latter, not being urged by her petrified master, lost
ground.

But, when she drew near to her father's gate, Catherine relaxed her
speed, and Griffith rejoined her.

She had already half relented, and only wanted a warm and resolute
wooer to bring her round. But Griffith was too sore, and too little
versed in woman. Full of suspicion and bitterness he paced gloomy and
silent by her side, till they reached the great avenue that led to her
father's house.

And, while he rides alongside the capricious creature in sulky silence,
I may as well reveal a certain foible in his own character.

This Griffith Gaunt was by no means deficient in physical courage; but
he was instinctively disposed to run away from mental pain the moment
he lost hope of driving it away from him. For instance, if Catherine
had been ill and her life in danger, he would have ridden day and night
to save her; but if she had died he would either have killed himself,
or else fled the country, and so escaped the sight of every object that
was associated with her, and could agonize him. I do not think he could
have attended the funeral of one he loved.

The mind, as well as the body, has its self-protecting instincts. This
of Griffith's was after all an instinct of that class, and, under
certain circumstances, is true wisdom. But Griffith, I think, earned
the instinct to excess; and that is why I call it his foible.

"Catherine," said he, resolutely, "let me ride by your side to the
house for once; for I read your advice my own way, and I mean to follow
it: after to-day you will be troubled with me no more. I have loved you
these three years, I have courted you these two years, and I am none
the nearer. I see I am not the man you mean to marry; so I shall do as
my father did, ride down to the coast, and sell my horse, and ship for
foreign parts."

"Oh! as you will," said Catherine, haughtily. She quite forgot she had
just recommended him to do something of this very kind.

Presently she stole a look. His fine ruddy cheek was pale; his manly
brown eyes were moist; yet a gloomy and resolute expression on his
tight-drawn lips. She looked at him sidelong, and thought how often
he had ridden thirty miles on that very mare to get a word with her
at the shrubbery gate. And now the mare to be sold! The man to go
broken-hearted to sea; perhaps to his death! Her good heart began to
yearn. "Griffith," said she, softly, "it is not as if I was going to
wed anybody else. Is it nothing to be preferred by her you say you
love? If I was you I would do nothing rash? Why not give me a little
time? In truth, I hardly know my own mind about it two days together."

"Kate," said the young man, firmly, "I am courting you this two years.
If I wait two years more it will be but to see the right man come and
carry you in a month; for so girls are won when they are won at all.
Your sister that is married and dead she held Josh Pitt in hand for
years; and what is the upshot? Why, he wears the willow for her to this
day; and her husband, he married again before her grave was green. Nay,
I have done all an honest man can do to woo you; so take me now or let
me go."

At this, Kate began to waver secretly, and ask herself whether it would
not be better to yield, since he was so resolute.

But the unlucky fellow did not leave well alone. He went on to say,
"Once out of sight of this place I may cure myself of my fancy. Here I
never could."

"Oh!" said Catherine, directly, "if you are so bent on being cured, it
would not become me to say nay."

Griffith Gaunt bit his lip and hung his head, and made no reply.

The patience with which he received her hard speech was more
apparent than real: but it told. Catherine, receiving no fresh
positive provocation, relented again of her own accord, and, after a
considerable silence, whispered softly, "Think how we should all miss
you."

Here was an overture to reconciliation. But unfortunately it brought
out what had long been rankling in Griffith's mind, and was in fact the
real cause of the misunderstanding. "Oh!" said he, "those I care for
will soon find another to take my place. Soon; quotha. They have not
waited till I was gone for that."

"Ah, indeed!" said Catherine, with some surprise: then, like the
quick-witted girl she was, "so this is what all the coil is about."
She then, with a charming smile, begged him to inform her who was his
destined successor in her esteem. Griffith colored purple at her cool
hypocrisy (for such he considered it), and replied, almost fiercely,
"who but that young black-a-vised George Neville, that you have been
coquetting with this month past; and danced all night with him at Lady
Munster's ball, you did."

Catherine blushed, and said deprecatingly. "_You_ were not there,
Griffith; or to be sure I had not danced with _him._"

"And he toasts you by name wherever he goes."

"Can I help that? Wait till I toast him before you make yourself
ridiculous, and me very angry--about nothing."

Griffith, sticking to his one idea, replied doggedly "Mistress Alice
Peyton shilly-shallied with her true lover for years--till Richard
Hilton came that was not fit to tie his shoes, and then--." Catherine
cut him short: "Affront me, if nothing less will serve; but spare my
sister in her grave." She began this sentence angrily, but concluded
it in a broken voice. Griffith was half disarmed; but only half. He
answered sullenly, "She did not die till she had jilted an honest
gentleman and broken his heart, and married a sot, to her cost. And
you are of her breed, when all is done; and now that young coxcomb has
come, like Dick Hilton, between you and me."

"But I do not encourage him."

"You do not _dis_courage him," retorted Griffith, "or he would not be
so hot after you. Were you ever the woman to say, 'I have a servant
already that loves me dear?'--That one frank word had sent him packing."

Miss Peyton colored, and the water came into her eyes. "I may have been
imprudent," she murmured. "The young gentleman made me smile with his
extravagance. I never thought to be misunderstood by him, far less by
you." Then, suddenly, bold as brass, "'Tis all your fault; if he had
the power to make you uneasy, why did you not check me before?"

"Ay, forsooth! and have it cast in my teeth I was a jealous monster,
and played the tyrant before my time. A poor fellow scarce knows what
to be at, that loves a coquette."

"Coquette I am none," replied the lady, bridling magnificently.

Griffith took no notice of this interruption. He proceeded to say that
he had hitherto endured this intrusion of a rival in silence, though
with a sore heart, hoping his patience might touch her, or the fire go
out of itself. But at last, unable to bear it any longer in silence,
he had shown his wound to one he knew could feel for him, his poor
friend Pitt. Pitt, had then, let him know that his own mistake had been
over-confidence in Alice Peyton's constancy. "He said to me, 'Watch
your Kate close, and, at the first blush of a rival, say you to her,
part with him, or part with me.'"

Catherine pinned him directly. "And this is how you take Joshua Pitt's
advice; by offering to run away from this sorry rival."

The shrewd reply, and a curl of the lip, half arch, half contemptuous,
that accompanied the thrust, staggered the less ready Griffith. He got
puzzled, and showed it.

"Well, but," stammered he at last, "your spirit is high; I was mostly
afeard to put it so plump to you. So I thought I would go about a bit,
However, it comes to the same thing; for this I do know, that if you
refuse me your hand this day, it is to give it to a new acquaintance,
as your Alice did before you. And, if it is to be so, 'tis best for me
to be gone; best for him, and best for you. You don't know me, Kate,
for as clever as you are. At the thought of your playing me false,
after all these years, and marrying that George Neville, my heart turns
to ice, and then to fire, and my head seems ready to burst, and my
hands to do mad and bloody acts. Ay, I feel I should kill him, or you,
or both, at the church porch. Ah!" he suddenly griped her arm, and at
the same time Involuntarily checked his mare.

Both horses stopped.

She raised her head with an inquiring look, and saw her lover's face
discolored with passion, and so strangely convulsed, that she feared at
first he was in a fit, or stricken with death or palsy.

She uttered a cry of alarm, and stretched forth her hand towards him.

But the next moment she drew it back from him; for, following his eye,
she discerned the cause of this ghastly look. Her father's house stood
at the end of the avenue they had just entered; but there was another
approach to it, viz., by a bridle-road at right angles to the avenue
or main entrance; and up that bridle-road a gentleman was walking his
horse, and bade fair to meet them at the hall door.

It was young Neville. There was no mistaking his piebald charger for
any other animal in that county.


Kate Peyton glanced from lover to lover, and shuddered at Griffith. She
was familiar with petty jealousy; she had even detected it pinching
or coloring many a pretty face that tried very hard to hide it all
the time. But that was nothing to what she saw now. Hitherto she had
but beheld the feeling of jealousy, but now she witnessed the livid
passion of jealousy writhing in every lineament of a human face. That
terrible passion had transfigured its victim in a moment: the ruddy,
genial, kindly Griffith, with his soft brown eye, was gone; and in his
place lowered a face, older, and discolored, and convulsed, and almost
demoniacal.

Women (wiser perhaps in this than men) take their strongest impressions
by the eye, not ear. Catherine, I say, looked at him she had hitherto
thought she knew; looked and feared him. And, even while she looked,
and shuddered, Griffith spurred his mare sharply, and then drew her
head across the grey gelding's path. It was an instinctive impulse to
bar the lady he loved from taking another step towards the place where
his rival awaited her. "I cannot bear it," he gasped. "Choose you now
once for all between that puppy there and me," and he pointed with his
riding-whip at his rival, and waited with his teeth clenched for her
decision.

The movement was rapid, the gesture large and commanding, and the words
manly; for what says the fighting poet?--

    "He either fears his fate too much,
       Or his deserts are small;
    Who fears to put it to the touch,
       To win or lose it all."



CHAPTER II


Miss Peyton drew herself up, and back, by one motion, like a queen at
bay; but still she eyed him with a certain respect, and was careful now
not to provoke nor pain him needlessly.

"I prefer _you_--though you speak harshly to me, sir," said she, with
gentle dignity.

"Then give me your hand with that man in sight, and end my torments:
promise to marry me this very week. Ah, Kate! have pity on your poor
faithful servant who has loved you so long."

"I do, Griffith, I do," said she sweetly; "but I shall never marry now.
Only set your mind at rest about Mr. Neville there. He has never asked
me, for one thing."

"He soon will then."

"No, no; I declare I will be very cool to him after what you have said
to me. But I cannot marry you neither. I dare not. Listen to me, and
do pray govern your temper as I am doing mine. I have often read of
men with a passion for jealousy--I mean men whose jealousy feeds upon
air, and defies reason. I know you now for such a man. Marriage would
not cure this madness, for wives do not escape admiration any more than
maids. Something tells me you would be jealous of every fool that paid
me some stale compliment, jealous of my female friends, and jealous of
my relations, and perhaps jealous of your own children, and of that
holy persecuted church which must still have a large share of my heart.
No, no; your face and your words have shown me a precipice. I tremble,
and draw back, and now I never _will_ marry at all; from this day I
give myself to the church."

Griffith did not believe one word of all this. "That is your answer to
me," said he bitterly. "When the right man puts the question (and he
is not far off) you will tell another tale. You take me for a fool,
and you mock me: you are not the lass to die an old maid, and men
are not the fools to let you. With faces like yours the new servant
comes before the first one is gone. Well, I have got my answer. County
Cumberland, you are no place for me. The ways and the fields we two
have rid together, oh how could I bear their sight without my dear? Why
what a poor-spirited fool am I to stay and whine! Come, mistress, your
lover waits you there, and your discarded servant knows good breeding:
he leaves the country not to spoil your sport."

Catherine panted heavily. "Well, sir," said she, "then it is your
doing, not mine. Will you not even shake hands with me, Griffith?"

"I were a brute else," sighed the jealous one, with a sudden revulsion
of feeling. "I have spent the happiest hours of my life beside you. If
I loved thee less I had never left thee."

He clung a little while to her hand, more like a drowning man than
anything else; then let it go, and suddenly shook his clenched fist
in the direction of George Neville, and cried out with a savage yell,
"My curse on him that parts us twain! And you, Kate, may God bless you
single, and curse you married: and that is my last word in Cumberland."

"Amen," said Catherine resignedly.

And even with this they wheeled their horses apart, and rode away from
each other: she very pale, but erect with wounded pride; he reeling in
his saddle like a drunken man.

And so Griffith Gaunt, stung mad by jealousy, affronted his sweetheart,
the proudest girl in Cumberland, and, yielding to his foible, fled from
his pain.

Our foibles are our manias.



CHAPTER III


Miss Peyton was shocked, and grieved at bottom, but she was also
affronted and wounded. Now anger seems to have some fine buoyant
quality, which makes it rise and come uppermost in an agitated mind.
She rode proudly into the courtyard of her father's house, and would
not look once behind to see the last of her perverse lover.

The old groom, Joe, who had taught her to ride when she was six years
old, saw her coming, and hobbled out to hold her horse, while she
alighted. "Mistress Kate," said he, "have you seen Master Griffith
Gaunt anywheres?"

The young lady colored at this question.

"Why?" said she.

"Why?" repeated old Joe, a little contemptuously. "Why, where have
_you_ been not to know the country is out after un? First comed
Jock Dennet, with his horse all in a lather, to say old Mr. Charlton
was took ill, and had asked for Master Griffith. I told him to go
to Dogmore Copse: 'our Kate is a hunting, to-day,' says I, and your
Griffith he is sure not to be far from her gelding's tail;' a stick in
his spurs and away a goes: what, han't you seen Jock neither?"

"No, no," replied Miss Peyton, impatiently: "what, is there anything
the matter?"

"The matter, quo she! Why Jock hadn't been gone an hour when in rides
the new footman all in a lather, and brings a letter for Master
Griffith from the old gentleman's housekeeper: ‘you leave the letter
with me, in case,' says I, and I sends him a field after t'other. Here
be the letter."

He took off his cap and produced the letter.

Catherine started at the sight of it. "Alas!" said she, "this is a
heavy day. Look, Joe; sealed with black; poor cousin Charlton! I doubt
he is no more."

Joe shook his head expressively, and told her the butcher had come from
that part not ten minutes ago, with word that the blinds were all down
at Bolton Hall.

Poor human nature! a gleam of joy shot through Catherine's heart; this
sad news would compel Griffith to stay at home and bury his benefactor;
and that delay would give him time to reflect; and somehow or other she
felt sure it would end in his not going at all.

But these thoughts had no sooner passed through her than she was
ashamed of them and of herself. What, welcome that poor old man's death
because it would keep her cross-grained lover at home? Her cheeks
burned with shame, and with a superfluous exercise of self-defense she
retired from Old Joe, lest he should divine what was passing in her
mind.

But she was so rapt in thought that she carried the letter away with
her unconsciously.

As she passed through the hall she heard George Neville and her father
in animated conversation. She mounted the stairs softly, and went into
a little boudoir of her own on the first floor, and sat down. The house
stood high, and there was a very expansive and beautiful view of the
country from this window. She sat down by it and drooped, and looked
wistfully through the window, and thought of the past, and fell into a
sad reverie. Pity began to soften her pride and anger, and presently
two gentle tears dimmed her glorious eyes a moment, and then stole down
her delicate cheeks.

While she sat thus lost in the past, jovial voices and creaking boots
broke suddenly upon her ear, and came up the stairs: they jarred upon
her; so she cast one last glance out of the window, and rose to get out
of their way if possible: but it was too late; a heavy step came to
the door, and a ruddy port-drinking face peeped in. It was her father.
"See-ho!" roared the jovial Squire. "I've found the hare on her form:
bide thou outside a moment." And he entered the room; but he had no
sooner closed the door than his whole manner changed from loud and
jovial to agitated and subdued. "Kate, my girl," said he, piteously, "I
have been a bad father to thee. I have spent all the money that should
have been thine; thy poor father can scarce look thee in the face. So
now I bring thee a good husband: be a good child now, and a dutiful.
Neville's Court is his, and Neville's Cross will be, by the entail; and
so will the baronetcy. I shall see my girl Lady Neville."

"Never, papa, never," cried Kate.

"Hush! hush!" said the Squire, and put up his hand to her in great
agitation and alarm: "hush! or he will hear ye. Kate," he whispered,
"are you mad? Little I thought, when he asked to see me, it was to
offer marriage. Be a good girl now: don't you quarrel with good luck.
You are not fit to be poor, and you have made enemies. Do but think
how they will flout you when I die, and Bill's jade of a wife puts you
to the door, as she will: and now you can triumph over them all; my
Lady Neville; and make your poor father happy; my Lady Neville. Enough
said, for I have promised you; so don't go and make a fool of me and
yourself into the bargain. And--and--a word in your ear; he has lent me
a hundred pounds."

At this climax the father hung his head; the daughter winced and moaned
out, "Papa! how _could_ you?"

Mr. Peyton had gradually descended to that intermediate stage of
degradation, when the substance of dignity is all gone, but its shadow,
shame, remains. He stamped impatiently on the ground, and cut his
humiliation short by rushing out of the room. "Here, try your own luck,
youngster," he cried at the door. "She knows my mind." He trampled down
the stairs, and young George Neville knocked respectfully at the door,
though it was half open; and came in with youth's light foot, and a
handsome face flushed into beauty by love and hope.

Miss Peyton's eye just swept him, as he entered, and with the same
movement she turned away her fair head and blushing cheek towards the
window; yet, must I own it, she quietly moulded the letter that lay in
her lap, so that the address was no longer visible to the new-comer.

Small secrecy, verging on deceit, you are bred in women's bones.

This blushing and averted cheek is one of those equivocal receptions
that have puzzled many a sensible man. It is a sign of coy love; it is
a sign of gentle aversion; _our_ mode of interpreting it is simple and
judicious; whichever it happens to be we go and take it for the other.

The brisk bold wooer that now engaged Kate Peyton was not the man to be
dashed by a woman's coyness. Handsome, daring, good-humored, and vain,
he had everything in his favor but his novelty.


Look at Kate! her eye lingers wistfully on that disconsolate horseman
whose every step takes him farther from her; but George has her ear,
and draws closer and closer to it, and pours love's mellow murmurs into
it.

He told her he had made the grand tour, and seen the beauties of every
land, but none like her; other ladies had certainly pleased his eye for
a moment, but she alone had conquered his heart. He said many charming
things to her, such as Griffith Gaunt had never said. Amongst the rest,
he assured her the beauty of her person would not alone have fascinated
him so deeply; but he had seen the beauty of her mind in those eyes of
hers that seemed not eyes, but souls; and, begging her pardon for his
presumption, he aspired to wed her mind.

Such ideas had often risen in Kate's own mind; but to hear them from
a man was new. She looked askant through the window at the lessening
Griffith, and thought "how the grand tour improves a man!" and said as
coldly as she could, "I esteem you, sir, and cannot but be flattered by
sentiments so superior to those I am used to hear; but let this go no
further. I shall never marry now."

Instead of being angry at this, or telling her she wanted to marry
somebody else, as the injudicious Griffith had done, young Neville had
the address to treat it as an excellent jest, and drew such comical
pictures of all the old maids in the neighborhood, that she could not
help smiling.

But the moment she smiled, the inflammable George made hot love to
her again. Then she besought him to leave her, piteously. Then he
said cheerfully he would leave her as soon as ever she had promised
to be his. At that she turned sullen and haughty, and looked through
the window and took no notice of him whatever. Then, instead of being
discouraged or mortified, he showed imperturbable confidence and good
humour, and begged archly to know what interesting object was in sight
from that window. On this she blushed and withdrew her eyes from the
window, and so they met his. On that he threw himself on his knees
(custom of the day), and wooed her with such a burst of passionate and
tearful eloquence that she began to pity him, and said she, lifting her
lovely eyes, "Alas! I was born to make all those I esteem, unhappy;"
and she sighed deeply.

"Not a bit of it," said he; "you were born, like the sun, to bless all
you shine upon. Sweet Mistress Kate, I love you as these country boors
can never be taught to love. I lay my heart, my name, my substance, at
your feet; you shall not be loved--you shall be worshipped. Ah! turn
those eyes, brimful of soul, on me again, and let me try and read in
them that one day, no matter how distant, the delight of my eyes, the
joy of all my senses, the pride of Cumberland, the pearl of England,
the flower of womankind, the rival of the angels, the darling of George
Neville's heart, will be George Neville's wife."

Fire and water were in his eyes, passion in every tone; his manly hand
grasped hers and trembled, and drew her gently towards him.

Her bosom heaved; his passionate male voice and manner electrified
her, and made her flutter. "Spare me this pain," she faltered; and she
looked through the window and thought, "Poor Griffith was right after
all, and I was wrong. He had cause for jealousy, and CAUSE FOR FEAR."

And then she pitied him who panted at her side, and then was sorry
for him who rode away disconsolate, still lessening to her eye; and
what with this conflict, and the emotion her quarrel with Griffith had
already caused her, she leaned her head back against the shutter, and
began to sob low, but almost hysterically.

Now, Mr. George Neville was neither a fool nor a novice. If he had
never been downright in love before (which I crave permission to
doubt), he had gone far enough on that road to make one Italian lady,
two French, one Austrian, and one Creole in love with him; and each of
these love affairs had given him fresh insight into the ways of women.
Enlightened by so many bitter-sweet experiences, he saw at once that
there was something more going on inside Kate's heaving bosom than he
could have caused by offering her his hand. He rose from his knees, and
leaned against the opposite shutter, and fixed his eyes a little sadly,
but very observantly, on her, as she leaned back against the shutter,
sobbing low, but hysterically, and quivering all over.

"There's some other man at the bottom of this," thought George Neville.

"Mistress Kate," said he, gently, "I do not come here to make you weep.
I love you like a gentleman; if you love another, take courage, tell me
so, and don't let your father constrain your inclinations. Dearly as I
love you, I would not wed your person and your heart another's; that
would be too cruel to you, and (drawing himself up with sudden majesty)
too unjust to myself."

Kate looked up at him through her tears, and admired this man, who
could love ardently, yet be proud and just. And if his appeal to her
candor had been made yesterday, she would have said frankly, "There is
one I--esteem." But, since the quarrel, she would not own to herself,
far less to another, that she loved a man who had turned his back upon
her. So she _parried._

"There is no one I love enough to wed," said she. "I am a cold-hearted
girl, born to give pain to my betters. But I shall do something
desperate to end all this."

"All what?" said he, keenly.

"The whole thing; my unprofitable life."

"Mistress Kate," said Neville, "I asked you was there another man. If
you had answered me 'In truth there is, but he is poor and my father
is averse,' or the like; then I would have stood his friend, for your
sake. But you say there is no man you love. Then I say you shall be
Dame Neville."

"What, whether I will or no?"

"Yes; whether you _think_ you will or no."

Catherine turned her dreamy eyes on him.

"You have had a good master. Why did you not come to me sooner?"

She was thinking more of him than of herself, and in fact paying
too little heed to her words. But she had no sooner uttered this
inadvertent speech than she felt she had said too much; she blushed a
rosy red, and hid her face in her hands in the most charming confusion.

"Sweetest, it is not an hour too late, as you do not love another," was
stout George Neville's reply.

But nevertheless the cunning rogue thought it safest to temporize,
and put his coy mistress off her guard. So he ceased to alarm her by
pressing the question of marriage, but seduced her into a charming
talk, where the topics were not so personal, and only the tones of his
voice and the glances of his expressive eyes were caressing. He was
on his mettle to please her by hook or by crook, and was delightful,
irresistible. He set her at ease, and she began to listen more, and
even to smile faintly, and to look through the window a little less
perseveringly.

Suddenly the spell was broken for a while.

And by whom?

By the other.

Ay you may well stare. It sounds strange, but it is true, that the poor
forlorn horseman, hanging like a broken man, as he was, over his tired
horse, and wending his solitary way from her he loved, and resigning
the field, like a goose, to the very rival he feared, did yet (like
the retiring Parthian) shoot an arrow right into that pretty boudoir,
and hit both his sweetheart and his rival; hit them hard enough to
spoil their sport, and make a little mischief between them--for that
afternoon, at all events.

The arrow came into the room after this fashion.

Kate was sitting in a very feminine attitude. When a man wants to look
in any direction, he turns his body and his eye the same way and does
it; but women love to cast oblique regards, and this their instinct is
a fruitful source of their graceful and characteristic postures.

Kate Peyton was at this moment a statue of her sex. Her fair head
leaned gently back against the corner of the window shutter, her pretty
feet and fair person in general were opposite George Neville, who
sat facing the window but in the middle of the room; her arms, half
pendent, half extended, went listlessly aslant her and somewhat to the
right of her knees, yet by an exquisite turn of the neck her grey eyes
contrived to be looking dreamily out of the window to her left. Still,
in this figure, that pointed one way and looked another, there was no
distortion; all was easy, and full of that subtle grace we artists call
Repose.

But suddenly she dissolved this feminine attitude, rose to her feet,
and interrupted her wooer civilly. "Excuse me," said she, "but can you
tell me which way that road on the hill leads to?"

Her companion stared a little at so sudden a turn in the conversation,
but replied by asking her with perfect good humour what road she meant.

"The one that gentleman on horseback has just taken. Surely," she
continued, "that road does not take to Bolton Hall."

"Certainly not," said George, following the direction of her finger,
"Bolton lies to the right. That road takes to the sea-coast by
Otterbury and Stanhope."

"I thought so," said Kate. "How unfortunate! He cannot know. But indeed
how should he?"

"Who cannot know? and what? you speak in riddles, mistress; and how
pale you are; are you ill?"

"No, not ill, sir," faltered Kate; "but you see me much discomposed. My
cousin Charlton died this day; and the news met me at the very door."
She could say no more.

Mr. Neville, on hearing this news, began to make many excuses for
having inadvertently intruded himself upon her on such a day; but in
the midst of his apologies she suddenly looked him full in the face,
and said, with nervous abruptness, "You _talk_ like a preux chevalier;
I wonder whether you would ride five or six miles to do me a service?"

"Ay; a thousand;" said the young man, glowing with pleasure. "What is
to do?"

Kate pointed through the window. "You see that gentleman on horseback.
Well, I happen to know he is leaving the country: he thinks that
he--that I--that Mr. Charlton has many years to live. He must be told
Mr. Charlton is dead, and his presence is required at Bolton Hall. I
_should_ like somebody to gallop after him, and give him this letter:
but my own horse is tired, and I am tired--and, to be frank, there is a
little coolness between the gentleman himself and me; oh, I wish him no
ill, but really I am not upon terms--I do not feel complaisant enough
to carry a letter after him; yet I do feel that he _must_ have it: do
not _you_ think it would be malicious and unworthy in me to keep the
news from him, when I know it is so?"

Young Neville smiled. "Nay, mistress, why so many words? Give me your
letter, and I will soon overtake the gentleman: he seems in no great
hurry."

Kate thanked him, and made a polite apology for giving him so much
trouble, and handed him the letter: when it came to that, she held
it out to him rather irresolutely; but he took it promptly and bowed
low after the fashion of the day; she curtsied; he marched off with
alacrity; she sat down again and put her head in her hand to think it
all over, and a chill thought ran through her; was her conduct wise?
What would Griffith think at her employing his rival? Would he not
infer Neville had entered her service in more senses than one? Perhaps
he would throw the letter down in a rage and never read it.

Steps came rapidly, the door opened, and there was George Neville
again, but not the same George Neville that went out but thirty seconds
before. He stood at the door looking very black, and with a sardonic
smile on his lips. "An excellent jest, mistress," said he, ironically.

"Why what is the matter?" said the lady, stoutly: but her red cheeks
belied her assumption of innocence.

"Oh not much," said George, with a bitter sneer. "It is an old story;
only I thought you were nobler than the rest of your sex. This letter
is to Mr. Griffith Gaunt."

"Well, sir," said Kate, with a face of serene and candid innocence.

"And Mr. Griffith Gaunt is a suitor of yours."

"Say, _was._ He is so no longer. He and I are out. But for that, think
you I had even listened to--what you have been saying to me this ever
so long?"

"Oh, that alters the case," said George. "But stay!" and he knitted
his brows and reflected. Up to a moment ago the loftiness of Catherine
Peyton's demeanor, and the celestial something in her soul-like
dreamy eyes, had convinced him she was a creature free from the small
dishonesty and duplicity he had noted in so many women otherwise
amiable and good.

But this business of the letter had shaken the illusion.

"Stay," said he stiffly. "You say Mr. Gaunt and you are out."

Catherine assented by a movement of her fair head.

"And he is leaving the country. Perhaps this letter is to keep him from
leaving the country?"

"Only until he has buried his benefactor," murmured Kate, in
deprecating accents.

George wore a bitter sneer at this. "Mistress Kate," said he, after a
significant pause, "do you read Molière?"

She bridled a little, and would not reply; she knew Molière quite well
enough not to want his wit leveled at her head.

"Do you admire the character of Célimène?"

No reply.

"You do not. How can you? She was too much your inferior. She never
sent one of her lovers with a letter to the other to stop his flight.
Well, you may eclipse Célimène; but permit me to remind you that I am
George Neville, and not Georges Dandin."

Miss Peyton rose from her seat with eyes that literally flashed fire,
and, the horrible truth must be told, her first wild impulse was to
reply to all this Molière with one cut of her little riding-whip: but
she had a swift mind, and two reflections entered it together: first
that this would be unlike a gentlewoman; secondly, that if she whipped
Mr. Neville, however slightly, he would not lend her his piebald horse:
so she took stronger measures; she just sank down again and faltered,
"I do not understand these bitter words: I have no lover at all: I
never will have one again. But it is hard to think I cannot make a
friend, nor keep a friend." And so lifted up her hands and began to cry
piteously.

Then the stout George was taken aback, and made to think himself a
ruffian.

"Nay, do not weep so, Mistress Kate," said he hurriedly. "Come, take
courage. I am not jealous of Mr. Gaunt; a man that hath been two
years dangling after you, and could not win you. I look but to my
own self-respect in the matter. I know your sex better than you know
yourselves: were I to carry that letter you would thank me now, but by
and by despise me; now as I mean you to be my wife, I will not risk
your contempt. 'Why not take my horse, put who you like on him, and so
convey the letter to Mr. Gaunt?"

Now this was all the fair mourner wanted; so she said, "No, no, she
would not be beholden to him for anything; he had spoken harshly to
her, and misjudged her cruelly, cruelly: oh! oh! oh!"

Then he implored her to grant him this small favor: then she cleared up
and said, well, sooner than bear malice, she would. He thanked her for
granting him that favor. She went off with the letter, saying, "I will
be back anon." But, once she got clear, she opened the door again, and
peeped in at him gaily, and said she, "Why not ask me who _wrote_ the
letter before you compared me to that French coquette?" And with this
made him an arch curtsy, and tripped away.

Mr. George Neville opened his eyes with astonishment. This arch
question, and Kate's manner of putting it, convinced him the obnoxious
missive was not a love-letter at all. He was sorry now, and vexed with
himself for having called her a coquette, and made her cry. After all,
what was the mighty favor she had asked of him? to carry a sealed
letter from somebody or other to a person who, to be sure, had been her
lover, but was so no longer. A simple act of charity and civility, and
he had refused it in injurious terms.

He was glad he had lent his horse, and almost sorry he had not taken
the letter himself.


To these chivalrous self-reproaches succeeded an uneasy feeling that
perhaps the lady might retaliate somehow. It struck him, on reflection,
that the arch query she had let fly at him was accompanied with a
certain sparkle of the laughing eye, such as ere now had, in his
experience, preceded a stroke of the feminine claw.

As he walked up and down, uneasy, awaiting the fair one's return,
her father came up, and asked him to dine and sleep. What made the
invitation more welcome was that it in reality came from Kate. "She
tells me she has borrowed your horse," said the Squire, "so says she,
I am bound to take care of you till daylight, and indeed our ways are
perilous at night."

"She is an angel!" cried the lover, all his ardor revived by this
unexpected trait; "my horse, my house, my hand, and my heart, are all
at her service by night and day."

Mr. Peyton, to wile away the time before dinner, invited him to walk
out and see--a hog: deadly fat, as times went. But Neville denied
himself that satisfaction on the plea that he had his orders to await
Miss Peyton's return where he was. The Squire was amused at his
excessive docility, and winked, as much as to say, "I have been once
upon a time in your plight;" and so went and gloried in his hog alone.

The lover fell into a delicious reverie. He enjoyed by anticipation the
novel pleasure of an evening passed all alone with this charming girl.
The father, being friendly to his suit, would go to sleep after dinner;
and then by the subdued light of a wood-fire he would murmur his love
into that sweet ear for hours, until the averted head should come round
by degrees, and the delicious lips yield a coy assent. He resolved the
night should not close till he had surprised, overpowered, and secured
his lovely bride.

These soft meditations reconciled him for awhile to the prolonged
absence of their object.

In the midst of them he happened to glance through the window; and he
saw a sight that took his very breath away, and rooted him in amazement
to the spot. About a mile from the house a lady in a scarlet habit was
galloping across country as the crow flies. Hedge, ditch, or brook,
nothing stopped her an instant; and as for the pace,

    She seemed in running to devour the way.

It was Kate Peyton on his piebald horse.



CHAPTER IV


Griffith Gaunt, unknown to himself, had lost temper as well as heart
before he took the desperate step of leaving the country. Now his
temper was naturally good; and, ere he had ridden two miles, he
recovered it. To his cost: for the sustaining force of anger being
gone, he was alone with his grief. He drew the rein half mechanically,
and from a spirited canter declined to a walk.

And the slower he went the chillier grew his heart, till it lay half
ice, half load, in his bosom.

Parted! oh word pregnant with misery.

Never to see those heavenly eyes again nor hear that silvery voice!
Never again to watch that peerless form walk the minuet; nor see it
lift the grey horse over a fence with the grace and spirit that seemed
inseparable from it!

Desolation streamed over him at the thought. And next his forlorn mind
began to cling even to the inanimate objects that were dotted about the
place which held her. He passed a little farmhouse into which Kate and
he had once been driven by a storm, and had sat together by the kitchen
fire; and the farmer's wife had smiled on them for sweethearts, and
made them drink rum and milk, and stay till the sun was fairly out.
"Ah! good-bye, little farm," he sighed, "when shall I ever see you
again?"

He passed a brook where they had often stopped together and given
their panting horses just a mouthful after a run with the harriers.
"Good-bye, little brook!" said he: "you will ripple on as before, and
warble as you go; but I shall never drink at your water more, nor hear
your pleasant murmur with her I love."

He sighed and crept away, still making for the sea.

In the icy depression of his heart, his body and his senses were half
paralysed, and none would have known the accomplished huntsman in this
broken man, who hung anyhow over his mare's neck, and went to and fro
in the saddle.

When he had gone about five miles, he came to the crest of a hill; he
remembered that, once past that brow, he could see Peyton Hall no more.
He turned slowly and cast a sorrowful look at it.

It was winter, but the afternoon sun had come out bright. The
horizontal beams struck full upon the house, and all the western panes
shone like burnished gold; her very abode, how glorious it looked! And
he was to see it no more.

He gazed, and gazed at the bright house till love and sorrow dimmed
his eyes, and he could see the beloved place no more. Then his dogged
will prevailed, and carried him away towards the sea, but crying like a
woman now, and hanging all dislocated over his horse's mane.

Now about a mile farther on, as he crept along on a vile and narrow
road, all woe-begone and broken, he heard a mighty scurry of horse's
feet in the field to his left; he looked languidly up; and the first
thing he saw was a great piebald horse's head and neck in the act of
rising in the air, and doubling his fore-legs under him, to leap the
low hedge a yard or two in front of him.

He did leap, and landed just in front of Griffith; his rider curbed
him so keenly that he went back almost on his haunches, and then stood
motionless all across the road, with quivering tail. A lady in a
scarlet riding-habit and purple cap, sat him as if he had been a throne
instead of a horse, and, without moving her body, turned her head
swift as a snake, and fixed her great grey eyes full and searching on
Griffith Gaunt.

He uttered a little shout of joy and amazement, his mare reared and
plunged, and then was quiet. And thus Kate Peyton and he met--at right
angles--and so close that it looked as if she had meant to ride him
down.

How he stared at her! how more than mortal fair she shone, returning to
those bereaved eyes of his, as if she had really dropped from Heaven.

His clasped hands, his haggard face channelled by tears, showed the
keen girl she was strong where she had thought herself weak, and she
comported herself accordingly, and in one moment took a much higher
tone than she had intended as she came along.

"I am afraid," said she, very coldly, "you will have to postpone your
journey a day or two. I am grieved to tell you that poor Mr. Charlton
is dead."

Griffith uttered an exclamation.

"He asked for you: and messengers are out after you on every side. You
must go to Bolton at once."

"Well a day!" said Griffith, "has he left me too? good kind old man, on
any other day I had found tears for thee. But now methinks happy are
the dead. Alas! sweet mistress, I hoped you came to tell me you had--I
might--what signifies what I hoped--when I saw you had deigned to ride
after me. Why should I go to Bolton after all?"

"Because you will be an ungrateful wretch else. What, leave others to
carry your kinsman and your benefactor to his grave; while you turn
your back on him--and inherit his estate?--For shame, sir! for shame!"

Griffith expostulated humbly. "How hardly you judge me. What are Bolton
Hall and Park to me now? They were to have been yours, you know. And
yours they shall be. I came between and robbed you. To be sure the old
man knew my mind: he said to himself, 'Griffith or Kate, what matters
it who has the land? they will live together on it. But all that is
changed now; you will never share it with me; and so I do feel I have
no right to the place. Kate, my own Kate, I have heard them sneer at
you for being poor, and it made my heart ache. I'll stop that anyway.
Go you in my place to the funeral: he that is dead will forgive me;
his spirit knows now what I endure: and I'll send you a writing, all
sealed and signed, shall make Bolton Hall and Park yours: and, when
you are happy with some one you can love, as well as I love you, think
sometimes of poor jealous Griffith, that loved you dear and grudged you
nothing; but," grinding his teeth and turning white, "I _can't_ live in
Cumberland, and see you in another man's arms."

Then Catherine trembled, and could not speak awhile: but at last she
faltered out, "You will make me _hate_ you."

"God forbid!" said simple Griffith.

"Well then don't thwart me, and provoke me so, but just turn your
horse's head and go quietly home to Bolton Hall, and do your duty to
the dead and the living. You can't go _this_ way for me and my horse:"
then, seeing him waver, this virago faltered out, "and I have been so
tried to-day first by one, then by another, surely _you_ might have
some pity on me. Oh! oh! oh! oh!"

"Nay, nay," cried Griffith, all in a flutter: "I'll go without more
words: as I am a gentleman I will sleep at Bolton this night, and will
do my duty to the dead and the living. Don't you cry, sweetest: I give
in. I find I have no will but yours."

The next moment they were cantering side by side, and never drew rein
till they reached the cross roads.

"Now tell me one thing," stammered Griffith, with a most ghastly
attempt at cheerful indifference. "How--do you--happen to be--on George
Neville's horse?"

Kate had been expecting this question for some time: yet she colored
high when it did come. However, she had her answer pat. The horse was
in the stable-yard, and fresh: her own was tired. "What was I to do,
Griffith? And now," added she, hastily, "the sun will soon set, and
the roads are bad: be careful. I wish I could ask you to sleep at our
house: but--there are reasons--" she hesitated; she could not well tell
him George Neville was to dine and sleep there.

Griffith assured here there was no danger; his mare knew every foot of
the way.

They parted; Griffith rode to Bolton; and Kate rode home.

It was past dinner-time. She ran upstairs, and hurried on her best gown
and her diamond comb. For she began to quake now at the prank she had
played with her guest's horse: and Nature taught her that the best way
to soften censure is--to be beautiful.

    --on pardonne tout aux belles.

And certainly she was passing fair; and queenly with her diamond comb.

She came down-stairs, and was received by her father; he grumbled at
being kept waiting for dinner.

Kate easily appeased the good-natured Squire, and then asked what had
become of Mr. Neville.

"Oh, he is gone long ago: remembered, all of a sudden, he had promised
to dine with a neighbor."

Kate shook her head skeptically, but said nothing. But a good minute
after, she inquired, "How did he go? on foot?"

The Squire did not know.

After dinner old Joe sought an interview, and was admitted into the
dining-room:

"Be it all right about the grey horse, Master?"

"What of him?" asked Kate.

"He be gone to Neville Court, Mistress. But I suppose (with a horrid
leer) it is all right. Master Neville told me all about it. He said,
says he, 'Some do break a kine or the likes on those here joyful
occasions; other some do exchange gold rings. Your young Mistress and
me, toe exchange nags. She takes my pieball; I take her grey;' says
he. 'Saddle him for me, Joe,' says he, 'and wish me joy.' So I clapped
Master Neville's saddle on the grey, and a gave me a golden guinea a
did, and I was so struck of a heap I let un go without wishing on him
joy; but I hollered it arter un, as hard as I could. How you looks! It
be all right, baint it?"

Squire Peyton laughed heartily, and said he concluded it was all right:
"The piebald," said he, "is rising five, and _I've_ had the grey ten
years. We have got the sunny side of that bargain, Joe." He gave Joe a
glass of wine and sent him off, inflated with having done a good stroke
in horseflesh.

As for Kate she was red as fire, and kept her lips close as wax; not a
word could be got out of her. The less she said the more she thought.
She was thoroughly vexed, and sore perplexed how to get her grey horse
back from such a man as George Neville; and yet she could not help
laughing at the trick, and secretly admiring this chevalier, who had
kept his mortification to himself, and parried an affront so gallantly.

"The good-humored wretch!" said she to herself. "If Griffith ever goes
away again, he will have me, whether I like or no. No lady could resist
the monster long, without some other man at hand to help her."



CHAPTER V


As, when a camel drops in the desert, vultures, hitherto unseen, come
flying from the horizon, so Mr. Charlton had no sooner succumbed, than
the air darkened with undertakers flocking to Bolton for a lugubrious
job. They rode up on black steeds, they crunched the gravel in grave
gigs, and sent in black-edged cards to Griffith, and lowered their
voices, and bridled their briskness, and tried hard, poor souls, to
be sad: and were horribly complacent beneath that thin japan of venal
sympathy.

Griffith selected his Raven, and then sat down to issue numerous
invitations.

The idea of eschewing funereal pomp had not yet arisen. A gentleman of
that day liked his very remains to make a stir, and did not see the fun
of stealing into his grave like a rabbit slipping aground. Mr. Charlton
had even left behind him a sealed letter containing a list of the
persons he wished to follow him to the grave, and attend the reading of
his will. These were thirty-four; and amongst them three known to fame,
viz.: George Neville, Esq., Edward Peyton, Esq., and Miss Catherine
Peyton.

To all and each of the thirty-four, young Gaunt wrote a formal letter
inviting them to pay respect to their deceased friend, and to honor
himself by coming to Bolton Hall at nigh noon on Saturday next. These
letters, in compliance with another custom of the time and place, were
all sent by mounted messengers, and the answers came on horseback
too: so there was much clattering of hoofs coming and going, and much
roasting, baking, drinking of ale, and bustling; all along of him who
lay so still in an upper chamber.

And every man and woman came to Mr. Gaunt to ask his will and advice,
however simple the matter: and the servants turned very obsequious,
and laid themselves out to please the new master, and retain their old
places.

And what with the sense of authority, and the occupation, and growing
ambition, love-sick Griffith grew another man, and began to forget that
two days ago he was leaving the country and going to give up the whole
game.

He found time to send Kate a loving letter, but no talk of marriage in
it. He remembered she had asked him to give her time. Well, he would
take her advice.


It wanted just three days to the funeral, when Mr. Charlton's own
carriage, long unused, was found to be out of repair. Griffith had it
sent to the nearest town, and followed it on that and other business.
Now it happened to be what the country folk called "justicing day;" and
who should ride into the yard of the "Roebuck" but the new magistrate,
Mr. Neville; he alighted off a great bony grey horse before Griffith's
very nose, and sauntered into a private room.

Griffith looked, and looked, and, scarcely able to believe his senses,
followed Neville's horse to the stable, and examined him all round.

Griffith was sore perplexed; and stood at the stable door glaring at
the horse; and sick misgivings troubled him. He forgot the business he
came about, and went and hung about the bar, and tried to pick up a
clue to this mystery. The poor wretch put on a miserable assumption of
indifference, and asked one or two of the magistrates, if that was not
Mr. Peyton's grey horse young Neville had ridden in upon.

Now amongst these gentlemen was a young squire Miss Peyton had refused,
and galled him. He had long owed Gaunt a grudge for seeming to succeed
where he had notably failed, and, now, hearing him talk so much about
the grey, he smelt a rat. He stepped into the parlor and told Neville
Gaunt was fuming about the grey horse, and questioning everybody.
Neville, though he put so bold a face on his recent adventure at Peyton
Hall, was secretly smarting, and quite disposed to sting Gaunt in
return. He saw a tool in this treacherous young squire--his name was
Galton--and used him accordingly.

Galton, thoroughly primed by Neville, slipped back and, choosing his
opportunity, poisoned Griffith Gaunt.

And this is how he poisoned him. "Oh," said he, "Neville has bought the
grey nag; and cost him dear, it did." Griffith gave a sigh of relief;
for he at once concluded old Peyton had sold his daughter's very horse.
He resolved to buy her a better next week with Mr. Charlton's money.

But Galton, who was only playing with him, went on to explain that
Neville had paid a double price for the nag; he had given Miss Peyton
his piebald horse in exchange, and his troth into the bargain. In
short, he lent the matter so adroit a turn, that the exchange of
horses seemed to be Kate's act as much as Neville's, and the inference
inevitable.

"It is a falsehood," gasped Griffith.

"Nay," said Galton, "I had it on the best authority: but you shall not
quarrel with me about it; the lady is nought to me, and I but tell the
tale as 'twas told to me."

"Then who told it you?" said Gaunt, sternly.

"Why it is all over the county, for that matter."

"No subterfuges, sir. I am the lady's servant, and you know it: this
report, it slanders her, and insults me: give me the author, or I'll
lay my hunting whip on your bones."

"Two can play at that game," said Galton; but he turned pale at the
prospect of the pastime.

Griffith strode towards him, black with ire.

Then Galton stammered out: "It was Neville himself told me."

"Ah!" said Griffith; "I thought so. He is a liar, and a coward."

"I would not advise you to tell _him_ so," said the other, maliciously:
"he has killed his man in France. Spitted him like a lark."

Griffith replied by a smile of contempt.

"Where is the man?" said he, after a pause.

"How should I know?" asked Galton, innocently.

"Where did you leave him five minutes ago?"

Galton was dumbfoundered at this stroke; and could find nothing to say.

And now, as often happens, the matter took a turn not in the least
anticipated by the conspirators. "You must come with me, sir, if you
please," said Griffith, quietly: and he took Galton's arm.

"Oh, with all my heart," said the other; "but, Mr. Gaunt, do not you
take these idle reports to heart. _I_ never do. What the devil--where
are you carrying me to? For Heaven's sake, let this foolish business go
no farther."

For he found Griffith was taking him to the very room where Neville was.

Griffith deigned no reply: he just opened the door of the room
in question, and walked the tale-bearer into the presence of the
tale-maker. George Neville rose and confronted the pair with a vast
appearance of civility; but under it a sneer was just discernible.

The rivals measured each other from head to foot, and then Neville
inquired to what he owed the honor of this visit.

Griffith replied: "He tells me you told him Miss Peyton has exchanged
horses with you."--"Oh! you indiscreet person," said George, shaking
his finger playfully at Galton.--"And, by the same token, has plighted
her troth to you."

"Worse and worse," said George. "Galton, I'll never trust you with any
secrets again. Besides, you exaggerate."

"Come, sir," said Griffith, sternly: "this Ned Galton was but your
tool, and your mouth-piece; and therefore I bring him here to witness
my reply to _you_: Mr. George Neville, you are a liar and a scoundrel."

George Neville bounded to his feet like a tiger. "I'll have your life
for those two words," he cried.

Then he suddenly governed himself by a great effort: "It is not for me
to bandy foul terms with a Cumberland savage," said he. "Name your time
and place."

"I will. Ned Galton, you may go, I wish to say a few words in private
to Mr. Neville."

Galton hesitated. "No violence, gentlemen: consider."

"Nonsense," said Neville. "Mr. Gaunt and I are going to fight: we are
not going to brawl. Be so good as to leave us."

"Ay," said Griffith: "and, if you repeat a word of all this, woe be to
your skin."

As soon as he was gone, Griffith Gaunt turned very grave and calm, and
said to George Neville, "The Cumberland savage has been better taught
than to expose the lady he loves to gossiping tongues."

Neville colored up to the eyes at this thrust.

Griffith continued, "The least you can do is to avoid fresh scandal."

"I shall be happy to co-operate with you so far," said Neville,
stiffly. "I undertake to keep Galton silent: and for the rest, we have
only to name an early hour for meeting, and confide it to but one
discreet friend apiece who will attend us to the field. Then there will
be no gossip, and no bumpkins nor constables breaking in--such things
have happened in this county, I hear."

It was Wednesday. They settled to meet on Friday at noon on a hill-side
between Bolton and Neville's Court. The spot was exposed; but so wild
and unfrequented that no interruption was to be feared. Mr. Neville
being a practiced swordsman, Gaunt chose pistols; a weapon at which
the combatants were supposed to be pretty equal. To this Neville very
handsomely consented.

By this time a stiff and elaborate civility had taken the place of
their heat, and at parting they bowed both long and low to each other.

Griffith left the inn and went into the street. And, as soon as he got
there, he began to realize what he had done, and that in a day or two
he might very probably be a dead man. The first thing he did was to go
with sorrowful face and heavy step to Mr. Houseman's office.

Mr. Houseman was a highly respectable solicitor. His late father and he
had long enjoyed the confidence of the gentry, and this enabled him to
avoid litigious business, and confine himself pretty much to the more
agreeable and lucrative occupation of drawing wills, settlements, and
conveyances; and effecting loans, sales, and transfers. He visited the
landed proprietors, and dined with them, and was a great favorite in
the county.

"Justicing day" brought him many visits; so on that day he was always
at his place of business. Indeed a client was with him when Griffith
called, and the young gentleman had to wait in the outer office for
full ten minutes.

Then a door opened, and the client in question came out, looking
mortified and anxious. It was Squire Peyton. At sight of Gaunt, who had
risen to take his vacant place, Kate's father gave him a stiff nod, and
an unfriendly glance, then hurried away.

Griffith was hurt at his manner. He knew very well Mr. Peyton looked
higher for his daughter than Griffith Gaunt: but for all that the old
gentleman had never shown him any personal dislike or incivility until
this moment.

So Griffith could not but fear that Neville was somehow at the bottom
of this, and that the combination was very strong against him. Now in
thus interpreting Mr. Peyton's manner, he fell into a very common error
and fruitful cause of misunderstanding. We go and fancy that Everybody
is thinking of _us._ But he is not: he is like us; he is thinking of
himself.

"Well, well," thought Griffith, "if I am not to have her, what better
place for me than the grave?"

He entered Mr. Houseman's private room and opened his business at once.


But a singular concurrence of circumstances induced Lawyer Houseman
to confide to a third party the substance of what passed between this
young gentleman and himself. So, to avoid repetition, the best way will
be to let Houseman tell this part of my tale instead of me: and I only
hope his communication, when it comes, may be half as interesting to my
reader as it was to his hearer.

Suffice it for me to say that lawyer and client were closeted a good
hour; and were still conversing together, when a card was handed in to
Mr. Houseman that seemed to cause him both surprise and pleasure. "In
five minutes," said he to the clerk. Griffith took the hint, and bade
him good-bye directly.

As he went out, the gentleman who had sent in his card rose from a seat
in the outer office to go in.

It was Mr. George Neville.

Griffith Gaunt and he saluted and scanned each other curiously, They
little thought to meet again so soon. The clerks saw nothing more than
two polite gentlemen passing each other.


The more Griffith thought of the approaching duel the less he liked
it. He was an impulsive man for one thing; and, with such, a cold fit
naturally succeeds a hot one. And, besides, as his heat abated, Reason
and Reflection made themselves heard, and told him that in a contest
with a formidable rival he was throwing away an advantage: after all,
Kate had shown him great favor; she had ridden Neville's horse after
him, and made him resign his purpose of leaving her; surely then she
preferred him on the whole to Neville; yet he must go and risk his
chance of possessing her--upon a personal encounter, in which Neville
was at least as likely to kill him, as he to kill Neville. He saw too
late that he was playing his rival's game. He felt cold and despondent,
and more and more convinced that he should never marry Kate, but that
she would very likely bury him.

With all this he was too game to recoil, and indeed he hated his rival
too deeply. So, like many a man before him, he was going doggedly to
the field against his judgment, with little to win and all to lose.

His deeper and more solemn anxieties were diversified by a lighter one.
A few days ago he had invited half the county to bury Mr. Charlton,
on Saturday the nineteenth of February. But now he had gone and fixed
Friday the eighteenth for a duel. A fine thing if he should be himself
a corpse on Friday afternoon. Who was to receive the quests? who
conduct the funeral?

The man, with all his faults, had a grateful heart: and Mr. Charlton
was his benefactor, and he felt he had no right to go and get himself
killed until he had paid the last rites to his best friend.

The difficulty admits of course of a comic view, and smells Hibernian:
but these things seem anything but droll to those, whose lives and
feelings are at stake: and indeed there was something chivalrous and
touching in Griffith's vexation at the possibility of his benefactor
being buried without due honors, owing to his own intemperate haste to
be killed. He resolved to provide against that contingency: so, on the
Thursday, he wrote an urgent letter to Mr. Houseman, telling him he
must come early to the funeral, and be prepared to conduct it.

This letter was carried to Mr. Houseman's office at three o'clock on
Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Houseman was not at home. He was gone to a country-house nine miles
distant. But Griffith's servant was well mounted, and had peremptory
orders: so he rode after Mr. Houseman, and found him at Mr. Peyton's
house; whither, if you please, we too will follow him.

In the first place you must know that the real reason why Mr. Peyton
looked so savage, coming out of Mr. Houseman's office, was this:
Neville had said no more about the hundred pounds: and indeed had not
visited the house since; so Peyton, who had now begun to reckon on this
sum, went to Houseman to borrow it. But Houseman politely declined to
lend it him, and gave excellent reasons. All this was natural enough;
common enough: but the real reason why Houseman declined, was a truly
singular one. The fact is, Catherine Peyton had made him promise to
refuse.

Between that young lady and the Housemans, husband and wife, there was
a sincere friendship founded on mutual esteem; and Catherine could do
almost what she liked with either of them. Now, whatever might be her
faults, she was a proud girl, and an intelligent one: it mortified her
pride to see her father borrowing here, and borrowing there, and unable
to repay: and she had also observed that he always celebrated a new
loan by a new extravagance, and so was never a penny the richer for
borrowed money. He had inadvertently let fall that he should apply to
Houseman. She raised no open objection, but just mounted Piebald, and
rode off to Houseman, and made him solemnly promise not to lend her
father a shilling.

Houseman kept his word; but his refusal cost him more pain than he
had counted on when he made the promise. Squire Peyton had paid him
thousands first and last; and, when he left Houseman's room, with
disappointment, mortification, and humiliation, deeply marked on his
features, usually so handsome and jolly, the lawyer felt sorry and
ashamed--and did _not_ show it.

But it rankled in him; and the very next day he took advantage of a
little business he had to do in Mr. Peyton's neighborhood, and drove to
Peyton Hall and asked for Mistress Kate.

His was a curious errand. Indeed I think it would not be easy to find a
parallel to it.

For here was an attorney calling upon a beautiful girl; to do what?

To soften her.

On a daughter; to do what?

To persuade her to permit him to lend her father £100 on insufficient
security.

Well, he reminded her of his ancient obligations to her family, and
assured her he could well afford to risk a hundred or even a thousand
pounds. He then told her that her father had shown great pain at his
refusal, and that he himself was human, and could not divest himself of
gratitude, and pity, and good nature--all for £100. "In a word," said
he, "I have brought the money; and you must give in for this once, and
let me lend it him without more ado."

Miss Peyton was gratified, and affected; and a tear trembled a
moment in her eye; but went indoors again, and left her firm as a
rock, sprinkled with dew. She told him she could quite understand
his feeling, and thanked him for it: but she had long and seriously
weighed the matter, and could not release him from his promise. "No
more of this base borrowing," said she, and clenched her white teeth
indomitably.

He attacked her with a good many weapons; but she parried them all so
gently yet so nobly, and so successfully, that he admired her more than
ever.

Still, lawyers fight hard; and die very hard. Houseman got warm in his
cause, and cross-examined this defendant; and asked her whether _she_
would refuse to lend her father £100 out of a full purse.

This question was answered only by a flash of her glorious eyes, and a
magnificent look of disdain at the doubt implied.

"Well, then," said Houseman, "be your father's surety for repayment
with interest at six per centum; and then there will be nothing in the
business to wound your dignity. I have many hundreds out at six per
centum."

"Excuse me: that would be dishonest," said Kate; "I have no money to
repay you with."

"But you have expectations."

"Nay, not I."

"I beg your pardon."

"Methinks I should know, sir. What expectations have I? and from whom?"

Houseman fidgeted on his seat; and then with some hesitation replied,
"Well, from two that I know of.

"You are jesting, methinks, good Mr. Houseman," said she, reproachfully.

"Nay, dear Mistress Kate, I wish you too well to jest on such a theme."

The lawyer then fidgeted again on his seat in silence, sign of an
inward struggle; during which Kate's eye watched him with some
curiosity. At last his wavering balance inclined towards revealing
something or other.

"Mistress Kate," said he, "my wife and I are both your faithful
friends, and humble admirers: we often say you would grace a coronet:
and wish you were as rich as you are good and beautiful."

Kate turned her lovely head away, and gave him her hand. That
incongruous movement, so full of womanly grace and feeling, and the
soft pressure of her white hand, completed her victory, and the remains
of Houseman's reserve melted away.

"Yes, my dear young lady," said he, warmly, "I have good news for you:
only, mind, not a living soul must ever know it from your lips. Why,
I am going to do for you what I never did in my life before; going to
tell you something that passed yesterday in my office. But then I know
you: you are a young lady out of a thousand: I can trust you to be
discreet, and silent; can I not?"

"As the grave."

"Well, then, my young mistress--in truth it was like a play, though the
scene was but a lawyer's office--"

"Was it?" cried Kate. "Then you set me all of a flutter: you must sup
here, and sleep here. Nay, nay," said she, her eyes sparkling with
animation, "I'll take no denial. My father dines abroad: we shall have
the house to ourselves."

Her interest was keenly excited: but she was a true woman, and must
coquet with her very curiosity; so she ran off to see with her own eyes
that sheets were aired, and a roasting fire lighted in the blue bedroom
for her guest.

While she was away, a servant brought in Griffith Gaunt's letter, and a
sheet of paper had to be borrowed to answer it.

The answer was hardly written and sent out to Griffith's servant, when
supper and the fair hostess came in almost together.

After supper fresh logs were heaped on the fire, and the lawyer sat
in a cosy arm-chair, and took out his diary, and several papers, as
methodically as if he was going to lay the case by counsel before a
judge of assize.

Kate sat opposite him with her grey eyes beaming on him all the time,
and searching for the hidden meaning of everything he told her. During
the recital which follows, her color often came and went, but those
wonderful eyes never left the narrator's face a moment.

They put the attorney on his mettle, and he elaborated the matter more
than I should have done: he articulated his topics; marked each salient
fact by a long pause. In short he told his story like an attorney, and
not like a Romancist. I cannot help that, you know; I'm not Procrustes.


Mr. Houseman's Little Narrative

"Wednesday, the seventeenth day of February, at about one of the clock,
called on me at my place of business Mr. Griffith Gaunt, whom I need
not hero describe, inasmuch as his person and place of residence are
well known to the court--what am I saying?--I mean, well known to
yourself, Mistress Kate.


"The said Griffith, on entering my room seemed moved, and I might say,
distempered; and did not give himself time to salute me and receive
my obeisance, but addressed me abruptly and said as follows: 'Mr.
Houseman, I am come to make my will.'"

"Dear me!" said Kate: then blushed, and was more on her guard.


"I seated the young gentleman, and then replied that his resolution
aforesaid did him credit, the young being as mortal as the old. I said
further that many disasters had happened, in my experience, owing to
the obstinacy with which men in the days of their strength shut their
eyes to the precarious tenure, under which all sons of Adam hold
existence; and so many a worthy gentleman dies in his sins. And, what
is worse, dies intestate.


"But the said Griffith interrupted me with some signs of impatience,
and asked me bluntly would I draw his will, and have it executed on the
spot.


"I assented, generally; but I requested him by way of needful
preliminary, to obtain for me a copy of Mr. Charlton's will, under
which, as I have always understood, the said Griffith inherits whatever
real estate he hath to bequeath.

"Mr. Griffith Gaunt then replied to me that Mr. Charlton's will was in
London, and the exact terms of it could not be known until after the
funeral: that is to say upon the nineteenth instant.


"Thereupon I explained to Mr. Gaunt that I must see and know what
properties were devised in the will aforesaid, by the said Charlton,
to Gaunt aforesaid, and how devised and described. Without this, I
said, I could not correctly and sufficiently describe the same in the
instrument I was now requested to prepare.


"Mr. Gaunt did not directly reply to this objection. But he pondered
a little while, and then asked me if it were not possible for him, by
means of general terms, to bequeath to a sole legatee whatever lands,
goods, chattels, etc., Mr. Charlton might hereafter prove to have
devised to him, the said Griffith Gaunt.

"I admitted this was possible, but objected that it was dangerous. I
let him know that in matters of law general terms are a fruitful source
of dispute, and I said I was one of those who hold it a duty to avert
litigation from our clients.


"Thereupon Mr. Gaunt drew out of his bosom a pocket-book.


"The said pocket-book was shown to me by the said Gaunt, and I say it
contained a paragraph from a newspaper, which I believe to have been
cut out of the said newspaper with a knife or a pair of scissors, or
some trenchant instrument; and the said paragraph purported to contain
an exact copy of a certain Will and Testament under which (as is indeed
matter of public notoriety) one Dame Butcher hath inherited and now
enjoys the lands, goods, and chattels of a certain merry parson late
deceased in these parts; and, _I believe_, little missed.


"Mr. Gaunt would have me read the Will and Testament aforesaid: and I
read it accordingly: and, inasmuch as bad things are best remembered,
the said Will and Testament did, by its singularity and profaneness,
fix itself forthwith in my memory; so that I can by no means dislodge
it thence, do what I may.

"The said Document, to the best of my memory and belief, runneth after
this fashion: 'I, John Raymond, clerk, at present residing at Whitbeck,
in the county of Cumberland, being a man sound in body, mind, and
judgment, do deliver this as my last Will and Testament.

"'I give and bequeath all my real property, and all my personal
property, and all the property whether real or personal I may hereafter
possess, or become entitled to--to my Housekeeper, Janet Butcher.

"'And I appoint Janet Butcher my sole executrix, and I make Janet
Butcher my sole residuary legatee, save and except that I leave my
solemn curse to any knave, who hereafter shall at any time pretend that
he does not understand the meaning of this my Will and Testament.'"

(Catherine smiled a little at this last bequest.)


"Mr. Gaunt then solemnly appealed to me as an honest man to tell him
whether the aforesaid document was bad, or good, in law.


"I was fain to admit that it was sufficient in law; but I qualified,
and said I thought it might be attacked on the score of the Hussy's
undue influence, and the Testator's apparent insanity. Nevertheless, I
concluded candidly, that neither objection would prevail in our courts,
owing to the sturdy prejudice in the breasts of English jurymen, whose
ground of faith it is that every man has a right to do what he will
with his own, and even to do it how he likes.


"Mr. Gaunt did speedily abuse this my candor. He urged me to lose no
time, but to draw his will according to the form and precedent in that
case made and provided by this mad parson: and my clerks forsooth were
to be the witnesses thereof.


"I refused, with some heat, to sully my office by allowing such an
instrument to issue therefrom: and I asked the said Gaunt, in high
dudgeon, for what he took me.


"Mr. Gaunt then offered, in reply, two suggestions that shook me.
Imprimis, he told me the person to whom he now desired to leave his all
was Mistress Catherine Peyton. [An ejaculation from Kate.] Secundo, he
said he would go straight from me to that coxcomb Harrison, were I to
refuse to serve him in the matter.


"On this, having regard to your interest and my own, I temporized; I
offered to let him draw a will after his parson's precedent, and I
agreed it should be witnessed in my office: only I stipulated that next
week a proper document should be drawn by myself, with due particulars,
on two sheets of paper, and afterwards engrossed and witnessed: and to
this Mr. Gaunt assented, and immediately drew his Will according to
Newspaper Precedent.


"But, when I came to examine his masterpiece, I found he had taken
advantage of my pliability to attach an unreasonable condition: to
wit, that the said Catherine should forfeit all interest under this
will in case she should ever marry a certain party therein nominated,
specified, and described."

("Now that was Griffith all over," cried Catherine, merrily.)


"I objected stoutly to this. I took leave to remind the young gentleman
that, when a Christian man makes his last will and testament, he should
think of the grave, and of the place beyond whither we may carry our
affections, but must leave the bundle of our hates behind, the gate
being narrow. I even went so far as to doubt whether such a proviso
could stand in _law_; and I also put a practical query: what was to
hinder the legatee from selling the property and diverting the funds,
and then marrying whom she liked?


"Mr. Gaunt was deaf to reason. He bade me remember that he was neither
Saint nor Apostle, but a poor gentleman of Cumberland, who saw a
stranger come between him and his lover dear: with that he was much
moved, and did not conclude his argument at all, but broke off and was
fain to hide his face with both hands awhile. In truth this touched
me; and I looked another way; and began to ask myself why should I
interfere, who, after all, know not your heart in the matter: and, to
be brief, I withstood him and Parson's law no more; but sent his draft
will to the clerks, the which they copied fair in a trice, and the
duplicates were signed and witnessed in red hot haste; as most of men's
follies are done for that matter.


"The paper writing now produced and shown to me--tush! what am I
saying?--I mean the paper writing I now produce and show to you is the
draft of the will aforesaid, in the handwriting of the testator."

And with this he handed Kate Peyton Griffith Gaunt's Will, and took a
long and satirical pinch of snuff while she examined it.

Miss Peyton took the will in her white hands and read it. But, in
reading it she held it up, and turned it so, that her friend could not
see her face while she read it, but only her white hands, in which the
document rustled a little.

It ran thus:--

"I, Griffith Gaunt, late of the Eyrie, and now residing at Bolton
Hall, in the county of Cumberland, being sound in body and mind, do
deliver this as my last Will and Testament. I give and bequeath all the
property real or personal, which I now possess or may hereafter become
entitled to, to my dear friend and mistress, Catherine Peyton, daughter
of Edward Peyton, Esquire, of Peyton Hall; provided always that the
said Catherine Peyton shall at no time within the next ten years marry
George Neville, of Neville's Court, in this county. But should the said
Catherine marry the said George within ten years of this day, then I
leave all my said property, in possession, remainder, or reversion, to
my Heir-at-law."

The fair legatee read this extraordinary testament more than once. At
last she handed it back to Mr. Houseman without a word. But her cheek
was red, and her eyes glistening.

Mr. Houseman was surprised at her silence, and as he was curious to
know her heart, he sounded her: asked her what she thought of that part
of his story. But she evaded him with all the tact of her sex. "What,
that is not all then?" said she quickly.

Houseman replied that it was barely half.

"Then tell me all, pray tell me all," said Kate, earnestly.

"I am here to that end," said Houseman, and recommenced his narrative.

"The business being done to Mr. Gaunt's satisfaction, though not to
mine, we fell into some friendly talk; but in the midst of it my clerk
Thomas brought me in the card of a gentleman whom I was very desirous
to secure as a client.


"Mr. Gaunt I think read my mind, for he took leave of me forthwith. I
attended him to the door, and then welcomed the gentleman aforesaid, it
was no other than Mr. George Neville.


"Mr. Neville, after such gracious civilities as his native breeding and
foreign travel have taught him, came to business and requested me--to
draw his will."

"La!" said Kate.


"I was a little startled, but hid it, and took his instructions. This
done, I requested to see the title-deeds of his estates, with a view
to describing them, and he went himself to the banker's for them, and
placed them in my hands.

"I then promised to have the will ready in a week or ten days. But Mr.
Neville, with many polite regrets for hurrying me, told me upon his
honor he could give me but twenty-four hours. "After that, said he, 'it
might be too late.'"

("Ah!" said Miss Peyton.)


"Determined to retain my new client, I set my clerks to work, and
this very day was engrossed, signed, and witnessed, the last will and
testament of George Neville, Esquire, of Neville's Court, in the county
of Cumberland, and Leicester Square, London, where he hath a noble
mansion.


"Now as to the general disposition of his lands, manorial rights,
messuages, tenements, goods, chattels, etc., and his special legacies
to divers ladies and gentlemen and domestic servants, these I will not
reveal even to you.

"The paper I now produce is a copy of that particular bequest which I
have decided to communicate to you in strict and sacred confidence."

And he handed her an extract from George Neville's will.

Miss Peyton then read what follows:--

"And I give and bequeath to Mistress Catherine Peyton of Peyton Hall
in the said county of Cumberland in token of my respect and regard all
that my freehold estate called Moulton Grange with the messuage or
tenement standing and being thereon and the farm-yard buildings and
appurtenances belonging thereto containing by estimation three hundred
and seventy-six acres three roods and five perches be the same little
more or less to hold to her the said Catherine Peyton her heirs and
assigns for ever."


The legatee laid down the paper, and leaned her head softly on her fair
hand, and her eyes explored vacancy.

"What means all this?" said she, aloud, but to herself.

Mr. Houseman undertook the office of interpreter. "Means? why that
he has left you one of the snuggest estates in the county. 'Tis not
quite so large as Bolton; but lies sunnier, and the land richer. Well,
mistress, was I right, are you not good for a thousand pounds?"

Kate, still manifestly thinking of something else, let fall, as it
were, out of her mouth that Mr. Gaunt and Mr. Neville were both men in
the flower of their youth, and how was she the richer for their folly?

"Why," said Houseman, "you will not have to wait for the death of these
testators--Heaven forbid!--But what does all this making of wills show
me? That both these gentlemen are deep in love with you, and you can
pick and choose: I say you can wed with Bolton Hall or Neville's Court
to-morrow: so prithee let the Squire have his hundred pounds, and do
you repay me at your leisure."

Miss Peyton made no reply, but leaned her exquisite head upon her hand
and pondered.

She did not knit her brows, nor labour visibly at the mental oar: yet a
certain reposeful gravity and a fixity of the thoughtful eye showed she
was applying all the power's of her mind.

Mr. Houseman was not surprised at that: his own wife had but little
intellect; yet had he seen her weigh two rival bonnets in mortal
silence, and with all the seeming profundity of a judge on the bench.
And now this young lady was doubtless weighing Farms with similar
gravity, care, and intelligence.

But as this continued and still she did not communicate her decision,
he asked her point-blank which of the two she settled to wed: Neville's
Court, or Bolton Grange.

Thus appealed to, Miss Peyton turned her great eye on him without
really looking at him, and replied,--"You have made me very uneasy."

He stared. She relapsed into thought a moment, and then, turning to
Houseman, asked him how _he_ accounted for those two gentlemen making
their wills; they were very young to make their wills all of a sudden.

"Why," said Houseman, "Mr. Neville is a man of sense, and every man
of sense makes his will; and, as for Mr. Gaunt, he has just come into
prospect of an estate; that's why."

"All, but why could not Griffith wait till after the funeral?"

"Oh, clients are always in a hurry."

"So you see nothing in it? nothing alarming I mean?"

"Nothing very alarming. Two landed proprietors in love with you; that
is all."

"But, dear Mr. Houseman, that is what makes me uneasy: at this rate
they must look on one another as--as--rivals: and you know rivals are
sometimes enemies."

"Oh I see now," said Houseman: "you apprehend a quarrel between the
gentlemen. Of course there is no love lost between them; but they met
in my office and saluted each other with perfect civility. I saw them
with my own eyes."

"Indeed! I am glad to hear that; very glad. I hope it was only a
coincidence then, their both making their wills."

"Nothing more you may depend: neither of them knows from me what the
other has done; nor ever will."

"That is true," said Kate, and seemed considerably relieved.

To ease her mind entirely, Houseman went on to say that as to the
report that high words had passed between the clients in question, at
the Roebuck, he had no doubt it was exaggerated. "Besides," said he,
"that was not about a lady; I'm told it was about a horse. Some bet
belike."

Catherine uttered a faint cry. "About a horse!" said she. "Not about a
grey horse?"

"Nay, that is more than I know."

"High words about a horse," said Catherine; "and they are making their
wills. Oh! my mind misgave me from the first." And she turned pale.
Presently she clasped her hands together--"Mr. Houseman!" she cried,
"what shall I do? What, do you not see that both their lives are in
danger? and that is why they make their wills. And how should _both_
their lives be in danger, but from each other? Madmen! they have
quarreled: they are going to fight; fight to the death: and I fear it
is about me. Me who love neither of them, you know."

"In that case, _let_ them fight," said her legal adviser,
dispassionately. "Whichever fool gets killed, you will be none the
poorer." And the dog wore a sober complacency.

Catherine turned her large eyes on him with horror and amazement, but
said nothing.

As for the lawyer he was more struck with her sagacity than with
anything. He somewhat overrated it; not being aware of the private
reasons she had for suspecting that her two testators were enemies to
the death.

"I almost think you are right," said he; "for I got a curious missive
from Mr. Gaunt scarce an hour agone, and he says,--let me see what he
says." "Nay, let _me_ see," said Kate. On that he handed her Griffith's
note. It ran thus--

    "It is possible I may not be able to conduct the funeral.
    Should this be so, I appoint you to act for me. So then, good
    Mr. Houseman, let me count on you to be here at nine of the
    clock. For Heaven's sake fail me not.

    "Your humble Servant,

                                                          "G. G."


This left no doubt in Kate's mind.

"Now, first of all," said she, "what answer made you to this?"

"What answer should I make? I pledged my word to be at Bolton at nine
of the clock."

"Oh, blind!" sighed Kate. "And I must be out of the room. What shall I
do? My dear friend, forgive me: I am a wretched girl. I am to blame;
I ought to have dismissed them both, or else decided between them.
But who would have thought it would go this length? I did not think
Griffith was brave enough. Have pity on me, and help me. Stop this
fearful fighting." And now the young creature clung to the man of
business, and prayed and prayed him earnestly to avert bloodshed.

Mr. Houseman was staggered by this passionate appeal from one who so
rarely lost her self-command. He soothed her as well as he could, and
said he would do his best; but added, which was very true, that he
thought her interference would be more effective than his own. "What
care these young bloods for an old attorney? I should fare ill, came I
between their rapiers. To be sure I might bind them over to keep the
peace. But Mistress Kate, now be frank with me; then I can serve you
better. You love one of these two; that is clear. Which is the man?
that I may know what I am about."

For all her agitation Kate was on her guard in some things.

"Nay," she faltered, "I love neither, not to say love them: but I pity
him so."

"Which?"

"Both."

"Ay, mistress; but which do you pity most?" asked the shrewd lawyer.

"Whichever shall come to harm for my sake," replied the simple girl.

"You could not go to them to-night, and bring them to reason?" asked
she, piteously. She went to the window to see what sort of a night it
was; she drew the heavy crimson curtains and opened the window. In
rushed a bitter blast laden with flying snow. The window ledges too
were clogged with snow, and all the ground was white.

Houseman shuddered, and drew nearer to the blazing logs. Kate closed
the window with a groan. "It is not to be thought of," said she; "at
your age; and not a road to be seen for snow. What shall I do?"

"Wait till to-morrow," said Mr. Houseman. (Procrastination was his daily
work, being an attorney.) "To-morrow!" cried Catherine. "Perhaps even now
they have met, and he lies a corpse."

"Who?"

"Whichever it is, I shall end my days in a convent praying for his
soul." She wrung her hands while she said this, and still there was no
catching her.

Little did the lawyer think to rouse such a storm with his good news.
And now he made a feeble and vain attempt to soothe her; and ended by
promising to start the first thing in the morning and get both her
testators bound over to keep the peace, by noon. With this resolution
he went to bed early.

She was glad to be alone at all events.

Now, mind you, there were plenty of vain and vulgar, yet respectable
girls, in Cumberland, who would have been delighted to be fought about,
even though bloodshed were to be the result. But this young lady
was not vain, but proud; she was sensitive too, and troubled with a
conscience. It reproached her bitterly: it told her she had permitted
the addresses of two gentlemen, and so mischief had somehow arisen--out
of her levity. Now her life had been uneventful, and innocent: this
was the very first time she had been connected with anything like a
crime; and her remorse was great: so was her grief; but her fears were
greater still. The terrible look Griffith had cast at his rival flashed
back on her; so did his sinister words. She felt that if he and Neville
met, nothing less than Neville's death or his own would separate them.
Suppose that even now one of them lay a corpse! cold and ghastly as the
snow that now covered Nature's face.

The agitation of her mind was such, that her body could not be still:
now she walked the room in violent distress, wringing her hands;
now she kneeled and prayed fervently for both those lives she had
endangered: often she flew to the window and looked eagerly out,
writhing and rebelling against the network of female custom that
entangled her, and would not let her fly out of her cage even to do a
good action; to avert a catastrophe by her prayers, or her tears, or
her good sense.

And all ended in her realizing that she was a woman, a poor impotent
being born to lie quiet and let things go: at that she wept helplessly.

So wore away the first night of agony this young creature ever knew.

Towards morning, exhausted by her inward struggles, she fell asleep
upon a sofa.

But her trouble followed her. She dreamed she was on a horse, hurried
along with prodigious rapidity, in a darkened atmosphere, a sort of dry
fog: she knew somehow she was being taken to see some awful, mysterious
thing. By-and-by the haze cleared, and she came out upon pleasant open
sunny fields that almost dazzled her. She passed gates, and hedges too,
all clear, distinct, and individual. Presently a voice by her side said
"This way!" and her horse seemed to turn of his own accord through
a gap, and in one moment she came on a group of gentlemen. It was
Griffith Gaunt, and two strangers. Then she spoke, and said,

"But, Mr. Neville?"

No answer was made her; but the group opened in solemn silence, and
there lay George Neville on the snow, stark and stiff, with blood
issuing from his temple, and trickling along the snow.

She saw distinctly all his well-known features; but they were pinched
and sharpened now. And his dark olive skin was turned to bluish white.
It was his corpse. And now her horse thrust out his nose and snorted
like a demon. She looked down, and ah! the blood was running at her
prematurely fast along the snow. She screamed, her horse reared high,
and she was falling on the blood-stained snow: she awoke screaming; and
the sunlight seemed to rush in at the window.

Her joy that it was only a dream overpowered every other feeling at
first. She kneeled and thanked God for that.

The next thing was, she thought it might be a revelation of what had
actually occurred.

But this chilling fear did not affect her long. Nothing could shake her
conviction that a duel was on foot--and indeed the intelligent of her
sex do sometimes put this and that together, and spring to a just but
obvious inference, in a way that looks to a slower and safer reasoner
like divination--but then she knew that yesterday evening both parties
were alive. Coupling this with Griffith's broad hint that after the
funeral might be too late to make his will, she felt sure that it was
this very day the combatants were to meet. Yes, and this very morning:
for she knew that gentlemen always fought in the morning.

If her dream was false as to the past, it might be true as to what was
at hand. Was it not a supernatural warning sent to her in mercy? The
history of her church abounded in such dreams and visions; and indeed
the time and place she lived in were rife with stories of the kind;
one, in particular, of recent date.

This thought took hold of her, and grew on her, till it overpowered
even the diffidence of her sex; and then up started her individual
character; and now nothing could hold her. For, languid and dreamy
in the common things of life, this Catherine Peyton was one of those
who rise into rare ardor and activity in such great crises as seem to
benumb the habitually brisk, and they turn tame and passive.

She had seen at a glance that Houseman was too slow and apathetic
for such an emergency; she resolved to act herself. She washed her
face and neck and arms and hands in cold water, and was refreshed and
invigorated. She put on her riding habit and her little gold spur;
Griffith Gaunt had given it her; and hurried into the stable-yard.

Old Joe and his boy had gone away to breakfast: he lived in the village.

This was unlucky: Catherine must wait his return and lose time, or else
saddle the horse herself. She chose the latter. The piebald was a good
horse, but a fidgety one; so she saddled and bridled him at his stall.
She then led him out to the stone steps in the stable-yard, and tried
to mount him. But he sidled away; she had nobody to square him; and she
could get nothing to mount but his head. She coaxed him, she tickled
him on the other side with her whip. It was all in vain.

It was absurd, but heart-sickening. She stared at him with wonder that
he could be so cruel as to play the fool when every minute might be
life or death. She spoke to him, she implored him piteously; she patted
him. All was in vain.

As a last resource she walked him back to the stable and gave him a
sieveful of oats, and set it down by the corn bin for him, and took an
opportunity to mount the bin softly.

He ate the oats, but with retroverted eye watched her. She kept quiet
and affected nonchalance till he became less cautious: then suddenly
sprang on him, and taught him to set his wit against a woman's. My lord
wheeled round directly ere she could get her leg over the pommel; and
made for the stable door. She lowered her head to his mane and just
scraped out without injury; not an inch to spare. He set off at once;
but luckily for her she had often ridden a bare-backed horse. She sat
him for the first few yards by balance; then reined him in quietly, and
soon whipped her left foot into the stirrup and her right leg over the
pommel; and then the piebald nag had to pay for his pranks: the roads
were clogged with snow, but she fanned him along without mercy, and
never drew bridle till she pulled him up drenched, and steaming like a
wash-tub, at Netley crossroads.

Here she halted irresolute: the road to the right led to Bolton,
distant two miles and a half. The road in front led to Neville's Court,
distant three miles. Which should she take? She had asked herself this
a dozen times upon the road; yet could never decide until she got to
the place, and must. The question was, with which of them had she most
influence? She hardly knew; but Griffith Gaunt was her old sweetheart;
it seemed somewhat less strange and indelicate to go to him than to
the new one: so she turned her horse's head towards Bolton; but she
no longer went quite so fast as she had gone before she felt going to
either in particular. Such is the female mind.

She reached Bolton at half-past eleven; and now she was there, put
a bold face on it; rode up to the door, and, leaning forward on her
horse, rang the hall bell.

A footman came to the door.

With composed visage though beating heart, she told him she desired to
speak for a moment to Mr. Griffith Gaunt. He asked her would she be
pleased to alight: and it was clear by his manner no calamity had yet
fallen. "No, no," said Kate, "let me speak to him here."

The servant went in to tell his master. Kate sat quiet with her heart
still beating, but glowing now with joy: she was in time then, thanks
to her good horse. She patted him, and made the prettiest excuses aloud
to him for riding him so hard through the snow.

The footman came back to say that Mr. Gaunt had gone out.

"Gone out? Whither? On horseback?"

The footman did not know, but would ask within.

While he was gone to inquire, Catherine lost patience, and rode into
the stable-yard, and asked a young lout who was lounging there whether
his master was gone out on horseback.

The lounging youth took the trouble to call out the groom, and asked
him.

The groom said "No," and that Mr. Gaunt was somewhere about the grounds
he thought.

But in the midst of this colloquy one of the maids, curious to see
the lady, came out by the kitchen door and curtsied to Kate, and told
her Mr. Gaunt was gone out walking with two other gentlemen. In the
midst of her discourse she recognized the visitor, and having somehow
imbibed the notion that Miss Peyton was likely to be Mrs. Gaunt, and
govern Bolton Hall, decided to curry favor with her; so she called her
my lady, and was very communicative. She said one of the gentlemen was
strange to her; but the other was Doctor Islip from Stanhope town. She
knew him well: he had taken off her own brother's leg in a jiffy. "But,
dear heart, Mistress," said she, "how pale you be. Do come in and have
a morsel of meat, and a horn of ale."

"Nay, my good girl," said Kate; "I could not eat; but bring me a mug of
new milk if you will. I have not broken my fast this day."

The maid bustled in, and Catherine asked the groom if there were no
means of knowing where Mr. Gaunt was. The groom and the boy scratched
their heads and looked puzzled. The lounging lout looked at their
perplexity, and grinned satirically.

This youth was Tom Leicester, born in wedlock, and therefore in the
law's eye son of old Simon Leicester; but gossips said his true father
was the late Captain Gaunt. Tom ran with the hounds for his own sport:
went out shooting with gentlemen and belabored the briars for them at
two-pence per day and his dinner, and abhorred all that sober men call
work.

By trade, a Beater: profession, a Scamp.

Two maids came out together now; one with the milk and a roll, the
other with a letter. Catherine drank the milk but could not eat. Then
says the other maid, "If so be you are Mistress Peyton, why this letter
is for you: Master left it on his table in his bedroom."

Kate took the letter and opened it, all in a flutter. It ran thus:--

    "Sweet Mistress,--When this reaches you, I shall be no more
    here to trouble you with my jealousy. This Neville set it
    abroad that you had changed horses with him, as much as to say
    you had plighted troth with him. He is a liar, and I told him
    so to his teeth. We are to meet at noon this day: and one must
    die. Methinks I shall be the one. But, come what may, I have
    taken care of thee; ask Jack Houseman else. But, oh dear Kate,
    think of all that hath passed between us, and do not wed this
    Neville, or I could not rest in my grave. Sweetheart, many a
    letter have I written thee, but none so sad as this. Let the
    grave hide my faults from thy memory; think only that I loved
    thee well. I leave thee my substance; would it were ten times
    more; and the last thought of my heart.


    "So no more in this world,

         "From him that is thy true lover

              "And humble servant till death,


                                                 Griffith Gaunt."


There seems to be room in the mind for only one violent emotion at
one instant of time. This touching letter did not just then draw a
tear from her who now received it some hours sooner than the writer
intended. Its first effect was to paralyze her. She sat white and
trembling, and her great eyes filled with horror. Then she began to
scream wildly for help. The men and women came round her.

"Murder! Murder!" she shrieked. "Tell me where to find him, ye
wretches, or may his blood be on your heads!"

The scamp bounded from his lounging position and stood before her
straight as an arrow. "FOLLOW ME," he shouted. Her grey eyes and the
scamp's black ones, flashed into one another directly. He dashed out of
the yard without another word.

And she spurred her horse, and clattered out after him.

He ran as fast as her horse could canter, and soon took her all round
the house: and, while he ran, his black, gipsy eyes were glancing in
every direction.

When they got to the lawn at the back of the house, he halted a moment,
and said quietly, "Here they be." He pointed to some enormous footsteps
in the snow, and bade her notice that they commenced at a certain glass
door belonging to the house, and that they all pointed outwards. The
lawn was covered with such marks, but the scamp followed those his
intelligence had selected, and they took him through a gate, and down
a long walk, and into the park. Here no other feet had trodden that
morning except those Tom Leicester was following. "This is our game,"
said he. "See, there be six footsteps; and, now I look, this here track
is Squire Gaunt's. I know his foot in the snow among a hundred. Bless
your heart, I've often been out shooting with Squire Gaunt, and lost
him in the woods, and found him again by tracking him on dead leaves,
let alone snow. I say, wasn't they useless idiots? couldn't tell ye how
to run into a man, and snow on the ground! Why you can track a hare to
her form and a rat to his hole--let alone such big game as this, with a
hoof like a frying-pan--in the snow."

"Oh, do not talk; let us make haste," panted Kate.

"Canter away," replied the scamp.

She cantered on, and he ran by her side. "Shall I not tire you?" said
she.

The mauvais sujet laughed at her. "Tire _me!_ not over this ground.
Why, I run with the hounds, and mostly always in at the death: but
that is not altogether speed; ye see I know Pug's mind. What, don't
you know _me?_ I'm Tom Leicester. Why, I know you: I say, you're a
good-hearted one, you are."

"Oh no! no!" sighed Kate.

"Nay, but you are," said Tom. "I saw you take Harrowden brook that
day, when the rest turned tail; and that is what I call having a good
heart: gently, mistress, here, this is full of rabbit holes; I seen Sir
Ralph's sorrel mare break her leg in a moment in one of these. Shot her
dead that afternoon, a did, and then billed her for the hounds. She'd
often followed at their tails: next hunting day she ran inside their
bellies. Ha! ha! ha!"

"Oh, don't laugh. I am in agony."

"Why, what is up, mistress?" asked the young savage, lowering his
voice. "'Murder,' says you; but that means _nought._ The lasses they
cry murder if you do but kiss 'em."

"Oh, Tom Leicester, it is murder. It's a duel, a fight to the death,
unless we are in time to prevent them."

"A jewel!" cried Master Leicester, his eyes glittering with delight.
"I never saw a jewel. Don't you hold him in for me, mistress: gallop
down this slope as hard as you can pelt: it is grass under foot, and
ye can't lose the tracks, and I shall be sure to catch ye in the next
field."

The young savage was now as anxious to be in at the death, as Kate was
to save life. As he spoke he gave her horse a whack on the quarter with
his stick, and away she went full gallop, and soon put a hundred yards
between her and Tom.

The next field was a deep fallow; and the hard furrows reduced her to a
trot; and before she got out of it, Tom was by her side: "Didn't I tell
you?" said he. "I'd run you to Peyton Hall for a pot o' beer."

"Oh you good, brave, clever boy," said Kate: "how fortunate I am to
have you. I think we shall be in time."

Tom was flattered. "Why you see I am none of Daddy Leicester's breed,"
said he. "I'm a gentleman's by-blow, if you know what that is."

"I can't say I do," said Kate; "but I know you are very bold and
handsome and swift of foot, and I know my patron saint has sent you to
me in my misery, and oh, my lad, if we are in time--what can I do for
you?--Are you fond of money, Tom?"

"That I be: when I can get it."

"Then you shall have all I have got in the world, if you get me there
in time to hinder mischief."

"Come on!" shouted Tom, excited in his turn; and took the lead, and not
a word more passed till they came to the foot of a long hill. Then said
Tom, "Once we are at top of this, they can't fight without our seeing
'em. That is Scutchemsee Nob: you can see ten miles all round from
there."

At this information Kate uttered an ejaculation and urged her horse
forward.

The first part of this hill, which stood between her and those whoso
tracks she followed, was grass; then came a strip of turnips; then on
the bleak top a broad piece of heather. She soon cantered over the
grass; and left Tom so far behind he could not quite catch her in the
turnips. She entered the heather, but here she was much retarded by
the snow drifts, and the ups and downs of the rough place. But she
struggled on bravely, still leading.

She fixed her eyes earnestly on the ridge, whence she could cry to the
combatants, however distant, and stop the combat.

Now as she straggled on, and Tom came after, panting a little for the
first time, suddenly there rose from the crest of the hill two columns
of smoke, and the next moment two sharp reports rang through the frosty
air.

Kate stopped; and looked round to Tom with a scared, inquiring air.

"Pistols!" yelled Tom behind her.

At that the woman overpowered the heroine, and Kate hid her face and
fell to trembling and wailing. Her wearied horse came down to a walk.

Presently up comes Tom. "Don't lose your stomach for that," he panted
out. "Gentlefolks do pop at one another all day sometimes, and no harm
done."

"Oh, bless you!" cried Kate; "I may yet be in time." She spurred her
horse on. He did his best, but ere he had gone twenty yards, he plunged
into a cavity hidden by the snow.

While he was floundering there crack went a single pistol, and the
smoke rose and drifted over the hill top.

"Who--op!" muttered Tom, with horrible sang-froid. "There's one done
for this time. Couldn't shoot back, ye see."

At this horrible explanation, Kate sank forward on her horse's mane
as if she herself had been killed; and the smoke from the pistol came
floating, thinner and thinner, and eddied high over her head.

Tom spoke rude words of encouragement to her. She did not even seem
to hear them. Then he lost all patience at her, and clutched her arm
to make her hear him. But at that it seemed as if some of his nature
passed into her down his arm, for she turned wild directly and urged
her horse fiercely up the crest. Her progress was slow at first; but
the sun had melted the snow on the Nob or extreme summit. She tore her
way through the last of the snow on to the clear piece, then, white
as ashes, spurred and lashed her horse over the ridge and dashed in
amongst them on the other side. For there they were.

What was the sight that met her eyes?

That belongs to the male branch of my story, and shall be told
forthwith, but in its proper sequence.



CHAPTER VI


The two combatants came to the field in a very different spirit.
Neville had already fought two duels, and been successful in both.
He had confidence in his skill, and in his luck. His conscience too
was tolerably clear: for he was the insulted person; and, if a bullet
should remove this dangerous rival from his path, why all the better
for him, and all the worse for the fool who had brought the matter to a
bloody issue, though the balance of the lady's heart inclined his way.

He came in high spirits, and rode upon Kate Peyton's grey, to sting his
adversary, and show his contempt of him.

Not so Griffith Gaunt. His heart was heavy, and foreboded ill. It was
his first duel, and he expected to be killed. He had played a fool's
game, and he saw it.

The night before the duel he tried hard to sleep: he knew it was not
giving his nerves fair play to lie thinking all night. But coy sleep,
as usual when most wanted, refused to come. At daybreak the restless
man gave it up in despair, and rose and dressed himself. He wrote that
letter to Catherine, little thinking it would fall into her hands while
he lived. He ate a little toast and drank a pint of Burgundy; and then
wandered listlessly about till Major Rickards, his second, arrived.

That experienced gentleman brought a surgeon with him; Mr. Islip.

Major Rickards deposited a shallow wooden box in the hall; and the two
gentlemen sat down to a hearty breakfast.

Griffith took care of his guests, but beyond that spoke scarcely a
word; and the surgeon, after a ghastly attempt at commonplaces, was
silent too. Major Rickards satisfied his appetite first, and then,
finding his companions dumb, set to work to keep up their spirits. He
entertained them with a narrative of the personal encounters he had
witnessed, and especially of one in which his principal had fallen on
his face at the first fire, and the antagonist had sprung into the air,
and both had lain dead as door nails, and never moved, nor even winked,
after that single discharge.

Griffith sat under this chilling talk for more than an hour.

At last he rose gloomily, and said it was time to go.

"Got your tools, doctor?" inquired the Major.

The surgeon nodded slightly. He was more discreet than his friend.

When they had walked nearly a mile in the snow, the Major began to
complain. "The devil!" said he; "this is queer walking. My boots are
full of water. I shall catch my death."

The surgeon smiled satirically, comparing silent Griffith's peril with
his second's.

Griffith took no notice. He went like Fortitude plodding to Execution.

Major Rickards fell behind, and whispered Mr. Islip: "Don't like his
looks; doesn't march like a winner. A job for you or the sexton, you
mark my words."


They toiled up Scutchemsee Nob, and when they reached the top, they saw
Neville and his second, Mr. Hammersley, riding towards them. The pair
had halters as well as bridles, and dismounting, made their nags fast
to a large blackthorn that grew there. The seconds then stepped forward
and saluted each other with formal civility.

Griffith looked at the grey horse, and ground his teeth. The sight of
the animal in Neville's possession stirred up his hate, and helped to
steel his heart. He stood apart, still, pale and gloomy.

The seconds stepped out fifteen paces, and placed the men. Then they
loaded two pair of pistols, and put a pistol in each man's hand.

Major Rickards took that opportunity to advise his principal. "Stand
sharp. Keep your arm close to your side. Don't fire too high. How do
you feel?"

"Like a man who must die; but will try to die in company."

The seconds now withdrew to their places, and the rivals held their
pistols lowered: but fixed their deadly eyes on each other.

The eye, in such a circumstance, is a terrible thing: it is literally a
weapon of destruction; for it directs the deadly hand that guides the
deadly bullet. Moreover the longer and the more steadily the duelist
fixes his eye on his adversary, the less likely he is to miss.

Griffith was very pale, but dogged. Neville was serious, but firm. Both
eyed each other unflinchingly.

"Gentlemen, are you ready?" asked Neville's second.

{"Yes."

{"Yes."

"Then," said Major Rickards, "you will fire when I let fall this
handkerchief, and not before. Mark me, gentlemen; to prevent mistakes,
I shall say 'one----two----three'----and then drop the handkerchief.
Now then, once more, are you quite ready?"

{"Yes."

{"Yes."

"One------Two------Three."------He dropped the handkerchief, and both
gentlemen fired simultaneously. Mr. Neville's hat spun into the air;
Griffith stood untouched.

The bullet had passed through Neville's hat, and had actually cut a
lane through his magnificent hair.

The seconds now consulted, and it was intimated to Griffith that a word
of apology would be accepted by his antagonist.

Griffith declined to utter a syllable of apology.

Two more pistols were given the men.

"Aim lower," said Rickards.

"I mean to," said Griffith.

The seconds withdrew, and the men eyed each other: Griffith dogged and
pale, as before, Neville not nearly so self-assured; Griffith's bullet,
in grazing him, had produced the effect of a sharp, cold, current of
air no wider than a knife. It was like death's icy forefinger laid on
his head, to mark him for the next shot; as men mark a tree; then come
again and fell it.

"One----two----three!"

And Griffith's pistol missed fire, but Neville's went off, and
Griffith's arm sank powerless, and his pistol rolled out of his hand.
He felt a sharp twinge, and then something trickle down his arm.

The surgeon and both seconds ran to him. "Nay, it is nothing," said he,
"I shoot far better with my left hand than my right. Give me another
pistol, and let me have fair play. He has hit me. And now I'll hit him."

Both seconds agreed this was impossible.

"It is the chance of war," said Major Rickards: "you cannot be allowed
to take a cool shot at Mr. Neville. If you fire again, so must he."

"The affair may very well end here," said Mr. Hammersley. "I understand
there was some provocation on our side; and on behalf of the party
insulted I am content to let the matter end, Mr. Gaunt being wounded."

"I demand my second shot to his third," said Griffith sternly; "he will
not decline, unless he is a poltroon as well as----what I called him."

The nature of this reply was communicated to Neville, and the seconds,
with considerable reluctance, loaded two more pistols; and during the
process Major Rickards glanced at the combatants.

Griffith, exasperated by his wound and his jealousy, was wearing out
the chivalrous courage of his adversary; and the Major saw it. His keen
eye noticed that Neville was getting restless, and looking confounded
at his despised rival's pertinacity: and that Gaunt was more dogged,
and more deadly.

"My man will kill yours this time," said he, quietly, to Neville's
second. "I can see it in his eye; he is hungry; t'other has had his
bellyful."

Once more the men were armed, and the seconds withdrew to their places,
intimating that this was the last shot they would allow under any
circumstances whatever.

"Are you both ready?"

{"Yes."

{"Yes."

A faint wail seemed to echo the response.

All heard it, and in that superstitious age believed it to be some
mysterious herald of death.

It suspended even Major Packard's voice a minute. He recovered himself,
however, and once more his soldier-like tones ran in the keen air:--

"One----"

There was a great rushing, and a pounding of the hard ground, and a
scarlet Amazon galloped in and drew up in the middle, right between the
leveled pistols.

Every eye had been so bent on the combatants, that Kate Peyton and her
horse seemed to have sprung out of the very earth. And there she sat
pale as ashes, on the steaming piebald, and glanced from pistol to
pistol.

The duelists stared in utter amazement, and instinctively lowered
their weapons; for she had put herself right in their line of fire,
with a recklessness that contrasted nobly with her fear for others. In
short this apparition literally petrified them all, seconds as well as
combatants.

And, while they stood open-mouthed yet dumb, in came the Scamp, and,
with a brisk assumption of delegated authority, took Griffith's weapon
out of his now unresisting hand; then marched to Neville. He instantly
saluted Catherine, and then handed his pistol to her seeming agent,
with a high-bred and inimitable air of utter nonchalance.

Kate, seeing them to her surprise so easily disarmed, raised her hands
and her lovely eyes to Heaven, and in a feeble voice, thanked God and
St. Nescioquis.

But very soon that faint voice quavered away to nothing, and her fair
head was seen to droop, and her eyes to close; then her body sank
slowly forward like a broken lily; and in another moment she lay
fainting on the snow beside her steaming horse.

He never moved, he was so dead beat too.

O lame and impotent conclusion of a vigorous exploit! Masculine up
to the crowning point, and then to go and spoil all with "woman's
weakness."

"N.B.: This is rote sarcasticul," as Artemus, the delicious, says.
Woman's weakness! If Solomon had planned and Samson executed, they
could not have served her turn better than this most seasonable
swooning did. For lo! at her fall the doughty combatants uttered a
yell of dismay, and there was an indiscriminate rush towards the fair
sufferer.

But the surgeon claimed his rights:--"This is my business," said he,
authoritatively; "do not crowd on her, gentlemen; give her air."

Whereupon the duelists and seconds stood respectfully aloof in a mixed
group, and watched with eager interest and pity.

The surgeon made a hole in the snow and laid his fair patient's head
low. "Don't be alarmed," said he: "she has swooned; that is all."

It was all mighty fine to say don't be alarmed. But her face was ashy,
and her lips the color of lead: and she was so like death, they could
not help being terribly alarmed: and now, for the first time, the
duelists felt culprits; and, as for fighting, every idea of such a
thing went out of their heads: the rivals now were but rival nurses:
and never did a lot of women make more fuss over a child, than all
these bloodthirsty men did over this Amazon manquée. They produced
their legendary lore: one's grandmother had told him burnt feathers
were the thing; another, from an equally venerable source, had gathered
that those pink palms must be profanely slapped by the horny hand of
a man; for at no less a price could resuscitation be obtained. The
surgeon scorning all their legends, Griffith and Neville made hasty
rushes with brandy and usquebaugh; but whether to be taken internally
or externally, they did not say, nor indeed know; but only thrust their
flasks wildly on the doctor: and he declined them loftily. He melted
snow in his hand, and dashed it hard in her face; and put salts close
to her pretty little nostrils. And this he repeated many times, without
effect.

But at last her lips began to turn from lead color to white, and then
from white to pink, and her heavenly eyes to open again, and her mouth
to murmur things pitiably small and not bearing on the matter in hand.

Her cheek was still colorless, when her consciousness came back, and
she found she was lying on the ground with ever so many gentlemen
looking at her.

At that, Modesty alarmed sent the blood at once rushing to her pale
cheek.

A lovely lily seemed turning to a lovely rose before their eyes.

The next thing was, she hid that blushing face in her hands, and began
to whimper.

The surgeon encouraged her: "Nay, we are all friends," he whispered,
paternally.

She half parted her fingers and peered through them at Neville and
Gaunt. Then she remembered all, and began to cry hysterically.

New dismay of sanguinary unprofessionals!

"_Now_, gentlemen, if you will lend me your flasks," said Mr. Islip,
mighty calmly.

Griffith and Neville were instantly at his side, each with a flask.

The surgeon administered snow and brandy. Kate sipped these, and gulped
down her sobs, and at last cried composedly.

But, when it came to sipping brandied snow and crying comfortably,
Major Rickards's anxiety gave place to curiosity. Without taking his
eye off her he beckoned, Mr. Hammersley apart, and whispered, "Who the
deuce is it?"

"Don't you know?" whispered the other in return. "Why Mistress Peyton
herself."

"What, the girl it is all about? Well, I never heard of such a thing:
the causa belli to come _galloping_, and _swooning_, on the field of
battle, and so stop the fighting! What will our ladies do next? By
Heaven, she is worth fighting for though. Which is the happy man, I
wonder? She doesn't look at either of them."

"Ah!" said the gentleman, "that is more than I know, more than Neville
knows, more than anybody knows."

"Bet you a guinea _she_ knows; and lets it out before she leaves the
field," said Major Rickards.

Mr. Hammersley objected to an even bet; but said he would venture one
to three she did not. It was an age of bets.

"Done!" said the Major.

By this time Kate had risen, with Mr. Islip's assistance, and was now
standing with her hand upon the piebald's mane. She saw Rickards and
Hammersley were whispering about her, and she felt very uneasy: so she
told Mr. Islip timidly she desired to explain her conduct to all the
gentlemen present, and avert false reports.

They were soon all about her, and she began with the most engaging
embarrassment by making excuses for her weakness. She said she had
ridden all the way from home, fasting; _that_ was what had upset her.
The gentlemen took the cue directly, and vowed eagerly and unanimously
it was enough to upset a porter.

"But indeed," resumed Kate, blushing, "I did not come here to make a
fuss, and be troublesome; but to prevent mischief, and clear up the
strangest misunderstanding between two worthy gentlemen that are, both
of them, my good friends."

She paused, and there was a chilling silence: everybody felt she was
getting on ticklish ground now. She knew that well enough herself. But
she had a good rudder to steer by, called Mother-wit.

Says she, with inimitable coolness, "Mr. Gaunt is an old friend of
mine, and a little too sensitive where I am concerned. Some chatter-box
has been and told him Mr. Neville should say I have changed horses with
him; and on that the gossips put their own construction. Mr. Gaunt
hears all this, and applies insulting terms to Mr. Neville. Nay, do not
deny it, Mr. Gaunt, for I have it here in your own handwriting.

"As for Mr. Neville, he merely defends his honor, and is little to
blame. But now I shall tell the true story about these horses, and make
you all ashamed of this sorry quarrel.

"Gentlemen, thus it is: a few days ago Mr. Gaunt bade me farewell, and
started for foreign parts. He had not been long gone when word came
from Bolton that Mr. Charlton was no more. You know how sudden it was.
Consider, gentlemen; him dead, and his heir riding off to the Continent
in ignorance. So I thought, 'Oh what shall I do?' Just then Mr. Neville
visited me, and I told him: on that he offered me his piebald horse to
carry the news after Mr. Gaunt, because my grey was too tired; it was
the day we drew Yew-tree Brow, and crossed Harrowden brook, you know--"

Griffith interrupted her: "Stay a bit," said he: "this is news to me.
You never told me he had lent you the piebald nag to do me a good turn."

"Did I not?" said Kate, mighty innocently. "Well, but I tell you now.
Ask him; he cannot deny it. As for the rest, it was all done in a
hurry; Mr. Neville had no horse now to ride home with; he did me the
justice to think I should be very ill pleased were he to trudge home
a-foot and suffer for his courtesy; so he borrowed my grey, to keep him
out of the mire; and indeed the ways were fouler than usual, with the
rains. Was there any ill in all this? HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE! says
I."

The gentlemen all sided loudly with her on this appeal--except Neville,
who held his tongue, and smiled at her plausibility; and Griffith, who
hung his head at her siding with Neville.

At last he spoke and said sorrowfully: "If you did exchange horses with
him, of course I have only to ask his pardon--and go."

Catherine reflected a moment before she replied.

"Well," said she, "I did exchange, and I did not. Why quarrel about
a word? certainly he took my horse, and I took his; but it was only
for the nonce. Mr. Neville is foreign bred, and an example to us all:
he knows his piebald is worth two of my grey, and so he was too fine
a gentleman man to send me back my old hunter and ask for his young
charger. He waited for me to do that; and, if anybody deserves to be
shot, it must be Me. But, dear heart, I did not foresee all this fuss;
I said to myself, 'La, Mr. Neville will be sure to call on my father
or me some day, or else I shall be out on the piebald, and meet him on
the grey, and then we can each take our own again.' Was I so far out
in my reckoning? Is not that my Rosinante yonder? Here, Tom Leicester,
you put my side-saddle on that grey horse, and the man's saddle on the
piebald there.--And now, Griffith Gaunt, it is your turn: you must
withdraw your injurious terms, and end this superlative folly."

Griffith hesitated.

"Come," said Kate, "consider; Mr. Neville is esteemed by all the
county: you are the only gentleman in it who have ever uttered a
disparaging word against him. Are you sure you are more free from
passion and prejudice, and wiser than all the county? oblige _me_,
and do what is right. Come, Griffith Gaunt; let your reason unsay the
barbarous words your passion hath uttered against a worthy gentleman,
whom we all esteem."

Her habitual influence, and these last words, spoken with gentle and
persuasive dignity, turned the scale. Griffith turned to Neville, and
said in a low voice that he began to fear he had been hasty, and used
harsher words than the occasion justified: he was going to stammer
out something more, but Neville interrupted him with a noble gesture:
"That is enough, Mr. Gaunt," said he. "I do not feel quite blameless
in the matter: and have no wish to mortify an honorable adversary
unnecessarily."

"Very handsomely said," put in Major Rickards: "and now let me have
a word. I say that both gentlemen have conducted themselves like
men--under fire; and that honor is satisfied, and the misunderstanding
at an end. As for my principal here, he has shown he can fight, and
now he has shown he can hear reason against himself, when the lips of
beauty utter it. I approve his conduct from first to last, and am ready
to defend it in all companies, and in the field, should it ever be
impugned."

Kate colored with pleasure, and gave her hand eloquently to the Major.
He bowed over it, and kissed the tips of her fingers.

"Oh! sir," she said, looking on him now as a friend, "I dreamed I saw
Mr. Neville lying dead upon the snow, with the blood trickling from his
temple."

At this Neville's dark cheek glowed with pleasure. So! it was her
anxiety on _his_ account had brought her here.

Griffith heard too, and sighed patiently.

Assured by Major Rickards that there neither could nor should be any
more fighting, Kate made her adieux, mounted her grey horse, and rode
off, discreetly declining all attendance. She beckoned Tom Leicester,
however. But he pretended not to see the signal; and let her go alone.
His motive for lingering behind was characteristic, and will transpire
shortly.

As soon as she was gone, Griffith Gaunt quietly reminded the surgeon
that there was a bullet in his arm all this time.

"Bless my soul!" said Mr. Islip, "I forgot that; I was so taken up with
the lady."

Griffith's coat was now taken off, and the bullet searched for: it had
entered the fleshy part of his arm below the elbow, and, passing round
the bone, projected just under the skin. The surgeon made a slight
incision, and then, pressing with his finger and thumb, out it rolled.
Griffith put it in his pocket.

Neville had remained out of civility, and now congratulated his late
antagonist, and himself, that it was no worse.

The last words that passed between the rivals on this occasion were
worth recording, and characteristic of the time.

Neville addressed Gaunt with elaborate courtesy, and to this effect:
"I find myself in a difficulty, sir. You did me the honor to invite me
to Mr. Charlton's funeral, and I accepted: but now I fear to intrude a
guest, the sight of whom may be disagreeable to you. And, on the other
hand, my absence might be misconstrued as a mark of disrespect, or of
a petty hostility I am far from feeling. Be pleased, therefore, to
dispose of me entirely in this matter."

Griffith reflected. "Sir," said he, "there is an old saying, 'let every
tub stand on its own bottom.' The deceased wished you to follow him
to the grave, and therefore I would on no account have you absent.
Besides, now I think of it, there will be less gossip about this
unfortunate business if our neighbors see you under my roof; and
treated with due consideration there, as you will be."

"I do not doubt that, sir, from so manly an adversary; and I shall do
myself the honor to come." Such was Seville's reply. The rivals then
saluted each other profoundly, and parted.

Hammersley and Rickards lingered behind their principals to settle
their little bet about Kate's affections: and, by-the-by, they were
indiscreet enough to discuss this delicate matter within a dozen yards
of Tom Leicester: they forgot that "little pitchers have long ears."

Catherine Peyton rode slowly home, and thought it all over as she went;
and worried herself finely. She was one that winced at notoriety; and
she could not hope to escape it now. How the gossips would talk about
her! they would say the gentlemen had fought about her; and she had
parted them for love of one of them. And then the gentlemen themselves!
The strict neutrality she had endeavored to maintain on Scutchemsee
Nob, in order to make peace, would it not keep them both her suitors?
She foresaw she should be pulled to pieces, and live in hot water, and
be "the talk of the county."

There were but two ways out: she must marry one of them, and petition
the other not to shoot him; or else she must take the veil, and so
escape them both.

She preferred the latter alternative. She was more enthusiastic in
religion than in any earthly thing: and now the angry passions of men
thrust her the same road that her own devout mind had always drawn her.

As soon as she got home she sent a message to Father Francis, who drove
her conscience, and begged him to come and advise her.

After that, she did the wisest thing, perhaps, she had done all day.
Went to bed.



CHAPTER VII


The sun was just setting when Catherine's maid came into her room and
told her Father Francis was below. She sent down to say she counted on
his sleeping at Peyton Hall; and she would come down to him in half
an hour. She then ordered a refection to be prepared for him in her
boudoir; and made her toilet with all reasonable speed, not to keep him
waiting. Her face beamed with quiet complacency now: for the Holy man's
very presence in the house was a comfort to her.

Father Francis was a very stout muscular man, with a ruddy countenance;
he never wore gloves, and you saw at once he was not a gentleman by
birth. He had a fine voice; it was deep, mellow, and when he chose,
sonorous. This, and his person, ample, but not obese, gave him great
weight, especially with his female pupils. If he was not quite so much
reverenced by the men, yet he was both respected and liked; in fact, he
had qualities that make men welcome in every situation: good humour,
good sense, and tact. A good son of his Church, and early trained to
let no occasion slip of advancing her interests.

I wish my readers could have seen the meeting between Catherine Peyton
and this burly ecclesiastic. She came into the drawing-room with that
imperious air and carriage which had made her so unpopular with her
own sex; and at the bare sight of Father Francis, drooped and bent in
a moment as she walked; and her whole body indicated a submissiveness,
graceful, but rather abject: it was as if a young poplar should turn
to a weeping willow in half a moment. Thus metamorphosed, the Beauty
of Cumberland glided up to Francis, and sank almost to her knee before
him, crossed her hands on her bosom, lowered her lovely head, and
awaited his benediction.

The father made rapidly the sign of the cross over that thorough-bred
head and golden hair, and blessed her business-like.

The hand of less employment hath the daintier sense.

_Shakespeare._

Father Francis blessed so many of these pretty creatures every week,
that he had long outgrown your fine romantic way of blessing a body.
(We manage these things better in the theatre.) Then he lent her his
hand to rise, and asked her in what she required his direction at
present.

"In that which shall decide my whole life," said she.

Francis responded by a look of paternal interest.

"But first," murmured she, "let me confess to you, and obtain
absolution, if I may. Ah, father, my sins have been many since last
confession."

"Be it so," said Father Francis, resignedly. "Confession is the best
preface to Direction." And he seated himself with a certain change of
manner, an easy assumption of authority.

"Nay, father," suggested the lady, "we shall be more private in my
room."

"As you will, Mistress Catherine Peyton," said the priest, returning to
his usual manner.

So then the fair penitent led her spiritual judge captive up another
flight of stairs, and into her little boudoir. A cheerful wood fire
crackled and flamed up the chimney, and a cloth had been laid on a side
table: cold turkey and chine graced the board, and a huge glass magnum
of purple Burgundy glowed and shone in the rays of the cheery fire.

Father Francis felt cosy at the sight; and at once accepted Kate's
invitation to take some nourishment before entering on the labour of
listening to the catalogue of her crimes. "I fasted yesterday," he
muttered: and the zeal with which he attacked the viands rendered
the statement highly credible. He invited Kate to join him; but she
declined.

He returned more than once to the succulent meats, and washed all down
with a pint of the fine old Burgundy, perfumed and purple. Meantime she
of the laity sat looking into the fire with heavenly-minded eyes.

At last, with a gentle sigh of content, the ghostly father installed
himself in an arm-chair, by the fire, and invited his penitent to begin.

She took a footstool and brought it to his side, so that in confessing
her blacker vices she might be able to whisper them in his very ear.
She kneeled on her little footstool, put her hands across her breast,
and in this lowly attitude murmured softly after this fashion, with a
contrite voice:--

"I have to accuse myself of many vices. Alas! In one short fortnight I
have accumulated the wickedness of a life. I have committed the seven
deadly sins. I have been guilty of Pride, Wrath, Envy, Disobedience,
Immodesty, Vanity, Luxury, Fibs----"

"Gently, daughter," said the priest, quietly; "these terms are too
general: give me instances. Let us begin with Wrath; ah! we are all
prone to that."

The fair penitent sighed, and said: "Especially me. Example: I was
angry beyond reason with my maid, Ruth. (She does comb my hair so
uncouthly.) So then the other night, when I was in trouble, and most
needed soothing, by being combed womanly, she gets thinking of Harry
that helps in the stable, and she tears away at my hair. I started up
and screamed out 'Oh, you clumsy thing! go currycomb my horse, and send
that oaf your head is running on to handle my hair.' And I told her my
grandma would have whipped her well for it; but now-a-days mistresses
were the only sufferers: we had lost the use of our hands, we are grown
so squeamish; and I stamped like a fury, and said 'Get you gone out of
the room; and I hated the sight of her.' And the poor girl went from
me, crying, without a word--being a better Christian than her mistress;
mea culpa! mea culpa!"

"Did you slap her?"

"Nay, hither, not so bad as that."

"Are you quite sure you did not slap her?" asked Francis, quietly.

"Nay. But I had a mind to. My heart slapped her if my hand forbore.
Alas!"

"Had she hurt you?"

"That she did: but only my head. I hurt her heart; for the poor wench
loves me dear; the Lord knows for what."

"Humph!--proceed to Pride."

"Yes, father. I do confess that I was greatly puffed up with the
praises of men. I was proud of the sorriest things; of jumping a brook,
when 'twas my horse jumped it, and had jumped it better with a fly on
his back than the poor worm Me; of my good looks, forgetting that God
gave them me; and besides I am no beauty when all is done; it is all
their flattery. And at my Lady Munster's dinner I pridefully walked
out before Mistress Davies, the rich cheesemonger's wife, that is as
proud of her money as I of my old blood (God forgive two fools!); which
I had no right to do; a maid to walk before a wife: and oh, father, I
whispered the gentleman who led me out; it was Mr. Neville--" Here the
penitent put one hand before her face, and hesitated.

"Well, daughter! half confession is no confession. You said to Mr.
Neville----?"

"I said, 'Nothing comes after cheese.'"

This revelation was made most dolefully.

"It was pert and unbecoming," said Father Francis, gravely; though a
twinkle in his eye showed that he was not so profoundly shocked as
his penitent appeared to be. "But go to graver matters. Immodesty,
said you: I shall be very sorry if this is so. You did not use to be
immodest."

"Well, father, I hope I have not altogether laid aside modesty;
otherwise it would be time for me to die, let alone to confess; but
sure it cannot be modest of me to ride after a gentleman and take him a
letter. And then that was not enough: I heard of a duel, and what did
I do but ride to Scutchemsee Nob, and interfere. What gentlewoman ever
was so bold? I was not their wife you know; neither of them's."

"Humph!" said the priest, "I have already heard a whisper of this; but
told to your credit. Beati pacifici: blessed are the peacemakers. You
had better lay that matter before me by-and-by, as your director. As
your confessor, tell me why you accuse yourself of Luxury."

"Alas!" said the young lady, "scarce a day passes that I do not offend
in _that_ respect. Example: last Friday, dining abroad, the cooks sent
up a dish of collops. Oh, father, they smelt so nice; and I had been
a hunting. First I smelt them: and that I couldn't help. But then I
forgot custodia oculorum; and I eyed them. And the next thing was,
presently--somehow--two of 'em were on my plate."

"Very wrong," said Father Francis; "but that is a harsher term than I
should have applied to this longing of a hungry woman for collops o'
Friday. Pray what do you understand by that big word?"

"Why, you explained it yourself, in your last sermon. It means 'unruly
and inordinate desires.' Example: Edith Hammersley told me I was mad to
ride in scarlet, and me so fair and my hair so light. 'Green or purple
is your color,' says she: and soon after this didn't I see in Stanhope
town the loveliest piece of purple broadcloth? Oh, father, it had a
gloss like velvet, and the sun did so shine on it as it lay in the
shop-window: it was fit for a king or a bishop: and I stood and gloated
on it, and pined for it, and died for it, and down went the tenth
commandment."

"Ah," said Francis, "the hearts of women are set on vanity. But tell
me, these unruly affections of yours, are they ever fixed on persons of
the other sex?"

The fair sinner reflected. "On gentlemen!" said she. "Why, they come
pestering one of their own accord. No, no; I could do without _them_
very well. What I sinfully pine for is meat on a Friday as sure as ever
the day comes round; and high-couraged horses to ride, and fine clothes
to wear every day in the week: mea culpa! mea culpa!"

Such being the dismal state of things, Francis slyly requested her to
leave the seven deadly sins in peace, and go to her small offenses:
for he argued shrewdly enough that since her sins were peccadilloes,
perhaps some of her peccadilloes might turn out to be sins.

"Small!" cried the culprit, turning red: "they are none of them small."
I really think she was jealous of her reputation as a sinner of high
degree.

However she complied, and putting up her mouth, murmured a
miscellaneous confession without end. The accents were soft and
musical, like a babbling brook; and the sins, such as they were, poor
things, rippled on in endless rotation.

Now nothing tends more to repose than a purling brook; and ere long
that Bassoon, her confessor's nose, let her know she had lost his ear.

She stopped indignant. But at that he instantly awoke (sublatâ causâ,
tollitur effectus), and addressed her thus with sudden dignity:--"My
daughter, you will fast on Monday next, and say two Aves and a Credo.
Absolvo te.

"And now," said he, "as I am a practical man, let us get back from the
imaginary world into the real. Speak to me at present as your director;
and mind you must be serious now, and call things by their right names."

Upon this Kate took a seat, and told her story, and showed him the
difficulty she was in. She then reminded him that, notwithstanding her
unfortunate itch for the seven deadly sins, she was a good Catholic,
a zealous daughter of the Church: and she let him know her desire to
retire from both lovers into a convent: and, so freed from the world
and its temptations, yield up her soul entire to celestial peace and
divine contemplation.

"Not so fast," said the priest. "Even zeal is nought without obedience.
If you could serve the Church better than by going into a convent,
would you be willful?"

"Oh no, father. But how can I serve the Church better than by
renouncing the world?"

"Perhaps by remaining in the world, as she herself does; and by making
converts to the faith. You could hardly serve her worse than by going
into a convent; for our convents are poor, and you have no means; you
would be a charge. No, daughter, we want no poor nuns; we have enough
of them. If you are, as I think, a true and zealous daughter of the
Church, you must marry; and instill the true faith with all a mother's
art, a mother's tenderness, into your children. Then the heir to your
husband's estates will be a Catholic, and so the true faith get rooted
in the soil."

"Alas!" said Catherine, "are we to look but to the worldly interests of
the Church?"

"They are inseparable from her spiritual interests here on earth: our
souls are not more bound to our bodies."

Catherine was deeply mortified. "So the Church rejects me because I am
poor," said she, with a sigh.

"The Church rejects you not, but only the Convent. No place is less fit
for you. You have a high spirit, and high religious sentiments; both
would be mortified and shocked in a nunnery. Think you that convent
walls can shut out temptation? I know them better than you: they are
strongholds of vanity, folly, tittle-tattle, and all the meanest vices
of your sex. Nay, I forbid you to think of it: show me now your faith
by your obedience."

"You are harsh to me, father," said Catherine, piteously.

"I am firm. You are one that need a tight hand, mistress. Come now,
humility and obedience, these are the Christian graces that best become
your youth. Say, can the Church, through me its minister, count on
these from you, or (suddenly letting loose his diapason) did you send
for me to ask advice, and yet go your own way; hiding a high stomach
and a willful heart under a show of humility?"

Catherine looked at Father Francis with dismay. This was the first time
that easy-going priest had shown her how impressive he could be. She
was downright frightened; and said she hoped she knew better than defy
her director; she laid her will at his feet; and would obey him like a
child, as was her duty.

"Now I know my daughter again," said he, and gave her his horrible paw;
the which she kissed very humbly: and that matter was settled to her
entire dissatisfaction.


Soon after that they were both summoned to supper; but, as they went
down, Kate's maid drew her aside, and told her a young man wanted to
speak to her.

"A young man!" screamed Kate. "Hang young men! They have got me a fine
scolding just now. Which is it, pray?"

"He is a stranger to me."

"Perhaps he comes with a message from some fool. You may bring him to
me in the hall, and stay with us; it may be a thief for ought I know."

The maid soon reappeared, followed by Mr. Thomas Leicester.

That young worthy had lingered on Scutchemsee Nob, to extract the last
drop of enjoyment from the situation, by setting up his hat at ten
paces, and firing the gentlemen's pistols at it. I despair of conveying
to any rational reader the satisfaction, keen though brief, this
afforded him: it was a new sensation; gentlemen's guns he had fired
many, but dueling pistols not one till that bright hour.

He was now come to remind Catherine of his pecuniary claims. Luckily
for him she was one who did not need to be reminded of her promises.
"Oh, it is you, child," said she: "well, I'll be as good as my word."
She then dismissed her maid, and went up-stairs, and soon returned with
two guineas, a crown piece, and three shillings in her hand. "There,"
said she, smiling, "I am sorry for you, but that is all the money I
have in the world."

The boy's eyes glittered at sight of the coin: he rammed the silver
into his pocket with hungry rapidity. But he shook his head about the
gold. "I'm afeard o' these," said he: and eyed them mistrustfully in
his palm. "These be the friends that get you your throat cut o' dark
nights: mistress, please keep 'em for me, and let me have a shilling
now and then when I'm dry."

"Nay," said Kate, "but are you not afraid I shall spend your money, now
I have none left of my own?"

Tom seemed quite struck with the reasonableness of this observation,
and hesitated. However he concluded to risk it. "You don't look one of
the sort to wrong a poor fellow," said he: "and besides you'll have
brass to spare of your own before long I know."

Kate opened her eyes. "Oh, indeed!" said she: "and pray how do you know
that?"

Mr. Leicester favored her with a knowing wink. He gave her a moment
to digest this; and then said, almost in a whisper, "Hearkened the
gentlefolks on Scutchemsee Nob, after you was gone home, mistress."

Kate was annoyed. "What! they must be prating as soon as one's back is
turned. Talk of women's tongues! Now what did they say, I should like
to know?"

"It was about the bet, ye know."

"A bet! Oh that is no affair of mine."

"Ay, but it is. Why, 'twas you they were betting on: seems that old
sodger and Squire Hammersley had laid three guineas to one that you
should let out which was your fancy of them two."

Kate's cheeks were red as fire now; but her delicacy overpowered her
curiosity, and she would not put any more questions. To be sure, young
Hopeful needed none; he was naturally a chatter-box, and he proceeded
to tell her, that as soon as ever she was gone, Squire Hammersley
took a guinea, and offered it to the old soldier, and told him he
had won; and the old soldier pocketed it. But after that, somehow,
Squire Hammersley let drop that Mr. Neville was the favorite. "Then,"
continued Mr. Leicester, "what does the old sodger do, but pull out
guinea again, and says he, 'You must have this back; bet is not won;
for you do think 'tis Neville, now I do think 'tis Gaunt.' So then they
fell to argufying, and talking a lot o' stuff."

"No doubt: the insolent meddlers! Can you remember any of their
nonsense? not that it is worth remembering, I'll be bound."

"Let me see: well, Squire Hammersley he said you owned to dreaming of
Squire Neville, and that was a sign of love, said he; and, besides, you
sided with him against t'other. But the old sodger he said you called
Squire Gaunt 'Griffith;' and he built on that. Oh, and a said you
changed the horses back to please our Squire. Says he, 'You must look
to what the lady did; never heed what she said. Why, their sweet lips
was only made to kiss us, and deceive us,' says that there old sodger."

"I'll--I'll--and what did you say, sir? For I suppose your tongue was
not idle."

"Oh, me; I never let 'em know I was hearkening; or they'd have 'greed
in a moment for to give me a hiding. Besides I had no need to cudgel
my brains: I'd only to ask you plump. You'll tell _me_, I know. Which
is it, mistress? I'm for Gaunt, you know--in course. Alack, mistress,"
gabbled this voluble youth, "sure you won't be so hard as sack my
squire, and him got a bullet in his carcass, for love of you, this day."

Kate started, and looked at him in surprise. "Oh!" said she, "a bullet!
Did they fight again the moment they saw my back was turned? The
cowards!" and she began to tremble.

"No, no," said Tom; "that was done before ever you came up. Don't ye
remember that single shot while we were climbing the Nob? Well, 'twas
Squire Gaunt got it in the arm that time."

"Oh!"

"But I say, wasn't our man game? never let out he was hit while you was
there. But as soon as ever you was gone, they cut the bullet out of
him; and I seen it."

"Ah!--ah!"

"Doctor takes out his knife; precious sharp and shiny 'twas; cuts into
his arm with no more ado than if he was carving a pullet; out squirts
the blood, a good un."

"Oh, no more! no more! You cruel boy; how could you bear to look?" And
Kate hid her own face with both hands.

"Why, 'twasn't _my_ skin as was cut into. Squire Gaunt he never
hollered; a winced though, and ground his teeth; but 'twas over in a
minute, and the bullet in his hand. 'That is for my wife,' says he: 'if
ever I have one,' and puts it in his pocket. Why, mistress, you be as
white as your smock."

"No, no. Did he faint, poor soul?"

"Not he: what was there to faint about?"

"Then why do I feel so sick, even to hear of it?"

"Because you ha'n't got no stomach," said the boy, contemptuously.
"Your courage is skin deep I'm thinking. However, I'm glad you feel
for our Squire, about the bullet: so now I hope you will wed with
_him_, and sack Squire Neville. Then you and I shall be kind o'
kin; Squire Gaunt's feyther was my feyther. That makes you stare,
mistress. Why, all the folk do know it. Look at this here little mole
on my forehead. Squire Gaunt have got the fellow to that." At this
crisis of his argument, he suddenly caught a glimpse of his personal
interest; instantly he ceased his advocacy of Squire Gaunt, and became
ludicrously impartial. "Well, mistress; wed whichever you like," said
he, with sublime indifference; "only whichever you _do_ wed, prithee
speak a word to the gentleman, and get me to be his gamekeeper. I'd
liever be your goodman's gamekeeper than King of England." He was
proceeding with vast volubility to enumerate his qualifications for
that confidential post, when the lady cut him short, and told him to
go and get his supper in the kitchen, for she was wanted elsewhere. He
made a scrape, and clattered away with his hobnailed shoes.

Kate went to the hall window and opened it, and let the cold air blow
over her face.

Her heart was touched, and her bosom tilled with pity for her old
sweetheart.

How hard she had been. She had sided with Neville against the wounded
man. And she thought how sadly and patiently he had submitted to her
decision--and a bullet in his poor arm all the time.

The gentle bosom heaved, and heaved, and the tears began to run.


She entered the dining-room timidly, expecting some comment on her
discourteous absence. Instead of that, both her father and her director
rose respectfully, and received her with kind and affectionate looks.
They then pressed her to eat this, and that, and were remarkably
attentive and kind. She could see she was deep in their good books.
This pleased her; but she watched quietly, after the manner of her sex,
to learn what it was all about. Nor was she left long in the dark.
Remarks were made that hit her, though they were none of them addressed
to her.

Father Francis delivered quite a little homily on "Obedience," and said
how happy a thing it was when zeal, a virtue none too common in these
degenerate days, was found tempered by humility, and subservient to
ghostly counsel and authority.

Mr. Peyton dealt in no general topics of that kind; his discourse
was secular: it ran upon Neville's Cross, Neville's Court, and the
Baronetcy; and he showed Francis how and why this title must, sooner or
later, come to George Neville, and the heirs of his body.

Francis joined in this topic for a while; but speedily diverged into
what might be called a collateral theme. He described to Kate a
delightful spot on the Neville estate, where a nunnery might be built
and endowed by any good Catholic lady having zeal, and influence with
the owner of the estate, and with the lord-lieutenant of the county.

"It is three parts an island (for the river Wey curls round it
lovingly); but backed by wooded slopes that keep off the north and east
winds: a hidden and balmy place; such as the forefathers of the Church
did use to choose for their rustic abbeys, whose ruins still survive to
remind us of the pious and glorious days gone by. Trout and salmon come
swimming to the door: hawthorn and woodbine are as rife there as weeds
be in some parts; two broad oaks stand on turf like velvet, and ring
with song-birds. A spot by nature sweet, calm, and holy: good for pious
exercises and heavenly contemplation: there, methinks, if it be God's
will I should see old age, I would love to end my own days, at peace
with Heaven and with all mankind."

Kate was much moved by this picture; and her clasped hands and
glistening eyes showed the glory and delight it would be to her to
build a convent on so lovely a spot. But her words were vague. "How
sweet! how sweet!" was all she committed herself to. For, after what
Tom Leicester had just told her, she hardly knew what to say, or what
to think, or what to do: she felt she had become a mere puppet, first
drawn one way, then another.

One thing appeared pretty clear to her now; Father Francis did not mean
her to choose between her two lovers; he was good enough to relieve her
of that difficulty by choosing for her. She was to marry Neville.

She retired to rest directly after supper; for she was thoroughly worn
out. And the moment she rose to go, her father bounced up, and lighted
the bed candle for her with novel fervor, and kissed her on the cheek,
and said in her ear,--"Good night, my Lady Neville."



CHAPTER VIII


What with, the day's excitement, and a sweet secluded convent in lier
soul, and a bullet in her bosom, and a ringing in her ear, that sounded
mighty like "Lady Neville! Lady Neville! Lady Neville!" Kate spent a
restless night, and woke with a bad headache.

She sent her maid to excuse her, on this score, from going to Bolton
Hall. But she was informed in reply that the carriage had been got
ready expressly for her; so she must be good enough to shake off
disease and go: the air would do her a deal more good than lying abed.

Thereupon she dressed herself in her black silk gown, and came down,
looking pale and languid, but still quite lovely enough to discharge
what in this age of cant I suppose we should call "her Mission;"
_videlicet_, to set honest men by the ears.

At half-past eight o'clock the carriage came round to the front door.
Its body, all glorious with the Peyton armorials, and with patches of
rusty gilding, swung exceedingly loose on long leathern straps instead
of springs, and the fore-wheels were a mile from the hind-wheels; more
or less. A pretentious and horrible engine; drawn by four horses; only,
two of them being ponies impaired the symmetry and majestic beauty of
the pageant. Old Joe drove the wheelers; his boy rode the leaders;
and every now and then got oft and kicked them in the pits of their
stomachs, or pierced them with hedge-stakes, to rouse their mettle.
Thus encouraged and stimulated, they effected an average of four miles
and a half per hour, notwithstanding the snow, and reached Bolton just
in time. At the lodge, Francis got out, and lay in ambush. But only
for a time. He did not think it orthodox to be present at a religious
ceremony of his Protestant friends: nor common-sense-o-dox to turn his
back upon their dinner.

The carriage drew up at the hall door. It was wide open, and the hall
lined with servants, male and female, in black. In the midst, between
these two rows, stood Griffith Gaunt, bareheaded, to welcome the
guests. His arm was in a sling. He had received all the others in the
middle of the hall; but he came to the threshold to meet Kate and her
father. He bowed low and respectfully; then gave his left hand to Kate
to conduct her after the formal fashion of the day. The sight of his
arm in a sling startled and affected her; and with him giving her his
hand almost at the same moment, she pressed it, or indeed squeezed it
nervously, and it was in her heart to say something kind and womanly:
but her father was close behind, and she was afraid of saying something
too kind, if she said anything at all; so Griffith only got a little
gentle nervous pinch. But that was more than he expected, and sent a
thrill of delight through him; his brown eyes replied with a volume,
and holding her hand up in the air, as high as her ear, and keeping at
an incredible distance, he led her solemnly to a room where the other
ladies were, and left her there with a profound bow.

The Peytons were nearly the last persons expected; and soon after their
arrival the funeral procession formed. This part was entirely arranged
by the undertaker. The monstrous custom of forbidding ladies to follow
their dead had not yet occurred even to the idiots of the nation; and
Mr. Peyton and his daughter were placed in the second carriage. The
first contained Griffith Gaunt alone, as head mourner. But the Peytons
were not alone; no other relation of the deceased being present, the
undertaker put Mr. Neville with the Peytons, because he was heir to a
baronetcy.

Kate was much startled, and astonished to see him come out into the
hall. But, when he entered the carriage, she welcomed him warmly. "Oh,
I am so glad to see you here," said she.

"Guess by that what my delight at meeting you must be," said he.

She blushed and turned it off. "I mean, that your coming here gives
me good hopes there will be no more mischief." She then lowered her
voice, and begged him on no account to tell her father of her ride to
Scutchemsee Nob.

"Not a word," said George. He knew the advantage of sharing a secret
with a fair lady. He proceeded to whisper something very warm in her
ear: she listened to some of it; but then remonstrated, and said, "Are
you not ashamed to go on so at a funeral? Oh, do pray leave compliments
a moment, and think of your latter end."

He took this suggestion, as indeed he did everything from her, in good
part; and composed his visage into a decent gravity.

Soon after this they reached the church, and buried the deceased in his
family vault.


People, who are not bereaved by the death, are always inclined to
chatter coming home from a funeral. Kate now talked to Neville of her
own accord, and asked him if he had spoken to his host. He said "Yes;"
and, more than that, had come to a clear understanding with him. "We
agreed that it was no use fighting for you. I said if either of us two
was to kill the other, it does not follow you would wed the survivor."

"Me wed the wretch!" said Kate. "I should abhor him, and go into a
convent in spite of you all, and end my days praying for the murdered
man's soul."

"Neither of us is worth all that," suggested Neville, with an accent of
conviction.

"That is certain," replied the lady, drily; "so please not to do it."

He bade her set her mind at ease: they had both agreed to try and win
her by peaceful arts.

"Then a pretty life mine will be."

"Well, I think it will, till you decide."

"I could easily decide, if it were not for giving pain to--somebody."

"Oh, you can't help that. My sweet mistress, you are not the first that
has had to choose between two worthy men. For, in sooth, I have nothing
to say against my rival neither. I know him better than I did: he is a
very worthy gentleman though he is damnably in my way."

"And you are a very noble one to say so."

"And you are one of those that make a man noble: I feel that petty arts
are not the way to win you, and I scorn them. Sweet Mistress Kate, I
adore you. You are the best and noblest, as well as the loveliest of
women."

"Oh, hush! Mr. Neville, I am a creature of clay; and you are another;
and both of us coming home from a funeral. Do think of _that._"

Here they were interrupted by Mr. Peyton asking Kate to lend him a
shilling for the groom. Kate replied aloud that she had left her
purse at home, then whispered in his ear that she had not a shilling
in the world: and this was strictly true; for her little all was Tom
Leicester's now. With this they reached the Hall, and the coy Kate gave
both Neville and Gaunt the slip, and got amongst her mates. There her
tongue went as fast as her neighbors', though she had just come back
from a funeral.

But soon the ladies and gentlemen were all invited to the reading of
the Will.

And now chance, which had hitherto befriended Neville by throwing him
into one carriage with Kate, gave Gaunt a turn. He found her a moment
alone and near the embrasure of a window. He seized the opportunity and
asked her might he say a word in her ear. "What a question!" said she,
gaily; and the next moment they had the embrasure to themselves.

"Kate," said he, hurriedly, "in a few minutes, I suppose, I shall be
master of this place. Now you told me once you would rather be an
abbess or a nun than marry me."

"Did I?" said Kate. "What a sensible speech! But the worst of it is I'm
never in the same mind long."

"Well," replied Griffith, "I think of all that falls from your lips;
and your will is mine; only for pity's sake do not wed any man but me.
You have known me so long; why, you know the worst of me by this time:
and you have only seen the outside of _him._"

"Detraction! is that what you wanted to say to me?" asked Kate,
freezing suddenly.

"Nay, nay; it was about the abbey. I find you can be an abbess without
going and shutting yourself up and breaking one's heart. The way is,
you build a convent in Ireland, and endow it; and then you send a nun
over to govern it under you. Bless your heart, you can do anything with
money; and I shall have money enough before the day is over. To be sure
I _did_ intend to build a kennel and keep harriers; and you know that
costs a good penny: but we couldn't manage a kennel and an abbey too:
so now down goes the English kennel and up goes the Irish abbey."

"But you are a Protestant gentleman. You could not found a nunnery."

"But my wife could. Whose business is it what she does with her money?"

"With your money, you mean."

"Nay with hers, when I give it her with all my heart."

"Well, you astonish me," said Kate, thoughtfully. "Tell me, now, who
put it into your head to bribe a poor girl in this abominable way?"

"Who put it into my head?" said Griffith, looking rather puzzled: "why
I suppose my heart put it into my head."

Kate smiled very sweetly at this answer, and a wild hope thrilled
through Griffith that perhaps she might be brought to terms.

But at this crisis the lawyer from London was announced, and Griffith,
as master of the house, was obliged to seat the company. He looked
bitterly disappointed at the interruption, but put a good face on it,
and had more chairs in, and saw them all seated, beginning with Kate
and the other ladies.

The room was spacious, and the entire company sat in the form of a
horse-shoe.

The London solicitor was introduced by Griffith and bowed in a short,
business-like way; seated himself in the horse-shoe aforesaid, and
began to read the will aloud.

It was a lengthy document, and there is nothing to be gained by
repeating every line of it. I pick out a clause here and there.


"I, Septimus Charlton, of Hernshaw Castle and Holton Grange, in
the county of Cumberland, Esquire, being of sound mind, memory,
and understanding--thanks be to God--do make this my last will and
testament as follows:--First I commit my soul to God who gave it, and
my body to the earth from which it came. I desire my executors to
discharge my funeral and testamentary expenses, my just debts, and the
legacies hereinafter bequeathed, out of my personal estate."


Then followed several legacies of fifty and one hundred guineas. Then
several small legacies; such as the following:

"To my friend Edward Peyton, of Peyton Hall, Esq., ten guineas to buy a
mourning ring.

"To the worshipful gentlemen and ladies who shall follow my body to the
grave, ten guineas each, to buy a mourning ring."


"To my wife's cousin, Griffith Gaunt, I give and bequeath the sum of
two thousand pounds, the same to be paid to him within one calendar
month from the date of my decease.

"And as to all my messuages, or tenements, farms, lands, hereditaments,
and real estate, of what nature or what kind soever, and wheresoever
situate, together with all my monies, mortgages, chattels, furniture,
plate, pictures, wine, liquors, horses, carnages, stock, and all
the rest, residue, and remainder of my personal estate and effects
whatsoever (after the payment of the debts and legacies hereinbefore
mentioned), I give, devise, and bequeath the same to my cousin,
Catherine Peyton, daughter of Edward Peyton, Esq., of Peyton Hall, in
the county of Cumberland, her heirs, executors, administrators, and
assigns for ever."


When the lawyer read out this unexpected blow, the whole company
turned in their seats and looked amazed at her, who, in a second and
a sentence, was turned before their eyes from the poorest girl in
Cumberland to an heiress in her own right, and proprietor of the house
they sat in, the chairs they sat on, and the lawn they looked out at.

Ay, we turn to the rising sun: very few looked at Griffith Gaunt to see
how he took his mistress's good fortune, that was his calamity: yet his
face was a book full of strange matter. At first a flash of loving joy
crossed his countenance; but this gave way immediately to a haggard
look, and that to a glare of despair.

As for the lady, she cast one deprecating glance, swifter than
lightning, at him she had disinherited; and then she turned her face
to marble. In vain did curious looks explore her to detect the delight
such a stroke of fortune would have given to themselves. Faulty, but
great of soul, and on her guard against the piercing eyes of her own
sex, she sat sedate, and received her change of fortune with every
appearance of cool composure and exalted indifference: and, as for her
dreamy eyes, they seemed thinking of Heaven or something almost as many
miles away from money and land.

But the lawyer had not stopped a moment to see how people took it,
he had gone steadily on through the usual formal clauses: and now he
brought his monotonous voice to an end, and added in the same breath,
but in a natural and cheerful tone, "Madam, I wish you joy."

This operated like a signal: the company exploded in a body; and then
they all came about the heiress, and congratulated her in turn. She
curtsied politely though somewhat coldly, but said not a word in reply,
till the disappointed one spoke to her.

He hung back at first: to understand his feelings it must be remembered
that in this view of things Kate gained nothing by this bequest
compared with what he lost. As his wife, she would have been mistress
of Bolton Hall, etc. But now she was placed too far above him. Sick
at heart, he stood aloof while they all paid their court to her. But,
by-and-by, he felt it would look base and hostile if he alone said
nothing; so he came forward, struggling visibly for composure and manly
fortitude.

The situation was piquant, and the ladies tongues stopped in a moment,
and they were all eyes and ears.



CHAPTER IX


Griffith, with an effort he had not the skill to hide, stammered out,
"Mistress Kate, I do wish you joy." Then with sudden and touching
earnestness, "Never did good fortune light on one so worthy of it."

"Thank you, Griffith," replied Kate, softly. (She had called him 'Mr.
Gaunt' in public till now.) "But money and lands do not always bring
content. I think I was happier a minute ago than I feel now," said she,
quietly.

The blood rushed into Griffith's face at this; for a minute ago might
mean when he and she were talking almost like lovers about to wed. He
was so overcome by this, he turned on his heel, and retreated hastily
to hide his emotion, and regain, if possible, composure to play his
part of host in the house that was his no longer.

Kate herself soon after retired, nominally to make her toilet before
dinner; but really to escape the public; and think it all over.

The news of her advancement had spread like wildfire: she was waylaid
at the very door by the housekeeper, who insisted on showing her her
house. "Nay, never mind the house," said Kate: "just show me one room
where I can wash my face and do my hair."

Mrs. Hill conducted her to the best bedroom: it was lined with
tapestry, and all the colors flown; the curtains were a deadish yellow.

"Lud! here's a colored room to show _me_ into," said the blonde Kate:
"and a black grate, too. Why not take me out o' doors and bid me wash
in the snow?"

"Alack, mistress," said the woman, feeling very uneasy, "we had no
orders from Mr. Gaunt to light fires _up_ stairs."

"Oh, if you wait for gentlemen's orders to make your house fit to live
in! You knew there were a dozen ladies coming, yet you were not woman
enough to light them fires. Come, take me to your own bedroom."

The woman turned red: "Mine is but a small room, my lady," she
stammered.

"But there's a fire in it," said Kate, spitefully. "You servants don't
wait for gentlemen's orders, to take care of yourselves."

Mrs. Hill said to herself, "I'm to leave; that is flat." However, she
led the way down a passage, and opened the door of a pleasant little
room in a square turret: a large bay window occupied one whole side of
the room, and made it inexpressibly bright and cheerful, though rather
hot and stuffy; a clear coal fire burnt in the grate.

"Ah!" said Kate, "how nice. Please open those little windows every one.
I suppose you have sworn never to let wholesome air into a room. Thank
you: now go and forget every cross word I have said to you--I am out of
sorts, and nervous, and irritable. There, run away, my good soul, and
light fires in every room; and don't you let a creature come near me,
or you and I shall quarrel downright."

Mrs. Hill beat a hasty retreat. Kate locked the door and threw herself
backwards on the bed, with such a weary recklessness and abandon, as
if she was throwing herself into the sea, to end all her trouble--and
burst out crying.

It was one thing to refuse to marry her old sweetheart; it was another
to take his property and reduce him to poverty. But here was she
doing both, and going to be persuaded to marry Neville, and swell his
wealth with the very possessions she had taken from Griffith; and him
wounded into the bargain for love of her. It was really too cruel.
It was an accumulation of different cruelties. Her bosom revolted:
she was agitated, perplexed, irritated, unhappy, and all in a tumult:
and, although she had but one fit of crying,--to the naked eye,--yet a
person of her own sex would have seen that at one moment she was crying
from agitated nerves, at another from worry, and at the next from pity,
and then from grief.

In short she had a good long, hearty, multi-form cry; and it relieved
her swelling heart so far, that she felt able to go down now, and
hide her feelings, one and all, from friend and foe; to do which was,
unfortunately, a part of her nature.

She rose and plunged her face into cold water, and then smoothed her
hair.

Now, as she stood at the glass, two familiar voices came in through the
open window, and arrested her attention directly. It was her father
conversing with Griffith Gaunt. Kate pricked up her quick ears and
listened, with her back hair in her hand. She caught the subject of
their talk, only now and then she missed a word or two.

Mr. Peyton was speaking rather kindly to Griffith, and telling him
he was as sorry for his disappointment as any father could be whose
daughter had just come into a fortune. But then he went on and rather
spoiled this by asking Griffith bluntly what on earth had ever made him
think Mr. Charlton intended to leave him Bolton and Hernshaw.

Griffith replied, with manifest agitation, that Mr. Charlton had
repeatedly told him he was to be his heir. "Not," said Griffith, "that
he meant to wrong Mistress Kate, neither: poor old man, he always
thought she and I should be one."

"Ah! well," said Squire Peyton, coolly, "there is an end of all that
now."

At this observation Kate glided to the window, and laid her cheek on
the sill to listen more closely.

But Griffith made no reply.

Mr. Peyton seemed dissatisfied at his silence, and being a person who,
notwithstanding a certain superficial good-nature, saw his own side of
a question very big, and his neighbor's very little, he was harder than
perhaps he intended to be.

"Why, Master Gaunt," said he, "surely you would not follow my daughter
now; to feed upon a woman's bread. Come, be a man; and, if you are the
girl's friend, don't stand in her light. You know she can wed your
betters, and clap Bolton Hall on to Neville's Court. No doubt it is a
disappointment to _you_: but what can't be cured must be endured; pluck
up a bit of courage, and turn your heart another way; and then I shall
always be a good friend to you, and my doors open to you come when you
will."

Griffith made no reply. Kate strained her ears, but could not hear a
syllable. A tremor ran through her. She was in distance farther from
Griffith than her father was; but superior intelligence provided her
with a bridge from her window to her old servant's mind. And now she
felt that this great silence was the silence of despair.

But the Squire pressed him for a definite answer; and finally insisted
on one. "Come, don't be sulky," said he; "I'm her father: give me an
answer, ay or no."

Then Kate heard a violent sigh, and out rushed a torrent of words that
each seemed tinged with blood from the unfortunate speaker's heart.
"Old man," he almost shrieked, "what did I ever do to you that you
torment me so? Sure you were born without bowels. Beggared but an hour
agone, and now you must come and tell me I have lost _her_ by losing
house and lands! D'ye think I need to be _told_ it? She was too far
above me before, and now she is gone quite out of my reach. But why
come and fling it in my face? Can't you give a poor undone man one hour
to draw his breath in trouble? And, when you know I have got to play
the host this bitter day, and smile, and smirk, and make you all merry,
with my heart breaking. Oh Christ, look down and pity me, for men are
made of stone! Well, then, no; I will not, I cannot, say the word, to
give her up. _She_ will discharge _me_, and then I'll fly the country,
and never trouble you more. And to think that one little hour ago she
was so kind, and I was so happy: Ah, sir, if you were born of a woman,
have a little pity, and don't speak to me of her at all one way or
other. What are you afraid of? I am a gentleman and a man, though sore
my trouble: I shall not run after the lady of Bolton Hall. Why, sir, I
have ordered the servants to set her chair in the middle of the table,
where I shall not be able to speak to her, or even see her. Indeed I
dare not look at her: for I must be merry. Merry! My arm it worries me,
my head it aches, my heart is sick to death. Man! man! show me some
little grace, and do not torture me more than flesh and blood can bear."

"You are mad, young sir," said the Squire, sternly, "and want locking
up on bread and water for a month."

"I _am_ almost mad," said Griffith, humbly. "But if you would only let
me alone, and not tear my heart out of my body, I could hide my agony
from the whole pack of ye, and go through my part like a man. I wish I
was lying where I laid my only friend this afternoon."

"Oh! I don't want to speak to you," said Peyton, angrily; "and, by the
same token, don't you speak to my daughter any more."

"Well, sir, if she speaks to me I shall be sure to speak to her,
without asking your leave or any man's. But I will not force myself
upon the lady of Bolton Hall; don't you think it. Only for God's sake
let me alone. I want to be by myself." And, with this, he hurried away,
unable to bear it any more.

Peyton gave a hostile and contemptuous snort, and also turned on his
heel, and went off in the opposite direction. The effect of this
dialogue on the listener was not to melt, but exasperate her. Perhaps
she had just cried away her stock of tenderness. At any rate, she rose
from her ambush a very basilisk; her eyes, usually so languid, flashed
fire, and her forehead was red with indignation. She bit her lip, and
clenched her hands, and her little foot beat the ground swiftly.

She was still in this state when a timid tap came to the door, and
Mrs. Hill asked her pardon, but dinner was ready, and the ladies and
gentlemen all a waiting for her to sit down.

This reminded Kate she was the mistress of the house. She answered
civilly she would be down immediately. She then took a last look in the
glass; and her own face startled her.

"No," she thought; "they shall none of them know nor guess what I
feel." And she stood before the glass and deliberately extracted all
emotion from her countenance, and by way of preparation screwed on a
spiteful smile.

When she had got her face to her mind, she went down stairs.

The gentlemen awaited her with impatience, the ladies with curiosity,
to see how she would comport herself in her new situation. She entered,
made a formal curtsy, and was conducted to her seat by Mr. Gaunt. He
placed her in the middle of the table. "I play the host for this one
day," said he, with some dignity; and took the bottom of the table
himself.

Mr. Hammersley was to have sat on Kate's left, but the sly Neville
persuaded him to change, and so got next to his inamorata: opposite to
her sat her father, Major Rickards, and others unknown to fame.

Neville was in high spirits. He had the good taste to try and hide his
satisfaction at the fatal blow his rival had received, and he entirely
avoided the topic; but Kate saw at once, by his demure complacency,
he was delighted at the turn things had taken; and he gained nothing
by it: he found her a changed girl. Cold monosyllables were all he
could extract from her. He returned to the charge a hundred times with
indomitable gallantry, but it was no use. Cold, haughty, sullen!

Her other neighbor fared little better; and in short the lady of the
house made a vile impression. She was an iceberg: a beautiful kill-joy:
a wet blanket of charming texture.

And presently Nature began to co-operate with her: long before sunset
it grew prodigiously dark; and the cause was soon revealed by a fall of
snow in flakes as large as a biscuit. A shiver ran through the people;
and old Peyton blurted out, "I shall not go home to-night." Then he
bawled across the table to his daughter: "_You_ are at home. We will
stay and take possession."

"Oh, papa!" said Kate, reddening with disgust.

But if dulness reigned around the lady of the house, it was not so
everywhere: loud bursts of merriment were heard at the bottom of
the table. Kate glanced that way in some surprise, and found it was
Griffith making the company merry; Griffith of all people.

The laughter broke out at short intervals, and by-and-by became
uproarious and constant. At last she looked at Neville inquiringly.

"Our worthy host is setting us an example of conviviality," said he.
"He is getting drunk."

"Oh, I hope not," said Kate. "Has he no friend to tell him not to make
a fool of himself?"

"You take a great interest in him," said Neville, bitterly.

"Of course I do. Pray do you desert your friends when ill luck falls on
them?"

"Nay, Mistress Kate, I hope not."

"You only triumph over the misfortunes of your enemies, eh?" said the
stinging beauty.

"Not even that. And, as for Mr. Gaunt, I am not his enemy."

"Oh no, of course not. You are his best friend. Witness his arm at this
moment."

"I am his rival; but not his enemy: I'll give you a proof." Then he
lowered his voice, and said in her ear: "You are grieved at his losing
Bolton; and, as you are very generous, and noble-minded, you are all
the more grieved because his loss is your gain." (Kate blushed at this
shrewd hit.) Neville went on: "You don't like him well enough to marry
him; and, since you cannot make him happy, it hurts your good heart to
make him poor."

"It is you for reading a lady's Heart," said Kate, ironically.

George proceeded steadily. "I'll show you an easy way out of this
dilemma."

"Thank you," said Kate, rather insolently.

"Give Mr. Gaunt Bolton and Hernshaw, and give me--your hand."

Kate turned and looked at him with surprise: she saw by his eye it was
no jest. For all that, she effected to take it as one. "That would be
long and short division," said she: but her voice faltered in saying it.

"So it would," replied George, coolly; "for Bolton and Hernshaw both
are not worth one finger of that hand I ask of you. But the value of
things lies in the mind that weighs 'em. Mr. Gaunt, you see, values
Bolton and Hernshaw very highly; why, he is in despair at losing them.
Look at him; he is getting rid of his reason before your very eyes, to
drown his disappointment."

"Oh, that is it, is it?" And, strange to say, she looked rather
relieved.

"That is it, believe me: it is a way we men have. But, as I was saying,
I don't care one straw for Bolton and Hernshaw. It is you I love; not
your land nor your house, but your sweet self: so give me that, and let
the lawyers make over this famous house and lands to Mr. Gaunt. His
antagonist I have been in the field, and his rival I am and must be,
but not his enemy, you see, and not his ill-wisher."

Kate was softened a little. "This is all mighty romantic," said she,
"and very like a prolix chevalier, as you are; but you know very well
he would fling land and house in your face if you offered them him on
these terms."

"Ay, in my face if I offered them; but not in yours if you."

"I am sure he would, all the same."

"Try him."

"What is the use?"

"Try him."

Kate showed symptoms of uneasiness. "Well, I will," said she, stoutly.
"No, that I will not. You begin by bribing me; and then you would set
me to bribe him."

"It is the only way to make two honest men happy."

"If I thought that?"

"You know it. Try him."

"And suppose he says nay?"

"Then we shall be no worse than we are."

"And suppose he says ay?"

"Then he will wed Bolton Hall and Hernshaw; and the pearl of England
will wed me."

"I have a great mind to take you at your word," said Kate; "but no; it
is really too indelicate."

George Neville fixed his eyes on her. "Are you not deceiving yourself?"
said he. "Do you not like Mr. Gaunt better than you think? I begin to
fear you dare not put him to this test: you fear his love would not
stand it?"

Kate colored high, and tossed her head proudly.

"How shrewd you gentlemen are," she said. "Much you know of a lady's
heart. Now the truth is I don't know what might happen were I to do
what you bid me. Nay, I'm wiser than you would have me, and I'll pity
Mr. Gaunt at a safe distance, if you please, sir."

Neville bowed gravely: he felt sure this was a plausible evasion; and
that she really was afraid to apply his test to his rival's love.

So now for the first time he became silent and reserved by her side.
The change was noticed by Father Francis, and he fixed a grave
remonstrating glance on Kate. She received it, understood it, affected
not to notice it, and acted upon it.

Drive a donkey too hard; it kicks.

Drive a man too hard; it hits.

Drive a woman too hard; it cajoles.

Now amongst them they had driven Kate Peyton too hard; so she secretly
formed a bold resolution; and, this done, her whole manner changed for
the better. She turned to Neville, and flattered and fascinated him.
The most feline of her sex could scarcely equal her calinerie on this
occasion. But she did not confine her fascination to him. She broke
out, pro bono publico, like the sun in April, with quips and cranks
and dimpled smiles, and made everybody near her quite forget her late
hauteur and coldness, and bask in this sunny sweet hostess. When the
charm was at its height, the Siren cast a seeming merry glance at
Griffith, and said to a lady opposite, "Methinks some of the gentlemen
will be glad to be rid of us," and so carried the ladies off to the
drawing-room.

There, her first act was to dismiss her smiles without ceremony, and
her second was to sit down and write four lines to the gentleman at the
head of the dining-table.

And he was as drunk as a fiddler.



CHAPTER X


Griffith's friends laughed heartily with him while he was getting
drunk, and, when he had got drunk, they laughed still louder, only at
him.

They "knocked him down" for a song; and he sang a rather Anacreontic
one very melodiously, and so loud that certain of the servants,
listening outside, derived great delectation from it; and Neville
applauded ironically.

Soon after, they "knocked him down" for a story; and, as it requires
more brains to tell a story than, to sing a song, the poor butt made an
ass of himself: he maundered and wandered, and stopped, and went on,
and lost one thread and took up and another, and got into a perfect
maze. And, while he was thus entangled, a servant came in and brought
him a note, and put it in his hand. The unhappy narrator received it
with a sapient nod, but was too polite or else too stupid to open it;
so closed his fingers on it and wont maundering on till his story
trickled into the sand of the desert, and somehow ceased; for it could
not be said to end, being a thing without head or tail.

He sat down amidst derisive cheers. About five minutes afterwards,
in some intermittent flash of reason, he found he had got hold of
something. He opened his hand, and lo, a note! On this he chuckled
unreasonably, and distributed sage, cunning, winks around, as if he
by special ingenuity had caught a nightingale, or the like; then with
sudden hauteur and gravity proceeded to examine his prize.

But he knew the handwriting at once, and it gave him a galvanic shock
that half sobered him for the moment.

He opened the note and spelled it with great difficulty; it was
beautifully written in long, clear letters; but then those letters kept
dancing so.

    "I much desire to speak to you before 'tis too late; but can
    think of no way save one; I lie in the turreted room: come
    under my window at nine of the clock; and prithee come sober,
    if you respect yourself, or

                                                          KATE."

Griffith put the note in his pocket, and tried to think. But he could
not think to much purpose. Then this made him suspect he was drunk.
Then he tried to be sober; but he found he could not. He sat in a sort
of stupid agony, with Love and Drink battling for his brain. It was
piteous to see the poor fool's struggles to regain the reason he had so
madly parted with. He could not do it; and, when he found that, he took
up a finger-glass and gravely poured the contents upon his head.

At this there was a burst of laughter.

This irritated Mr. Gaunt, and, with that rapid change of sentiments
which marks the sober savage and, the drunken European, he offered to
fight a gentleman he had been hitherto holding up to the company as
his best friend. But his best friend (a very distant acquaintance) was
by this time as tipsy as himself, and offered a piteous disclaimer,
mingled with tears; and these maudlin drops so affected Griffith that
he flung his one available arm round his best friend's head, and
wept in turn; and down went both their lachrymose, empty noddles on
the table. Griffith's remained there; but his best friend extricated
himself, and, shaking his skull, said, dolefully, "He is very drunk."
This notable discovery, coming from such a quarter, caused considerable
merriment.

"Let him alone," said an old toper; and Griffith remained a good hour
with his head on the table. Meantime the other gentlemen soon put it
out of their power to ridicule him on the score of intoxication.

Griffith, keeping quiet, got a little better, and suddenly started up
with a notion he was to go to Kate this very moment. He muttered an
excuse, and staggered to a glass door that led to the lawn; he opened
this door, and rushed out into the open air. He thought it would set
him all right: but, instead of that, it made him so much worse that
presently his legs came to a misunderstanding, and he measured his
length on the ground, and could not get up again, but kept slipping
down.

Upon this he groaned and lay quiet.

Now there was a foot of snow on the ground, and it melted about
Griffith's hot temples and flashed face, and mightily refreshed and
revived him.

He sat up and kissed Kate's letter, and Love began to get the upper
hand of Liquor a little.

Finally he got up, and half strutted, half staggered to the turret, and
stood under Kate's window.

The turret was covered with luxuriant ivy, and that ivy with snow. So
the glass of the window was set in a massive frame of winter; but a
bright fire burned inside the room, and this set the panes all aflame.
It was cheery and glorious to see the window glow like a sheet of
transparent fire in its deep frame of snow; but Griffith could not
appreciate all that. He stood there a sorrowful man. The wine he had
taken to drown his despair had lost its stimulating effect, and had
given him a heavy head, but left him his sick heart.

He stood and puzzled his drowsy faculties why Kate had sent for him.
Was it to bid him good-bye for ever; or to lessen his misery by
telling him she would not marry another? He soon gave up cudgeling his
enfeebled brains; Kate was a superior being to him, and often said
things, and did things, that surprised him. She had sent for him, and
that was enough; he should see her, and speak to her once more, at all
events. He stood, alternately nodding and looking up at her glowing
room, and longing for its owner to appear. But, as Bacchus had inspired
him to mistake eight o'clock for nine, and as she was not a votary of
Bacchus, she did not appear; and he stood there till he began to shiver.

The shadow of a female passed along the wall, and Griffith gave a great
start. Then he heard the fire poked. Soon after he saw the shadow
again; but it had a large servant's cap on; so his heart had beaten
high for Mary or Susan. He hung his head disappointed; and, holding on
by the ivy, fell a nodding again.

By-and-by one of the little casements was opened softly. He looked up,
and there was the right face peering out.

Oh, what a picture she was in the moonlight and the firelight! They
both fought for that fair head, and each got a share of it: the full
moon's silvery beams shone on her rose-like cheeks and lilyfield them
a shade, and lit her great grey eyes and made them gleam astoundingly;
but the ruby firelight rushed at her from behind, and flowed over her
golden hair, and reddened and glorified it till it seemed more than
mortal. And all this in a very picture-frame of snow.

Imagine, then, how sweet and glorious she glowed on him who loved her,
and who looked at her perhaps for the last time.

The sight did wonders to clear his head; he stood open-mouthed, with
his heart beating. She looked him all over a moment. "Ah!" said
she. Then, quietly, "I am so glad you are come." Then, kindly and
regretfully, "How pale you look! you are unhappy."

This greeting, so gentle and land, overpowered Griffith. His heart was
too full to speak.

Kate waited a moment; and then, as he did not reply to her, she began
to plead to him. "I hope you are not angry with _me_" she said. "_I_
did not want him to leave me your estates. I would not rob you of them
for the world, if I had my way."

"Angry with you!" said Griffith. "I'm not such a villain. Mr. Charlton
did the right thing, and--" He could say no more.

"I do not think so," said Kate. "But don't you fret: all shall be
settled to your satisfaction. I cannot quite love you, but I have a
sincere affection for you; and so I ought. Cheer up, dear Griffith;
don't you be down-hearted about what has happened to-day."

Griffith smiled. "I don't feel unhappy," he said; "I did feel as if
my heart was broken. But then you seemed parted from me. Now we are
together I feel as happy as ever. Mistress, don't you ever shut that
window and leave me in the dark again. Let me stand and look at your
sweet face all night, and I shall be the happiest man in Cumberland."

"Ay," said Kate, blushing at his ardor; "happy for a single night;
but when I go away you will be in the dumps again, and perhaps get
tipsy; as if that could mend matters. Nay, I must set your happiness on
stronger legs than that. Do you know I have got permission to undo this
cruel will, and let you have Bolton Hall and Hernshaw again?"

Griffith looked pleased, but rather puzzled.

Kate went on, but not so glibly now. "However," said she, a little
nervously, "there is one condition to it that will cost us both some
pain. If you consent to accept those two estates from me, who don't
value them one straw, why then--"

She hesitated.

"Well, what?" he gasped.

"Why, then, my poor Griffith, we shall be bound in honor,--you
and I,--not to meet for some months: perhaps for a whole year:
in one word--do not hate me--not till you can bear to see
me--another--man's--wife."

The murder being out, she hid her face in her hands directly, and in
that attitude awaited his reply.

Griffith stood petrified a moment; and I don't think his intellects
were even yet quite clear enough to take it all in at once. But at last
he did comprehend it, and, when he did, he just uttered a loud cry of
agony, and then turned his back on her without a word.


Man does not speak by words alone. A mute glance of reproach has ere
now pierced the heart a tirade would have left untouched; and even an
inarticulate cry may utter volumes.

Such an eloquent cry was that with which Griffith Gaunt turned his back
upon the angelical face he adored, and the soft persuasive tongue.
There was agony, there was shame, there was wrath, all in that one
ejaculation.

It frightened Kate. She called him back. "Don't leave me so," she said.
"I know I have affronted you; but I meant all for the best. Do not let
us part in anger."

At this Griffith returned in violent agitation. "It is your fault for
making me speak," he cried "I was going away without a word, as a man
should, that is insulted by a woman. You heartless girl! What! you bid
me sell you to that man for two dirty farms! Oh, well you know Bolton
and Hernshaw were but the steps by which I hoped to climb to you:
and now you tell me to part with you, and take those miserable acres
instead of my darling. Ah! mistress, you have never loved: or you would
hate yourself and despise yourself for what you have done. Love! if you
had known what that word means, you couldn't look in my face and stab
me to the heart like this. God forgive you! And sure I hope he will;
for after all, it is not _your_ fault that you were born without a
heart. WHY, KATE, YOU ARE CRYING."



CHAPTER XI


"Crying!" said Kate. "I could cry my eyes out to think what I have
done; but it is not my fault: they egged me on. I knew you would fling
those two miserable things in my face if I did, and I said so; but they
would be wiser than me, and insist on my putting you to the proof."

"They? Who is they?"

"No matter. Whoever it was they will gain nothing by it, and you will
lose nothing. Ah, Griffith, I am so ashamed of myself--and so proud of
you."

"They?" repeated Griffith, suspiciously. "Who is this they?"

"What does that matter, so long as it was not Me? Are you going to
be jealous again? Let us talk of you and me, and never mind who them
is. You have rejected my proposal with just scorn; so now let me hear
yours; for we must agree on something this very night. Tell me, now,
what can I say or do to make you happy?"

Griffith was sore puzzled. "Alas! sweet Kate," said he, "I don't know
what you can do for me now, except stay single for my sake."

"I should like nothing better," replied Kate, warmly; "but
unfortunately they won't let me do that. Father Francis will be at me
to-morrow, and insist on my marrying Mr. Neville."

"But you will refuse."

"I would, if I could but find a good excuse."

"Excuse? why, say you don't love him."

"Oh, they won't allow that for a reason."

"Then I am undone," sighed Griffith.

"No, no, you are not; if I could be brought to pretend I love somebody
else. And really, if I don't quite love you, I like you too well to
let you be unhappy. Besides, I cannot bear to rob you of these unlucky
farms: I think there is nothing I would not do rather than that. I
think--I would rather--do--something very silly indeed. But I suppose
you don't want me to do that now? Why don't you answer me? Why don't
you say something? Are you drunk, sir, as they pretend? or are you
asleep? Oh, I can't speak any plainer: this is intolerable. Mr. Gaunt,
I'm going to shut the window."

Griffith got alarmed, and it sharpened his wits. "Kate, Kate!" he
cried, "what do you mean? am I in a dream? would you marry poor me
after all?"

"How on earth can I tell, till I am asked?" inquired Kate, with an air
of childlike innocence, and inspecting the stars attentively.

"Kate, will you marry me?" said Griffith, all in a flutter.

"Of course I will--if you will let me," replied Kate, coolly, but
rather tenderly, too.

Griffith burst into raptures; Kate listened to them with a complacent
smile; then delivered herself after this fashion:--"You have very
little to thank me for, dear Griffith. I don't exactly downright love
you; but I could not rob you of those unlucky farms, and you refuse to
take them back, any way but this; so what can I do? And then, for all
I don't love you, I find I am always unhappy if you are unhappy, and
happy when you are happy; so it comes pretty much to the same thing. I
declare I am sick of giving you pain, and a little sick of crying in
consequence. There, I have cried more in the last fortnight than in all
my life before, and you know nothing spoils one's beauty like crying:
and then you are so good, and kind, and true, and brave; and everybody
is so unjust, and so unkind to you; papa and all. You were quite in
the right about the duel, dear; he is an impudent puppy; and I threw
dust in your eyes, and made you own you were in the wrong; and it was
a great shame of me; but it was because I liked you best. I could take
liberties with _you_, dear. And you are wounded for me; and now I have
disinherited you; oh, I can't bear it, and I won't. My heart yearns for
you; bleeds for you. I would rather die than you should be unhappy; I
would rather follow you in rags round the world than marry a prince and
make you wretched. Yes, dear, I am yours. Make me your wife; and then
some day I daresay I shall love you as I ought."

She had never showed her heart to him like this before; and now it
overpowered him. So, being also a little under vinous influence, he
stammered out something, and then fairly blubbered with joy. Then what
does Kate do, but cry for company.

Presently, to her surprise, he was half way up the turret, coming to
her.

"Oh, take care! take care!" she cried. "You'll break your neck."

"Nay," cried he, "I must come at you, if I die for it."

The turret was ornamented from top to bottom with short ledges
consisting of half bricks. This ledge, shallow as it was, gave a slight
foothold, insufficient in itself, but he grasped the strong branches of
the ivy with a powerful hand; and so between the two contrived to get
up and hang himself out close to her.

"Sweet mistress," said he, "put out your hand to me; for I can't take
it against your will this time; I have got but one arm."

But this she declined. "No, no," said she; "you do nothing but torment
and terrify me,--there." And so, gave it him; and he mumbled it.

This last feat won her quite. She thought no other man could have got
to her there, with two arms, and Griffith had done it with one. She
said to herself, "How he loves me! more than his own neck." And then
she thought. "I shall be wife to a strong man; that is one comfort."

In this softened mood she asked him demurely, would he take a friend's
advice.

"If that friend is you, ay.'

"Then," said she, "I'll do a downright brazen thing, now my hand is
in. I declare I'll tell you how to secure me. You make me plight my
troth with you this minute, and exchange rings with you, _whether I
like or not_; engage my honor in this foolish business, and, if you
do that, I really do think you will have me in spite of them all. But
there--la!--am I worth all this trouble?"

Griffith did not share this chilling doubt. He poured forth his
gratitude, and then told her he had got his mother's ring on his
finger; "I meant to ask you to wear it," said he.

"And why didn't you?"

"Because you became an heiress all of a sudden."

"Well, what signifies which of us has the dross, so that there is
enough for both?"

"That is true," said Griffith, approving his own sentiment, but not
recognizing his own words. "Here's my mother's ring, on my little
finger, sweet mistress. But I must ask you to draw it off, for I have
but one hand."

Kate made a wry face. "Well, that is my fault," said she, "or I would
not take it from you so."

She drew off his ring, and put it on her finger. Then she gave him her
largest ring, and had to put it on his little finger for him.

"You are making a very forward girl of me," said she, pouting
exquisitely.

He kissed her hand while she was doing it.

"Don't you be so silly," said she; "and, you horrid creature, how you
smell of wine! The bullet, please."

"The bullet!" exclaimed Griffith. "What bullet?"

"_The_ bullet. The one you were wounded with for my sake. I am told you
put it in your pocket; and I see something bulge in your waistcoat;
that bullet belongs to me now."

"I think you are a witch," said he. "I do carry it about next my heart.
Take it out of my waistcoat, if you will be so good."

She blushed, and declined, and with the refusal on her very lips,
fished it out with her taper fingers. She eyed it with a sort of tender
horror. The sight of it made her feel faint a moment. She told him so:
and that she would keep it to her dying day. Presently her delicate
finger found something was written on it; she did not ask him what it
was, but withdrew, and examined it by her candle. Griffith had engraved
it with these words:

                      "I LOVE KATE."

He looked through the window, and saw her examine it by the candle. As
she read the inscription, her face, glorified by the light, assumed a
celestial tenderness he had never seen it wear before.

She came back and leaned eloquently out as if she would fly to him.

"Ah, Griffith! Griffith!" she murmured; and, somehow or other, their
lips met in spite of all the difficulties, and grew together in a long
and tender embrace.

It was the first time she had ever given him more than her hand to
kiss; and the rapture repaid him for all.

But, as soon as she had made this great advance, virginal instinct
suggested a proportionate retreat.

"You must go to bed," she said, austerely; "you will catch your death
of cold out here."

He remonstrated: she insisted. He held out: she smiled sweetly in
his face, and shut the window in it pretty sharply, and disappeared.
He went disconsolately down his ivy ladder. As soon as he was at the
bottom, she opened the window again, and asked him, demurely, if he
would do something to oblige her.

He replied like a lover; he was ready to be cut in pieces, drawn
asunder with wild horses, and so on.

"Oh, I know you would do anything stupid for me," said she; "but will
you do something clever for a poor girl that is in a fright at what she
is going to do for you?"

"Give your orders, mistress," said Griffith; "and don't talk of me
obliging you. I feel quite ashamed to hear you talk so: to-night
especially."

"Well, then," said Kate, "first and foremost, I want you to throw
yourself on Father Francis's neck."

"I'll throw myself on Father Francis's neck," said Griffith, stoutly.
"Is that all?"

"No; nor half. Once upon his neck you must say something. There--I had
better settle the very words, or perhaps you will make a mess of it.
Say after me now: Oh, Father Francis, 'tis to you I owe her."

"Oh, Father Francis, 'tis to you I owe her."

"You and I are friends for life."

"You and I are friends for life."

"And mind, there is always a bed in our home for you, and a plate at
our table, and a right welcome, come when you will."

Griffith repeated this last correctly; but, when requested to say the
whole, broke down. Kate had to repeat the oration a dozen times; and he
said it after her, like a Sunday-school scholar, till he had it pat.

The task achieved, he inquired of her what Father Francis was to say in
reply.

At this question Kate showed considerable alarm.

"Gracious Heavens!" she cried; "you must not stop talking to him; he
will turn you inside out, and I shall be undone. Nay, you must gabble
those words out, and then run away as hard as you can gallop."

"But is it true?" asked Griffith: "is he so much my friend?"

"Hum!" said Kate; "it is quite true; and he is not at all your friend.
There, don't you puzzle yourself, and pester me; but do as you are bid,
or we are both undone."

Quelled by a menace so mysterious, Griffith promised blind obedience;
and Kate thanked him and bade him good-night; and ordered him
peremptorily to bed.

He went.

She beckoned him back.

He came.

She leaned out, and inquired, in a soft delicious whisper, as follows:
"Are you happy, dearest?"

"Ay, Kate, the happiest of the happy."

"Then so am I," she murmured.

And now she slowly closed the window, and gradually retired from the
eyes of her enraptured lover.



CHAPTER XII


But while Griffith was thus sweetly employed, his neglected guests
were dispersing, not without satirical comments on their truant host.
Two or three, however, remained, and slept in the house, upon special
invitation. And that invitation came from Squire Peyton. He chose to
conclude that Griffith, disappointed by the will, had vacated the
premises in disgust, and had left him in charge of them: accordingly
he assumed the master with alacrity, and ordered beds for Neville,
and Father Francis, and Major Rickards, and another. The weather was
inclement, and the roads heavy; so the gentlemen thus distinguished
accepted Mr. Peyton's offer cordially.

There were a great many things sung and said at the festive board in
the course of the evening; but very few of them would amuse or interest
the reader, as they did the hearers. One thing, however, must not be
passed by, as it had its consequences: Major Rickards drank bumpers
apiece to the King, the Prince, Church and State, the Army, the
Navy, and Kate Peyton. By the time he got to her, two-thirds of his
discretion had oozed away in loyalty, _esprit du corps_, and port wine;
so he sang the young lady's praises in vinous terms, and of course
immortalized the very exploit she most desired to consign to oblivion:
_Arma viraginemque canebat._ He sang the duel: and in a style which I
could not, consistently with the interests of literature, reproduce on
a larger scale. Hasten we to the concluding versicles of his song.

"So then, sir, we placed our men for the third time, and you may
take my word for it, one or both of these heroes would have bit the
dust at that discharge; but, by Jove, sir, just as they were going
to pull trigger, in galloped your adorable daughter, and swooned off
her foaming horse in the middle of us. Disarmed us, sir, in a moment,
melted our valor, bewitched our senses; and the great God of War had to
retreat before little Cupid, and the charms of beauty in distress."

"Little idiot!" observed the tender parent; and was much distempered.

He said no more about it to Major Rickards; but, when they all retired
for the night, he undertook to show Father Francis his room, and sat in
it with him a good half-hour talking about Kate.

"Here's a pretty scandal!" said he: "I must marry the silly girl out of
hand, before this gets wind; and you must help me."

In a word, the result of the conference was, that Kate should be
publicly engaged to Neville to-morrow and married to him as soon as her
month's mourning should be over.

The conduct of the affair was confided to Father Francis, as having
unbounded influence with her.



CHAPTER XIII


Next morning Mr. Peyton was up betimes in his character of Host, and
ordered the servants about, and was in high spirits; only they gave
place to amazement when Griffith Gaunt came down, and played the Host;
and was in high spirits.

Neville too watched his rival, and was puzzled at his radiancy.

So breakfast passed in general mystification. Kate, who could have
thrown a light, did not come down to breakfast. She was on her defense.

She made her first appearance out of doors.

Very early in the morning, Mr. Peyton, in his quality of master, had
ordered the gardener to cut and sweep the snow off the gravel walk that
went round the lawn. And on this path Miss Peyton was seen walking
briskly to and fro in the frosty, but sunny air.

Griffith saw her first, and ran out to bid her good-morning.

Her reception of him was a farce: she made him a stately curtsy for
the benefit of the three faces glued against the panes; but her words
were incongruous. "You wretch," said she, "don't come here: hide about,
dearest, till you see me with Father Francis. I'll raise my hand _so_,
when you are to cuddle him; and fib. There, make me a low bow, and
retire."

He obeyed, and the whole thing looked mighty formal and ceremonious
from the breakfast-room.

"With your good leave, gentlemen," said Father Francis, drily, "I will
be the next to pay my respects to her." With this he opened the window
and stepped out.

Kate saw him, and felt very nervous: she met him with apparent delight.

He bestowed his morning benediction on her and then they walked
silently side by side on the gravel; and from the dining-room window it
looked like anything but what it was--a fencing match.

Father Francis was the first to break silence. He congratulated her
on her good fortune, and on the advantage it might prove to the true
Church.

Kate waited quietly till he had quite done, and then said, "What, I may
go into a convent now that I can bribe the door open?"

The scratch was feline, feminine, sudden, and sharp. But alas, Father
Francis only smiled at it: though not what we call spiritually-minded,
he was a man of a Christian temper. "Not with my good will, my
daughter," said he; "I am of the same mind still, and more than ever.
You must marry forthwith, and rear children in the true faith."

"What a hurry you are in."

"Your own conduct has made it necessary."

"Why, what have I done now?"

"No harm; it was a good and humane action, to prevent bloodshed; but
the world is not always worthy of good actions. People are beginning to
make free with your name, for your interfering in the duel."

Kate fired up. "Why can't people mind their own business?"

"I do not exactly know," said the priest, coolly; "nor is it worth
inquiring: we must take human nature as it is, and do for the best. You
must marry him, and stop their tongues."

Kate pretended to reflect. "I believe you are right," said she, at
last; "and indeed I must do as you would have me; for, to tell the
truth--in an unguarded moment--I pitied him so--that I half promised I
_would._"

"Indeed!" said Father Francis. "This is the first I have heard of it."

Kate replied that was no wonder; for it was only last night she had so
committed herself.

"Last night!" said Father Francis; "how can that he? He was never out
of my sight till we went to bed."

"Oh, there I beg to differ," said the lady. "While you were all
tippling in the dining-room, he was better employed; making love by
moonlight. And, oh what a terrible thing opportunity is; and the moon
another. There! what with the moonlight--and my pitying him so--and all
he has suffered for me--and my being rich now, and having something to
give him--we two are engaged. See, else: this was his mother's ring;
and he has mine."

"Mr. Neville?"

"Mr. Neville? No. My old servant, to be sure. What, do you think I
would go and marry for wealth, when I have enough and to spare of my
own? Oh! what an opinion you must have of me."

Father Francis was staggered by this adroit thrust. However, after a
considerable silence, he recovered himself, and inquired, gravely, why
she had given him no hint of all this the other night, when he had
diverted her from a convent and advised her to marry Neville.

"That you never did, I'll be sworn," said Kate.

Father Francis reflected. "Not in so many words, perhaps; but I said
enough to show you."

"Oh!" said Kate, "such a matter was too serious for hints and
innuendoes: if you wanted me to jilt my old servant and wed an
acquaintance of yesterday, why not say so plainly? I dare say I should
have obeyed you, and been unhappy for life; but now my honor is
solemnly engaged; my faith is plighted; and were even you to urge me to
break faith, and behave dishonorably, I should resist. I would never
take poison, and die."

Father Francis looked at her steadily, and she colored to the brow.

"You are a very apt young lady," said he; "you have outwitted your
director. That may be my fault as much as yours; so I advise you to
provide yourself with another director, whom you will be unable, or
unwilling, to outwit."

Kate's high spirit fell before this: she turned her eyes, full of
tears, on him.

"Oh, do not desert me, now that I shall need you more than ever
to guide me in my new duties. Forgive me; I did not know my own
heart--quite. I'll go into a convent now, if I must; but I can't marry
any man but poor Griffith. Ah, father, he is more generous than any
of us. Would you believe it? when he thought Bolton and Hernshaw were
coming to him, he said if I married him I should have the money to
build a convent with. He knows how fond I am of a convent."

"He was jesting: his religion would not allow it."

"His religion!" cried Kate. Then, lifting her eyes to Heaven, and
looking just like an angel, "Love is _his_ religion!" said she, warmly.

"Then his religion is Heathenism," said the priest, grimly.

"Nay, there is too much charity in it for that," retorted Kate, keenly.

Then she looked down like a cunning, guilty thing, and murmured, "One
of the things I esteem him for is he always speaks well of you. To be
sure just now the poor soul thinks you are his best friend with me.
But that is my fault: I as good as told him so: and it is true, after
a fashion; for you kept me out of the convent that was his only real
rival. Why, here he comes. Oh, father, now don't you go and tell him
you side with Mr. Neville."

At this crisis Griffith, who, to tell the truth, had received a signal
from Kate, rushed at Father Francis, and fell upon his neck, and said
with great rapidity, "Oh, Father Francis, 'tis to you I owe her--you
and I are friends for life. So long as we have a house there is a bed
in it for you, and whilst we have a table to sit down to, there's a
plate at it for you, and a welcome come when you will."

Having gabbled these words he winked at Kate, and fled swiftly.

Father Francis was taken aback a little by this sudden burst of
affection.

First he stared--then he knitted his brows--then he pondered.

Kate stole a look at him, and her eyes sought the ground.

"That is the gentleman you arranged matters with last night?" said he,
drily.

"Yes," replied Kate, faintly.

"Was this scene part of the business?"

"Oh father!"

"Why I ask, he did it so unnatural. Mr. Gaunt is a worthy, hospitable
gentleman; he and I are very good friends; and really I never doubted
that I should be welcome in his house--until this moment."

"And can you doubt it now?"

"Almost: his manner just now was so hollow, so forced: not a word of
all that came from his heart, you know."

"Then his heart is changed very lately."

The priest shook his head. "Anything more like a puppet, and a parrot
to boot, I never saw. 'Twas done so timely too; he ran in upon our
discourse. Let me see your hand, mistress. Why, where is the string
with which you pulled yonder machine in so pat upon the word?"

"Spare me!" muttered Kate, faintly.

"Then do you drop deceit and the silly cunning of your sex, and speak
to me from your heart, or not at all." (Diapason.)

At this Kate began to whimper. "Father," she said, "show me some
mercy." Then, suddenly clasping her hands: "HAVE PITY ON HIM, AND ON
ME."

This time Nature herself seemed to speak, and the eloquent cry went
clean through the priest's heart. "Ah!" said he; and his own voice
trembled a little: "now you are as strong as your cunning was weak.
Come; I see how it is with you; and I am human, and have been young,
and a lover into the bargain, before I was a priest. There, dry thy
eyes, child, and go to thy room: he thou couldst not trust shall bear
the brunt for thee; this once."

Then Kate bowed her fair head and kissed the horrid paw of him that had
administered so severe but salutary a pat. She hurried away upstairs,
right joyful at the unexpected turn things had taken.

Father Francis, thus converted to her side, lost no time: he walked
into the dining-room and told Neville he had bad news for him. "Summon
all your courage, my young friend," he said, with feeling; "and
remember that this world is full of disappointments."

Neville said nothing; but rose and stood rather pale, waiting like a
man for the blow. Its nature he more than half guessed: he had been at
the window.


It fell.

"She is engaged to Gaunt, since last night: and she loves him."

"The double-faced jade!" cried Peyton, with an oath. "The heartless
coquette!" groaned Neville.

Father Francis made excuses for her:--"Nay, nay, she is not the first
of her sex that did not know her own mind all at once. Besides, we men
are blind in matters of love: perhaps a woman would have read her from
the first. After all she was not bound to give us the eyes to read a
female heart."

He next reminded Neville that Gaunt had been her servant for years.
"You knew that," said he, "yet you came between them--at your peril.
Put yourself in his place: say you had succeeded would not his wrong be
greater than yours is now? Come, be brave; be generous; he is wounded,
he is disinherited; only his love is left him: 'tis the poor man's
lamb; and would you take it?"

"Oh, I have not a word to say against the _man_," said George, with a
mighty effort.

"And what use quarreling with a woman?" suggested the practical priest.

"None whatever," said George, sullenly. After a moment's silence he
rang the bell feverishly. "Order my horse round directly," said he:
then he sat down, and buried his face in his hands, and did not, and
could not, listen to the voice of consolation.

Now the house was full of spies in petticoats, amateur spies, that ran
and told the mistress everything of their own accord, to curry favor.

And this no doubt was the cause that, just as the groom walked the
piebald out of the stable towards the hall door, a maid came to Father
Francis with a little note: he opened it, and found these words written
faintly, in a fine Italian hand:--

    "I scarce knew my own heart till I saw him wounded and poor,
    and myself rich at his expense. Entreat Mr. Neville to forgive
    me."

He handed the note to Neville without a word.

Neville read it, and his lip trembled; but he said nothing, and
presently went out into the hall, and put on his hat, for he saw his
nag at the door.

Father Francis followed him, and said, sorrowfully, "What, not one word
in reply to so humble a request?"

"Well, here's my reply," said George, grinding his teeth. "She knows
French, though she pretends not.

    "Le bruit est pour le fat, la plainte est pour le sot,
     L'honnête homme trompé s'éloigne et ne dit mot.'"

And with this he galloped furiously away.

He buried himself at Neville's Cross for several days, and would
neither see nor speak to a soul. His heart was sick, his pride
lacerated. He even shed some scalding tears in secret; though to look
at him that seemed impossible.

So passed a bitter week: and in the course of it he bethought him of
the tears he had made a true Italian lady shed; and never pitied her a
grain till now.

He was going abroad: on his desk lay a little crumpled paper. It was
Kate's entreaty for forgiveness. He had ground it in his hand, and
ridden away with it.

Now he was going away, he resolved to answer her.

He wrote a letter full of bitter reproaches; read it over; and tore it
up.

He wrote a satirical and cutting letter: read it; and tore it up.

He wrote her a mawkish letter; read it; and tore it up.

The priest's words, scorned at first, had sunk into him a little.

He walked about the room, and tried to see it all like a bystander.

He examined her writing closely: the pen had scarcely marked the paper.
They were the timidest strokes. The writer seemed to kneel to him. He
summoned all his manhood, his fortitude, his generosity, and, above
all, his high-breeding; and produced the following letter; and this one
he sent:

    "MISTRESS KATE,--I leave England to-day for your sake; and
    shall never return unless the day shall come when I can look on
    you but as a friend. The love that ends in hate, that is too
    sorry a thing to come betwixt you and me.

    "If you have used me ill, your punishment is this; you have
    given me the right to say to you--I forgive you.

                                                  "GEORGE NEVILLE."


And he went straight to Italy.


Kate laid his note upon her knee, and sighed deeply; and said, "Poor
fellow! How noble of him! What can such men as this see in any woman to
go and fall in love with her?"

Griffith found her with a tear in her eye. He took her out walking, and
laid all his radiant plans of wedded life before her. She came back
flushed, and beaming with complacency and beauty.

Old Peyton was brought to consent to the marriage. Only he attached one
condition, that Bolton and Hernshaw should be settled on Kate for her
separate use.

To this Griffith assented readily; but Kate refused plump. "What, give
him _myself_, and then grudge him my _estates!_" said she, with a look
of lofty and beautiful scorn at her male advisers.

But Father Francis, having regard to the temporal interests of his
Church, exerted his strength and pertinacity, and tired her out; so
those estates were put into trustees' hands, and tied up as tight as
wax.

This done, Griffith Gaunt and Kate Peyton were married, and made the
finest pair that wedded in the county that year.

As the bells burst into a merry peal, and they walked out of church
man and wife, their path across the churchyard was strewed thick with
flowers, emblematic no doubt of the path of life, that lay before so
handsome a couple.

They spent the honeymoon in London, and tasted earthly felicity.

Yet did not quarrel after it; but subsided into the quiet complacency
of wedded life.



CHAPTER XIV


Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt lived happily together--as times went.

A fine girl and boy were born to them; and need I say how their hearts
expanded and exulted; and seemed to grow twice as large.

The little boy was taken from them at three years old: and how can I
convey to any but a parent the anguish of that first bereavement?

Well they suffered it together, and that poignant grief was one tie
more between them.

For many years they did not furnish any exciting or even interesting
matter to this narrator. And all the better for them: without these
happy periods of dulness our lives would be hell, and our hearts
eternally bubbling and boiling in a huge pot made hot with thorns.

In the absence of striking incidents, it may be well to notice the
progress of character, and note the tiny seeds of events to come.

Neither the intellectual nor the moral character of any person stands
stock-still: a man improves, or he declines. Mrs. Gaunt had a great
taste for reading; Mr. Gaunt had not: what was the consequence? at the
end of seven years the lady's understanding had made great strides; the
gentleman's had, apparently, retrograded.

Now we all need a little excitement, and we all seek it, and get it by
hook or by crook. The girl, who satisfies that natural craving with
what the canting dunces of the day call a "sensational" novel, and the
girl, who does it by waltzing till daybreak, are sisters; only one
obtains the result intellectually, and the other obtains it like a
young animal, and a pain in her empty head next day.

Mrs. Gaunt could enjoy company, but was never dull with a good book.
Mr. Gaunt was a pleasant companion, but dull out of company. So, rather
than not have it, he would go to the parlor of the "Red Lion," and chat
and sing with the yeomen and rollicking young squires that resorted
thither: and this was matter of grief and astonishment to Mrs. Gaunt.

It was balanced by good qualities she knew how to appreciate.
Morals were much looser then than now; and more than one wife of
her acquaintance had a rival in the village, or even among her own
domestics; but Griffith had no loose inclinations of that kind, and
never gave her a moment's uneasiness. He was constancy and fidelity in
person.

Sobriety had not yet been invented. But Griffith was not so intemperate
as most squires; he could always mount the stairs to tea, and generally
without staggering.

He was uxorious, and it used to come out after his wine. This Mrs.
Gaunt permitted at first, but by-and-by says she, expanding her
delicate nostrils, "You may be as affectionate as you please dear, and
you may smell of wine, if you will; but please not to smell of wine and
be affectionate at the same moment. I value your affection too highly
to let you disgust me with it."

And the model husband yielded to this severe restriction, and, as
it never occurred to him to give up his wine, he forebode to be
affectionate in his cups.

One great fear Mrs. Gaunt had entertained before marriage, ceased to
haunt her. Now and then her quick eye saw Griffith writhe at the great
influence her director had with her; but he never spoke out to offend
her, and she, like a good wife, saw, smiled, and adroitly, tenderly
soothed: and this was nothing compared to what she had feared.

Griffith saw his wife admired by other men, yet never chid nor chafed.
The merit of this belonged in a high degree to herself. The fact is,
that Kate Peyton, even before marriage, was not a coquette at heart,
though her conduct might easily bear that construction: and she was
now an experienced matron, and knew how to be as charming as ever, yet
check or parry all approaches of gallantry on the part of her admirers.
Then Griffith observed how delicate and prudent his lovely wife was,
without ostentatious prudery; and his heart was at peace.

He was the happier of the two, for he looked up to his wife, as well
as loved her, whereas she was troubled at times with a sense of
superiority to her husband. She was amiable enough, and wise enough, to
try and shut her eyes to it; and often succeeded; but not always.

Upon the whole, they were a contented couple; though the lady's dreamy
eyes seemed still to be exploring earth and sky in search of something
they had not yet found, even in wedded life.

They lived at Hernshaw. A letter had been found among Mr. Charlton't
papers explaining his will. He counted on their marrying, and begged
them to live at the castle. He had left it on his wife's death; it
reminded him too keenly of happier days; but, as he drew near his end,
and must leave all earthly things, he remembered the old house with
tenderness, and put out his dying hand to save it from falling into
decay.

Unfortunately considerable repairs were needed, and, as Kate's property
was tied up so tight, Griffith's two thousand pounds went in repairing
the house, lawn, park railings, and walled gardens; went, every penny,
and left the bridge over the lake still in a battered, rotten, and, in
a word, picturesque condition.

This lake was, by the older inhabitants, sometimes called the "mere,"
and sometimes the "fish-pools;" it resembled an hour-glass in shape,
only curved like a crescent.

In medieval times it had no doubt been a main defense of the place.
It was very deep in parts, especially at the waist or narrow that was
spanned by the decayed bridge. There were hundreds of carp and tench in
it older than any be in Cumberland, and also enormous pike and eels;
and fish from one to five pounds' weight by the million. The water
literally teemed from end to end; and this was a great comfort to so
good a Catholic as Mrs. Gaunt. When she was seized with a desire to
fast, and that was pretty often, the gardener just, went down to the
lake and flung a casting-net in some favorite hole, and drew out half
a bushel the first cast; or planted a flue-net round a patch of weeds,
then belabored the weeds with a long pole, and a score of fine fish
were sure to run out into the meshes.

The "mere" was clear as plate glass, and came to the edge of the shaven
lawn, and reflected flowers, turf, and overhanging shrubs, deliciously.

Yet an ill name brooded over its seductive waters. For two persons had
been drowned in it during the last hundred years: and the last one was
the parson of the parish, returning from the Squire's dinner in the
normal condition of a guest, at that epoch. But what most affected
the popular mind, was, not the jovial soul hurried into eternity, but
the material circumstance that the greedy pike had cleared the flesh
off his bones in a single night; so that little more than a skeleton,
with here and there a black rag hanging to it, had been recovered next
morning.

This ghastly detail being stoutly maintained and constantly repeated by
two ancient eye-witnesses, whose one melodramatic incident and treasure
it was, the rustic mind saw no beauty whatever in those pellucid
waters, where flowers did glass themselves.

As for the women of the village, they looked on this sheet of water as
a trap for their poor bodies, and those of their children, and spoke of
it as a singular hardship in their lot, that Hernshaw mere had not been
filled up threescore years agone.

The castle itself was no castle, nor had it been for centuries: it was
just a house with battlements; but attached to the stable was an old
square tower that really had formed part of the medieval castle.

However, that unsubstantial shadow, a name, is often more durable than
the thing; especially in rural parts: but, indeed, what is there in a
name for Time's teeth to catch hold of?

Though no castle, it was a delightful abode. The drawing-room and
dining-room had both spacious bay windows, opening on to the lawn that
sloped very gradually down to the clear lake, and there was mirrored.
On this sweet lawn the inmates and guests walked for sun and mellow
air, and often played bowls at eventide.

On the other side was the drive up to the house door, and a sweep,
or small oval plot, of turf, surrounded by gravel; and a gate at the
corner of this sweep opened into a grove of the grandest old spruce
firs in the island.

This grove, dismal in winter, and awful at night, was deliciously
cool and sombre in the dog days. The trees were spires, and their
great stems stood serried like infantry in column, and flung a mighty
canopy of sombre plumes over head. A strange, antique, and classic
grove--_nulli penetrabilis astro._

This retreat was enclosed on three sides by a wall, and on the east
side came nearly to the house; a few laurel bushes separated the two.
At night it was shunned religiously, on account of the ghosts. Even by
daylight it was little frequented, except by one person: and she took
to it amazingly. That person was Mrs. Gaunt. There seems to be, even
in educated women, a singular, instinctive love of twilight; and here
was twilight at high noon. The place, too, suited her dreamy meditative
nature. Hither, then, she often retired for peace and religious
contemplation, and moved slowly in and out among the tall stems, or
sat still, with her thoughtful brow leaned on her white hand: till the
cool, umbrageous retreat got to be called among the servants, "The
Dame's Haunt."

This, I think, is all needs to be told about the mere place, where the
Gaunts lived comfortably many years; and little dreamed of the strange
events in store for them; little knew the passions that slumbered in
their own bosoms, and, like other volcanoes, bided their time.


END OF VOL. I.



GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY

BY CHARLES READE

In Three Volumes. Vol. II

London

CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY

1866



TABLE OF CONTENTS


    CHAPTER   I
    CHAPTER   II
    CHAPTER   III
    CHAPTER   IV
    CHAPTER   V
    CHAPTER   VI
    CHAPTER   VII
    CHAPTER   VIII
    CHAPTER   IX
    CHAPTER   X
    CHAPTER   XI
    CHAPTER   XII
    CHAPTER   XIII
    CHAPTER   XIV
    CHAPTER   XV
    CHAPTER   XVI
    CHAPTER   XVII



CHAPTER I


One day, at dinner, Father Francis let them know that he was ordered to
another part of the county, and should no longer be able to enjoy their
hospitality. "I am sorry for it," said Griffith, heartily; and Mrs.
Gaunt echoed him out of politeness; but, when husband and wife came to
talk it over in private, she let out all of a sudden, and for the first
time, that the spiritual coldness of her governor had been a great
misfortune to her all these years. "His mind," said she, "is set on
earthly things. Instead of helping the angels to raise my thoughts to
heaven, and heavenly things, he drags me down to earth. Oh, that man's
soul was born without wings."

Griffith ventured to suggest that Francis was, nevertheless, an honest
man, and no mischief-maker.

Mrs. Gaunt soon disposed of this. "Oh, there are plenty of honest men
in the world," said she; "but in one's spiritual director, one needs
something more than that, and I have pined for it like a thirsty soul
in the desert all these years. Poor good man, I love him dearly; but,
thank heaven, he is going."

The next time Francis came, Mrs. Gaunt took an opportunity to inquire,
but in the most delicate way, who was to be his successor.

"Well," said he, "I fear you will have no one for the present: I mean
no one very fit to direct you in practical matters; but in all that
tends directly to the welfare of the soul you will have one young in
years but old in good works, and very much my superior in piety."

"I think you do yourself injustice, father," said Mrs. Gaunt, sweetly.
She was always polite; and, to be always polite, you must be sometimes
insincere.

"No, my daughter," said Father Francis, quietly, "thank God, I know
my own defects, and they teach me a little humility. I discharge my
religious duties punctually, and find them wholesome and composing; but
I lack that holy unction, that spiritual imagination, by which more
favoured Christians have fitted themselves to converse with angels. I
have too much body, I suppose, and too little soul. I own to you that I
cannot look, forward to the hour of death as a happy release from the
burden of the flesh. Life is pleasant to me; immortality tempts me not;
the pure in heart delight me; but in the sentimental part of religion I
feel myself dry and barren. I fear God, and desire to do His will; but
I cannot love Him as the saints have done; my spirit is too dull, too
gross. I have often been unable to keep pace with you in your pious and
lofty aspirations: and this softens my regret at quitting you; for you
will be in better hands, my daughter."

Mrs. Gaunt was touched by her old friend's humility, and gave him both
hands, with the tears in her eyes. But she said nothing; the subject
was delicate; and really she could not honestly contradict him.

A day or two afterwards he brought his successor to the house; a man so
remarkable that Mrs. Gaunt almost started at first sight of him. Born
of an Italian mother, his skin was dark, and his eyes coal black; yet
his ample but symmetrical forehead was singularly white and delicate.
Very tall and spare, and both face and figure were of that exalted kind
which make ordinary beauty seem dross. In short, he was one of those
ethereal priests the Roman Catholic Church produces every now and then
by way of incredible contrast to the thickset peasants in black that
form her staple. This Brother Leonard looked and moved like a being who
had come down from some higher sphere to pay the world a very little
visit, and be very kind and patient with it all the time.

He was presented to Mrs. Gaunt, and bowed calmly, coldly, and with
a certain mixture of humility and superiority, and gave her but one
tranquil glance, then turned his eyes inward as before.

Mrs. Gaunt, on the contrary, was almost fluttered at being presented
so suddenly to one who seemed to her Religion embodied. She blushed,
and looked timidly at him, and was anxious not to make an unfavourable
impression.

She found it, however, very difficult to make any impression at all.
Leonard had no small talk, and met her advances in that line with
courteous monosyllables; and when she, upon this, turned and chatted
with Father Francis, he did not wait for an opening to strike in, but
sought a shelter from her commonplaces in his own thoughts.

Then Mrs. Gaunt yielded to her genuine impulse, and began to talk about
the prospects of the Church, and what might be done to reconvert the
British Isles to the true faith. Her cheek flushed, and her eye shone
with the theme; and Francis smiled paternally: but the young priest
drew back; Mrs. Gaunt saw in a moment that he disapproved of a woman
meddling with so high a matter uninvited. If he had said so she had
spirit enough to have resisted; but the cold, lofty look of polite but
grave disapproval, dashed her courage and reduced her to silence.

She soon recovered so far as to be piqued. She gave her whole attention
to Francis, and, on parting with her guests, she curtsied coldly to
Leonard, and said to Francis, "Ah, my dear friend, I foresee I shall
miss you terribly."

I am afraid this pretty speech was intended as a side cut at Leonard.

But on the impassive ice the lightnings play.

Her new confessor retired, and left her with a sense of inferiority,
which would have been pleasing to her woman's nature, if Leonard
himself had appeared less conscious of it, and had shown ever so little
approval of herself; but, impressed upon her too sharply, it piqued and
mortified her.

However, like a gallant champion, she awaited another encounter. She so
rarely failed to please, she could not accept defeat.

Father Francis departed.

Mrs. Gaunt soon found that she really missed him. She had got into a
habit of running to her confessor twice a week, and to her director
nearly every day that he did not come of his own accord to her.

Her good sense showed her at once she must not take up Brother
Leonard's time in this way. She went a long while, for her, without
confession: at last she sent a line to Leonard asking him when it would
be convenient to him to confess her. Leonard wrote back to say that
he received penitents in the chapel for two hours after matins every
Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday.

This implied first come, first served; and was rather galling to Mrs.
Gaunt.

However, she rode one morning, with her groom behind her, and had
to wait until an old woman in a red cloak and black bonnet was
first disposed of. She confessed a heap. And presently the soft but
chill tones of Brother Leonard broke in with these freezing words:
"My daughter, excuse me; but confession is one thing, gossip about
ourselves is another."

This distinction was fine, but fatal. The next minute the fair penitent
was in her carriage, her eyes filled with tears of mortification.

"The man is a spiritual machine," said she; and her pride was mortified
to the core.

In these happy days she used to open her heart to her husband; and she
went so far as to say some bitter little feminine things of her new
confessor, before him.

He took no notice at first; but at last he said one day, "Well, I am of
your mind; he is very poor company compared with that jovial old blade,
Francis. But why so many words, Kate? You don't use to bite twice at a
cherry: if the milksop is not to your taste, give him the sack and be
hanged to him." And with this homely advice Squire Gaunt dismissed the
matter and went to the stable to give his mare a ball.

So you see Mrs. Gaunt was discontented with Francis for not being an
enthusiast, and nettled with Leonard for being one.

The very next Sunday morning she went and heard Leonard preach. His
first sermon was an era in her life. After twenty years of pulpit
prosers, there suddenly rose before her a sacred orator; an orator
born; blest with that divine and thrilling eloquence that no heart can
really resist. He prepared his great theme with art at first; but, once
warm, it carried him away and his hearers went with him like so many
straws on the flood. And in the exercise of this great gift the whole
man seemed transfigured; abroad, he was a languid, rather slouching
priest, who crept about, a picture of delicate humility, but with a
shade of meanness; for, religious prejudice apart, it is ignoble to
sweep the wall in passing as he did, and eye the ground; but, once in
the pulpit, his figure rose and swelled majestically, and seemed to fly
over them all like a guardian angel's; his sallow cheek burned, his
great Italian eye shot black lightning at the impenitent, and melted
ineffably when he soothed the sorrowful.

Observe that great, mean, brown bird in the Zoological Gardens, which
sits so tame on its perch, and droops and slouches like a drowsy duck.
That is the great and soaring eagle. Who would believe it, to look at
him? Yet all he wants is to be put in his right place instead of his
wrong. He is not himself in man's cages, belonging to God's sky. Even
so Leonard was abroad in the world, but at home in the pulpit: and so
he somewhat crept and slouched about the parish; but soared like an
eagle in his native air.

Mrs. Gaunt sat thrilled, enraptured, melted. She hung upon his words;
and, when they ceased, she still sat motionless, spell-bound; loath to
believe that accents so divine could really come to an end.

Even, whilst all the rest were dispersing, she sat quite still, and
closed her eyes. For her soul was too high-strung now to endure the
chit-chat she knew would attack her on the road home--chit-chat that
had been welcome enough, coming home from other preachers.

And by this means she came hot and undiluted to her husband; she laid
her white hand on his shoulder, and said, "Oh, Griffith, I have heard
the voice of God."

Griffith looked alarmed, and rather shocked than elated.

Mrs. Gaunt observed that, and tacked on, "Speaking by the lips of his
servant." But she fired again the next moment, and said, "The grave
hath given us back St. Paul in the Church's need; and I have heard him
this day."

"Good heavens! where?"

"At St. Mary's Chapel."

Then Griffith looked very incredulous. Then she gushed out with, "What,
because it is a small chapel, you think a great saint cannot be in it.
Why, our Saviour was born in a stable, if you go to that."

"Well, but my dear, consider," said Griffith; "who ever heard of
comparing a living man to St. Paul, for preaching? Why, he was an
apostle, for one thing; and there are no apostles nowadays. He made
Felix tremble on his throne, and almost persuaded Whatsename, another
heathen gentleman, to be a Christian."

"That is true," said the lady, thoughtfully; "but he sent one man that
_we_ know of to sleep. Catch Brother Leonard sending any man to sleep!
And then nobody will ever say of _him_ that he was long preaching."

"Why, I do say it," replied Griffith. "By the same token, I have been
waiting dinner for you this half-hour, along of his preaching."

"Ah, that's because you did not hear him," retorted Mrs. Gaunt: "if you
had, it would have seemed too short, and you would have forgotten all
about your dinner for once."

Griffith made no reply, He even looked vexed at her enthusiastic
admiration. She saw, and said no more. But after dinner she retired
to the grove, and thought of the sermon and the preacher: thought of
them all the more that she was discouraged from enlarging on them.
And it would have been kinder, and also wiser, of Griffith, if he had
encouraged her to let out her heart to him on this subject, although
it did not happen to interest him. A husband should not chill an
enthusiastic wife, and, above all, should never separate himself from
her favourite topic, when she loves him well enough to try and share it
with him.

Mrs. Gaunt, however, though her feelings were quick, was not cursed
with a sickly or irritable sensibility; nor, on the other hand, was
she one of those lovely little bores who cannot keep their tongues off
their favourite theme. She quietly let the subject drop for a whole
week; but the next Sunday morning she asked her husband if he would do
her a little favour.

"I'm more likely to say ay than nay," was the cheerful reply.

"It is just to go to chapel with me; and then you can judge for
yourself."

Griffith looked rather sheepish at this proposal; and said he could not
very well do that.

"Why not, dearest, just for once?"

"Well, you see, parties run so high in this parish; and everything one
does is noted. Why, if I was to go to chapel, they'd say directly,
'Look at Griffith Gaunt: he is so tied to his wife's apron he is going
to give up the faith of his ancestors.'"

"The faith of your ancestors! That is a good jest. The faith of your
grandfather at the outside: the faith of your ancestors was the faith
of mine and me."

"Well, don't let us differ about a word," said Griffith; "you know what
I mean. Did ever I ask you to go to church with me? and, if I were to
ask you, would you go?"

Mrs. Gaunt coloured; but would not give in. "That is not the same
thing," said she. "I do profess religion: you do not. You scarce think
of God on week days; and, indeed, never mention his name except in the
way of swearing; and on Sunday you go to church--for what? to doze
before dinner, you know you do. Come now, with you 'tis no question of
religion, but just of nap or no nap: for Brother Leonard won't let you
sleep, I warn you fairly."

Griffith shook his head. "You are too hard on me, wife. I know I am
not so good as you are, and never shall be; but that is not the fault
of the Protestant faith, which hath reared so many holy men: and some
of 'em our _ancestors_ burnt alive, and will burn in hell themselves
for the deed. But, look you, sweetheart, if I'm not a saint I'm a
gentleman, and, say I wear my faith loose, I won't drag it in the dirt
none the more for that. So you must excuse me."

Mrs. Gaunt was staggered; and, if Griffith had said no more, I think
she would have withdrawn her request, and so the matter ended. But
persons unversed in argument can seldom let well alone; and this simple
squire must needs go on to say, "Besides, Kate, it would come to the
parson's ears, and he is a friend of mine, you know. Why, I shall be
sure to meet him to-morrow."

"Ay," retorted the lady, "by the cover-side. Well, when you do, tell
him you refused your wife your company for fear of offending the
religious views of a fox-hunting parson."

"Nay, Kate," said Griffith, "this is not to ask thy man to go with
thee: 'tis to say go he must, willy nilly." With that he rose and rang
the bell. "Order the chariot," said he, "I am to go with our dame."

Mrs. Gaunt's face beamed with gratified pride and affection.

The chariot came round, and Griffith handed his dame in. He then gave
an involuntary sigh, and followed her with a hang-dog look.

She heard the sigh, and saw the look, and laid her hand quickly on his
shoulder, and said, gently but coldly, "Stay you at home, my dear. We
shall meet at dinner."

"As you will," said he, cheerfully: and they went their several ways.
He congratulated himself on her clemency, and his own escape. She went
along, sorrowful at having to drink so great a bliss alone; and thought
it unkind and stupid of Griffith not to yield with a good grace if he
could yield at all; and, indeed, women seem cleverer than men in this,
that, when they resign their wills, they do it graciously and not by
halves. Perhaps they are more accustomed to knock under; and you know
practice makes perfect.

But every smaller feeling was swept away by the preacher, and Mrs.
Gaunt came home full of pious and lofty thoughts.

She found her husband seated at the dinner-table, with one turnip
before him; and even that was not comestible; for it was his
grandfather's watch, with a face about the size of a new-born child's.
"Forty-five minutes past one, Kate," said he, ruefully.

"Well, why not bid them serve the dinner?" said she, with an air of
consummate indifference.

"What, dine alone o' Sunday? Why, you know I couldn't eat a morsel
without you, set opposite."

Mrs. Gaunt smiled affectionately. "Well, then, my dear, we had better
order dinner an hour later next Sunday."

"But that will upset the servants, and spoil their Sunday."

"And am I to be their slave?" said Mrs. Gaunt, getting a little warm.
"Dinner! dinner! What! shall I starve my soul, by hurrying away from
the oracles of God to a sirloin? Oh, these gross appetites! how they
deaden the immortal half, and wall out Heaven's music! For my part, I
wish there was no such thing as eating and drinking; 'tis like falling
from Heaven down into the mud, to come back from such divine discourse
and be greeted with 'dinner! dinner! dinner!'"

The next Sunday, after waiting half an hour for her, Griffith began,
his dinner without her.

And this time, on her arrival, instead of remonstrating with her,
he excused himself. "Nothing," said he, "upsets a man's temper like
waiting for his dinner."

"Well, but you have not waited."

"Yes, I did, a good half-hour. Till I could wait no longer."

"Well, dear, if I were you I would not have waited at all, or else
waited till your wife came home."

"Ah, dame, that is all very well for you to say. You could live on
hearing of sermons and smelling to rosebuds. You don't know what 'tis
to be a hungry man."

The next Sunday he sat sadly down, and finished his dinner without her.
And she came home and sat down to half-empty dishes; and ate much less
than she used when she had him to keep her company in it.

Griffith, looking on disconsolate, told her she was more like a bird
pecking, than a Christian eating of a Sunday.

"No matter, child," said she; "so long as my soul is filled with the
bread of Heaven."

Leonard's eloquence suffered no diminution, either in quantity or
quality, and, after a while, Gaunt gave up his rule of never dining
abroad on the Sunday. If his wife was not punctual, his stomach was:
and he had not the same temptation to dine at home he used to have.

And, indeed, by degrees, instead of quietly enjoying his wife's company
on that sweet day, he got to see less of her than on the week days.



CHAPTER II


Your mechanical preacher flings his words out happy-go-lucky; but the
pulpit orator, like every other orator, feels his people's pulse as he
speaks, and vibrates with them, and they with him.

So Leonard soon discovered he had a great listener in Mrs. Gaunt: she
was always there whenever he preached, and her rapt attention never
flagged. Her grey eyes never left his face, and, being up-turned, the
full orbs came out in all their grandeur, and seemed an angel's come
down from Heaven to hear him: for, indeed, to a very dark man, as
Leonard was, the gentle radiance of a true Saxon beauty seems always
more or less angelic.

By degrees this face became a help to the orator. In preaching he
looked sometimes to it for sympathy, and lo, it was sure to be melting
with sympathy. Was he led on to higher or deeper thoughts than most of
his congregation could understand, he looked to this face to understand
him; and lo, it had quite understood him, and was beaming with
intelligence.

From a help and an encouragement it became a comfort and a delight to
him.

On leaving the pulpit and cooling, he remembered its owner was no
angel, but a woman of the world, and had put to him frivolous questions.

The illusion, however, was so beautiful that Leonard, being an
imaginative man, was unwilling to dispel it by coming into familiar
contact with Mrs. Gaunt. So he used to make his assistant visit her,
and receive her when she came to confess, which was very rarely; for
she was discouraged by her first reception.

Brother Leonard lived in a sort of dwarf monastery, consisting of two
cottages, an oratory, and a sepulchre. The two latter were old, but the
cottages had been built expressly for him and another seminary priest
who had been invited from France. Inside, these cottages were little
more than cells; only the bigger had a kitchen, which was a glorious
place compared with the parlour: for it was illuminated with bright
pewter plates, copper vessels, brass candlesticks, and a nice clean
woman, with a plain gown kilted over a quilted silk petticoat; Betty
Scarf, an old servant of Mrs. Gaunt's, who had married, and was now the
widow Gough.

She stood at the gate one day as Mrs. Gaunt drove by; and curtsied, all
beaming.

Mrs. Gaunt stopped the carriage, and made some kind and patronizing
inquires about her: and it ended in Betty asking her to come in and see
her place. Mrs. Gaunt looked a little shy at that, and did not move.
"Nay, they are both abroad till supper time," said Betty, reading her
in a moment by the light of sex. Then Mrs. Gaunt smiled, and got out
of her carriage. Betty took her in and showed her everything in doors
and out. Mrs. Gaunt looked mighty demure and dignified, but scanned
everything closely, only without seeming too curious.

The cold gloom of the parlour struck her. She shuddered, and said,
"This would give me the vapours. But, doubtless, angels come and
brighten it for _him._"

"Not always," said Betty. "I do see him with his head in his hand by
the hour, and hear him sigh ever so loud as I pass the door. Why, one
day he was fain to have me and my spinning wheel aside him. Says he,
'Let me hear thy busy wheel, and see thee ply it.' 'And welcome,' says
I. So I sat in his room, and span, and he sat a gloating of me as if he
had never seen a woman spin hemp afore (he is a very simple man): and
presently says he--but what signifies what he said?"

"Nay, Betty; if you please. I am much interested in him. He preaches so
divinely."

"Ay," said Betty, "that's his gift. But a poor trencher-man; and I
declare I'm ashamed to eat all the vittels that are eaten here, and me
but a woman."

"But what did he say to you that time?" asked Mrs. Gaunt, a little
impatiently.

Betty cudgelled her memory. "Well says he, 'My daughter,' (the poor
soul always calls me his daughter, and me old enough to be his mother
mostly;) says he, 'how comes it that you are never wearied, nor cast
down, and yet you but serve a sinner like yourself; but I do often
droop in my Master's service, and he is the lord of Heaven and Earth?'
Says I, 'I'll tell ye, sir: because ye don't eat enough o' vittels.'"

"What an answer!"

"Why 'tis the truth, dame. And says I, 'If I was to be always fasting,
like as you be, d'ye think I should have the heart to work from morn
till night?' Now, wasn't I right?"

"I don't know till I hear what answer he made," said Mrs. Gaunt, with
mean caution.

"Oh, he shook his head, and said he ate mortal food enow (poor simple
body!), but drank too little of grace divine. That was his word."

Mrs. Gaunt was a good deal struck and affected by this revelation,
and astonished at the slighting tone Betty took in speaking of so
remarkable a man. The saying that "No man is a hero to his valet" was
not yet current, or perhaps she would have been less surprised at that.

"Alas! poor man," said she, "and is it so? To hear him, I thought his
soul was borne up night and day by angels' pinions--"

The widow interrupted her. "Ay, you hear him preach, and it is like
God's trumpet mostly, and so much I say for him in all companies. But
I see him directly after; he totters into this very room, and sits him
down pale and panting, and one time like to swoon, and another all for
crying, and then he is ever so dull and sad for the whole afternoon."

"And nobody knows this but you? You have got my old petticoat still, I
see. I must look you up another."

"You are very good, dame, I am sure. 'Twill not come amiss; I've only
this for Sundays and all. No, my lady, not a soul but me and you; I'm
not one as tells tales out of doors: but I don't mind you, dame; you
are my old mistress, and a discreet woman. 'Twill go no further than
your ear."

Mrs. Gaunt told her she might rely on that. The widow then inquired
after Mrs. Gaunt's little girl, and admired her dress, and described
her own ailments, and poured out a continuous stream of topics bearing
no affinity to each other except that they were all of them not worth
mentioning. And all the while she thus discoursed, Mrs. Gaunt's
thoughtful eyes looked straight over the chatterbox's white cap, and
explored vacancy: and by-and-by she broke the current of twaddle with
the air of a camelopard marching across a running gutter.

"Betsy Gough," said she, "I am thinking."

Mrs. Gough was struck dumb by an announcement so singular.

"I have heard, and I have read, that great and pious and learned men
are often to seek in little simple things, such as plain bodies have
at their fingers' ends. So now, if you and I could only teach him
something for all he has taught us. And, to be sure, we ought to be
kind to him if we can; for oh, Betty, my woman, 'tis a poor vanity to
go and despise the great, and the learned, and the sainted, because
forsooth we find them out in some one little weakness, we that are all
made up of weaknesses and defects. So, now, I sit me down in this very
chair: so. And sit you there. Now let us, you and me, look at his room
quietly, all over, and see what is wanting."

"First and foremost methinks this window should be filled with
geraniums; and jessamine; and so forth. With all his learning perhaps
he has to be taught, the colour of flowers and golden green leaves,
with the sun shining through, how it soothes the eye and relieves the
spirits; yet every woman born knows that. Then do but see this bare
table! a purple cloth on that, I say."

"Which he will fling it out of the window, I say."

"Nay: for I'll embroider a cross in the middle with gold braid. Then a
rose-coloured blind would not be amiss; and there must be a good mirror
facing the window; but indeed, if I had my way, I'd paint these horrid
walls the first thing."

"How you run on, dame! Bless your heart, you'd turn his den into a
palace: he won't suffer that; he is all for self-mortification, poor
simple soul."

"Oh, not all at once, I did not mean," said Mrs. Gaunt; "but by little
and little, you know. We must begin with the flowers: God made them;
and so to be sure he will not spurn _them._"

Betty began to enter into the plot. "Ay, ay," said she: "the flowers
first; and so creep on. But nought will avail to make a man of him so
long as he eats but of eggs and garden-stuff, like the beasts of the
field, 'that to-day are, and to-morrow are cast into the oven.'"

Mrs. Gaunt smiled at this ambitious attempt of the widow to apply
Scripture. Then she said, rather timidly, "Could you make his eggs into
omelets? and so pound in a little meat with your small herbs; I dare
say he would be none the wiser, and he so bent on high and heavenly
things."

"You may take your oath of that."

"Well, then. And I shall send you some stock from the castle, and you
can cook his vegetables in good strong gravy, unbeknown."

The widow Gough chuckled aloud.

"But stay," said Mrs. Gaunt; "for us to play the woman so, and delude a
saint for his mere bodily weal--will it not be a sin, and a sacrilege
to boot?"

"Let that flea stick in the wall," said Betty, contemptuously. "Find
you the meat, and I'll find the deceit: for he is as poor as a rat into
the bargain. Nay, nay, God Almighty will never have the heart to burn
us two for such a trifle. Why, 'tis no more than cheating a froward
child taking's physic."

Mrs. Gaunt got into her carriage and went home, thinking all the way.
What she had heard filled her with feelings strangely but sweetly
composed of veneration and pity. In that Leonard was a great orator and
a high-minded priest, she revered him; in that he was solitary and sad,
she pitied him; in that he wanted common sense, she felt like a mother,
and must take him under her wing. All true women love to protect;
perhaps it is a part of the great maternal element; but to protect a
man, and yet look up to him, this is delicious.

Leonard, in truth, was one of those high-strung men who pay for their
periods of religious rapture by hours of melancholy. This oscillation
of the spirits in extraordinary men appears to be more or less a law of
nature; and this the widow Gough was not aware of.

The very next Sunday, while he was preaching, she and Mrs. Gaunt's
gardener were filling his bow window with flowerpots, the flowers in
full bloom and leaf. The said window was large, and had a broad sill
outside, and, inside, one of the old fashioned high window-seats that
follow the shape of the window. Mrs. Gaunt, who did nothing by halves,
sent up a cartload of flowerpots, and Betty and the gardener arranged
at least eighty of them, small and great, inside and outside the window.

When Leonard returned from preaching, Betty was at the door to watch.
He came past the window with his hands on his breast, and his eyes on
the ground, and never saw the flowers in his own window. Betty was
disgusted. However, she followed him stealthily as he went to his room,
and she heard a profound "Ah!" burst from him.

She bustled in and found him standing in a rapture, with the blood
mantling in his pale cheeks, and his dark eyes glowing.

"Now blessed be the heart that hath conceived this thing, and the hand
that hath done it," said he. "My poor room it is a bower of roses,
all beauty and fragrance." And he sat down inhaling them, and looking
at them; and a dreamy, tender complacency crept over his heart, and
softened his noble features exquisitely.

Widow Gough, red with gratified pride, stood watching him, and admiring
him; but, indeed, she often admired him, though she had got into a way
of decrying him.

But at last she lost patience at his want of curiosity; that being a
defect she was free from herself. "Ye don't ask me who sent them," said
she, reproachfully.

"Nay, nay," said he; "prithee do not tell me: let me divine."

"Divine then," said Betty, roughly. "Which I suppose you means 'guess.'"

"Nay, but let me be quiet awhile," said he, imploringly; "let me sit
down and fancy that I am a holy man, and some angel hath turned my cave
into a Paradise."

"No more an angel than I am," said the practical widow. "But, now I
think on't, y'are not to know who 'twas. Them as sent them they bade me
hold my tongue."

This was not true; but Betty, being herself given to unwise revelations
and superfluous secresy, chose suddenly to assume that this business
was to be clandestine.

The priest turned his eye inwards and meditated. "I see who it is,"
said he, with an air of absolute conviction. "It must be the lady who
comes always when I preach, and her face like none other; it beams with
divine intelligence. I will make her all the return we poor priests
can make to our benefactors. I will pray for her soul here among the
flowers God has made, and she has given his servant to glorify his
dwelling. My daughter, you may retire."

This last with surprising, gentle dignity: so Betty went off
rather abashed, and avenged herself by adulterating the holy man's
innutritions food with Mrs. Gaunt's good gravy; while he prayed
fervently for her eternal weal among the flowers she had given him.

Now Mrs. Gaunt, after eight years of married life, was too sensible
and dignified a woman to make a romantic mystery out of nothing. She
concealed the gravy, because there secresy was necessary; but she never
dreamed of hiding that she had sent her spiritual adviser a load of
flowers. She did not tell her neighbors, for she was not ostentatious;
but she told her husband; who grunted, but did not object.

But Betty's nonsense lent an air of romance and mystery that was well
adapted to captivate the imagination of a young, ardent, and solitary
spirit like Leonard.

He would have called on the lady he suspected, and thanked her for her
kindness. But this he feared would be unwelcome, since she chose to be
his unknown benefactress. It would be ill taste in him to tell her he
had found her out: it might offend her sensibility, and then she would
draw in.

He kept his gratitude therefore to himself, and did not cool it by
utterance. He often sat among the flowers, in a sweet reverie, enjoying
their color and fragrance: and sometimes he would shut his eyes, and
call up the angelical face with great celestial up-turned orbs, and
fancy it among her own flowers, and the queen of them all.

These day-dreams did not at that time interfere with his religious
duties. They only took the place of those occasional hours, when,
partly by the reaction consequent on great religious fervour, partly
through exhaustion of the body weakened by fasts, partly by the natural
delicacy of his fibre, and the tenderness of his disposition, his soul
used to be sad.

By-and-by these languid hours, sad no longer, became sweet and dear to
him. He had something so interesting to think of, to dream about. He
had a Madonna that cared for him in secret.

She was human; but good, beautiful, and wise. She came to his sermons,
and understood every word.

"And she knows me better than I know myself," said he: "since I had
these flowers from her hand, I am another man."

One day he came into his room and found two watering pots there. One
was large and had a rose to it, the other small and with a plain spout.

"Ah!" said he; and colored with delight. He called Betty, and asked her
who had brought them.

"How should I know?" said she, roughly. "I dare say they dropped from
Heaven. See, there is a cross painted on 'em in gold letters."

"And so there is!" said Leonard, and crossed himself.

"That means nobody is to use them but you, I trow," said Betty, rather
crossly.

The priest's cheek coloured high. "I will use them this instant," said
he. "I will revive my drooping children, as they have revived me." And
he caught up a watering pot with ardour.

"What, with the sun hot upon 'em?" screamed Betty. "Well, saving your
presence, you are a simple man."

"Why, good Betty, 'tis the sun that makes them faint," objected the
priest, timidly, and with the utmost humility of manner, though Betty's
tone would have irritated a smaller mind.

"Well, well," said she, softening; "but ye see it never rains with a
hot sun, and the flowers they know that, and look to be watered after
Nature, or else they take it amiss. You, and all your sort, sir, you
think to be stronger than nature; you do fast and pray all day, and
won't look a woman in the face like other men; and now you wants to
water the very flowers at noon."

"Betty," said Leonard, smiling, "I yield to thy superior wisdom, and I
will water them at morn and eve. In truth we have all much to learn:
let us try and teach one another as kindly as we can."

"I wish you'd teach me to be as humble as you be," blurted out Betty,
with something very like a sob: "and more respectful to my betters,"
added she, angrily.

Watering the flowers she had given him became a solace and a delight to
the solitary priest: he always watered them with his own hands and felt
quite paternal over them.

One evening Mrs. Gaunt rode by with Griffith and saw him watering
them. His tall figure, graceful, though inclined to stoop, bent over
them with feminine delicacy, and the simple act, which would have been
nothing in vulgar hands, seemed to Mrs. Gaunt so earnest, tender, and
delicate in him, that her eyes filled, and she murmured, "Poor Brother
Leonard."

"Why, what's wrong with him now?" asked Griffith, a little peevishly.

"That was him watering his flowers."

"Oh, is that all?" said Griffith, carelessly.


Leonard said to himself, "I go too little abroad among my people." He
made a little round, and it ended in Hernshaw Castle.

Mrs. Gaunt was out.

He looked disappointed; so the servant suggested that perhaps she was
in the Dame's Haunt: he pointed to the grove.

Leonard followed his direction, and soon found himself, for the first
time, in that sombre, solemn retreat.

It was a hot summer day, and the grove was delicious. It was also a
place well suited to the imaginative and religious mind of the Italian.

He walked slowly to and fro, in religious meditation. Indeed he had
nearly thought out his next sermon, when his meditative eye happened to
fall on a terrestrial object that startled and thrilled him. Yet it was
only a lady's glove. It lay at the foot of a rude wooden seat beneath a
gigantic pine.

He stooped and picked it up. He opened the little fingers, and called
up in fancy the white and tapering hand that glove could lit. He laid
the glove softly on his own palm, and eyed it with dreamy tenderness.
"So this is the hand that hath solaced my loneliness," said he: "a hand
fair as that angelical face, and sweet as the kind heart that doeth
good by stealth."

Then, forgetting for a moment, as lofty spirits will, the difference
between meum and tuum, he put the little glove in his bosom, and paced
thoughtfully home through the woods, that were separated from the grove
only by one meadow: and so he missed the owner of the glove; for she
had returned home while he was meditating in her favourite haunt.


Leonard, amongst his other accomplishments, could draw and paint with
no mean skill. In one of those hours that used to be of melancholy,
but now were hours of dreamy complacency, he took out his pencils and
endeavoured to sketch the inspired face that he had learned to preach
to, and now to dwell on with gratitude.

Clearly as he saw it before him, he could not reproduce it to his own
satisfaction.

After many failures he got very near the mark: yet still something was
wanting.

Then, as a last resource, he actually took his sketch to church with
him, and in preaching made certain pauses, and, with a very few
touches, perfected the likeness; then, on his return home, threw
himself on his knees and prayed forgiveness of God with many sighs and
tears, and hid the sacrilegious drawing out of his own sight.

Two days after, he was at work colouring it; and the hours flew by like
minutes, as he laid the mellow, melting tints on with infinite care and
delicacy. Labor ipse voluptas.


Mrs. Gaunt heard Leonard had called on her in person. She was pleased
at that, and it encouraged her to carry out her whole design.

Accordingly, one afternoon when she knew Leonard would be at vespers,
she sent on a loaded pony-cart, and followed it on horseback.

Then it was all hurry scurry with Betty and her, to get their dark
deeds done before their victim's return.

These good creatures set the mirror opposite the flowery window, and so
made the room a very bower. They fixed a magnificent crucifix of ivory
and gold over the mantelpiece, and they took away his hassock of rashes
and substituted a prie-dieu of rich crimson velvet. All that remained
was to put their blue cover, with its golden cross, on the table. To do
this, however, they had to remove the priest's papers and things: they
were covered with a baize cloth. Mrs. Gaunt felt them under it.

"But perhaps he will be angry if we move his papers," said she.

"Not he," said Betty. "He has no secrets from God or man."

"Well, _I_ won't take it on me," said Mrs. Gaunt, merrily. "I leave
that to you." And she turned her back and settled the mirror,
officiously, leaving all the other responsibilities to Betty.

The sturdy widow laughed at her scruples, and whipped off the clot
without ceremony. But soon her laugh stopped mighty short, and she
uttered an exclamation.

"What is the matter?" said Mrs. Gaunt, turning her head sharply round.

"A wench's glove, as I'm a living sinner," groaned Betty.

A poor little glove lay on the table; and both women eyed it like
basilisks a moment. Then Betty pounced on it and examined it with the
fierce keenness of her sex in such conjunctures, searching for a name
or a clue.

Owing to this rapidity, Mrs. Gaunt, who stood at some distance, had not
time to observe the button on the glove, or she would have recognized
her own property.

"He have had a hussy with him unbeknown," said Betty, "and she have
left her glove. 'Tis easy to get in by the window and out again. Only
let me catch her. I'll tear her eyes out, and give him my mind. I'll
have no young hussies creeping in an' out where I be."

Thus spoke the simple woman, venting her coarse domestic jealousy.

The gentlewoman said nothing, but a strange feeling traversed her heart
for the first time in her life.

It was a little chill, it was a little ache, it was a little sense of
sickness; none of these violent, yet all distinct. And all about what?
After this curious, novel spasm at the heart, she began to be ashamed
of herself for having had such a feeling.

Betty held her out the glove: and then she recognized it, and turned as
red as fire.

"You know whose 'tis?" said Betty, keenly.

Mrs. Gaunt was on her guard in a moment. "Why, Betty," said she, "for
shame! 'tis some penitent hath left her glove after confession. Would
you belie a good man for that? Oh, lie!"

"Humph!" said Betty, doubtfully. "Then why keep it under cover? Now you
can read, dame; let us see if there isn't a letter or so writ by the
hand as owns this very glove."

Mrs. Gaunt declined, with cold dignity, to pry into Brother Leonard's
manuscripts.

Her eye, however, darted sidelong at them, and told another tale; and,
if she had been there alone, perhaps the daughter of Eve would have
predominated.

Betty, inflamed by the glove, rummaged the papers in search of female
handwriting. She could tell that from a man's, though she could not
read either.

But there is a handwriting that the most ignorant can read at sight;
and so Betty's researches were not in vain: hidden under several
sheets of paper, she found a picture. She gave but one glance at it,
and screamed out--"There, didn't I tell you? Here she is! the brazen,
red-haired--Lawk a daisy! why, 'tis yourself."



CHAPTER III


"Me!" cried Mrs. Gaunt, in amazement: then she ran to the picture, and
at sight of it every other sentiment gave way for a moment to gratified
vanity. "Nay," said she, beaming and blushing, "I was never half so
beautiful. What heavenly eyes!"

"The fellows to 'em be in your own head, dame, this moment."

"Seeing is believing," said Mrs. Gaunt, gaily, and in a moment she was
at the priest's mirror, and inspected her eyes minutely, cocking her
head this way and that. She ended by shaking it, and saying, "Nay. He
has flattered them prodigiously."

"Not a jot," said Betty. "If you could see yourself in chapel, you do
turn 'em up just so, and the white shows all round." Then she tapped
the picture with her finger: "Oh them eyes! they were never made for
the good of his soul; poor simple man."

Betty said this with sudden gravity: and now Mrs. Gaunt began to feel
very awkward. "Mr. Gaunt would give fifty pounds for this," said she,
to gain time: and, while she uttered that sentence, she whipped on her
armour.

"I'll tell you what I think," said she, calmly: "he wished to paint
a Madonna; and he must take some woman's face to aid his fancy. All
the painters are driven to that. So he just took the best that came
to hand, and that is not saying much, for this is a rare ill-favoured
parish: and he has made an angel of her, a very angel. There, hide Me
away again, or I shall long for Me--to show to my husband. I must be
going; I wouldn't be caught here now for a pension."

"Well, if ye must," said Betty; "but when will ye come again?" (She
hadn't got the petticoat yet.)

"Humph!" said Mrs. Gaunt, "I have done all I can for him; and perhaps
more than I ought. But there's nothing to hinder you from coming to me.
I'll be as good as my word; and I have an old Paduasoy, besides; you
can do something with it perhaps."

"You are very good, dame," said Betty, curtsying.

Mrs. Gaunt then hurried away, and Betty looked after her very
expressively, and shook her head. She had a female instinct that
mischief was brewing.

Mrs. Gaunt went home in a reverie.

At the gate she found her husband, and asked him to take a turn in the
garden with her.

He complied; and she intended to tell him a portion, at least, of
what had occurred. She began timidly, after this fashion----"My dear,
Brother Leonard is so grateful for your flowers," and then hesitated.

"I'm sure he is very welcome," said Griffith. "Why doesn't he sup with
us and be sociable, as Father Francis used? Invite him; let him know he
will be welcome."

Sirs. Gaunt blushed; and objected, "He never calls on us."

"Well, well, every man to his taste," said Griffith, indifferently, and
proceeded to talk to her about his farm, and a sorrel mare with a white
mane and tail, that he had seen, and thought it would suit her.

She humoured him, and affected a great interest in all this, and had
not the courage to force the other topic on.

Next Sunday morning, after a very silent breakfast, she burst out,
almost violently, "Griffith, I shall go to the parish church with you,
and then we will dine together afterwards."

"You don't mean it, Kate?" said he, delighted. "Ay, but I do. Although
you refused to go to chapel with me."

They went to church together, and Mrs. Gaunt's appearance there
created no small sensation. She was conscious of that, but hid it, and
conducted herself admirably. Her mind seemed entirely given to the
service, and to a dull sermon that followed.

But at dinner she broke out, "Well, give me your church for a sleeping
draught. You all slumbered, more or less: those that survived the
drowsy, droning prayers, sank under the dry, dull dreary discourse. You
snored, for one."

"Nay, I hope not, my dear."

"You did, then, as loud as your bass fiddle."

"And you sat there and let me!" said Griffith, reproachfully.

"To be sure I did. I was too good a wife, and too good a Christian, to
wake you. Sleep is good for the body, and twaddle is not good for the
soul. I'd have slept too, if I could; but, with me going to chapel, I'm
not used to sleep at that time o' day. You can't sleep, and Brother
Leonard speaking."

In the afternoon came Mrs. Gough, all in her best. Mrs. Gaunt had her
into her bedroom, and gave her the promised petticoat, and the old
Peau de soie gown; and then, as ladies will, when their hand is once
in, added first one thing, then another, till there was quite a large
bundle.

"But how is it you are here so soon?" asked Mrs. Gaunt.

"Oh, we had next to no sermon to-day. He couldn't make no hand of it:
dawdled on a bit; then gave us his blessing, and bundled us out."

"Then I've lost nothing," said Mrs. Gaunt.

"Not you. Well, I don't know. Mayhap if you had been there he'd have
preached his best. But la, we weren't worth it."

At this conjecture Mrs. Gaunt's face burned; but she said nothing: only
she cut the interview short, and dismissed Betty with her bundle.

As Betty crossed the landing, Mrs. Gaunt's new lady's-maid, Caroline
Ryder, stepped accidentally, on purpose, out of an adjoining room, in
which she had been lurking, and lifted her black brows in affected
surprise. "What, are you going to strip the house, my woman?" said she,
quietly.

Betty put down the bundle, and set her arms akimbo. "There is none on't
stolen, any way," said she.

Caroline's black eyes flashed fire at this, and her cheek lost colour;
but she parried the innuendo skilfully.

"Taking my perquisites on the sly, that is not so very far from
stealing."

"Oh, there's plenty left for you, my fine lady. Besides, you don't want
her; you can set your cap at the master, they say. I'm too old for
that, and too honest into the bargain."

"Too ill-favoured, you mean, ye old harridan," said Ryder,
contemptuously.

But, for reasons hereafter to be dealt with. Betty's thrust went home:
and the pair were mortal enemies from that hour.

Mrs. Gaunt came down from her room discomposed: from that she became
restless and irritable; so much so, indeed, that, at last, Sir. Gaunt
told her, good-humouredly enough, if going to church made her ill
(meaning peevish), she had better go to chapel. "You are right," said
she, "and so I will."

The next Sunday she was at her post in good time.

The preacher cast an anxious glance around to see if she was there.
Her quick eye saw that glance, and it gave her a demure pleasure.

This day he was more eloquent than ever: and he delivered a beautiful
passage concerning those who do good in secret. In uttering these
eloquent sentences, his cheek glowed, and he could not deny himself the
pleasure of looking down at the lovely face that was turned up to him.
Probably his look was more expressive than he intended: the celestial
eyes sank under it, and were abashed, and the fair cheek burned: and
then so did Leonard's at that.

Thus, subtly yet effectually, did these two minds communicate in a
crowd, that never noticed nor suspected the delicate interchange of
sentiment that was going on under their very eyes.

In a general way compliments did not seduce Mrs. Gaunt: she was well
used to them, for one thing. Put to be praised in that sacred edifice,
'and from the pulpit, and by such an orator as Leonard, and to be
praised in words so sacred and beautiful, that the ears around her
drank them with delight, all this made her heart beat, and filled her
with soft and sweet complacency.

And then to be thanked in public, yet, as it were, clandestinely, this
gratified the furtive tendency of women.

There was no irritability this afternoon; but a gentle radiance that
diffused itself on all around, and made the whole household happy;
especially Griffith, whose pipe she filled, for once, with her own
white hand, and talked dogs, horses, calves, hinds, cows, politics,
markets, hay, to please him: and seemed interested in them all.

But the next day she changed: ill at ease, and out of spirits, and
could settle to nothing.

It was very hot for one thing: and, altogether, a sort of lassitude
and distaste for everything overpowered her, and she retired into the
grove, and sat languidly on a seat with half-closed eyes.

But her meditations were no longer so calm and speculative as
heretofore. She found her mind constantly recurring to one person,
and, above all, to the discovery she had made of her portrait in his
possession. She had turned it off to Betty Gough; but here, in her calm
solitude and umbrageous twilight, her mind crept out of its cave, like
wild and timid things at dusk, and whispered to her heart that Leonard
perhaps admired her more than was safe or prudent.

Then this alarmed her, yet caused her a secret complacency: and that,
her furtive satisfaction, alarmed her still more.

Now, while she sat thus absorbed, she heard a gentle footstep coming
near. She looked up, and there was Leonard close to her; standing
meekly with his arms crossed upon his bosom.

His being there so pat upon her thoughts, scared her out of her
habitual self-command. She started up, with a faint cry, and stood
panting, as if about to fly, with, her beautiful eyes turned large
upon him.

He put forth a deprecating hand, and soothed her. "Forgive me, madam,"
said he; "I have unawares intruded on your privacy; I will retire."

"Nay," said she, falteringly, "you are welcome. But no one comes here;
so I was startled;" then, recovering herself, "excuse my ill-manners.
'Tis so strange you should come to me here, of all places."

"Nay, my daughter," said the priest, "not so very strange:
contemplative minds love such places. Calling one day to see you, I
found this sweet and solemn grove; the like I never saw in England: and
to-day I returned in hopes to profit by it. Do but look around at these
tall columns; how calm, how reverend! 'Tis God's own temple not built
with hands."

"Indeed it is," said Mrs. Gaunt, earnestly. Then, like a woman as she
was, "So you came to see my trees, not me."

Leonard blushed. "I did not design to return without paying my respects
to her who owns this temple, and is worthy of it; nay, I beg you not to
think me ungrateful."

His humility, and gentle but earnest voice, made Mrs. Gaunt ashamed of
her petulance. She smiled sweetly, and looked pleased. However, ere
long, she attacked him again. "Father Francis used to visit us often,"
said she. "He made friends with my husband, too. And I never lacked an
adviser while he was here."

Leonard looked so confused at this second reproach that Mrs. Gaunt
regretted having uttered it. Then he said humbly that Francis was a
secular priest, whereas he was convent-bred. He added, that by his
years and experience Francis was better fitted to advise persons of her
age and sex, in matters secular, than he was. He concluded timidly that
he was ready, nevertheless, to try and advise her; but could not, in
such matters, assume the authority that belongs to age and knowledge
of the world.

"Nay, nay," said she, earnestly, "guide and direct my soul, and I am
content."

He said, yes! that was his duty and his right.

Then, after a certain hesitation, which at once let her know what was
coming, he began to thank her, with infinite grace and sweetness, for
her kindness to him.

She looked him full in the face, and said she was not aware of any
kindness she had shown him worth speaking of.

"That but shows," said he, "how natural it is to you to do acts of
goodness. My poor room is a very bower now, and I am happy in it. I
used to feel very sad there at times; but your hand has cured me."

Mrs. Gaunt coloured beautifully. "You make me ashamed," said she.
"Things are come to a pass indeed if a lady may not send a few flowers
and things to her spiritual father without being--thanked for it. And,
oh, sir, what are earthly flowers compared with those blossoms of the
soul you have shed so liberally over us? Our immortal parts were all
asleep when you came here, and wakened them by the fire of your words.
Eloquence! 'twas a thing I had read of, but never heard, nor thought to
hear. Methought the orators and poets of the Church were all in their
graves this thousand years, and she must go all the way to heaven, that
would hear the soul's true music. But I know better now."

Leonard coloured high with pleasure. "Such praise from you is too
sweet," he muttered. "I must not court it. The heart is full of
vanity." And he deprecated further eulogy, by a movement of the hand
extremely refined and, in fact, rather feminine.

Deferring to his wish, Mrs. Gaunt glided to other matters, and was
naturally led to speak of the prospects of their Church, and the
possibility of reconverting these islands. This had been the dream of
her young heart; but marriage and maternity, and the universal coldness
with which the subject had been received, had chilled her so, that of
late years she had almost ceased to speak of it. Even Leonard, on a
former occasion, had listened coldly to her; but now his heart was open
to her. He was, in fact, quite as enthusiastic on this point as ever
she had been; and then he had digested his aspirations into clearer
forms. Not only had he resolved that Great Britain must be reconverted,
but had planned the way to do it. His cheek glowed, his eyes gleamed,
and he poured out his hopes and his plans before her with an eloquence
that few mortals could have resisted.

As for this, his hearer, she was quite carried away by it. She joined
herself to his plans on the spot; she begged, with tears in her eyes,
to be permitted to support him in this great cause. She devoted to it
her substance, her influence, and every gift that God had given her:
the hours passed like minutes in this high converse; and, when the
tinkling of the little bell at a distance summoned him to vespers, he
left her with a gentle regret he scarcely tried to conceal, and she
went slowly in like one in a dream, and the world seemed dead to her
for ever.

Nevertheless, when Mrs. Ryder, combing out her long hair, gave one
inadvertent tug, the fair enthusiast came back to earth, and asked her,
rather sharply, who her head was running on.

Ryder, a very handsome young woman, with fine black eyes, made no
reply, but only drew her breath audibly hard.

I do not very much wonder at that, nor at my having to answer that
question for Mrs. Ryder. For her head was at that moment running, like
any other woman's, on the man she was in love with.

And the man she was in love with was the husband of the lady, whose
hair she was combing, and who put her that curious question--plump.



CHAPTER IV.


This Caroline Ryder was a character almost impossible to present so as
to enable the reader to recognize her should she cross his path: so
great was the contradiction between what she was, and what she seemed;
and so perfect was the imitation.

She looked a respectable young spinster, with a grace of manner beyond
her station, and a decency and propriety of demeanour that inspired
respect.

She was a married woman, separated from her husband by mutual consent:
and she had had many lovers, each of whom she had loved ardently--for
a little while. She was a woman that brought to bear upon foolish,
culpable, loves, a mental power that would have adorned the wool-sack.

The moment prudence or waning inclination made it advisable to break
with the reigning favourite, she set to work to cool him down by
deliberate coldness, sullenness, insolence; and generally succeeded.
But, if he was incurable, she never hesitated as to her course;
she smiled again on him and looked out for another place: being an
invaluable servant, she got one directly; and was off to fresh pastures.

A female rake; but with the air of a very prude.

Still the decency and propriety of her demeanour were not all
hypocrisy, but half hypocrisy, and half inborn and instinctive good
taste and good sense.

As dangerous a creature to herself and others as ever tied on a bonnet.

On her arrival at Hernshaw Castle she cast her eyes round to see what
there was to fall in love with; and observed the gamekeeper, Tom
Leicester. She gave him a smile or two that won his heart; but there
she stopped: for soon the ruddy cheek, brown eyes, manly proportions,
and square shoulders of her master attracted this connoisseur in
masculine beauty. And then his manner was so genial and hearty, with a
smile for everybody. Mrs. Ryder eyed him demurely day by day, and often
opened a window slily to watch him unseen.

From that she got to throwing herself in his way: and this with such
art that he never discovered it, though he fell in with her about the
house six times as often as he met his wife or any other inmate.

She had already studied his character, and, whether she arranged
to meet him full, or to cross him, it was always with a curtsy and
a sunshiny smile; he smiled on her in his turn, and felt a certain
pleasure at sight of her: for he loved to see people bright and
cheerful about him.

Then she did, of her own accord, what no other master on earth would
have persuaded her to do: looked over his linen; sewed on buttons
for him; and sometimes the artful jade deliberately cut a button off
a clean shirt, and then came to him and sewed it on during wear. This
brought about a contact none knew better than she how to manage to a
man's undoing. The eyelashes lowered over her work, deprecating, yet
inviting,--the twenty stitches, when six would have done,--the one coy
glance at leaving. All this soft witchcraft beset Griffith Gaunt, and
told on him; but not as yet in the way his inamorata intended. "Kate,"
said he one day, "that girl of yours is worth her weight in gold."

"Indeed!" said 'Mrs. Gaunt, frigidly; "I have not discovered it."

When Caroline found that her master was single-hearted, and loved his
wife too well to look elsewhere, instead of hating him, she began to
love him more seriously, and to hate his wife, that haughty beauty who
took such a husband as a matter of course, and held him tight without
troubling her head.

It was a coarse age, and in that very county more than one wife had
suffered jealous agony from her own domestic. But here the parts were
inverted: the lady was at her ease; the servant paid a bitter penalty
for her folly. She was now passionately in love, and had to do menial
offices for her rival every hour of the day: she must sit with Mrs.
Gaunt, and make her dresses, and consult with her how to set off her
hateful beauty to the best advantage. She had to dress her, and look
daggers at her satin skin and royal neck, and to sit behind her an hour
at a time combing and brushing her long golden hair.

How she longed to tear a handful of it out, and then run away! Instead
of that, her happy rival expected her to be as tender and coaxing with
it as Madame de Maintenon was with the Queen's of France.

Ryder called it "yellow stuff" down in the kitchen; that was one
comfort: but a feeble one; the sun came in at the lady's window, and
Ryder's shapely hand was overflowed, and her eyes offended, by waves of
burnished gold: and one day Griffith came in and kissed it in her very
hand. His lips felt nothing but his wife's glorious hair; but, by that
exquisite sensibility which the heart can convey in a moment to the
very fingernails, Caroline's hand, beneath, felt the soft touch through
her mistress's hair; and the enamoured hypocrite thrilled, and then
sickened at her own folly.

For in her good sense could be overpowered, but never long blinded.

On the day in question she was thinking of Griffith, as usual, and
wondering whether he would always prefer yellow hair to black. This
actually put her off her guard for once, and she gave the rival hair a
little contemptuous tug: and the reader knows what followed.

Staggered by her mistress's question, Caroline made no reply, but only
panted a little, and proceeded more carefully.

But, oh the struggle it cost her not to slap both Mrs. Gaunt's fair
cheeks with the backs of the brushes! And what with this struggle, and
the reprimand, and the past agitations, by-and-by the comb ceased, and
the silence was broken by faint sobs.

Mrs. Gaunt turned calmly round and looked full at her hysterical
handmaid.

"What is to do?" said she. "Is it because I chid you, child? Nay, you
need not take that to heart; it is just my way: I can bear anything
but my hair pulled." With this she rose and poured some drops of
sal-volatile into water, and put it to her secret rival's lips: it was
kindly done, but with that sort of half contemptuous and thoroughly
cold pity women are apt to show to women, and especially when one of
them is Mistress and the other is Servant.

Still it cooled the extreme hatred Caroline had nursed, and gave her a
little twinge, and awakened her intelligence. Now her intelligence was
truly remarkable when not blinded by passion. She was a woman with one
or two other masculine traits beside her roving heart. For instance,
she could sit and think hard and practically for hours together: and
on these occasions her thoughts were never dreamy and vague; it was
no brown study, but good hard thinking. She would knit her coal-black
brows, like Lord Thurlow himself, and realize the situation, and weigh
the pros and cons with a steady judicial power rarely found in her sex:
and, nota bene, when once her mind had gone through this process, then
she would act with almost monstrous resolution.

She now shut herself up in her own room for some hours and weighed the
matter carefully.

The conclusion she arrived at was this: that, if she stayed at Hernshaw
Castle, there would be mischief; and probably she herself would be the
principal sufferer to the end of the chapter, as she was now.

She said to herself, "I shall go mad, or else expose myself, and be
turned away with loss of character; and then what will become of me,
and my child? Better lose life or reason than character. I know what I
have to go through; I have left a man ere now with my heart tugging at
me to stay beside him. It is a terrible wrench: and then all seems dead
for a long while without him. But the world goes on and takes you round
with it; and by-and-by you find there are as good fish left in the sea
as ever came out on't. I'll go, while I've sense enough left to see I
must."

The very next day she came to Mrs. Gaunt and said she wished to leave.
"Certainly," said Mrs. Gaunt, coldly. "May I ask the reason?"

"Oh, I have no complaint to make, ma'am, none whatever; but I am not
happy here; and I wish to go when my month's up, or sooner, ma'am, if
you could suit yourself."

Mrs. Gaunt considered a moment: then she said, "You came all the way
from Gloucestershire to me: had you not better give the place a fair
trial? I have had two or three good servants that felt uncomfortable
at first; but they soon found out my ways, and stayed with me till
they married. As for leaving me before your month, that is out of the
question." To this Ryder said not a word, but merely vented a little
sigh, half dogged, half submissive; and went cat-like about, arranging
her mistress's things with admirable precision and neatness. Mrs. Gaunt
watched her, without seeming to do so, and observed that her discontent
did not in the least affect her punctual discharge of her duties. Said
Mrs. Gaunt to herself, "This servant is a treasure: she shall not go."
And Ryder to herself, "Well, 'tis but for a month; and then no power
shall keep me here."



CHAPTER V.


Not long after these events came the county ball. Griffith was there,
but no Mrs. Gaunt. This excited surprise, and, among the gentlemen,
disappointment. They asked Griffith if she was unwell; he thanked them
drily, she was very well; and that was all they could get out of him.
But to the ladies he let out that she had given up balls, and, indeed,
all reasonable pleasures. "She does nothing but fast, and pray, and
visit the sick." He added, with rather a weak smile: "I see next to
nothing of her." A minx stood by and put in her word. "You should catch
the small-pox; then who knows? she might look in upon _you_."

Griffith laughed, but not heartily. In truth, Mrs. Gaunt's religious
fervour knew no bounds. Absorbed in pious schemes and religious duties,
she had little time, and much distaste, for frivolous society; invited
none but the devout, and found polite excuses for not dining abroad.
She sent her husband into the world alone, and laden with apologies.
"My wife is turned saint. 'Tis a sin to dance, a sin to hunt, a sin to
enjoy ourselves. We are here to fast and pray, and build schools, and
go to church twice a day."

And so he went about publishing his household ill; but, to tell the
truth, a secret satisfaction peeped through his lugubrious accents. An
ugly saint is an unmixed calamity to jolly fellows; but to be lord and
master, and possessor of a beautiful saint, was not without its piquant
charm. His jealousy was dormant, not extinct; and Kate's piety tickled
that foible, not wounded it. He found himself the rival of heaven; and
the successful rival; for, let her be ever so strict, ever so devout,
she must give her husband many comforts she could not give to heaven.

This soft and piquant phase of the passion did not last long. All
things are progressive.

Brother Leonard was director now as well as confessor; his visits
became frequent; and Mrs. Gaunt often quoted his authority for her acts
or her sentiments. So Griffith began to suspect that the change in
his wife was entirely due to Leonard; and that with all her eloquence
and fervour she was but a priest's echo. This galled him. To be sure
Leonard was only an ecclesiastic; but, if he had been a woman, Griffith
was the man to wince. His wife to lean so on another: his wife to
withdraw from the social pleasures she had hitherto shared with him;
and all because another human creature disapproved them. He writhed
in silence a while, and then remonstrated. He was met at first with
ridicule: "Are you going to be jealous of my confessor?" and, on
repeating the offence, with a kind, but grave admonition, that silenced
him for the time, but did not cure him, nor even convince him.

The facts were too strong: Kate was no longer to him the genial
companion she had been; gone was the ready sympathy with which she
had listened to all his little earthly concerns; and, as for his
hay-making, he might as well talk about it to an iceberg as to the
partner of his bosom.

He was genial by nature, and could not live without sympathy. He sought
it in the parlour of the "Red Lion."

Mrs. Gaunt's high-bred nostrils told her where he haunted, and it
caused her dismay. Woman-like, instead of opening her battery at once,
she wore a gloomy and displeased air, which a few months ago would have
served her turn and brought about an explanation at once; but Griffith
took it for a stronger dose of religious sentiment, and trundled off
to the "Red Lion," all the more.

So then at last she spoke her mind; and asked him how he could lower
himself so, and afflict her.

"Oh!" said he, doggedly, "this house is too cold for me now. My mate is
priest-rid. Plague on the knave that hath put coldness 'twixt thee and
me."

Mrs. Gaunt froze visibly, and said no more at that time.

One bit of sunshine remained in the house and shone brighter than ever
on its chilled master; shone through two black, seducing eyes.

Some three months before the date we have now reached, Caroline
Ryder's two boxes were packed and corded ready to go next day. She had
quietly persisted in her resolution to leave, and Mrs. Gaunt, though
secretly angry, had been just and magnanimous enough to give her a good
character.

Now female domestics are like the little birds; if that great hawk,
their mistress, follows them about, it is a deadly grievance; but
if she does not, they follow her about, and pester her with idle
questions, and invite the beak and claws of petty tyranny and needless
interference.

So the afternoon before she was to leave, Caroline Ryder came to her
mistress's room on some imaginary business. She was not there. Ryder,
forgetting that it did not matter a straw, proceeded to hunt her
everywhere; and at last ran out with only her cap on to "the Dame's
Haunt," and there she was; but not alone: she was walking up and down
with Brother Leonard. Their backs were turned, and Ryder came up behind
them. Leonard was pacing gravely, with his head gently drooping as
usual. Mrs. Gaunt was walking elastically, and discoursing with great
fire and animation.

Ryder glided after, noiseless as a serpent, more bent on wondering and
watching now than on overtaking; for inside the house her mistress
showed none of this charming vivacity.

Presently the keen black eyes observed a "trifle light as air" that
made them shine again.

She turned and wound herself amongst the trees, and disappeared. Soon
after she was in her own room, a changed woman. With glowing cheeks,
sparkling eyes, and nimble fingers, she uncorded her boxes, unpacked
her things, and placed them neatly in the drawers.

What more had she seen than I have indicated?

Only this: Mrs. Gaunt, in the warmth of discourse, laid her hand
lightly for a moment on the priest's elbow: that was nothing, she had
laid the same hand on Ryder; for, in fact, it was a little womanly
way she had, and a hand that settled like down. But this time, as she
withdrew it again, that delicate hand seemed to speak; it did not leave
Leonard's elbow all at once, it glided slowly away, first the palm,
then the fingers, and so parted lingeringly.

The other woman saw this subtle touch of womanhood, coupled it with
Mrs. Gaunt's vivacity and the air of happiness that seemed to inspire
her whole eloquent person, and formed a harsh judgment on the spot,
though she could not see the lady's face.

When Mrs. Gaunt came in she met her, and addressed her thus: "If you
please, ma'am, have you any one coming in my place?"

Mrs. Gaunt looked her full in the face. "You know I have not," said
she, haughtily.

"Then, if it is agreeable to you, ma'am, I will stay. To be sure the
place is dull; but I have got a good mistress-and----"

"That will do, Ryder: a servant has always her own reasons, and never
tells them to her mistress. You can stay this time; but the next, you
go; and once for all. I am not to be trifled with."

Ryder called up a look all submission, and retired with an obeisance.
But, once out of sight, she threw off the mask and expanded with
insolent triumph. "Yes, I have my own reasons," said she. "Keep you the
priest, and I'll take the man."

From that hour Caroline Ryder watched her mistress like a lynx, and
hovered about her master, and poisoned him slowly with vague insidious
hints.



CHAPTER VI.


Brother Leonard, like many holy men, was vain. Not but what he had his
gusts of humility and diffidence; only they blew over.

At first, as you may perhaps remember, he doubted his ability to
replace Father Francis as Mrs. Gaunt's director; but after a slight
disclaimer, he did replace him, and had no more misgivings as to his
fitness. But his tolerance and good sense were by no means equal to
his devotion and his persuasive powers; and so his advice in matters
spiritual and secular somehow sowed the first seeds of conjugal
coolness in Hernshaw Castle.

And now Ryder slily insinuated into Griffith's ear that the mistress
told the priest everything, and did nothing but by his advice. Thus the
fire already kindled was fanned by an artful woman's breath.

Griffith began to hate Brother Leonard, and to show it so plainly and
rudely that Leonard shrank from the encounter, and came less often,
and stayed but a few minutes. Then Mrs. Gaunt remonstrated gently with
Griffith, but received short sullen replies. Then, as the servile
element of her sex was comparatively small in her, she turned bitter
and cold, and avenged Leonard indirectly, but openly, with those
terrible pins and needles a beloved woman has ever at command.

Then Griffith became moody, and downright unhappy, and went more and
more to the "Red Lion," seeking comfort there now as well as company.

Mrs. Gaunt saw, and had fits of irritation, and fits of pity, and sore
perplexity. She knew she had a good husband; and, instead of taking him
to heaven with her, she found that each step she made with Leonard's
help towards the angelic life, seemed somehow to be bad for Griffith's
soul, and for his earthly happiness.

She blamed herself; she blamed Griffith; she blamed the Protestant
heresy; she blamed everybody and everything--except Brother Leonard.

One Sunday afternoon Griffith sat on his own lawn, silently smoking his
pipe. Mrs. Gaunt came to him, and saw an air of dejection on his genial
face. Her heart yearned. She sat down beside him on the bench, and
sighed; then he sighed too.

"My dear," said she, sweetly, "fetch out your viol da gambo, and we
will sing a hymn or two together here this fine afternoon. We can
praise God together, though we must pray apart; alas that it is so."

"With all my heart," said Griffith. "Nay, I forgot; my viol da gambo is
not here. 'Tis at the 'Red Lion.'"

"At the 'Red Lion!'" said she, bitterly. "What, do you sing there as
well as drink? Oh, husband, how can you so bemean yourself?"

"What is a poor man to do, whose wife is priest-ridden, and got to be
no company--except for angels?"

"I did not come here to quarrel," said she, coldly and sadly. Then they
were both silent a minute. Then she got up and left him.

Brother Leonard, like many earnest men, was rather intolerant. He urged
on Mrs. Gaunt that she had too many Protestants in her household: her
cook and her nursemaid ought, at all events, to be Catholics. Mrs.
Gaunt on this was quite ready to turn them both off, and that without
disguise. But Leonard dissuaded her from so violent a measure. She had
better take occasion to part with one of them, and by-and-by with the
other.

The nursemaid was the first to go, and her place was filled by a Roman
Catholic. Then the cook received warning. But this did not pass off so
quietly: Jane Bannister was a buxom hearty woman, well liked by her
fellow-servants; her parents lived in the village, and she had been
six years with the Gaunts, and her honest heart clung to them. She
took to crying; used to burst out in the middle of her work, or while
conversing with fitful cheerfulness on ordinary topics.

One day Griffith found her crying, and Ryder consoling her as
carelessly and contemptuously as possible.

"Hey-day, lasses," said he; "what is your trouble?"

At this Jane's tears flowed in a stream, and Ryder made no reply, but
waited.

At last, and not till the third or fourth time of asking, Jane
blurted out that she had got the sack; such was her homely expression,
dignified, however, by honest tears.

"What for?" asked Griffith, kindly.

"Nay, sir," sobbed Jane, "that is what I want to know. Our Dame ne'er
found a fault in me; and now she does pack me off like a dog. Me that
have been here this six years, and got to feel at home. What will
father say? He'll give me a hiding. For two pins I'd drown myself in
the mere."

"Come, you must not blame the mistress," said the sly Ryder. "She is a
good mistress as ever breathed: 'tis all the priest's doings. I'll tell
you the truth, master, if you will pass me your word I shan't be sent
away for it."

"I pledge you my word as a gentleman," said Griffith.

"Well, then, sir, Jane's fault is yours and mine. She is not a papist;
and that is why she is to go. How I come to know, I listened in the
next room, and heard the priest tell our dame she must send away two
of us, and have Catholics. The priest's word it is law in this house;
'twas in March he gave the order: Harriet, she went in May, and now
poor Jane is to go--for walking to church behind you, sir. But there,
Jane, I believe he would get our very master out of the house if he
could; and then what would become of us all?"

Griffith turned black, and then ashy pale, under this venomous tongue,
and went away without a word, looking dangerous.

Ryder looked after him, and her black eye glittered with a kind of
fiendish beauty.

Jane, having told her mind, now began to pluck up a little spirit.
"Mrs. Ryder," said she, "I never thought to like you so well;" and,
with that, gave her a great, hearty, smacking kiss; which Ryder, to
judge by her countenance, relished, as epicures albumen. "I won't cry
no more. After all, this house is no place for us that be women: 'tis
a fine roost to be sure! where the hen she crows and the cock do but
cluck."

Town-bred Ryder laughed at the rustic maid's simile; and, not to be
out-done in metaphor, told her there were dogs that barked, and dogs
that bit. "Our master is one of those that bite. I've done the priest's
business. He is as like to get the sack as you are."

Griffith found his wife seated on the lawn reading. He gulped down his
ire as well as he could; but nevertheless his voice trembled a little
with suppressed passion.

"So Jane is turned off now," said he.

"I don't know about being turned off," replied Mrs. Gaunt, calmly; "but
she leaves me next month, and Cicely Davis comes back."

"And Cicely Davis is a useless slut that cannot boil a potato fit to
eat; but then she is a Papist, and poor Jenny is a Protestant, and can
cook a dinner."

"My dear," said Mrs. Gaunt, "do not you trouble about the servants;
leave them to me."

"And welcome; but this is not your doing, it is that Leonard's: and I
cannot allow a Popish priest to turn off all my servants that are worth
their salt. Come, Kate, you used to be a sensible woman, and a tender
wife: now I ask you, is a young bachelor a fit person to govern a man's
family?"

Mrs. Gaunt laughed in his face. "A young bachelor!" said she; "whoever
heard of such a term applied to a priest: and a saint upon earth?"

"Why, he is not married, so he must be a bachelor; and I say again it
is monstrous for a young bachelor to come between old married folk, and
hear all their secrets, and have a finger in every pie, and set up to
be master of my house, and order my wife to turn away my servants for
going to church behind me. Why not turn me away too? Their fault is
mine."

"Griffith, you are in a passion, and I begin to think you want to put
me in one."

"Well, perhaps I am. Job's patience went at last, and mine has been
sore tried this many a month. 'Twas bad enough when the man was
only your confessor: you told him everything, and you don't tell me
everything. He knew your very heart, better than I do, and that was
a bitter thing for me to bear that love you and have no secrets from
you. But every man who marries a Catholic must endure this; so I put a
good face on it, though my heart was often sore; 'twas the price I had
to pay for my pearl of womankind. But since he set up your governor as
well, you are a changed woman; you shun company abroad, you freeze my
friends at home. You have made the house so cold that I am fain to
seek the 'Red Lion' for a smile or a kindly word: and now, to please
this fanatical priest, you would turn away the best servants I have,
and put useless, dirty slatterns in their place, that happen to be
Papists. You did not use to be so uncharitable, nor so unreasonable.
'Tis the priest's doing. He is my secret, underhand enemy; I feel him
undermining me, inch by inch, and I can bear it no longer. I must make
a stand somewhere, and I may as well make it here; for Jenny is a good
girl, and her folk live in the village, and she helps them. Think
better of it, Kate, and let the poor wench stay, though she does go to
church behind your husband."

"Griffith," said Mrs. Gaunt, "I might retort, and say that you are a
changed man; for to be sure you did never use to interfere between me
and my maids. Are you sure some mischief-making woman is not advising
you? But there, do not let us chafe one another, for you know we are
hot-tempered both of us. Well, leave it for the present, my dear;
prithee let me think it over till to-morrow, at all events, and try if
I can satisfy you."

The jealous husband saw through this proposal directly. He turned
purple. "That is to say, you must ask your priest first for leave to
show your husband one grain of respect and affection, and not make him
quite a cipher in his own house. No, Kate, no man who respects himself
will let another man come between himself and the wife of his bosom.
This business is between you and me; I will brook no interference in
it; and I tell you plainly, if you turn this poor lass off to please
this d----d priest, I'll turn the priest off to please her and her
folk. They are as good as he is, any way."

The bitter contempt with which he spoke of Brother Leonard, and this
astounding threat, imported a new and dangerous element into the
discussion: it stung Mrs. Gaunt beyond bearing. She turned with
flashing eyes upon Griffith.

"As good as he is? The scum of my kitchen! You will make me hate the
mischief-making hussy. She shall pack out of the house to-morrow
morning."'

"Then I say that priest shall never darken my doors again."

"Then I say they are my doors, not yours; and that holy man shall
brighten them whenever he will."

If to strike an adversary dumb is the tongue's triumph, Mrs. Gaunt was
victorious: for Griffith gasped, but did not reply.

They faced each other, pale with fury; but no more words.

No: an ominous silence succeeded this lamentable answer, like the
silence that follows a thunder-clap.

Griffith stood still awhile, benumbed as it were, by the cruel stroke;
then cast one speaking look of anguish and reproach upon her, drew
himself haughtily up, and stalked away like a wounded lion.

Well said the ancients that anger is a short madness. When we reflect
in cold blood on the things we have said in hot, how impossible they
seem! how out of character with our real selves! And this is one of the
recognized symptoms of mania.

There were few persons could compare with Mrs. Gaunt in native
magnanimity; yet how ungenerous a stab had she given.

And had he gone on, she would have gone on; but when he turned silent
at her bitter thrust, and stalked away from her, she came to herself
almost directly.

She thought, "Good God! what have I said to him?"

And the flush of shame came to her cheek, and her eyes filled with
tears.

He saw them not; he had gone away, wounded to the heart.

You see it was true. The house was hers; tied up as tight as wax. The
very money (his own money) that had been spent on the place, had become
hers by being expended on real property; he could not reclaim it; he
was her lodger; a dependant on her bounty.

During all the years they had lived together she had never once assumed
the proprietor. On the contrary, she put him forward as the Squire, and
slipped quietly into the background. Bene latuit. But, lo! let a hand
be put out to offend her saintly favourite, and that moment she could
waken her husband from his dream, and put him down into his true legal
position with a word. The matrimonial throne for him till he resisted
her priest; and then, a stool at her feet, and his.

He was enraged as well as hurt; but being a true lover, his fury was
levelled not at the woman who had hurt him, but at the man who stood
out of sight and set her on.

By this time the reader knows his good qualities, and his defects;
superior to his wife in one or two things, he was by no means so
thorough a gentleman as she was a lady. He had begun to make a party
with his own servants against the common enemy; and, in his wrath, he
now took another step, or rather a stride, in the same direction. As he
hurried away to the public-house, white with ire, he met his gamekeeper
coming in with a bucketful of fish fresh caught. "What have ye got
there?" said Griffith, roughly; not that he was angry with the man, but
that his very skin was full of wrath, and it must exude. Mr. Leicester
did not relish the tone, and replied, bluntly and sulkily, "Pike for
our Papists." The answer, though rude, did not altogether displease
Griffith; it smacked of odium theologicum, a sentiment he was learning
to understand. "Put 'em down, and listen to me, Thomas Leicester," said
he. And his manner was now so impressive that Leicester put down the
bucket with ludicrous expedition, and gaped at him.

"How, my man, why do I keep you here?"

"To take care of your game, Squire, I do suppose."

"What? when you are the worst gamekeeper in the county. How many
poachers do you catch in the year? They have only to set one of their
gang to treat you at the public-house on a moonshiny night, and the
rest can have all my pheasants at roost while you are boozing and
singing."

"Like my betters in the parlour," muttered Tom.

"But that is not all," continued Gaunt, pretending not to hear him.
"You wire my rabbits, and sell them in the town. Don't go to deny
it; fore I've half a dozen to prove it." Mr. Leicester looked very
uncomfortable. His master continued--"I have known it this ten months,
yet you are none the worse for't. Now, why do I keep you here, that any
other gentleman in my place would send to Carlisle gaol on a justice's
warrant?"

Mr. Leicester, who had thought his master blind, and was so suddenly
undeceived, hung his head and snivelled out, "'Tis because you have a
good heart, Squire, and would not ruin a poor fellow for an odd rabbit
or two."

"Stuff and nonsense!" cried Gaunt. "Speak your mind, for once, or else
begone for a liar as well as a knave."

Thus appealed to, Leicester's gipsy eyes roved to and fro as if he
were looking for some loophole to escape by; but at last he faced the
situation.

He said, with a touch of genuine feeling, "D----n the rabbits! I wish
my hand had withered ere I touched one on them." But after this
preface he sunk his voice to a whisper, and said, "I see what you are
driving at, Squire; and since there is nobody with us (he took off his
cap)--why, sir, 'tis this here mole I am in debt to, no doubt."

Then the gentleman and his servant looked one another silently in the
face, and what with their standing in the same attitude and being both
excited and earnest, the truth must be owned, a certain family likeness
came out. Certainly, their eyes were quite unlike. Leicester had his
gipsy mother's: black, keen, and restless. Gaunt had his mother's:
brown, calm, and steady. But the two men had the same stature, the same
manly mould and square shoulders; and, though Leicester's cheek was
brown as a berry, his forehead was singularly white for a man in his
rank of life, and over his left temple, close to the roots of the hair,
was an oblong mole as black as ink, that bore a close resemblance in
appearance and position to his master's.

"Tom Leicester; I have been insulted."

"That won't pass, sir. Who is the man?"

"One that I cannot call out like a gentleman, and yet I must not lay on
him with my cane, or I am like to get the sack, as well as my servants.
'Tis the Popish priest, lad; Brother Leonard, own brother to Old Kick;
he has got our Dame's ear, she cannot say him 'nay.' She is turning
away all my people, and filling the house with Papists, to please him.
And when I interfered, she as good as told me I should go next; and so
I shall, I or else that priest."

This little piece of exaggeration fired Tom Leicester. "Say ye so,
Squire? then just you whisper a word in my ear, and George and I will
lay that priest by the heels, and drag him through the horse-pond. He
won't come here to trouble you after that, I know."

Gaunt's eyes flashed triumph. "A friend in need is a friend indeed,"
said he. "Ay, you are right, lad. There must be no broken bones, and
no bloodshed; the horse-pond is the very thing: and if she discharges
you for it, take no heed of her. You shall never leave Hernshaw Castle
for that good deed; or, if you do, I'll go with you; for the world it
is wide, and I'll never live a servant in the house where I have been
a master." They then put their heads together and concerted the means
by which the priest at his very next visit was to be decoyed into the
neighbourhood of the horse-pond.

And then they parted, and Griffith went to the "Red Lion." And a pair
of black eyes that had slily watched this singular interview from an
upper window, withdrew quietly; and soon after, Tom Leicester found
himself face to face with their owner, the sight of whom always made
his heart beat a little faster.

Caroline Ryder had been rather cold to him of late; it was therefore
a charming surprise when she met him, all wreathed in smiles, and,
drawing him apart, began to treat him like a bosom friend, and tell him
what had passed between the master, and her and Jane. Confidence begets
confidence; and so Tom told her in turn that the Squire and the Dame
had come to words over it. "However," said he, "'tis all the priest's
fault; but bide awhile, all of ye."

With this mysterious hint he meant to close his revelations. But Ryder
intended nothing of the kind. Her keen eye had read the looks and
gestures of Gaunt and Leicester, and these had shown her that something
very strange and serious was going on. She had come out expressly to
learn what it was, and Tom was no match for her arts. She so smiled
on him, and agreed with him, and led him, and drew him, and pumped
him, that she got it all out of him on a promise of secresy. She then
entered into it with spirit, and being what they called a scholar,
undertook to write a paper for Tom and his helper to pin on the
priest's back. No sooner said than done. She left him, and speedily
returned with the following document written out in large and somewhat
straggling letters:----

    "HONEST FOLK, BEHOLD A
    MISCHIEVIOUS PRIEST, WHICH
    FOR CAUSING OF STRIFE
    'TWIXT MAN AND WYFE
    HATH MADE ACQUAINTAUNCE
    WITH SQUIRE'S HORSE-POND."

And so a female conspirator was added to the plot.

Mrs. Gaunt co-operated too, but, need I say, unconsciously.

She was unhappy, and full of regret at what she had said. She took
herself severely to task and drew a very unfavourable comparison
between herself and Brother Leonard. "How ill," she thought, "am I
fitted to carry out that meek saint's views. See what my ungoverned
temper has done." So then, having made so great a mistake, she thought
the best thing she could do was to seek advice of Leonard at once.
She was not without hopes he would tell her to postpone the projected
change in her household, and so soothe her offended husband directly.

She wrote a line requesting Leonard to call on her as soon as possible,
and advise her in a great difficulty; and she gave this note to Ryder,
and told her to send the groom off with it at once.

Ryder squeezed the letter, and peered into it, and gathered its nature
before she gave it to the groom to take to Leonard.

When he was gone she went and told Tom Leicester, and he chuckled, and
made his preparations accordingly.

Then she retired to her own room and went through a certain process I
have indicated before as one of her habits: knitted her great black
brows, and pondered the whole situation with a mental power that was
worthy of a nobler sphere and higher materials.

Her practical reverie, so to speak, continued until she was rung for to
dress her mistress for dinner.

Griffith was so upset, so agitated and restless, he could not stay
long in any one place, not even in the "Red Lion." So he came home to
dinner, though he had mighty little appetite for it. And this led to
another little conjugal scene.

Mrs. Gaunt mounted the great oak staircase to dress for dinner,
languidly, as ladies are apt to do, when reflection and regret come
after excitement.

Presently she heard a quick foot behind her: she knew it directly for
her husband's, and her heart yearned. She did not stop, nor turn her
head: womanly pride withheld her from direct submission; but womanly
tenderness and tact opened a way to reconciliation. She drew softly
aside, almost to the wall, and went slower; and her hand, her sidelong
drooping head, and her whole eloquent person, whispered plainly enough,
"If somebody would like to make friends, here is the door open."

Griffith saw, but was too deeply wounded: he passed her without
stopping (the staircase was eight feet broad).

But as he passed he looked at her and sighed, for he saw she was sorry.

She heard, and sighed too. Poor things, they had lived so happy
together for years.

He went on.

Her pride bent: "Griffith!" said she, very timidly. He turned and
stopped at that.

"Sweetheart," she murmured, "I was to blame. I was ungenerous. I forgot
myself. Let me recall my words. You know they did not come from my
heart."

"You need not tell me that," said Griffith doggedly. "I have no quarrel
with you, and never will. You but do what you are bidden, and say what
you are bidden. I take the wound from you as best I may: the man that
set you on, 'tis him I'll be revenged on."

"Alas! that you will think so," said she. "Believe me, dearest, that
holy man would be the first to rebuke me for rebelling against my
husband and flouting him. Oh, how could I say such things? I thank you,
and love you dearly for being so blind to my faults; but I must not
abuse your blindness. Father Leonard will put me to penance for the
fault you forgive. He will hear no excuses. Prithee, now, be more just
to that good man."

Griffith listened quietly, with a cold sneer upon his lip; and this
was his reply: "Till that mischief-making villain came between you
and me, you never gave me a bitter word: we were the happiest pair in
Cumberland. But now what are we? And what shall we be in another year
or two?--REVENGE!!"

He had begun gravely enough, but suddenly burst into an ungovernable
rage; and as he yelled out that furious word his face was convulsed and
ugly to look at; very ugly.

Mrs. Gaunt started: she had not seen that vile expression in his face
for many a year; but she knew it again.

"Ay!" he cried, "he has made me drink a bitter cup this many a day.
But I'll force as bitter a one down his throat, and you shall see it
done."

Mrs. Gaunt turned pale at this violent threat; but being a
high-spirited woman, she stiffened and hid her apprehensions loftily.
"Madman that you are," said she. "I throw away excuses on Jealousy, and
I waste reason upon phrenzy. I'll say no more things to provoke you;
but, to be sure, 'tis I that am offended now, and deeply too, as you
will find."

"So be it," said Griffith, sullenly; then, grinding his teeth, "he
shall pay for that too."

Then he went to his dressing-room, and she to her bedroom. Griffith
hating Leonard, and Kate deeply indignant with Griffith.

And, ere her blood could cool, she was subjected to the keen, cold,
scrutiny of another female, and that female a secret rival.



CHAPTER VII.


Would you learn what men gain by admitting a member of the fair sex
into their conspiracies? read the tragedy of Venice Preserved; and, by
way of afterpiece, this little chapter.

Mrs. Gaunt sat pale and very silent, and Caroline Ryder stood behind,
doing up her hair into a magnificent structure that added eight inches
to the lady's height: and in this operation her own black hair and
keen black eyes came close to the golden hair and deep blue eyes, now
troubled, and made a picture striking by contrast.

As she was putting the finishing touches, she said, quietly, "If you
please, Dame, I have somewhat to tell you."

Mrs. Gaunt sighed wearily, expecting some very minute communication.

"Well, Dame, I dare say I am risking my place, but I can't help it."

"Another time, Ryder," said Mrs. Gaunt. "I am in no humour to be
worried with my servants' squabbles."

"Nay, madam, 'tis not that at all: 'tis about Father Leonard. Sure you
would not like him to be drawn through the horse-pond; and that is what
they mean to do next time he comes here."

In saying these words, the jade contrived to be adjusting Mrs. Gaunt's
dress. The lady's heart gave a leap, and the servant's cunning finger
felt it, and then felt a shudder run all over that stately frame. But
after that Mrs. Gaunt seemed to turn to steel. She distrusted Ryder,
she could not tell why; distrusted her, and was upon her guard.

"You must be mistaken," said she. "Who would dare to lay hands on a
priest in my house?"

"Well, Dame, you see they egg one another on. Don't ask me to betray
my fellow-servants; but let us baulk them. I don't deceive you, Dame:
if the good priest shows his face here, he will be thrown into the
horse-pond, and sent home with a ticket pinned to his back. Them that
is to do it are on the watch now, and have got their orders; and
'tis a burning shame. To be sure I am not a Catholic; but religion
is religion, and a more heavenly face I never saw: and for it to be
dragged through a filthy horse-pond!"

Mrs. Gaunt clutched her inspector's arm and turned pale. "The villains!
the fiends!" she gasped. "Go ask your master to come to me this moment."

Ryder took a step or two, then stopped. "Alack, Dame," said she, "that
is not the way to do. You may be sure the others would not dare, if my
master had not shown them his mind."

Mrs. Gaunt stopped her ears. "Don't tell me that he has ordered this
impious, cruel, cowardly act. He is a lion: and this comes from the
heart of cowardly curs. What is to be done, woman? tell me; for you are
cooler than I am."

"Well, Dame, if I were in your place, I'd just send him a line, and bid
him stay away till the storm blows over."

"You are right. But who is to carry it? My own servants are traitors to
me."

"I'll carry it myself."

"You shall. Put on your hat, and run through the wood; that is the
shortest way."

She wrote a few lines on a large sheet of paper, for note-paper there
was none in those days; sealed it, and gave it to Ryder.

Ryder retired to put on her hat, and pry into the letter with greedy
eyes.

It ran thus:----

"DEAR FATHER AND FRIEND,--You must come hither no more at present. Ask
the bearer why this is, for I am ashamed to put it on paper. Pray for
them: for you can, but I cannot. Pray for me, too, bereft for a time of
your counsels. I shall come and confess to you in a few days, when we
are all cooler; but you shall honour his house no more. Obey me in this
one thing, who shall obey you in all things else, and am

    "Your indignant and sorrowful daughter,

                                                     "CATHERINE GAUNT."

"No more than that?" said Ryder. "Ay, she guessed as I should look."

She whipped on her hat and went out.

Who should she meet, or, I might say, run against, at the hall door,
but Father Leonard.

He had come at once in compliance with Mrs. Gaunt's request.



CHAPTER VIII.


Mrs. Ryder uttered a little scream of dismay. The priest smiled, and
said, sweetly, "Forgive me, mistress, I fear I startled you."

"Indeed you did, sir," said she. She looked furtively round, and saw
Leicester and his underling on the watch.

Leicester, unaware of her treachery, made her a signal of intelligence.

She responded to it, to gain time.

It was a ticklish situation. Some would have lost their heads. Ryder
was alarmed, but all the more able to defend her plans. Her first move,
as usual with such women, was--a lie.

"Our Dame is in the Grove, sir," said she. "I am to bring you to her."

The priest bowed his head, gravely, and moved towards the Grove with
downcast eyes. Ryder kept close to him for a few steps; then she ran
to Leicester, and whispered, hastily, "Go you to the stable-gate: I'll
bring him round that way: hide now; he suspects."

"Ay, ay," said Leicester; and the confiding pair slipped away round a
corner to wait for their victim.

Ryder hurried him into the Grove, and, as soon as she had got him out
of hearing, told him the truth.

He turned pale; for these delicate organizations do not generally excel
in courage.

Ryder pitied him, and something of womanly feeling began to mingle with
her plans. "They 'shall not lay a finger on you, sir," said she. "I'll
scratch and scream, and bring the whole parish out sooner; but the
best way is not to give them the chance: please you follow me." And she
hurried him through the Grove, and then into an unfrequented path of
the great wood.

When they were safe from pursuit she turned and looked at him. He was a
good deal agitated; but the uppermost sentiment was gratitude. It soon
found words, and, as usual, happy ones. He thanked her with dignity and
tenderness for the service she had done him, and asked her if she was a
Catholic.

"No," said she.

At that his countenance fell, but only for a moment. "Ah! would you
were," he said, earnestly. So then added, sweetly, "To be sure I have
all the more reason to be grateful to you."

"You are very welcome, reverend sir," said Ryder, graciously. "Religion
is religion: and 'tis a barbarous thing that violence should be done to
men of your cloth."

Having thus won his heart, the artful woman began at one and the same
time to please and to probe him. "Sir," said she, "be of good heart;
they have done you no harm, and themselves no good: my mistress will
hate them for it, and love you all the more."

Father Leonard's pale cheek coloured all over at these words, though he
said nothing.

"Since they won't let you come to her, she will come to you."

"Do you think so?" said he, faintly.

"Nay, I am sure of it, sir. So would any woman. We still follow our
hearts, and get our way by hook or by crook."

Again the priest coloured either with pleasure or with shame, or with
both; and the keen feminine eye perused him with microscopic power.
She waited, to give him an opportunity of talking to her and laying
bare his feelings; but he was either too delicate, too cautious, or too
pure.

So then she suddenly affected to remember her mistress's letter. She
produced it with an apology. He took it with unfeigned eagerness, and
read it in silence; and, having read it, he stood patient, with the
tears in his eyes. Ryder eyed him with much curiosity and a little pity.

"Don't you take on for that," said she. "Why, she will be more at her
ease when she visits you at your place than here; and she won't give
you up, I promise."

The priest trembled, and Ryder saw it.

"But, my daughter," said he, "I am perplexed and grieved. It seems that
I make mischief in your house: that is an ill office; I fear it is my
duty to retire from this place altogether, rather than cause dissension
between those whom the Church by holy sacrament hath bound together."
So saying, he hung his head and sighed.

Ryder eyed him with a little pity, but more contempt.

"Why take other people's faults on your back?" said she. "My mistress
is tied to a man she does not love; but that is not your fault; and he
is jealous of you that never gave him cause. If I was a man he should
not accuse me--for nothing: nor set his man on to drag me through a
horse-pond--for nothing. I'd have the sweet as well as the bitter."

Father Leonard turned and looked at her with a face full of terror.
Some beautiful, honeyed fiend seemed to be entering his heart and
tempting it.

"Oh, hush! my daughter, hush!" he said; "what words are these for a
virtuous woman to speak, and a priest to hear?"

"There, I have offended you by my blunt way," said the cajoling hussy,
in soft and timid tones.

"Nay, not so; but oh speak not so lightly of things that peril the
immortal soul."

"Well, I have done," said Ryder. "You are out of danger now; so give
you good day."

He stopped her. "What, before I have thanked you for your goodness? Ah,
Mistress Ryder, 'tis on these occasions a priest sins by longing for
riches to reward his benefactors. I have nought to offer you but this
ring: it was my mother's, my dear mother's."

He took it off his finger to give it her.

But the little bit of goodness that cleaves even to the heart of an
intriguante revolted against her avarice.

"Nay, poor soul, I'll not take it," said she; and put her hands before
her eyes, not to see it, for she knew she could not look at it long and
spare it.

With this she left him; but, ere she had gone far, her cunning and
curiosity gained the upper hand again, and she whipped behind a great
tree and crouched, invisible all but her nose and one piercing eye.

She saw the priest make a few steps homewards, then look around, then
take Mrs. Gaunt's letter out of his pocket, press it passionately to
his lips, and hide it tenderly in his bosom.

This done he went home with his eyes on the ground as usual, and
measured steps. And to all who met him he seemed a creature in whom
religion had conquered all human frailty.

Caroline Ryder hurried home with cruel exultation in her black eyes.
But she soon found that the first thing she had to do was to defend
herself. Leicester and his man met her, and the former looked gloomy,
and the latter reproached her bitterly; called her a double-faced jade,
and said he would tell the Squire of the trick she had played them.
But Ryder had her story ready in a moment. "'Tis you I have saved, not
him," said she. "He is something more than mortal: why, he told me
of his own accord what you were there for; but, that if you were so
unlucky as to lay hands on him, you would rot alive. It seems that has
been tried out Stanhope way; a man did but give him a blow, and his arm
was stiff next day, and he never used it again; and next his hair fell
off his head, and then his eyes they turned to water and ran all out of
him, and he died within the twelve-month."

Country folk were nearly, though not quite, as superstitious at that
time as in the middle ages. "Murrain on him," said Leicester. "Catch me
laying a finger on him. I'm glad he is gone; and I hope he won't never
come back no more."

"Not likely, since he can read all our hearts. Why, he told me
something about you, Tom Leicester; he says you are in love."

"No! did he really now?" and Leicester opened his eyes very wide. "And
did he tell you who the lass is?"

"He did so; and surprised me properly." This with a haughty glance.

Leicester held his tongue and turned red.

"Who is it, mistress?" asked the helper.

"He didn't say I was to tell you, young man."

And with these two pricks of her needle she left them both more or
less discomfited, and went to scrutinize and anatomize her mistress's
heart with plenty of cunning, but no mercy. She related her own part in
the affair very briefly, but dwelt with well-feigned sympathy on the
priest's feelings. "He turned as white as a sheet, ma'am, when I told
him, and offered me his very ring off his finger, he was so grateful;
poor man!"

"You did not take it, I hope?" said Mrs. Gaunt, quickly.

"La, no, ma'am. I hadn't the heart."

Mrs. Gaunt was silent awhile. When she spoke again it was to inquire
whether Ryder had given him the letter.

"That I did: and it brought the tears into his poor eyes; and such
beautiful eyes as he has, to be sure. You would have pitied him if you
had seen him read it, and cry over it, and then kiss it and put it in
his bosom he did."

Mrs. Gaunt said nothing, but turned her head away.

The operator shot a sly glance into the looking-glass, and saw a
pearly tear trickling down her subject's fair cheek. So she went on,
all sympathy outside, and remorselessness within. "To think of that
face, more like an angel's than a man's, to be dragged through a nasty
horse-pond. 'Tis a shame of master to set his men on a clergyman."
And so was proceeding, with well-acted and catching warmth, to dig
as dangerous a pit for Mrs. Gaunt as ever was dug for any lady; for
whatever Mrs. Gaunt had been betrayed into saying, this Ryder would
have used without mercy, and with diabolical skill.

Yes it was a pit, and the lady's pure, but tender heart pushed her
towards it, and her fiery temper drew her towards it.

Yet she escaped it this time. The dignity, delicacy, and pride, that
is oftener found in these old families than out of them, saved her
from that peril. She did not see the trap; but she spurned the bait by
native instinct.

She threw up her hand in a moment, with a queenly gesture, and stopped
the tempter.

"Not-one-word-from my servant against my husband in my hearing!" said
she superbly.

And Ryder shrank back into herself directly.

"Child," said Mrs. Gaunt, "you have done me a great service, and my
husband too; for, if this dastardly act had been done in his name,
he would soon have been heartily ashamed of it and deplored it. Such
services can never be quite repaid; but you will find a purse in that
drawer with five guineas; it is yours; and, my lavender silk dress, be
pleased to wear that about me; to remind me of the good office you
have done me. And now, all you can do for me is to leave me; for I am
very, very unhappy."

Ryder retired with the spoil, and Mrs. Gaunt leaned her head over her
chair, and cried without stint.

After this, no angry words passed between Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt; but
something worse, a settled coolness sprung up.

As for Griffith, his cook kept her place, and the priest came no more
to the Castle; so, having outwardly gained the day, he was ready to
forget and forgive; but Kate, though she would not let her servant
speak ill of Griffith, was deeply indignant and disgusted with him. She
met his advances with such a stern coldness, that he turned sulky and
bitter in his turn.

Husband and wife saw little of each other, and hardly spoke.

Both were unhappy; but Kate was angriest, and Griffith saddest.

In an evil hour he let out his grief to Caroline Ryder. She seized the
opportunity and, by a show of affectionate sympathy and zeal, made
herself almost necessary to him, and contrived to establish a very
perilous relation between him and her. Matters went so far as this,
that the poor man's eye used to brighten when he saw her coming.

Yet this victory cost her a sore heart and all the patient self-denial
of her sex. To be welcome to Griffith she had to speak to him of her
rival, and to speak well of her. She tried talking of herself and her
attachment; he yawned in her face: she tried smooth detraction and
innuendo; he fired up directly and defended her, of whose conduct he
had been complaining the very moment before.

Then she saw that there was but one way to the man's heart. Sore, and
sick, and smiling, she took that way: resolving to bide her time; to
worm herself in anyhow, and wait patiently till she could venture to
thrust her mistress out.

If any of my readers need to be told why this she-Machiavel threw
her fellow conspirators over, the reason was simply this: on calm
reflection she saw it was not her interest to get Father Leonard
insulted. She looked on him as her mistress's lover, and her own best
friend. "Was I mad?" said she to herself. "My business is to keep him
sweet upon her, till they can't live without one another: and then I'll
tell him; and take your place in this house, my lady."

And now it is time to visit that extraordinary man, who was the cause
of all this mischief; whom Gaunt called a villain, and Mrs. Gaunt a
saint; and, as usual, he was neither one nor the other.

Father Leonard was a pious, pure, and noble-minded man, who had
undertaken to defy nature with religion's aid; and, after years of
successful warfare, now sustained one of those defeats to which such
warriors have been liable in every age. If his heart was pure, it was
tender; and nature never intended him to live all his days alone.
After years of prudent coldness to the other sex, he fell in with a
creature that put him off his guard at first, she seemed so angelic.
"At Wisdom's gate Suspicion slept;" and, by degrees, which have been
already indicated in this narrative, she whom the Church had committed
to his spiritual care, became his idol. Could he have foreseen this, it
would never have happened; he would have steeled himself, or left the
country that contained this sweet temptation. But love stole on him,
masked with religious zeal, and robed in a garment of light that seemed
celestial.

When the mask fell, it was too late: the power to resist the soft and
thrilling enchantment was gone. The solitary man was too deep in love.

Yet he clung still to that self-deception, without which he never
could have been entrapped into an earthly passion: he never breathed a
word of love to her. It would have alarmed her; it would have alarmed
himself. Every syllable that passed between these two might have been
published without scandal. But the heart does not speak by words alone:
there are looks, and there are tones of voice that belong to love,
and are his signs, his weapons; and it was in these very tones the
priest murmured to his gentle listener about "the angelic life" between
spirits still lingering on earth, but purged from earthly dross; and
even about other topics less captivating to the religious imagination.
He had persuaded her to found a school in this dark parish, and in it
he taught the poor with exemplary and touching patience. Well, when
he spoke to her about this school, it was in words of practical good
sense, but in tones of love; and she, being one of those feminine women
who catch the tone they are addressed in, and instinctively answer in
tune, and, moreover, seeing no ill but good in the subject of their
conversation, replied sometimes, unguardedly enough, in accents almost
as tender.

In truth, if Love was really a personage, as the heathens feigned, he
must have often perched on a tree, in that quiet grove, and chuckled
and mocked, when this man and woman sat and murmured together, in the
soft seducing twilight, about the love of God.

And now things had come to a crisis. Husband and wife went about the
house silent and gloomy, the ghosts of their former selves; and the
priest sat solitary, benighted, bereaved of the one human creature
he cared for. Day succeeded to day, and still she never came. Every
morning he said, "She will come to-day," and brightened with the hope.
But the leaden hours crept by and still she came not.

Three sorrowful weeks went by; and he fell into deep dejection. He
used to wander out at night, and come and stand where he could see
her windows with the moon shining on them: then go slowly home, cold
in body, and with his heart aching, lonely, deserted, and perhaps
forgotten. Oh, never till now had he known the utter aching sense of
being quite alone in this weary world.

One day, as he sat, drooping and listless, there came a light foot
along the passage, a light tap at the door, and, the next moment, she
stood before him, a little paler than usual, but lovelier than ever,
for celestial pity softened her noble features.

The priest started up with a cry of joy that ought to have warned her;
but it only brought a faint blush of pleasure to her cheek and the
brimming tears to her eyes.

"Dear father and friend," said she. "What! have you missed me? Think,
then, how I have missed you. But 'twas best for us both to let their
vile passions cool first."

Leonard could not immediately reply. The emotion of seeing her again so
suddenly almost choked him.

He needed all the self-possession he had been years acquiring not to
throw himself at her knees and declare his passion to her.

Mrs. Gaunt saw his agitation, but did not interpret it aright.

She came eagerly and sat on a stool beside him. "Dear father," she
said, "do not let their insolence grieve you. They have smarted for it,
and shall smart till they make their submission to you, and beg and
entreat you to come to us again. Meantime, since you cannot visit me, I
visit you. Confess me, father, and then direct me with your counsels.
Ah! if you could but give me the Christian temper to carry them out
firmly but meekly! 'Tis my ungoverned spirit hath wrought all this
mischief, mea culpa! mea culpa!"

By this time Leonard had recovered his self-possession, and he spent an
hour of strange intoxication, confessing his idol, sentencing his idol
to light penances, directing and advising his idol, and all in the soft
murmurs of a lover.

She left him and the room seemed to darken.

Two days only elapsed, and she came again. Visit succeeded to visit:
and her affection seemed boundless.

The insult he had received was to be avenged in one place, and healed
in another, and if possible, effaced with tender hand.

So she kept all her sweetness for that little cottage, and all her
acidity for Hernshaw Castle.

It was an evil hour when Griffith attacked her saint with violence. The
woman was too high-spirited, and too sure of her own rectitude, to
endure that: so, instead of crushing her, it drove her to retaliation;
and to imprudence.

These visits to console Father Leonard were quietly watched by Ryder,
for one thing. But, worse than that, they placed Mrs. Gaunt in a new
position with Leonard, and one that melts the female heart. She was now
the protectress and the consoler of a man she admired and revered. I
say if any thing on earth can breed love in a grand female bosom, this
will.

She had put her foot on a sunny slope clad with innocent-looking
flowers; but more and more precipitous at every step, and perdition at
the bottom.



CHAPTER IX.


Father Leonard, visited, soothed, and petted by his idol, recovered his
spirits, and, if he pined during her absence, he was always so joyful
in her presence that she thought of course he was permanently happy;
so then, being by nature magnanimous and placable, she began to smile
on her husband again, and a tacit reconciliation came about by natural
degrees.

But this produced a startling result.

Leonard, as her confessor, had only to follow precedents, and ask
questions his Church has printed for the use of confessors, and he soon
learned enough to infer that their disunion had given way.

The consequence was that one day, being off his guard, or literally
unable to contain his bursting heart any longer, he uttered a cry
of jealous agony, and then in a torrent of burning, melting words,
appealed to her pity. He painted her husband's happiness, and his own
misery, and barren desolation, with a fervid passionate eloquence that
paralysed his hearer, and left her pale and trembling, and the tears of
pity trickling down her cheek.

Those silent tears calmed him a little; and he begged her forgiveness,
and awaited his doom.

"I pity you," said she, angelically. "What? you jealous of my husband!
Oh, pray to Christ and our Lady to cure you of this folly."

She rose, fluttering inwardly, but calm as a statue on the outside,
gave him her hand, and went home very slowly; and the moment she was
out of his sight she drooped her head like a crushed flower.

She was sad, ashamed, alarmed.

Her mind was in a whirl; and, were I to imitate those writers who
undertake to dissect and analyse the heart at such moments, and put the
exact result on paper, I should be apt to sacrifice truth to precision;
I must stick to my old plan, and tell you what she did: that will
surely be some index to her mind, especially with my female readers.

She went home straight to her husband; he was smoking his pipe after
dinner. She drew her chair close to him, and laid her hand tenderly on
his shoulder. "Griffith," she said, "will you grant your wife a favour?
You once promised to take me abroad: I desire to go now: I long to see
foreign countries: I am tired of this place. I want a change. Prithee,
prithee take me hence this very day."

Griffith looked aghast. "Why, sweetheart, it takes a deal of money to
go abroad; we must get in our rents first."

"Nay, I have a hundred pounds laid by."

"Well, but what a fancy to take all of a sudden!"

"Oh, Griffith, don't deny me what I ask you, with my arm round your
neck, dearest. It is no fancy. I want to be alone with you, far from
this place where coolness has come between us." And with this she fell
to crying and sobbing, and straining him tight to her bosom, as if she
feared to lose him, or be taken from him.

Griffith kissed her, and told her to cheer up, he was not the man to
deny her anything. "Just let me get my hay in," said he, "and I'll take
you to Rome, if you like."

"No, no: to-day, or to-morrow at furthest, or you don't love me as I
deserve to be loved by you this day."

"Now Kate, my darling, be reasonable. I must get my hay in; and then I
am your man."

Mrs. Gaunt had gradually sunk almost to her knees. She now started up
with nostrils expanding and her blue eyes glittering. "Your hay!" she
cried, with bitter contempt; "your hay before your wife? That is how
you love me."

And, the next moment, she seemed to turn from a fiery woman to a
glacier.

Griffith smiled at all this with that lordly superiority the male of
our species sometimes wears when he is behaving like a dull ass; and
smoked his pipe, and resolved to indulge her whim as soon as ever he
had got his hay in.



CHAPTER X.


Showery weather set in, and the hay had to be turned twice, and left in
cocks instead of carried.

Griffith spoke now and then about the foreign tour; but Kate deigned no
reply whatever; and the chilled topic died out before the wet hay could
be got in: and so much for Procrastination.

Meantime, Betty Gough was sent for to mend the house-linen. She came
every other day after dinner, and sat working alone beside Mrs. Gaunt
till dark.

Caroline Ryder put her own construction on this, and tried to make
friends with Mrs. Gough, intending to pump her. But Mrs. Gough
gave her short, dry answers. Ryder then felt sure that Gough was a
go-between, and, woman-like, turned up her nose at her with marked
contempt. For why? This office of go-between was one she especially
coveted for herself under the circumstances; and, a little while ago,
it had seemed within her grasp.

One fine afternoon the hay was all carried, and Griffith came home in
good spirits to tell his wife he was ready to make the grand tour with
her.

He was met at the gate by Mrs. Gough, with a face of great concern; she
begged him to come and see the Dame; she had slipped on the oak stairs,
poor soul, and hurt her back.

Griffith tore up the stairs, and found Kate in the drawing-room lying
on a sofa, and her doctor by her side. He came in, trembling like a
leaf, and clasped her piteously in his arms. At this she uttered a
little patient sigh of pain, and the doctor begged him to moderate
himself: there was no immediate cause of alarm; but she must be kept
quiet: she had strained her back, and her nerves were shaken by the
fall.

"Oh, my poor Kate!" cried Griffith; and would let nobody else touch
her. She was no longer a tall girl, but a statuesque woman; yet he
carried her in his herculean arms up to her bed. She turned her head
towards him and shed a gentle tear at this proof of his love; but the
next moment she was cold again, and seemed weary of her life.

An invalid's bed was sent to her by the doctor at her own request, and
placed on a small bed-stead. She lay on this at night, and on a sofa by
day.

Griffith was now as good as a widower; and Caroline Ryder improved the
opportunity. She threw herself constantly in his way, all smiles, small
talk, and geniality.

Like many healthy men, your sickness wearied him if it lasted over two
days; and, whenever he came out, chilled and discontented, from his
invalid wife, there was a fine, buoyant, healthy young woman, ready to
chat with him, and brimming over with undisguised admiration.

True, she was only a servant; a servant to the core. But she had
been always about ladies, and could wear their surface as readily as
she could their gowns. Moreover, Griffith himself lacked dignity and
reserve: he would talk to anybody.

The two women began to fill the relative situations of clouds, and
sunshine.

But, ere this had lasted long, the enticing contact with the object of
her lawless fancy inflamed Ryder, and made her so impatient that she
struck her long meditated blow a little prematurely.

The passage outside Mrs. Gaunt's door had a large window: and one
day, while Griffith was with his wife, Ryder composed herself on the
window-seat in a forlorn attitude, too striking and unlike her usual
gay demeanour to pass unnoticed.

Griffith came out and saw this drooping disconsolate figure. "Hallo!"
said he, "what is wrong with you?" a little fretfully.

A deep sigh was the only response.

"Had words with your sweetheart?"

"You know I have no sweetheart, sir."

The good-natured Squire made an attempt or two to console her and
find out what was the matter; but he could get nothing out of her but
monosyllables and sighs. At last the crocodile contrived to cry. And
having thus secured his pity, she said----

"There, never heed me. I'm a foolish woman; I can't bear to see my dear
master so abused."

"What d'ye mean?" said Griffith, sternly. Her very first shaft wounded
his peace of mind.

"Oh, no matter! why should I be your friend and my own enemy? If I
tell you I shall lose my place."

"Nonsense, girl, you shall never lose your place while I am here."

"Well, I hope not, sir; for I am very happy here; too happy methinks,
when you speak kindly to me. Take no notice of what I said. 'Tis best
to be blind at times."

The simple Squire did not see that this artful creature was playing
the stale game of her sex: stimulating his curiosity under pretence of
putting him off. Ho began to fret with suspicion and curiosity, and
insisted on her speaking out.

"Ah! but I am so afraid you will hate me," said she; "and that will be
worse than losing my place."

Griffith stamped on the ground. "What is it?" said he, fiercely.

Ryder seemed frightened. "It is nothing," said she; then she paused,
and added, "but my folly. I can't bear to see you waste your feelings.
She is not so ill as you fancy."

"Do you mean to say that my wife is pretending?"

"How can I say that? I wasn't there: nobody saw her fall; nor heard her
either; and the house full of people. No doubt there is something the
matter with her; but I do believe her heart is in more trouble than her
back."

"And what troubles her heart? Tell me, and she shall not fret long."

"Well, sir: then just you send for Father Leonard: and she will get up,
and walk as she used, and smile on you as she used. That man is the
main of her sickness, you take my word."

Griffith turned sick at heart: and the strong man literally staggered
at this envenomed thrust of a weak woman's tongue. But he struggled
with the poison.

"What d'ye mean, woman?" said he. "The priest hasn't been near her
these two months."

"That is it, sir," replied Eyder, quietly; "he is too wise to come here
against your will; and she is bitter against you for frightening him
away. Ask yourself, sir, didn't she change to you the moment that you
threatened that Leonard with the horse-pond?"

"That is true!" gasped the wretched husband. Yet he struggled again.
"But she made it up with me after that. Why, 'twas but the other day
she begged me to go abroad with her, and take her away from this place."

"Ah? indeed!" said Ryder, bending her black brows, "did she so?"

"That she did," said Griffith, joyfully: "so you see you are mistaken."

"You should have taken her at her word, sir," was all the woman's reply.

"Well, you see the hay was out: so I put it off; and then came the
cursed rain day after day; and so she cooled upon it."

"Of course she did, sir." Then, with a solemnity that appalled her
miserable listener, "I'd give all I'm worth if you had taken her at her
word that minute. But that is the way with you gentlemen: you let the
occasion slip: and we that be women never forgive that: she won't give
you the same chance again, I know. Now if I was not afraid to make you
unhappy, I'd tell you why she asked you to go abroad. She felt herself
weak and saw her danger; she found she could not resist that Leonard
any longer; and she had the sense to see it wasn't worth her while to
ruin herself for him; so she asked you to save her from him: that is
the plain English. And you didn't."

At this Griffith's face wore an expression of agony so horrible
that Ryder hesitated in her course. "There, there," said she, "pray
don't look so, dear master! after all, there's nothing certain; and
perhaps I am too severe where I see you ill-treated: and to be sure no
woman could be cold to you unless she was bewitched out of her seven
senses by some other man. I couldn't use you as mistress does; but
then there's nobody I care a straw for in these parts, except my dear
master."

Griffith took no notice of this overture: the potent poison of jealousy
was coursing through all his veins and distorting his ghastly face.

"Oh, God!" he gasped, "can this thing be? My wife! the mother of my
child! It is a lie! I can't believe it; I won't believe it. Have pity
on me, woman, and think again, and unsay your words; for, if 'tis so,
there will be murder in this house."

Ryder was alarmed. "Don't talk so," said she, hastily; "no woman born
is worth that: besides, as you say, what do we know against her? She is
a gentlewoman, and well brought up. Now, dear master, you have got one
friend in this house, and that is me: I know women better than you do.
Will you be ruled by me?"

"Yes, I will: for I do believe you care a little for me."

"Then don't you believe anything against our Dame. Keep quiet till
you know more. Don't you be so simple as to accuse her to her face,
or you'll never learn the truth. Just you watch her quietly, without
seeming: and I'll help you. Be a man, and know the truth."

"I will!" said Griffith, grinding his teeth. "And I believe she will
come out pure as snow."

"Well, I hope so too," said Ryder, drily. Then she added, "But don't
you be seen speaking to me too much, sir, or she will suspect me, and
then she will be on her guard with me. When I have anything particular
to tell you, I'll cough, so; and then I'll run out into the Grove:
nobody goes there now."

Griffith did not see the hussy was contriving a series of assignations.
He fell into the trap bodily.

The life this man led was now infernal.

He watched his wife night and day to detect her heart; he gave up
hunting, he deserted the "Red Lion;" if he went out of doors, it was
but a step; he hovered about the place to see if messages came or went;
and he spent hours in his wife's bedroom, watching her, grim, silent,
and sombre, to detect her inmost heart. His flesh wasted visibly, and
his ruddy colour paled. Hell was in his heart. Ay, two hells: jealousy
and suspense.

Mrs. Gaunt saw directly that something was amiss, and ere long she
divined what it was.

But, if he was jealous, she was proud as Lucifer. So she met his
ever-watchful eye with the face of a marble statue.

Only in secret her heart quaked and yearned, and she shed many a
furtive tear, and was sore, sore perplexed.

Meantime Ryder was playing with her master's anguish like a cat with a
mouse.

Upon the pretence of some petty discovery or other, she got him out day
after day into the Grove, and, to make him believe in her candour and
impartiality, would give him feeble reasons for thinking his wife loved
him still; taking care to overpower these reasons with some little
piece of strong good sense and subtle observation.

It is the fate of moral poisoners to poison themselves as well as their
victims. This is a just retribution, and it fell upon this female Iago.
Her wretched master now loved his wife to distraction, yet hated her
to the death: and Ryder loved her master passionately, yet hated him
intensely, by fits and starts.

These secret meetings on which she had counted so, what did she gain
by them? She saw that, with all her beauty, intelligence, and zeal for
him, she was nothing to him still. He suspected, he sometimes hated his
wife, but he was always full of her. There was no getting any other
wedge into his heart.

This so embittered Ryder that one day she revenged herself on him.

He had been saying that no earthly torment could equal his: all his
watching had shown him nothing for certain. "Oh," said he, "if I could
only get proof of her innocence, or proof of her guilt! Anything better
than the misery of doubt. It gnaws my heart, it consumes my flesh. I
can't sleep, I can't eat, I can't sit down. I envy the dead that lie at
peace. Oh, my heart! my heart!"

"And all for a woman that is not young, nor half so handsome as
yourself. Well, sir, I'll try and cure you of your doubt, if that is
what torments you. When you threatened that Leonard, he got his orders
to come here no more. But she visited him at his place again and again."

"'Tis false! How know you that?"

"As soon as your back was turned she used to order her horse and ride
to him."

"How do you know she went to him?"

"I mounted the tower, and saw the way she took."

Griffith's face was a piteous sight, he stammered out, "Well, he is her
confessor. She always visited him at times."

"Ay, sir; but in those days her blood was cool, and his too; but
bethink you now, when you threatened the man with the horse-pond, he
became your enemy. All revenge is sweet; but what revenge is so sweet
to any man as that which came to his arms of its own accord? I do
notice that men can't read men, but any woman can read a woman. Maids
they are reserved, because their mothers have told them that is the
only way to get married. But what have a wife and a priest to keep them
distant? Can they ever hope to come together lawfully? That is why a
priest's light-o'-love is always some honest man's wife. What had those
two to keep them from folly? Old Betty Gough? Why, the mistress had
bought her, body and soul, long ago. No, sir, you had no friend there;
and you had three enemies--love, revenge, and opportunity. Why, what
did the priest say to me? I met him not ten yards from here. 'Ware the
horse-pond!' says I. Says he, 'Since I am to have the bitter, I'll have
the sweet as well.'"[1]

These infernal words were not spoken in vain. Griffith's features were
horribly distorted, his eyes rolled fearfully, and he fell to the
ground, grinding his teeth, and foaming at the mouth. An epileptic fit!

[Footnote 1: Compare this statement with p. 129.]

Ah epileptic fit is a terrible sight: the simple description of one in
our medical books is appalling.

And in this case it was all the more fearful, the subject being so
strong and active.

Caroline Ryder shrieked with terror, but no one heard her; at all
events, no one came; to be sure the place had a bad name for ghosts,
etc.

She tried to hold his head, but could not, for his body kept bounding
from the earth with inconceivable elasticity and fury, and his arms
flew in every direction; and presently Ryder received a violent blow
that almost stunned her.

She lay groaning and trembling beside the victim of her poisonous
tongue and of his own passion.

When she recovered herself he was snorting rather than breathing, but
lying still and pale enough, his eyes set and glassy.

She got up, and went with uneven steps to a little rill hard by, and
plunged her face in it: then filled her beaver hat, and came and dashed
water repeatedly in his face.

He came to his senses by degrees; but was weak as an infant. Then Ryder
wiped the foam from his lips, and kneeling on her knees, laid a soft
hand upon his heavy head, shedding tears of pity and remorse, and sick
at heart herself.

For what had she gained by blackening her rival? The sight of his
bodily agony, and his ineradicable love.

Mrs. Gaunt sat out of shot, cold, calm, superior.

Yet, in the desperation of her passion, it was something to nurse
his "weak head an instant and shed hot tears upon his brow; it was a
positive joy, and soon proved a fresh and inevitable temptation.

"My poor master," said she, tenderly, "I never will say a word to you
again. It is better to be blind. My God! how you cling to her that
feigns a broken back to be rid of you, when there are others as well to
look at, and ever so much younger, that adore every hair on your head,
and would follow you round the world for one kind look."

"Let no one love me like that," said Griffith, feebly, "to love so, is
to be miserable."

"Pity her then, at least," murmured Ryder; and, feeling she had quite
committed herself now, her bosom panted under Griffith's ear, and told
him the secret she had kept till now.

My female readers will sneer at this temptation: my male readers know
that scarcely one man out of a dozen, sick, sore, and hating her he
loved, would have turned away from the illicit consolation thus offered
to him in his hour of weakness with soft seducing tones, warm tears,
and heart that panted at his ear.



CHAPTER XI.


How did poor, faulty Griffith receive it?

He raised his head, and turned his brown eye gentle but full upon her.
"My poor girl," said he, "I see what you are driving at. But that will
not do. I have nothing to give you in exchange. I hate my wife that I
loved so dear: d--n her! d--n her! But I hate all womankind for her
sake. Keep you clear of me. I would ruin no poor girl for heartless
sport. I shall have blood on my hands ere long, and that is enough."

And, with these alarming words, he seemed suddenly to recover all his
vigour; for he rose and stalked away at once, and never looked behind
him.

Ryder made no further attempt. She sat down and shed bitter tears of
sorrow and mortification.

After this cruel rebuff she must hate somebody; and with the justice
of her sex, she pitched on Mrs. Gaunt, and hated her like a demon, and
watched to do her a mischief by hook or by crook.

Griffith's appearance and manner caused Mrs. Gaunt very serious
anxiety. His clothes hung loose on his wasted frame; his face was of
one uniform sallow tint, like a maniac's; and he sat silent for hours
beside his wife, eyeing her askant from time to time like a surly
mastiff guarding some treasure.

She divined what was passing in his mind, and tried to soothe him;
but almost in vain. He was sometimes softened for the moment; but
hæret lateri lethalis arundo; he still hovered about, watching her and
tormenting himself; gnawed mad by three vultures of the mind--doubt,
jealousy and suspense.

Then Mrs. Gaunt wrote letters to Father Leonard: hitherto she had only
sent him short messages.

Betty Gough carried these letters and brought the answers.

Griffith, thanks to the hint Ryder had given him, suspected this, and
waylaid the old woman, and roughly demanded to see the letter she was
carrying. She stoutly protested she had none. He seized her, turned her
pockets inside out, and found a bunch of keys; item, a printed dialogue
between Peter and Herod, omitted in the canonical books, but described
by the modern discoverer as an infallible charm for the toothache;
item, a brass thimble; item, half a nutmeg.

"Curse your cunning," said he; and went off muttering.

The old woman tottered trembling to Mrs. Gaunt, related this outrage
with an air of injured innocence, then removed her cap, undid her hair,
and took out a letter from Leonard.

"This must end, and shall," said Mrs. Gaunt, firmly; "else it will
drive him mad and me too." Bolton fair-day came. It was a great fair,
and had attractions for all classes. There were cattle and horses of
all kinds for sale, and also shows, games, wrestling, and dancing till
day-break.

All the servants had a prescriptive right to go to this fair: and
Griffith himself had never missed one. He told Kate over-night he would
go, if it were not for leaving her alone.

The words were kinder than their meaning; but Mrs. Gaunt had the tact,
or the candour, to take them in their best sense. "And I would go with
you, my dear," said she; "but I should only be a drag. Never heed me;
give yourself a day's pleasure, for indeed you need it. I am in care
about you: you are so dull of late."

"Well, I will," said Griffith. "I'll not mope here when all the rest
are merry-making."

Accordingly, next day about eleven in the morning, he mounted his horse
and rode to the fair, leaving the house empty; for all the servants
were gone except the old housekeeper; she was tied to the fireside by
rheumatics. Even Ryder started, with a new bonnet and red ribbons; but
that was only a blind. She slipped back and got unperceived into her
own bedroom.

Griffith ran through the fair; but could not enjoy it. Hærebat lateri
arundo. He came galloping back to watch his wife, and see whether Betty
Gough had come again or not.

As he rode into the stable-yard he caught sight of Ryder's face at an
upper window. She looked pale and agitated, and her black eyes flashed
with a strange expression. She made him a signal which he did not
understand; but she joined him directly after in the stable-yard.

"Come quietly with me," said she, solemnly.

He hooked his horse's rein to the wall, and followed her, trembling.

She took him up the back stairs, and, when she got on the landing, she
turned and said, "Where did you leave her?"

"In her own room."

"See if she is there now," said Ryder, pointing to the door.

Griffith tore the door open: the room was empty.

"Nor is she to be found in the house," said Ryder; "for I've been in
every room."

Griffith's face turned livid, and he staggered and leaned against the
wall. "Where is she?" said he, hoarsely.

"Humph!" said Ryder, fiendishly. "Find him, and you will find her."

"I'll find them if they are above ground," cried Griffith, furiously;
and he rushed into his bedroom and soon came out again, with a fearful
purpose written on his ghastly features and in his bloodshot eyes; and
a loaded pistol in his hand.

Ryder was terrified; but instead of succumbing to terror, she flew at
him like a cat and wreathed her arms round him.

"What would you do?" cried she. "Madman, would you hang for them? and
break my heart; the only woman in the world that loves you. Give me the
pistol. Nay, I will have it."

And, with that extraordinary power excitement lends her sex, she
wrenched it out of his hands.

He gnashed his teeth with fury, and clutched her with a gripe of iron:
she screamed with pain: he relaxed his grasp a little at that: she
turned on him and defied him.

"I won't let you get into trouble for a priest and a wanton," she
cried; "you shall kill me first. Leave mo the pistol, and pledge me
your sacred word to do them no harm, and then I'll tell you where they
are. Refuse me this, and you shall go to your grave and know nothing
more than you know now."

"No, no: if you are a woman have pity on me; let me come at them.
There, I'll use no weapon. I'll tear them to atoms with these hands.
Where are they?"

"May I put the pistol away, then?"

"Yes, take it out of my sight; so best. Where are they?"

Ryder locked the pistol up in one of Mrs. Gaunt's boxes. Then she said,
in a trembling voice, "Follow me."

He followed her in awful silence.

She went rather slowly to the door that opened on the lawn; and then
she hesitated. "If you are a man, and have any feeling for a poor
girl who loves you; if you are a gentleman, and respect your word--no
violence."

"I promise," said he. "Where are they?"

"Nay, nay. I fear I shall rue the day I told you. Promise me once more:
no bloodshed--upon your soul."

"I promise. Where are they?"

"God forgive me; they are in the Grove."

He bounded away from her like some beast of prey; and she crouched and
trembled on the steps of the door: and, now that she realized what she
was doing, a sickening sense of dire misgiving came over her and made
her feel quite faint.

And so the weak, but dangerous creature sat crouching and quaking, and
launched the strong one.

Griffith was soon in the Grove; and the first thing he saw was Leonard
and his wife walking together in earnest conversation. Their backs were
towards him. Mrs. Gaunt, whom he had left lying on a sofa, and who
professed herself scarce able to walk half a dozen times across the
room, was now springing along, elastic as a young greyhound, and full
of fire and animation. The miserable husband saw, and his heart died
within him.

He leaned against a tree and groaned.

The deadly sickness of his heart soon gave way to sombre fury. He came
softly after them, with ghastly cheek, and bloodthirsty eyes, like
red-hot coals.

They stopped; and he heard his wife say, "'Tis a solemn promise, then:
this very night." The priest bowed assent. Then they spoke in so low a
voice, he could not hear; but his wife pressed a purse upon Leonard,
and Leonard hesitated, but ended by taking it.

Griffith uttered a yell like a tiger, and rushed between them with
savage violence, driving the lady one way with his wrists, and the
priest another. She screamed: he trembled in silence.

Griffith stood a moment between these two pale faces, silent and awful.

Then he faced his wife. "You vile wretch!" he cried: "so you buy your
own dishonour, and mine." He raised his hand high over her head; she
never winced. "Oh! but for my oath, I'd lay you dead at my feet. But
no; I'll not hang for a priest and a wanton. So, this is the thing
you love, and pay it to love you." And with all the mad inconsistency
of rage, which mixes small things and great, he tore the purse out of
Leonard's hand: then seized him felly by the throat.

At that the high spirit of Mrs. Gaunt gave way to abject terror. "Oh,
mercy! mercy!" she cried; "it is all a mistake." And she clung to his
knees.

He spurned her furiously away. "Don't touch me, woman," he cried, "or
you are dead. Look at this!" And in a moment, with gigantic strength
and fury, he dashed the priest down at her feet. "I know ye, ye proud
devil," he cried, "love the thing you have seen me tread upon! love
it--if ye can." And he literally trampled upon the poor priest with
both feet.

Leonard shrieked for mercy.

"None, in this world or the next," roared Griffith; but the next moment
he took fright at himself. "God!" he cried, "I must go, or kill. Live
and be damned for ever, the pair of ye." And with this he fled from
them, grinding his teeth and beating the air with his clenched lists.

He darted to the stable-yard, sprang on his horse, and galloped away
from Hernshaw Castle, with the face, the eyes, the gestures, the
incoherent mutterings of a raving Bedlamite.



CHAPTER XII.


At the fair the wrestling was ended, and the tongues going over it all
again, and throwing the victors; the greasy pole, with leg of mutton
attached by ribbons, was being hoisted, and the swings flying, and
the lads and lasses footing it to the fife and tabor, and the people
chattering in groups; when the clatter of a horse's feet was heard,
and a horseman burst in and rode recklessly through the market-place;
indeed, if his noble horse had been as rash as he was, some would
have been trampled under foot. The rider's face was ghastly: such as
were not exactly in his path, had time to see it, and wonder how this
terrible countenance came into that merry place. Thus, as he passed,
shouts of dismay arose, and a space opened before him, and then closed
behind him with a great murmur that followed at his heels.

Tom Leicester was listening, spell-bound, on the outskirts of the
throng, to the songs and humorous tirades of a pedlar selling his
wares; and was saying to himself, "I too will be a pedlar." Hearing the
row, he turned round, and saw his master just coming down with that
stricken face.

Tom could not decipher his own name in print or manuscript; and these
are the fellows that beat us all at reading countenances: he saw in
a moment that some great calamity had fallen on Griffith's head; and
nature stirred in him. He darted to his master's side, and seized the
bridle. "What is up?" he cried.

But Griffith did not answer, nor notice; his ears were almost deaf,
and his eyes, great and staring, were fixed right ahead; and to all
appearance, he did not see the people: he seemed to be making for the
horizon.

"Master! for the love of Heaven, speak to me," cried Leicester. "What
have they done to you? Whither be you going, with the face of a ghost?"

"Away, from the hangman," shrieked Griffith, still staring at the
horizon. "Stay me not; my hands itch for their throats; my heart
thirsts for their blood; but I'll not hang for a priest and a wanton."
Then he suddenly turned on Leicester, "Let thou go, or----," and he
lifted up his heavy riding whip.

Then Leicester let go the rein, and the whip descended on the horse's
flank; he went clattering furiously over the stones, and drove the
thinner groups apart like chaff, and his galloping feet were soon heard
fainter and fainter till they died away in the distance. Leicester
stood gaping.

Griffith's horse, a black hunter of singular power and beauty, carried
his wretched master well that day; he went on till sunset, trotting,
cantering, and walking, without intermission; the whip ceased to touch
him, the rein never checked him. He found he was the master, and he
went his own way. He took his broken rider back into the county where
he had been foaled. But a few miles from his native place they came
to the "Packhorse," a pretty little roadside inn, with farm-yard and
buildings at the back. He had often baited here in his infancy; and
now, stiff and stumbling with fatigue, the good horse could not pass
the familiar place; he walked gravely into the stable-yard, and there
fairly came to an end; craned out his drooping head, crooked his limbs,
and seemed of wood. And no wonder. He was ninety-three miles from his
last corn.

Paul Carrick, a young farrier, who frequented the "Packhorse," happened
just then to be lounging at the kitchen door, and saw him come in. He
turned directly, and shouted into the house, "Ho! Master Vint, come
hither. Here's Black Dick come home, and brought you a worshipful
customer."

The landlord bustled out of the kitchen, crying, "They are welcome
both." Then he came lowly louting to Griffith, cap in hand, and held
the horse, poor immoveable brute; and his wife curtsied perseveringly
at the door.

Griffith dismounted, and stood there looking like one in a dream.

"Please you come in, sir," said the landlady, smiling professionally

He followed her mechanically.

"Would your worship be private? We keep a parlour for gentles."

"Ay, let me be alone," he groaned.

Mercy Vint, the daughter, happened to be on the stairs and heard him:
the voice startled her, and she turned round directly to look at the
speaker; but she only saw his back going into the room, and then he
flung himself like a sack into the arm-chair.

The landlady invited him to order supper: he declined. She pressed him.
He flung a piece of money on the table, and told her savagely to score
his supper, and leave him in peace.

She flounced out with a red face, and complained to her husband in the
kitchen.

Harry Vint rung the crown piece on the table before he committed
himself to a reply. It rang like a bell. "Churl or not, his coin is
good," said Harry Vint, philosophically. "I'll eat his supper, dame,
for that matter."

"Father," whispered Mercy, "I do think the gentleman is in trouble."

"And that is no business of mine, neither," said Harry Vint.

Presently the guest they were discussing called loudly for a quart of
burnt wine.

When it was ready, Mercy offered to take it in to him. She was curious.
The landlord looked up rather surprised; for his daughter attended to
the farm, but fought shy of the inn and its business.

"Take it, lass, and welcome for me," said Mrs. Vint, pettishly.

Mercy took the wine in, and found Griffith with his head buried in his
hands.

She stood a while with the tray, not knowing what to do.

Then, as he did not move, she said, softly, "The wine, sir, an if it
please you."

Griffith lifted his head, and turned two eyes clouded with suffering
upon her; he saw a buxom, blooming, young woman, with remarkably
dove-like eyes that dwelt with timid, kindly curiosity upon him. He
looked at her in a half distracted way, and then put his hand to the
mug. "Here's perdition to all false women!" said he, and tossed half
the wine down at a single draught.

"'Tis not to me you drink, sir," said Mercy, with gentle dignity. Then
she curtsied modestly and retired, discouraged, not offended.

The wretched Griffith took no notice--did not even see he had repulsed
a friendly visitor. The wine, taken on an empty stomach, soon stupified
him, and he staggered to bed.

He awoke at day-break; and, oh the agony of that waking.

He lay sighing a while, with his hot skin quivering on his bones, and
his heart like lead; then got up and flung his clothes on hastily, and
asked how far to the nearest sea-port.

Twenty miles.

He called for his horse. The poor brute was dead lame.

He cursed that good servant for going lame. He walked round and round
like a wild beast, chafing and fuming a while; then sank into a torpor
of dejection, and sat with his head bowed on the table all day.

He ate scarcely any food; but drank wine freely, remarking, however,
that it was false-hearted stuff; did him no good; and had no taste as
wine used to have. "But nothing is what it was," said he. "Even I was
happy once. But that seems years ago."

"Alas! poor gentleman; God comfort you," said Mercy Vint, and came with
the tears in her dove-like eyes, and said to her father, "To be sure
his worship hath been crossed in love; and what could she be thinking
of? Such a handsome, well-made gentleman!"

"Now that is a wench's first thought," said Harry Vint: "more likely
lost his money, gambling, or racing. But, indeed, I think 'tis his
head is disordered, not his heart. I wish the 'Packhorse' was quit of
him, maugre his laced coat. We want no kill-joys here."

That night he was heard groaning and talking, and did not come down at
all.

So at noon Mrs. Vint knocked at his door: a weak voice bade her enter;
she found him shivering, and he asked her for a fire.

She grumbled, out of hearing, but lighted a fire.

Presently his voice was heard hallooing: he wanted all the windows
open: he was so burning hot.

The landlady looked at him, and saw his face was flushed and swollen:
and he complained of pain in all his bones. She opened the windows,
and asked him would he have a doctor sent for: he shook his head
contemptuously.

However, towards evening he became delirious, and raved and tossed, and
rolled his head as if it was an intolerable weight he wanted to get
rid of.

The females of the family were for sending at once for a doctor; but
the prudent Harry demurred.

"Tell me, first, who is to pay the fee," said he. "I've seen a fine
coat with the pockets empty, before to-day."

The women set up their throats at him with one accord, each after her
kind.

"Out, fie!" said Mercy; "are we to do nought for charity?"

"Why, there's his horse, ye foolish man," said Mrs. Vint.

"Ay, ye are both wiser than me," said Harry Vint, ironically. And soon
after that he went out softly.

The next minute he was in the sick man's room, examining his pockets.
To his infinite surprise he found twenty gold pieces, a quantity of
silver, and some trinkets.

He spread them all out on the table and gloated on them with greedy
eyes. They looked so inviting, that he said to himself, they would
be safer in his custody than in that of a delirious person, who was
even now raving incoherently before him, and could not see what he was
doing. He therefore proceeded to transfer them to his own care.

On the way to his pocket, his shaking hand was arrested by another
hand, soft, but firm as iron. He shuddered and looked round in abject
terror; and there was his daughter's face, pale as his own, but full of
resolution. "Nay, father," said she; "I must take charge of these: and
well do you know why."

These simple words cowed Harry Vint, so that he instantly resigned the
money and jewels, and retired, muttering that "things were come to a
pretty pass,"--"a man was no longer master in his own house," etc. etc.
etc.

While he inveighed against the degeneracy of the age, the women paid
him no more attention than the age did, but just sent for the doctor.
He came, and bled the patient. This gave him a momentary relief; but
when in the natural progress of the disease, sweating and weakness came
on, the loss of the precious vital fluid was fatal, and the patient's
pulse became scarce perceptible. There he lay, with wet hair, and
gleaming eyes, and haggard face, at death's door.

An experienced old crone was got to nurse him, and she told Mrs. Vint
he would live maybe three days.

Paul Carrick used to come to the "Packhorse" after Mercy Vint, and,
finding her sad, asked her what was the matter.

"What should it be," said she, "but the poor gentleman a-dying
overhead; away from all his friends."

"Let me see him," said Paul.

Mercy took him softly into the room.

"Ay, he is booked," said the farrier. "Doctor has taken too much blood
out of the man's body. They kill a many that way."

"Alack, Paul! must he die? Can nought be done?" said Mercy, clasping
her hands.

"I don't say that, neither," said the farrier. "He is a well-made man:
he is young. I might save him, perhaps, if I had not so many beasts to
look to. I'll tell you what you do. Make him soup as strong as strong;
have him watched night and day, and let 'em put a spoonful of warm
wine into him every hour, and then of soup; egg flip is a good thing,
too; change his bed-linen, and keep the doctors from him: that is his
only chance: he is fairly dying of weakness. But I must be off; Farmer
Blake's cow is down for calving: I must give her an ounce of salts
before 'tis too late."

Mercy Vint scanned the patient closely, and saw that Paul Carrick was
right. She followed his instructions to the letter, with one exception.
Instead of trusting to the old woman, of whom she had no very good
opinion, she had the great arm-chair brought into the sick-room, and
watched the patient herself by night and day: a gentle hand cooled his
temples; a gentle hand brought concentrated nourishment to his lips;
and a mellow voice coaxed him to be good and swallow it. There are
voices it is not natural to resist; and Griffith learned by degrees to
obey this one, even when he was half unconscious.

At the end of three days this zealous young nurse thought she discerned
a slight improvement, and told her mother so. Then the old lady came
and examined the patient, and shook her head gravely. Her judgment,
like her daughter's, was influenced by her wishes.

The fact is, both landlord and landlady were now calculating upon
Griffith's decease. Harry had told her about the money and jewels, and
the pair had put their heads together, and settled that Griffith was a
gentleman highwayman, and his spoil would never be reclaimed after his
decease, but fall to those good Samaritans, who were now nursing him,
and intended to bury him respectably. The future being thus settled,
this worthy couple became a little impatient; for Griffith, like
Charles the Second, was "an unconscionable time dying."

We order dinner to hasten a lingering guest, and, with equal force
of logic, mine host of the "Packhorse" spoke to White, the village
carpenter, about a full-sized coffin: and his wife set the old crone to
make a linen shroud, unobtrusively, in the bakehouse.

On the third afternoon of her nursing, Mercy left her patient, and
called up the crone to tend him. She herself, worn out with fatigue,
threw herself on a bed in her mother's room, hard by, and soon fell
asleep.

She had slept about two hours when she was wakened by a strange noise
in the sick chamber. A man and a woman quarrelling.

She bounded off the bed, and was in the room directly.

Lo and behold, there were the nurse and the dying man abusing one
another like pick-pockets.

The cause of this little misunderstanding was not far to seek. The
old crone had brought up her work, videlicet, a winding-sheet all but
finished, and certain strips of glazed muslin about three inches deep.
She soon completed the winding-sheet, and hung it over two chairs in
the patient's sight; she then proceeded to double the slips in six,
and nick them; then she unrolled them, and they were frills, and well
adapted to make the coming corpse absurd, and divest it of any little
dignity the King of Terrors might bestow on it.

She was so intent upon her congenial task, that she did not observe
the sick man had awakened, and was viewing her and her work with an
intelligent but sinister eye.

"What is that you are making?" said he, grimly.

The voice was rather clear, and strong, and seemed so loud and strange
in that still chamber, that it startled the woman mightily. She uttered
a little shriek, and then was wrath. "Plague take the man!" said she;
"how you scared me. Keep quiet, do; and mind your own business," [The
business of going off the hooks.]

"I ask you what is that you are making," said Griffith, louder; and
raising himself on his arm.

"Baby's frills," replied the woman, coolly, recovering that contempt
for the understandings of the dying, which marks the veritable crone.

"Ye lie," said Griffith. "And there is a shroud. Who is that for?"

"Who should it be for, thou simple body? Keep quiet, do, till the
change comes. 'Twon't be long now; art too well to last till sun-down."

"So 'tis for me, is it?" screamed Griffith. "I'll disappoint ye yet.
Give me my clothes. I'll not lie here to be measured for my grave, ye
old witch."

"Here's manners!" cackled the indignant crone. "Ye foul-mouthed knave!
is this how you thank a decent woman for making a comfortable corpse of
ye, you that has no right to die in your shoes, let a be such dainties
as muslin neck-ruff, and shroud of good Dutch flax."

At this Griffith discharged a volley, in which "vulture," "hag,"
"blood-sucker," etc., blended with as many oaths: during which Mercy
came in.

She glided to him, with her dove's eyes full of concern, and laid her
hand gently on his shoulder: "You'll work yourself a mischief," said
she; "leave me to scold her. Why, my good Nelly, how could you be so
hare-brained? prithee take all that trumpery away this minute: none
here needeth it, nor shall not this many a year, please God."

"They want me dead," said Griffith to her, piteously, finding he had
got one friend: and sunk back on his pillow exhausted.

"So it seems," said Mercy, cunningly. "But I'd baulk them finely. I'd
up and order a beef-steak this minute."

"And shall," said Griffith, with feeble spite. "Leastways, do you order
it, and I'll eat it:-- d----n her!"

Sick men are like children; and women soon find that out, and manage
them accordingly. In ten minutes Mercy brought a good rump-steak
to the bedside, and said "Now for't. Marry come, up, with her
winding-sheets!"

Thus played upon, and encouraged, the great baby ate more than half the
steak; and soon after perspired gently, and fell asleep.

Paul Carrick found him breathing gently, with a slight tint of red in
his cheek; and told Mercy there was a change for the better. "We have
brought him to a true intermission," said he; "so throw in the bark at
once."

"What, drench his honour's worship!" said Mercy, innocently. "Nay, send
thou the medicine, and I'll find womanly ways to get it down him."

Next day came the doctor, and whispered softly to Mrs. Vint, "How are
we all upstairs?"

"Why couldn't you come afore?" replied Mrs Vint, crossly. "Here's
farrier Carrick stepped in, and curing him out of hand; the meddlesome
body."

"A farrier rob me of my patient!" cried the doctor, in high dudgeon.

"Nay, good sir, 'tis no fault of mine. This Paul is a sort of a kind of
a follower of our Mercy's: and she is mistress here, I trow."

"And what hath his farriership prescribed? Friar's balsam, belike."

"Nay, I know not; but you may soon learn, for he is above, physicking
the gentleman (a pretty gentleman!) and suiting to our Mercy--after a
manner."

The doctor declined to make one in so mixed a consultation.

"Give me my fee, dame," said he: "and as for this impertinent farrier,
the patient's blood be on his head; and I'd have him beware the law."

Mrs. Vint went to the stair-foot and screamed, "Mercy, the good doctor
wants his fee. Who is to pay it, I wonder?"

"I'll bring it him anon," said a gentle voice: and Mercy soon came
down and paid it with a willing air that half disarmed professional
fury.

"'Tis a good lass, dame," said the doctor, when she was gone; "and, by
the same token, I wish her better mated than to a scrub of a farrier."

Griffith, still weak, but freed of fever, woke one glorious afternoon,
and heard a bird-like voice humming a quaint old ditty, and saw a field
of golden wheat through an open window, and seated at that window the
mellow songstress, Mercy Vint, plying her needle, with lowered lashes
but beaming face, a picture of health and quiet womanly happiness.
Things were going to her mind in that sick-room.

He looked at her, and at the golden corn and summer haze beyond, and
the tide of life seemed to rush back upon him.

"My good lass," said he, "tell me, where am I? for I know not."

Mercy started, and left off singing, then rose and came slowly towards
him, with her work in her hand.

Innocent joy at this new symptom of convalescence flushed her comely
features, but she spoke low.

"Good sir, at the 'Packhorse,'" said she, smiling. "The 'Packhorse?'
and where is that?"

"Hard by Allerton village."

"And where is that? not in Cumberland?"

"Nay, in Lancashire, your worship. Why, whence come you that know not
the 'Packhorse,' nor yet Allerton township? Come you from Cumberland?"

"No matter whence I come. I'm going on board ship; like my father
before me."

"Alas, sir, you are not fit; you have been very ill; and partly
distraught."

She stopped: for Griffith turned his face to the wall with a deep
groan. It had all rushed over him in a moment.

Mercy stood still, and worked on, but the water gathered in her eyes at
that eloquent groan.

By-and-by Griffith turned round again, with a face of anguish, and
filmy eyes, and saw her in the same place standing, working, and
pitying.

"What, are you there still?" said he, roughly.

"Ay, sir; but I'll go, sooner than be troublesome. Can I fetch you
anything?"

"No. Ay, wine; bring me wine to drown it all."

She brought him a pint of wine.

"Pledge me," said he, with a miserable attempt at a smile.

She put the cup to her lips, and sipped a drop or two; but her dove's
eyes were looking up at him over the liquor all the time. Griffith soon
disposed of the rest; and asked for more.

"Nay," said she, "but I dare not: the doctor hath forbidden excess in
drinking."

"The doctor! what doctor?"

"Doctor Paul," said she, demurely. "He hath saved your life, sir, I do
think."

"Plague take him for that!"

"So say not I."

Here she left him with an excuse. "'Tis milking time, sir: and you
shall know that I am our dairymaid. I seldom trouble the inn."

Next day she was on the window-seat, working and beaming. The patient
called to her in peevish accents to put his head higher. She laid down
her work with a smile, and came and raised his head.

"There, now, that is too high," said he: "how awkward you are."

"I lack experience, sir, but not good will. There, now, is that a
little better?"

"Ay, a little. I'm sick of lying here: I want to get up. Dost hear what
I say? I--want--to get up."

"And so you shall. As soon as ever you are fit. To-morrow, perhaps.
To-day, you must e'en be patient. Patience is a rare medicine."

Tic, tic, tic! "What a noise they are making downstairs. Go, lass, and
bid them hold their peace."

Mercy shook her head. "Good lack-a-day! we might as well bid the river
give over running; but, to be sure, this comes of keeping a hostelry,
sir. When we had only the farm, we were quiet, and did no ill to no
one."

"Well, sing me, to drown their eternal buzzing: it worries me dead."

"Me sing! alack, sir, I'm no songster."

"That is false. You sing like a throstle. I dote on music; and, when I
was delirious, I heard one singing about my bed; I thought it was an
angel at that time; but 'twas only you, my young mistress: and now I
ask you, you say me nay. That is the way with you all. Plague take the
girl, and all her curst, unreasonable, hypocritical sex. I warrant me
you'd sing if I wanted to sleep; and dance the devil to a standstill."

Mercy, instead of flouncing out of the room, stood looking on him with
maternal eyes, and chuckling like a bird.

"That is right, sir: tax us all to your heart's content. O, but I'm a
joyful woman to hear you; for 'tis a sure sign of mending when the sick
take to rating of their nurses."

"In sooth, I am too cross-grained," said Griffith, relenting.

"Not a whit, sir, for my taste. I've been in care for you: and now you
are a little cross, that maketh me easy."

"Thou art a good soul. Wilt sing me a stave after all?"

"La, you now; how you come back to that. Ay, and with a good heart:
for, to be sure, 'tis a sin to gainsay a sick man. But indeed I am the
homeliest singer. Methinks 'tis time I went down and bade them cook
your worship's supper."

"Nay, I'll not eat nor sup, till I hear thee sing."

"Your will is my law, sir," said Mercy, drily, and retired to the
window-seat; that was the first obvious preliminary. Then she fiddled
with her apron, and hem'd, and waited in hopes a reprieve might come;
but a peevish, relentless voice demanded the song at intervals.

So then she turned her head carefully away from her hearer, lowered her
eyes, and, looking the picture of guilt and shame all the time, sang an
ancient ditty. The poltroon's voice was rich, mellow, clear, and sweet
as honey; and she sang the notes for the sake of the words, not the
words for the sake of the notes, as all but Nature's singers do.

The air was grave as well as sweet; for Mercy was of an old Puritan
stock, and even her songs were not giddy-paced, but solid, quaint, and
tender; all the more did they reach the soul.

In vain was the blushing cheek averted, and the honeyed lips: the
ravishing tones set the birds chirping outside, yet filled the room
within, and the glasses rang in harmony upon the shelf as the sweet
singer poured out from her heart (so it seemed) the speaking song that
begins thus----

    In vain you tell your parting lover
    You wish fair winds may waft him over,

    Alas, what winds can happy prove
    That bear me far from her I love?

    Alas, what dangers on the main
    Can equal those that I sustain
    From slighted love and cold disdain.

Griffith beat time with his hand awhile, and his own face softened and
beautified as the melody curled about his heart. But soon it was too
much for him; he knew the song; had sung it to Kate Peyton in their
days of courtship. A thousand memories gushed in upon his soul and
overpowered him. He burst out sobbing violently, and wept as if his
heart must break.

"Alas! what have I done?" said Mercy: and the tears ran swiftly from
her eyes at the sight. Then, with native delicacy, she hurried from the
room.

What Griffith went through that night, in silence, was never known
but to himself. But the next morning he was a changed man. He was all
dogged resolution: put on his clothes unaided, though he could hardly
stand to do it; and borrowed the landlord's staff, and crawled out a
smart distance into the sun. "It was kill or cure," said he. "I am to
live, it seems. Well, then, the past is dead. My life begins again
to-day."

Hen-like Mercy soon learned this sally of her refractory duckling, and
was uneasy. So, for an excuse to watch him, she brought him out his
money and jewels, and told him she had thought it safest to take charge
of them.

He thanked her cavalierly, and offered her a diamond ring.

She blushed scarlet, and declined it; and even turned a meekly
reproachful glance on at him with her dove's eyes.

He had a suit of russet made, and put away his fine coat, and forbade
any one to call him "Your worship." "I am a farmer, like yourselves,"
said he; "and my name is----Thomas Leicester."

A brain fever either kills the unhappy lover, or else benumbs the very
anguish that caused it.

And so it was with Griffith. His love got benumbed, and the sense of
his wrongs vivid. He nursed a bitter hatred of his wife; only, as he
could not punish her without going near her, and no punishment short
of death seemed enough for her, he set to work to obliterate her from
his very memory, if possible. He tried employment: he pottered about
the little farm, advising and helping, and that so zealously that the
landlord retired altogether from that department, and Griffith, instead
of he, became Mercy's ally, agricultural and bucolical. She was a
shepherdess to the core, and hated the poor "Packhorse."

For all that it was her fate to add to its attractions: for Griffith
bought a viol da gambo, and taught her sweet songs, which he
accompanied with such skill and, sometimes, with his voice, that good
company often looked in on the chance of a good song sweetly sung and
played.

The sick in body, or mind, are egotistical. Griffith was no exception:
bent on curing his own deep wound, he never troubled his head about the
wound he might inflict.

He was grateful to his sweet nurse, and told her so. And his gratitude
charmed her all the more that it had been rather long in coming.

He found this dove-like creature a wonderful soother: he applied her
more and more to his sore heart.

As for Mercy, she had been too good and kind to her patient not to take
a tender interest in his convalescence. Our hearts warm more to those
we have been kind to, than to those who have been kind to us: and the
female reader can easily imagine what delicious feelings stole into
that womanly heart, when she saw her pale nursling pick up health and
strength under her wing, and become the finest, handsomest man in the
parish.

Pity and admiration; where these meet, love is not far behind.

And then this man, who had been cross and rough while he was weak,
became gentler, kinder, and more deferential to her, the stronger he
got.

Mrs. Vint saw they were both fond of each other's company, and
disapproved it. She told Paul Garrick if he had any thought of Mercy he
had bettor give over shilly-shallying, for there was another man after
her. Paul made light of it at first. "She has known me too long to take
up her head with a newcomer," said he. "To be sure I never asked her to
name the day; but she knows my mind well enough, and I know hers."

"Then you know more than I do," said the mother, ironically.

He thought over this conversation, and very wisely determined not to
run unnecessary risks: he came up one afternoon, and hunted about for
Mercy, till he found her milking a cow in the adjoining paddock.

"Well, lass," said he, "I've good news for thee. My old dad says we may
have his house to live in. So now you and I can yoke next month if ye
will." "Me turn the honest man out of his house!" said Mercy, mighty
innocently.

"Who asks you? He nobbut bargains for the chimney corner: and you are
not the girl to begrudge the old man that."

"Oh no, Paul. But what would father do if I were to leave his house?
Methinks the farm would go to rack and ruin; he is so wrapped up in his
nasty public."

"Why, he has got a helper, by all accounts: and if you talk like that,
you will never wed at all."

"Never is a big word. But I'm too young to marry yet. Jenny, thou jade,
stand still."

The attack and defence proceeded upon these terms for some time; and
the defendant had one base advantage; and used it. Her forehead was
wedged tight against Jenny's ribs, and Paul could not see her face.
This, and the feminine evasiveness of her replies, irritated him at
last.

"Take thy head out o' the coow," said he, roughly, "and answer
straight. Is all our wooing to go for nought?"

"Wooing? You never said so much to me in all these years, as you have
to-day."

"Oh, ye knew my mind well enough. There's a many ways of showing the
heart."

"Speaking out is the best, I trow."

"Why, what do I come here for twice a week, this two years past, if not
for thee?"

"Ay, for me, and father's ale."

"And thou canst look at me, and tell me that? Ye false hard-hearted
hussy. But, nay, thou wast never so: 'tis this Thomas Leicester hath
bewitched thee, and set thee against thy true lover."

"Mr. Leicester pays no suit to me," said Mercy, blushing: "he is a
right civil-spoken gentleman, and you know you saved his life."

"The more fool I. I wish I had known he was going to rob me of my
lass's heart, I'd have seen him die a hundred times ere I'd have
interfered. But they say if you save a man's life he'll make you rue
it. Mercy, my lass, you are well respected in the parish; take a
thought now: better be a farrier's wife than a gentleman's mistress."

Mercy did take her head "out of the cow" at this, and, for once, her
cheek burned with anger; but the unwonted sentiment died before it
could find words, and she said, quietly, "I need not be either, against
my will."

Young Carrick made many such appeals to Mercy Vint; but he could never
bring her to confess to him that he and she had ever been more than
friends, or were now anything less than friends. Still he forced her to
own to herself, that, if she had never seen Thomas Leicester, her quiet
affection and respect for Garrick would probably have carried her to
the altar with him.

His remonstrances, sometimes angry, sometimes tearful, awoke her pity,
which was the grand sentiment of her heart, and disturbed her peace.

Moreover, she studied the two men in her quiet, thoughtful way, and
saw that Carrick loved her with all his honest, though hitherto tepid
heart; but Griffith had depths, and could love with more passion than
ever he had shown for her. "He is not the man to have a fever by reason
of me," said the poor girl, to herself. But I am afraid even this
attracted her to Griffith; it nettled a woman's soft ambition; which
is, to be as well loved as ever woman was.

And so things went on, and, as generally happens, the man who was
losing ground went the very way to lose more. He spoke ill of Griffith
behind his back: called him a highwayman, a gentleman, an ungrateful,
undermining traitor. But Griffith never mentioned Carrick; and so
when he and Mercy were together, her old follower was pleasingly
obliterated, and affectionate good humour reigned. Thus Griffith, alias
Thomas, became her sunbeam, and Paul her cloud.

But he who had disturbed the peace of others, his own turn came.

One day he found Mercy crying: he sat clown beside her, and said,
kindly, "Why, sweetheart, what is amiss?"

"No great matter," said she; and turned her head away, but did not
check her tears, for it was new and pleasant to be consoled by Thomas
Leicester.

"Nay, but tell me, child."

"Well, then, Jessie Carrick has been at me; that is all."

"The vixen! what did she say?"

"Nay, I'm not pleased enow with it to repeat it. She did cast something
in my teeth."

Griffith pressed her to be more explicit: she declined, with so many
blushes, that his curiosity was awakened, and he told Mrs. Vint, with
some heat, that Jess Carrick had been making Mercy cry.

"Like enow," said Mrs. Vint, coolly. "She'll eat her victuals all one
for that, please God."

"Else I'll ring the cock-nosed jade's neck, next time she comes here,"
replied Griffith; "but, dame, I want to know what she can have to say
to Mercy to make her cry."

Mrs. Vint looked him steadily in the face for some time, and then and
there decided to come to an explanation. "Ten to one 'tis about her
brother," said she; "you know this Paul is our Mercy's sweetheart."

At these simple words Griffith winced, and his countenance changed
remarkably. Mrs. Vint observed it, and was all the more resolved to
have it out with him.

"Her sweetheart!" said Griffith. "Why, I have seen them together a
dozen of times, and not a word of courtship."

"Oh, the young men don't make many speeches in these parts. They show
their hearts by act." "By act? why, I met them coming home from milking
t' other evening. Mercy was carrying the pail, brimful; and that oaf
sauntered by her side, with his hands in his pockets; was that the act
of a lover?"

"I heard of it, sir," said Mrs. Vint, quietly; "and as how you took the
pail from her, willy nilly, and carried it home. Mercy was vexed about
it: she told me you panted at the door, and she was a deal fitter to
carry the pail than you, that is just off a sick bed, like. But lawk,
sir, ye can't go by the likes of that: the bachelors here they'd see
their sweethearts carry the roof into next parish on their backs, like
a snail, and never put out a hand; 'tis not the custom hereaway: but,
as I was saying, Paul and our Mercy kept company, after a manner: he
never had the wit to flatter her as should be, nor the stomach to bid
her name, the day, and he'd buy the ring; but he talked to her about
his sick beasts more than he did to any other girl in the parish, and
she'd have ended by going to church with him; only you came and put a
coolness atween 'em."

"I! How?"

"Well, sir, our Mercy is a kind-hearted lass, though I say it, and you
were sick, and she did nurse you; and that was a beginning. And, to be
sure, you are a fine personable man, and capital company; and you are
always about the girl; and, bethink you, sir, she is flesh and blood
like her neighbours; and they say, once a body has tasted venison
steak, it spoils their stomach for oat porridge. Now that is Mercy's
case, I'm thinking; not that she ever said as much to me; she is too
reserved. But bless your heart, I'm forced to go about with eyes in my
head, and watch 'em all a bit, me that keeps an inn."

Griffith groaned. "I'm a villain!" said he.

"Nay, nay," said Mrs. Vint. "'Gentlefolks must be amused, cost what it
may; but, hoping no offence, sir, the girl was a good friend to you in
time of sickness; and so was this Paul, for that matter."

"She was," cried Griffith; "God bless her. How can I ever repay her?"

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Vint, "if that comes from your heart, you
might take our Mercy apart, and tell her you like her very well, but
not enough to marry a farmer's daughter--don't say an inn-keeper's
daughter, or you'll be sure to offend her; she is bitter against the
'Packhorse.' Says you, 'This Paul is an honest lad, turn your heart
back to him.' And, with that, mount your black horse and ride away, and
God speed you, sir; we shall often talk of you at the 'Packhorse,' and
nought but good."

Griffith gave the woman his hand, and his breast laboured visibly.

Jealousy was ingrained in the man. Mrs. Vint had pricked his
conscience, but she had wounded his foible.

He was not in love with Mercy, but he esteemed her and liked her and
saw her value, and, above all, could not bear another man should have
her.

Now this gave the matter a new turn. Mrs. Vint had overcome her dislike
to him long ago: still he was not her favourite. But his giving her
his hand with a gentle pressure, and his manifest agitation, rather
won her: and, as uneducated women are your true weathercocks, she went
about directly. "To be sure," said she, "our Mercy is too good for the
likes of him; she is not like Harry and me: she has been well brought
up by her Aunt Prudence, as was governess in a nobleman's house. She
can read and write, and cast accounts; good at her sampler, and can
churn and make cheeses, and play of the viol, and lead the psalm in
church, and dance a minuet, she can, with any lady in the land. As to
her nursing in time of sickness, that I leave to you, sir.

"She is an angel," cried Griffith, "and my benefactress: no man living
is good enough for her." And he went away, visibly discomposed.

Mrs. Vint repeated this conversation to Mercy, and told her Thomas
Leicester was certainly in love with her. "Shouldst have seen his face,
girl, when I told him Paul and you were sweethearts. 'Twas as if I had
run a knife in his heart."

Mercy murmured a few words of doubt; but she kissed her mother
eloquently, and went about rosy and beaming, all that afternoon.

As for Griffith, his gratitude and his jealousy were now at war, and
caused him a severe mental struggle.

Carrick, too, was spurred by jealousy, and came every day to the house,
and besieged Blercy; and Griffith, who saw them together, and did not
hear Mercy's replies, was excited, irritated, alarmed.

Mrs. Vint saw his agitation, and determined to bring matters to a
climax. She was always giving him a side thrust; and, at last, she
told him plainly that he was not behaving like a man. "If the girl is
not good enough for you, why make a fool of her, and set her against a
good husband?" And when he replied she was good enough for any man in
England, "Then," said she, "why not show your respect for her as Paul
Carrick does? He likes her well enough to go to church with her."

With the horns of this dilemma she so gored Kate Peyton's husband that,
at last, she and Paul Carrick, between them, drove him out of his
conscience.

So he watched his opportunity and got Mercy alone: he took her hand and
told her he loved her, and that she was his only comfort in the world,
and he found he could not live without her.

At this she blushed and trembled a little, and leaned her brow upon
his shoulder, and was a happy creature for a few moments.

So far, fluently enough; but then he began to falter and stammer, and
say that for certain reasons, he could not marry at all. But if she
could be content with anything short of that, he would retire with her
into a distant country, and there, where nobody could contradict him,
would call her his wife, and treat her as his wife, and pay his debt of
gratitude to her by a life of devotion.

As he spoke, her brow retired an inch or two from his shoulder; but she
heard him quietly out, and then drew back and confronted him, pale, but
to all appearance, calm.

"Call things by their right names," said she. "What you offer me this
day, in my father's house, is, to be your mistress. Then--God forgive
you, Thomas Leicester."

With this oblique and feminine reply, and one look of unfathomable
reproach from her soft eyes, she turned her back on him; but
remembering her manners, curtsied at the door; and so retired; and
unpretending Virtue lent her such true dignity, that he was struck
dumb, and made no attempt to detain her.

I think her dignified composure did not last long when she was alone;
at least, the next time he saw her, her eyes were red; his heart smote
him, and he began to make excuses and beg her forgiveness. But she
interrupted him. "Don't speak to me no more, if you please, sir," said
she, civilly, but coldly.

Mercy, though so quiet and inoffensive, had depth and strength of
character. She never told her mother what Thomas Leicester had
proposed to her. Her honest pride kept her silent, for one thing. She
would not have it known she had been insulted. And, besides that,
she loved Thomas Leicester still, and could not expose or hurt him.
Once there was an Israelite without guile; though you and I never
saw him; and once there was a Saxon without bile; and her name was
Mercy Vint. In this heart of gold the affections were stronger than
the passions. She was deeply wounded, and showed it in a patient way
to him who had wounded her, but to none other. Her conduct to him in
public and private was truly singular, and would alone have stamped
her a remarkable character. She declined all communication with him in
private, and avoided him steadily and adroitly; but in public she spoke
to him, sang with him, when she was asked, and treated him much the
same as before. He could see a subtle difference, but nobody else could.

This generosity, coupled with all she had done for him before,
penetrated his heart and filled him with admiration and remorse. He
yielded to Mrs. Vint's suggestions; and told her she was right; he
would tear himself away, and never see the dear "Packhorse" again,
"But, oh, dame," said he, "'tis a sorrowful thing to be alone in the
world again, and nought to do. If I had but a farm, and a sweet little
inn like this, perchance my heart would not be quite so heavy as 'tis
this day at thoughts of parting from thee and thine."

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Vint, "if that is all, there is the 'Vine' to
let at this moment. 'Tis a better place of business than this; and some
meadows go with it, and land to be had in the parish."

"I'll ride and see it," said Griffith, eagerly: then, dejectedly, "but,
alas, I have no heart to keep an inn without somebody to help me, and
say a kind word now and then. Ah, Mercy Vint, thou hast spoiled me for
living alone."

This vacillation exhausted Mrs. Vint's patience. "What are ye sighing
about, ye foolish man?" said she, contemptuously; "you have got it all
your own way: if 'tis a wife ye want, ask Mercy, and don't take a nay:
if ye would have a housekeeper, you need not want one long. I'll be
bound there's plenty of young women where you came from as would be
glad to keep the 'Vine' under you. And, if you come to that, our Mercy
is a treasure on the farm, but she is no help in the inn, no more than
a wax figure: she never brought us a shilling, till you came and made
her sing to your base viol. Nay, what you want is a smart handsome
girl, with a quick eye and a ready tongue, and one as can look a man in
the face, and not given to love nor liquor. Don't you know never such a
one?"

"Not I. Humph, to be sure there is Caroline Ryder. She is handsome, and
hath a good wit. She is a lady's maid."

"That's your woman, if she'll come. And to be sure she will; for to be
mistress of an inn, that's a lady's maid's Paradise."

"She would have come a few months ago, and gladly: I'll write to her."

"Better talk to her, and persuade her."

"I'll do that too; but I must write to her first."

"So do then; but whatever you do, don't shilly-shally no longer. If
wrestling was shilly-shallying, methinks you'd bear the bell, you or
else Paul Carrick. Why, all this trouble comes on't. He might have wed
our Mercy a year agone for the asking. Shilly-shally belongs to us that
be women. 'Tis despisable in a man."

Thus driven on all sides, Griffith rode and inspected the "Vine" (it
was only seven miles off): and after the usual chaffering, came to
terms with the proprietor.

He fixed the day for his departure, and told Mrs. Vint he must ride
into Cumberland first to get some money, and also to see about a
housekeeper.

He made no secret of all this; and, indeed, was not without hopes Mercy
would relent, or perhaps be jealous of this housekeeper. But the only
visible effect was to make her look pale and sad: she avoided him in
private as before.

Harry Vint was loud in his regrets, and Carrick openly exultant.
Griffith wrote to Caroline Ryder, and addressed the latter in a feigned
hand, and took it himself to the nearest post town.

The letter came to hand, and will appear in that sequence of events on
which I am now about to enter.



CHAPTER XIII.


If Griffith Gaunt suffered anguish, he inflicted agony. Mrs. Gaunt was
a high-spirited, proud, and sensitive woman; and he crushed her with
foul words. Leonard was a delicate, vain, and sensitive man, accustomed
to veneration. Imagine such a man hurled to the ground, and trampled
upon.

Griffith should not have fled; he should have stayed and enjoyed his
vengeance on these two persons. It might have cooled him a little had
he stopped and seen the immediate consequences of his savage act.

The priest rose from the ground, pale as ashes, and trembling with fear
and hate.

The lady was leaning, white as a sheet, against a tree, and holding it
with her very nails for a little support.

They looked round at one another; a piteous glance of anguish and
horror: then Mrs. Gaunt turned and flung her arm round so that the palm
of her hand, high raised, confronted Leonard. I am thus particular,
because it was a gesture grand and terrible as the occasion that called
it forth: a gesture that spoke; and said, "Put the whole earth and sea
between us for ever after this."

The next moment she bent her head and rushed away, cowering and
wringing her hands: she made for her house as naturally as a scared
animal for its lair; but, ere she could reach it, she tottered under
the shame, the distress, and the mere terror, and fell fainting with
her fair forehead on the grass.

Caroline Ryder was crouched in the doorway, and did not see her come
out of the grove, but only heard a rustle, and then saw her proud
mistress totter forward and lie white, senseless, helpless at her very
feet.

Ryder littered a scream, but did not lose her presence of mind. She
instantly kneeled over Mrs. Gaunt, and loosened her stays with quick
and dexterous hand.

It was very like the hawk perched over and clawing the ringdove she has
struck down.

But people with brains are never quite inhuman: a drop of lukewarm
pity entered even Ryder's heart as she assisted her victim. She called
no one to help her; for she saw something very serious had happened,
and she felt sure Mrs. Gaunt would say something imprudent in that
dangerous period when the patient recovers consciousness but has not
all her wits about her. Now Ryder was equally determined to know her
mistress's secrets, and not to share the knowledge with any other
person.

It was a long swoon; and, when Mrs. Gaunt came to, the first thing she
saw was Ryder leaning over her, with a face of much curiosity, and some
concern.

In that moment of weakness the poor lady, who had keen so roughly
handled, saw a woman close to her, and being a little kind to her; so
what did she do but throw her arms round Ryder's neck and burst out
sobbing as if her heart would break.

Then that unprincipled woman shed a tear or two with her,
half-crocodile, half impulse.

Mrs. Gaunt not only cried on her servant's neck; she justified
Ryder's forecast by speaking unguardedly: "I've been
insulted--insulted--insulted!"


But, even while uttering these words, she was recovering her pride: so
the first "insulted" seemed to come from a broken-hearted child, the
second from an indignant lady the third from a wounded queen.

No more words than this; but rose, with Ryder's assistance, and went,
leaning on that faithful creature's shoulder, to her own bedroom. There
she sank into a chair, and said, in a voice to melt a stone, "My child!
Bring me my little Rose."

Ryder ran and fetched the little girl and Mrs. Gaunt held out both arms
to her, angelically, and clasped her so passionately and piteously to
her bosom, that Rose cried for fear, and never forgot the scene all her
days: and Mrs. Ryder, who was secretly a mother, felt a genuine twinge
of pity and remorse. Curiosity, however, was the dominant sentiment:
she was impatient to get all these convulsions over, and learn what had
actually passed between Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt.

She waited till her mistress appeared calmer: and then, in soft
caressing tones, asked her what had happened.

"Never ask me that question again," cried Mrs. Gaunt, wildly: then,
with inexpressible dignity, "my good girl, you have done all you could
for me; now you must leave me alone with my daughter, and my God, who
knows the truth."

Ryder curtsied and retired, burning with baffled curiosity.

Towards dusk Thomas Leicester came into the kitchen, and brought her
news with a vengeance. He told her and the other maids that the Squire
had gone raving mad, and fled the country. "Oh, lasses," said he, "if
you had seen the poor soul's face, a riding headlong through the fair
all one as if it was a ploughed field; 'twas white as your smocks: and
his eyes glowering on t'other world. We shall ne'er see that face alive
again."

And this was her doing.

It surprised and overpowered Ryder; she threw her apron over her head,
and went off in hysterics, and betrayed her lawless attachment to every
woman in the kitchen, she who was so clever at probing others.

This day of violent emotions was followed by a sullen and sorrowful
gloom.

Mrs. Gaunt kept her bedroom, and admitted nobody; till, at last, the
servants consulted together, and sent little Rose to knock at her door,
with a basin of chocolate, while they watched on the stairs.

"It's only me, mamma," said Rose.

"Come in, my precious," said a trembling voice, and so Rose got in with
her chocolate.

The next day she was sent for early: and at noon, Mrs. Gaunt and Rose
came downstairs; but their appearance startled the whole household.

The mother was dressed all in black, and so was her daughter, whom
she led by the hand. Mrs. Gaunt's face was pale, and sad, and stem; a
monument of deep suffering, and high-strung resolution.

It soon transpired that Griffith had left his home for good: and
friends called on Mrs. Gaunt to slake their curiosity under the mask of
sympathy.

Not one of them was admitted. No false excuses were made. "My mistress
sees no one for the present," was the reply.

Curiosity, thus baffled, took up the pen; but was met with a short
unvarying formula: "There is an unhappy misunderstanding between my
husband and me. But I shall neither accuse him behind his back, nor
justify myself."

Thus the proud lady carried herself before the world; but secretly she
writhed. A wife abandoned is a woman insulted, and makes the wives,
that are not abandoned--cluck.

Ryder was dejected for a time, and, though not honestly penitent,
suffered some remorse at the miserable issue of her intrigues. But her
elastic nature soon shook it off, and she felt a certain satisfaction
at having reduced Mrs. Gaunt to her own level. This disarmed, her
hostility: she watched her as keenly as ever, but out of pure curiosity.

One thing puzzled her strangely. Leonard did not visit the house; nor
could she even detect any communication between the parties.

At last, one day, her mistress told her to put on her hat and go to
Father Leonard.

Ryder's eyes sparkled; and she was soon equipped. Mrs. Gaunt put a
parcel and a letter into her hands. Ryder no sooner got out of her
sight than she proceeded to tamper with the letter. But to her just
indignation she found it so ingeniously folded and sealed that she
could not read a word.

The parcel, however, she easily undid, and it contained forty pounds in
gold and small notes. "Oho! my lady," said Ryder.

She was received by Leonard with a tender emotion he in vain tried to
conceal.

On reading the letter his features contracted sharply, and he seemed to
suffer agony. He would not even open the parcel. "You will take that
hack," said he, bitterly.

"What, without a word?"

"Without a word. But I will write, when I am able."

"Don't be long, sir," suggested Ryder. "I am sure my mistress is
wearying for you. Consider, sir, she is all alone now."

"Not so much alone as I am," said the priest: "nor half so unfortunate."

And with this he leaned his head despairingly on his hand, and motioned
to Ryder to leave him.

"Here's a couple of fools," said she to herself, as she went home.

That very evening Thomas Leicester caught her alone, and asked her to
marry him.

She stared at first, and then treated it as a jest.

"You come at the wrong time, young man," said she. "Marriage is put out
of countenance. No, no, I will never marry, after what I have seen in
this house."

Leicester would not take this for an answer, and pressed her hard.

"Thomas," said this plausible jade, "I like you very well; but I
couldn't leave my mistress in her trouble. Time to talk of marrying
when master comes here alive and well."

"Nay," said Leicester, "my only chance is while he is away: you care
more for his little finger than for my whole body; that they all say."

"Who says?"

"Jane, and all the lasses."

"You simple man, they want you for themselves; that is why they belie
me."

"Nay, nay; I saw how you carried on, when I brought word he was gone.
You let your heart out for once. Don't take me for a fool: I see how
'tis: but I'll face it: for I worship the ground you walk on. Take a
thought, my lass. What good can come of your setting your heart on him?
I'm young, I'm healthy, and not ugly enough to set the dogs a barking:
I've got a good place; I love you dear; I'll cure you of that fancy,
and make you as happy as the day is long. I'll try and make you as
happy as you will make me, my beauty."

He was so earnest, and so much in love, that Mrs. Ryder pitied him, and
wished her husband was in Heaven.

"I am very sorry, Tom," said she, softly: "dear me, I did not think you
cared so much for me as this. I must just tell you the truth. I have
got one in my own country, and I've promised him. I don't care to break
my word: and, if I did, he is such a man, I am sure he would kill me
for it. Indeed he has told me as much, more than once or twice."

"Killing is a game that two can play at."

"Ah! but 'tis an ugly game: and I'll have no hand in it. And--don't you
be angry with me, Tom--I've known him longest, and--I love him best."

By pertinacity and variety in lying, she hit the mark at last. Tom
swallowed this figment whole.

"That is but reason," said he. "I take my answer, and I wish ye both
many happy days together, and well spent."

With this he retired, and blubbered a good hour in an outhouse.

Tom avoided the castle, and fell into low spirits. He told his mother
all, and she advised him to change the air. "You have been too long in
one place," said she; "I hate being too long in one place myself."

This fired Tom's gipsy blood, and he said he would travel to-morrow, if
he could but scrape together money enough to fill a pedlar's pack.

He applied for a loan in several quarters, but was denied in all.

At last the poor fellow summoned courage to lay his case before Mrs.
Gaunt.

Ryder's influence procured him an interview. She took him into the
drawing-room, and bade him wait there. By and by a pale lady, all in
black, glided into the room.

He pulled his front hair, and began to stammer something or other.

She interrupted him. "Ryder has told me," said she, softly. "I am sorry
for you: and I will do what you require. And, to be sure, we need no
gamekeeper here now."

She then gave him some money, and said she would look him up a few
trifles besides, to put in his pack.

Toni's mother helped him to lay out this money to advantage, and one
day he called at Hernshaw, pack and all, to bid farewell.

The servants all laid out something with him for luck: and Mrs. Gaunt
sent for him, and gave him a gold thimble, and a pound of tea, and
several yards of gold lace, slightly tarnished, and a Queen Anne's
guinea.

He thanked her heartily. "Ay, Dame," said he, "you had always an open
hand, married or single. My heart is heavy at leaving you. But I miss
the Squire's kindly face too. Hernshaw is not what it used to be."

Mrs. Gaunt turned her head aside, and the man could see his words had
made her cry.

"My good Thomas," said she, at last, "you are going to travel the
country: you might fall in with him."

"I might," said Leicester, incredulously.

"God grant you may: and, if ever you should, think of your poor
mistress, and give him--this." She put her finger into her bosom and
drew out a bullet wrapped in silver paper. "You will never lose
this," said she. "I value it more than gold or silver. Oh, if ever you
_should_ see him, think of me and my daughter, and just put it in his
hand without a word."

As he went out of the room Ryder intercepted him, and said, "Mayhap
you will fall in with our master: if ever you do, tell him he is under
a mistake, and the sooner he comes home the better." Tom Leicester
departed: and, for days and weeks, nothing occurred to break the
sorrowful monotony of the place.

But the mourner had written to her old friend and confessor Francis:
and, after some delay, involuntary on his part, he came to see her.

They were often closeted together, and spoke so low that Ryder could
not catch a word.

Francis also paid several visits to Leonard; and the final result of
these visits was that the latter left England.

Francis remained at Hernshaw as long as he could; and it was Mrs.
Gaunt's hourly prayer that Griffith might return while Francis was with
her.

Ho did, at her earnest request, stay much longer than he had intended;
but, at length, he was obliged to fix next Monday to return to his own
place.

It was on Thursday he made this arrangement; but the very next day the
postman brought a letter to the Castle, thus addressed:--

    "To Mistress Caroline Ryder,

        "Living Servant with Griffith Gaunt, Esq.,

            "at his house, called Hernshaw Castle,

                     "near Wigeonmoor,

                 "in the county of Cumberland.

                           "These with speed."

The address was in a feigned hand. Ryder opened it in the kitchen, and
uttered a scream.

Instantly three female throats opened upon her with questions.

She looked them contemptously in them faces, put the letter into her
pocket; and, soon after, slipped away to her own room, and locked
herself in while she read it. It ran thus:----

    "GOOD MISTRESS RYDER,--I am alive yet, by the blessing; though
    somewhat battered; being now risen from a fever, wherein I lost
    my wits for a time. And, on coming to myself, I found them
    making of my shroud; whereby you shall learn how near I was to
    death. And all this I owe to that false perjured woman that was
    my wife, and is your mistress.

    "Know that I have donned russet and doffed gentility; for I
    find a heavy heart's best cure is occupation. I have taken
    a wayside inn, and think of renting a small farm, which two
    things go well together. Now you are, of all those I know, most
    fitted to manage the inn, and I the farm. You were always my
    good friend: and, if you be so still, then I charge you most
    solemnly that you utter no word to any living soul about this
    letter; but meet me privately where we can talk fully of these
    matters; for I will not set foot in Hernshaw Castle. Moreover,
    she told me once 'twas hers; and so be it. On Friday I shall
    be at Stapleton, and the next day, by an easy journey, to the
    place where I once was so happy.

    "So then at seven of the clock on Saturday evening, be the same
    wet or dry, prithee come to the gate of the Grove unbeknown,
    and speak to

    "Your faithful friend

    "and most unhappy master,

                                                    "GRIFFITH GAUNT.

    "Be secret as the grave. Would I were in it."


This letter set Caroline Ryder in a tumult. Griffith alive and well,
and set against his wife, and coming to her for assistance!

After the first agitation she read it again, and weighed every
syllable. There was one book she had studied more than most of
us--the Heart. And she soon read Griffith's in this letter. It was no
love-letter: he really intended business: but, weak in health, and
broken in spirit, and alone in the world, he naturally turned to one
who had confessed an affection for him, and would therefore be true to
his interests, and study his happiness.

The proposal was every way satisfactory to Mrs. Ryder. To be mistress
of an inn, and have servants under her instead of being one herself.
And then, if Griffith and she began as allies in business, she felt
very sure she could make herself, first necessary to him, and then dear
to him.

She was so elated she could hardly contain herself; and all her fellow
servants remarked that Mrs. Ryder had heard good news.

Saturday came, and never did hours seem to creep so slowly.

But at last the sun set, and the stars came out: there was no moon.
Ryder opened the window and looked out: it was an admirable night for
an assignation.

She washed her face again, put on her grey silk gown, and purple
petticoat--Mrs. Gaunt had given them to her--and, at the last moment,
went and made up her mistress's fire, and put out everything she
thought could be wanted, and, five minutes after seven o'clock, tied a
scarlet hand-kerchief over her head, and stepped out at the back door.

What with her coal black hair, so streaked with red, her black
eyes, flashing in the starlight, and her glowing cheeks, she looked
bewitching.

And, thus armed for conquest, wily, yet impassioned, she stole out,
with noiseless foot and beating heart, to her appointment with her
imprudent master.



CHAPTER XIV.


The bill was paid; the black horse saddled and brought round to the
door. Mr. and Mrs. Vint stood bareheaded to honour the parting guest;
and the latter offered him the stirrup cup.

Griffith looked round for Mercy; she was nowhere to be seen.

Then he said, piteously, to Mrs. Vint, "What, not even bid me good-bye?"

Mrs. Vint replied, in a very low voice, that there was no disrespect
intended. "The truth is, sir, she could not trust herself to see you
go; but she bade me give you a message. Says she, 'Mother, tell him I
pray God to bless him, go where he will.'"

Something rose in Griffith's throat. "Oh, dame!" said he, "if she only
knew the truth, she would think better of me than she does. God bless
her!"

And he rode sorrowfully away, alone in the world once more.

At the first turn in the road, he wheeled his horse, and took a last
lingering look.

There was nothing vulgar, nor inn-like, in the "Packhorse." It stood
fifty yards from the road on a little rural green, and was picturesque
itself. The front was entirely clad with large-leaved ivy. Shutters
there were none: the windows, with their diamond panes, were lustrous
squares, set like great eyes in the green ivy. It looked a pretty,
peaceful retreat, and in it Griffith had found peace, and a dove-like
friend.

He sighed, and rode away from the sight; not raging and convulsed, as
when he rode from Hernshaw Castle, but somewhat sick at heart and very
heavy.

He paced so slowly that it took him a quarter of an hour to reach the
"Woodman," a wayside inn not two miles distant. As he went by, a farmer
hailed him from the porch, and insisted on drinking with him; for he
was very popular in the neighbourhood. Whilst they were thus employed,
who should come out but Paul Carrick, booted and spurred; and flushed
in the face, and rather the worse for liquor imbibed on the spot.

"So you are going, are ye?" said he. "A good job too." Then, turning to
the other, "Master Gutteridge, never you save a man's life if you can
anywise help it. I saved this one's: and what does he do but turn round
and poison my sweetheart against me."

"How can you say so?" remonstrated Griffith. "I never belied you. Your
name scarce ever passed my lips."

"Don't tell me," said Carrick. "However, she has come to her senses,
and given your worship the sack. Ride you into Cumberland, and I to
the 'Packhorse,' and take my own again."

With this he unhooked his nag from the wall, and clattered off to the
"Packhorse."

Griffith sat a moment stupified, and then his face was convulsed by his
ruling passion. He wheeled his horse, gave him the spur, and galloped
after Carrick.

He soon came up with him, and yelled in his ear, "I'll teach you to
spit your wormwood in my cup of sorrow."

Carrick shook his fist defiantly, and spurred his horse in turn.

It was an exciting race, and a novel one; but soon decided. The great
black hunter went ahead, and still improved his advantage. Carrick,
purple with rage, was full a quarter of a mile behind, when Griffith
dashed furiously into the stable of the "Packhorse," and, leaving
Black Dick panting and covered with foam, ran in search of Mercy.

The girl told him she was in the dairy: he looked in at the window, and
there she was with her mother. With instinctive sense and fortitude she
had fled to work. She was trying to churn; but it would not do: she had
laid her shapely arm all across the churn, and her head on it, and was
crying. Mrs. Vint was praising Carrick, and offering homely consolation.

"Ah, mother," sighed Mercy, "I could have made him happy. He does not
know that; and he has turned his back on content. What will become of
him now?"

Griffith heard no more: he went round to the front door, and rushed in.

"Take your own way, Dame," said he, in great agitation. "Put up the
banns when you like. Sweetheart, wilt wed with me? I'll make thee the
best husband I can."

Mercy screamed faintly, and lifted up her hands; then she blushed and
trembled to her very finger ends; but it ended in smiles of joy and her
brow upon his shoulder. In which attitude, with Mrs. Vint patting him
approvingly on the back, they were surprised by Paul Carrick. He came
to the door, and there stood aghast.

The young man stared ruefully at the picture, and then said, very
drily, "I'm too late, methinks."

"That you be, Paul," said Mrs. Vint, cheerfully. "She is meat for your
master."

"Don't--you--never--come to me--to save your life--no more," blubbered
Paul, breaking down all of a sudden.

He then retired, little heeded, and came no more to the "Packhorse" for
several days.



CHAPTER XV.


It is desirable that improper marriages should never be solemnized: and
the Christian Church saw this many hundred years ago, and ordained that
before a marriage, the banns should be cried in a church three Sundays,
and any person there present might forbid the union of the parties, and
allege the just impediment.

This precaution was feeble, but not wholly inadequate--in the
middle ages; for we know by good evidence that the priest was often
interrupted and the banns forbidden.

But in modern days the banns are never forbidden: in other words, the
precautionary measure that has come down to us from the thirteenth
century is out of date and useless. It rests, indeed, on an estimate
of publicity, that has become childish. If persons about to marry were
compelled to inscribe their names and descriptions in a Matrimonial
Weekly Gazette, and a copy of this were placed on a desk in ten
thousand churches, perhaps we might stop one lady per annum from
marrying her husband's brother, and one gentleman from wedding his
neighbour's wife. But the crying of banns in a single parish church is
a waste of the people's time and the parson's breath.

And so it proved in Griffith Gaunt's case. The Rev. William Wentworth
published, in the usual recitative, the banns of marriage between
Thomas Leicester, of the parish of Marylebone in London, and Mercy
Vint, spinster, of this parish: and creation, present ex hypothesi
mediævale, but absent in fact, assented, by silence, to the union.

So Thomas Leicester wedded Mercy Vint, and took her home to the
"Packhorse."

It would be well if those who stifle their consciences, and commit
crimes, would set up a sort of medico-moral diary, and record their
symptoms minutely day by day. Such records might help to clear away
some vague, conventional notions.

To tell the truth, our hero, and now malefactor (the combination is of
high antiquity), enjoyed, for several months, the peace of mind that
belongs of right to innocence; and his days passed in a state of smooth
complacency. Mercy was a good, wise, and tender wife; she naturally
looked up to him after marriage more than she did before: she studied
his happiness, as she had never studied her own: she mastered his
character, admired his good qualities, discerned his weaknesses, but
did not view them as defects; only as little traits to be watched, lest
she should give pain to "her master," as she called him.

Affection, in her, took a more obsequious form than it could ever
assume in Kate Peyton. And yet she had great influence, and softly
governed "her master" for his good. She would come into the room and
take away the bottle, if he was committing excess; but she had a way
of doing it, so like a good but resolute mother, and so unlike a
termagant, that he never resisted. Upon the whole, she nursed his mind
as, in earlier days, she had nursed his body.

And then she made him so comfortable; she observed him minutely to that
end. As is the eye of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so Mercy
Leicester's dove-like eye was ever watching "her master's" face, to
learn the minutest features of his mind.

One evening he came in tired, and there was a black fire in the
parlour. His countenance fell the sixteenth of an inch. You and I, sir,
should never have noticed it. But Mercy did, and, ever after, there
was a clear fire when he came in.

She noted, too, that he loved to play the viol da gambo; but disliked
the trouble of tuning it. So then she tuned it for him.

When he came home at night, early or late, he was sure to find a dry
pair of shoes on the rug, his six-stringed viol tuned to a hair, a
bright fire, and a brighter wife smiling and radiant at his coming, and
always neat: for, said she, "Shall I don my bravery for strangers, and
not for my Thomas, that is the best of company?"

They used to go to church, and come back together, hand in hand like
lovers: for the arm was rarely given in those days. And Griffith said
to himself every Sunday, "What a comfort to have a Protestant wife."

But one day he was off his guard, and called her "Kate, my dear."

"Who is Kate?" said she, softly; but with a degree of trouble and
intelligence that made him tremble.

"No matter," said he, all in a flutter: then, solemnly, "Whoever she
was, she is dead; dead."

"Ah!" said Mercy, very tenderly and solemnly, and under her breath.
"You loved her; yet she must die." She paused; then, in a tone so
exquisite I can only call it an angel's whisper, "Poor Kate!"

Griffith groaned aloud. "For God's sake never mention that name to me
again. Let me forget she ever lived. She was not the true friend to me
that you have been."

Mercy replied, softly, "Say not so, Thomas. You loved her well. Her
death had all but cost me thine. Ah, well! we cannot all be the first.
I am not very jealous, for my part; and I thank God for't. Thou art a
dear good husband to me, and that is enow."

Paul Carrick, unable to break off his habits, came to the "Packhorse"
now and then; but Mercy protected her husband's heart from pain.
She was kind, and even pitiful; but so discreet and resolute, and
contrived to draw the line so clearly between her husband and her old
sweetheart, that Griffith's foible could not burn him, for want of
fuel.

And so passed several months, and the man's heart was at peace. He
could not love Mercy passionately as he had loved Kate; but he was full
of real regard and esteem for her: it was one of those gentle, clinging
attachments that outlast grand passions, and survive till death; a
tender, pure affection; though built upon a crime.

They had been married, and lived in sweet content, about three quarters
of a year--when trouble came; but in a vulgar form. A murrain carried
off several of Harry Vint's cattle; and it then came out that he had
purchased six of them on credit, and had been induced to set his hands
to bills of exchange for them. His rent was also behind, and, in fact,
his affairs were in a desperate condition.

He hid it as long as he could from them all; but, at last, being
served with a process for debt, and threatened with a distress, and an
execution, he called a family council and exposed the real state of
things.

Mrs. Vint rated him soundly for keeping all this secret so long.

He whom they called Thomas Leicester remonstrated with him. "Had you
told me in time," said he, "I had not paid forfeit for 'The Vine,' but
settled there, and given you a home."

Mercy said never a word but "Poor father!"

As the peril drew nearer, the conversation became more animated and
agitated, and soon the old people took to complaining of Thomas
Leicester to his wife.

"Thou hast married a gentleman; and he hath not the heart to lift a
hand to save thy folk from ruin."

"Say not so," pleaded Mercy: "to be sure he hath the heart, but not
the means. 'Twas but yestreen he bade me sell his jewels for you. But,
mother, I think they belonged to some one he loved; and she died. So,
poor thing, how could I? Then, if you love me, blame me, and not him."

"Jewels, quotha! will they stop such a gap as ours?" was the
contemptuous reply.

From complaining of him behind his back, the old people soon came to
launching innuendoes obliquely at him. Here is one specimen out of a
dozen.

"Wife, if our Mercy had wedded one of her own sort, mayhap he'd have
helped us a bit."

"Ay, poor soul; and she so near her time: if the bailiffs come down on
us next month 'tis my belief we shall lose her as well as house and
home."

The false Thomas Leicester let them run on, in dogged silence; but
every word was a stab.

And, one day, when he had been baited sore with hints, he turned round
on them fiercely, and said, "Did I get you into this mess? It's all
your own doing. Learn to see your own faults, and not be so hard on one
that has been the best servant you ever had, gentleman or not."

Men can resist the remonstrances that wound them, and so irritate them,
better than they can those gentle appeals that rouse no anger, but
soften the whole heart. The old people stung him; but Mercy, without
design, took a surer way. She never said a word; but sometimes, when
the discussions were at their height, she turned her dove-like eyes on
him, with a look so loving, so humbly inquiring, so timidly imploring,
that his heart melted within him.

Ah, that is a true touch of nature, and genuine observation of the
sexes, in the old song--

    My feyther urged me sair;
    My mither didna speak;
    But she looked me in the face,
    Till my hairt was like to break.

These silent, womanly, imploring looks of patient Mercy, were mightier
than argument, or invective.

The man knew all along where to get money, and how to get it. He had
only to go to Hernshaw Castle. But his very soul shuddered at the idea.
However, for Mercy's sake, he took the first step: he compelled himself
to look the thing in the face, and discuss it with himself. A few
months ago he could not have done this, he loved his lawful wife too
much; hated her too much. But now, Mercy, and Time, had blunted both
those passions; and he could ask himself whether he could not encounter
Kate and her priest without any very violent emotion.

When they first set up house together, he had spent his whole fortune,
a sum of two thousand pounds, on repairing and embellishing Hernshaw
Castle and grounds. Since she had driven him out of the house, he had a
clear right to have back the money; and now he resolved he would have
it; only what he wanted was to get it without going to the place in
person.

And now Mercy's figure, as well as her imploring looks, moved him
greatly. She was in that condition which appeals to a man's humanity,
and masculine pity, as well as to his affection. To use the homely
words of Scripture, she was great with child: and, in that condition,
moved slowly about him, filling his pipe, and laying his slippers, and
ministering to all his little comforts; she would make no difference:
and when he saw the poor dove move about him so heavily, and rather
languidly, yet so zealously and tenderly, the man's very bowels yearned
over her, and he felt as if he could die to do her a service.

So, one day, when she was standing by him, bending over his little
round table, and filling his pipe with her neat hand, he took her by
the other hand and drew her gently on his knee, her burden and all.

"Child!" said he, "do not thou fret. I know how to get money; and I'll
do't, for thy sake."

"I know that," said she, softly; "can I no read thy face by this
time?" and so laid her cheek to his. "But, Thomas, for my sake, get it
honestly; or not at all," said she, still filling his pipe, with her
cheek to his, "I'll but take back my own," said he; "fear nought."

But, after thus positively pledging himself to Mercy, he became
thoughtful and rather fretful; for he was still most averse to go to
Hernshaw, and yet could hit upon no other way; since to employ an agent
would be to let out that he had committed bigamy; and so risk his own
neck, and break Mercy's heart.

After all his scale was turned by his foible.

Mrs. Vint had been weak enough to confide her trouble to a friend: it
was all over the parish in three days.

Well, one day, in the kitchen of the inn, Paul Carrick having drunk two
pints of good ale, said to Vint, "Landlord, you ought to have married
her to me. I've got two hundred pounds laid by. I'd have pulled you out
of the mire, and welcome."

"Would you, though, Paul?" said Harry Vint; "then, by G----, I wish I
had."

Now Carrick bawled that out, and Griffith, who was at the door, heard
it.

He walked into the kitchen, ghastly pale, and spoke to Harry Vint
first.

"I take your inn, your farm, and your debts, on me," said he; "not one
without t'other."

"Spoke like a man!" cried the landlord, joyfully: "and so be it--before
these witnesses."

Griffith turned on Carrick: "This house is mine. Get out on't, ye
jealous, mischief-making cur." And he took him by the collar and
dragged him furiously out of the place, and sent him whirling into the
middle of the road; then ran back for his hat and flung it out after
him.

This done, he sat down boiling, and his eyes roved fiercely round the
room in search of some other antagonist. But his strength was so great,
and his face so altered with this sudden spasm of reviving jealousy,
that nobody cared to provoke him farther.

After a while, however, Harry Vint muttered, drily, "There goes one
good customer."

Griffith took him up sternly: "If your debts are to be mine, your
trade shall be mine too, that you had not the head to conduct."

"So be it, son-in-law," said the old man; "only you go so fast: you do
take possession afore you pays the fee."

Griffith winced. "That shall be the last of your taunts, old man." He
turned to the ostler, "Bill, give Black Dick his oats at sunrise: and
in ten days at farthest I'll pay every shilling this house and farm do
owe. Now, Master White, you'll put in hand a new sign-board for this
inn; a fresh 'Packhorse,' and paint him jet black, with one white
hoof (instead of chocolate), in honour of my nag Dick; and in place of
Harry Vint you'll put in Thomas Leicester. See that is done against I
come back, or come you here no more." Soon after this scene he retired
to tell Mercy: and on his departure, the suppressed tongues went like
mill-clacks.

Dick came round saddled at peep of day; but Mercy had been up more
than an hour, and prepared her man's breakfast. She clung to him at
parting, and cried a little; and whispered something in his ear, for
nobody else to hear: it was an entreaty that he would not be long gone,
lest he should be far from her in the hour of her peril.

Thereupon he promised her, and kissed her tenderly, and bade her be of
good heart; and so rode away northwards with dogged resolution.

As soon as he was gone, Mercy's tears flowed without restraint.

Her father set himself to console her. "Thy good man," he said, "is but
gone back to the high road for a night or two, to follow his trade of
'stand and deliver.' Fear nought, child; his pistols are well primed; I
saw to that myself; and his horse is the fleetest in the county; you'll
have him back in three days, and money in both pockets. I warrant you
his is a better trade than mine; and he is a fool to change it."

Griffith was two days upon the road, and all that time he was turning
over and discussing in his mind how he should conduct the disagreeable
but necessary business he had undertaken.

He determined, at last, to make the visit one of business only: no
heat; no reproaches. That lovely, hateful woman might continue to
dishonour his name, for he had himself abandoned it. He would not deign
to receive any money that was hers; but his own two thousand pounds he
would have: and two or three hundred on the spot by way of instalment.
And, with these hard views, he drew near to Hernshaw; but the nearer he
got, the slower he went; for, what at a distance had seemed tolerably
easy, began to get more and more difficult, and repulsive. Moreover,
his heart, which he thought he had steeled, began now to flutter a
little, and somehow to shudder at the approaching interview.



CHAPTER XVI.


Caroline Ryder went to the gate of the Grove, and stayed there two
hours; but, of course, no Griffith came.

She returned the next night, and the next: and then she gave it up, and
awaited an explanation. None came, and she was bitterly disappointed,
and indignant.

She began to hate Griffith, and to conceive a certain respect, and even
a tepid friendship, for the other woman he had insulted.

Another clue to this change of feeling is to be found in a word she let
drop in talking to another servant. "Sly mistress," said she, "bears
it like a man."

In fact, Mrs. Gaunt's conduct at this period was truly noble.

She suffered months of torture, months of grief; but the high-spirited
creature hid it from the world, and maintained a sad but high composure.

She wore her black, for she said, "How do I know he is alive?" She
retrenched her establishment, reduced her expenses two-thirds; and
busied herself in works of charity and religion.

Her desolate condition attracted a gentleman who had once loved her,
and now esteemed and pitied her profoundly: Sir George Neville.

He was still unmarried, and she was the cause; so far at least as this:
she had put him out of conceit with the other ladies at that period
when he had serious thoughts of marriage: and the inclination to marry
at all had not since returned.

If the Gaunts had settled at Bolton, Sir George would have been their
near neighbour; but Neville's Court was nine miles from Hernshaw
Castle: and when they met, which was not very often, Mrs. Gaunt was on
her guard to give Griffith no shadow of uneasiness. She was therefore
rather more dignified and distant with Sir George, than her own
inclination and his merits would have prompted; for he was a superior
and very agreeable man.

When it became quite certain that her husband had left her, Sir George
rode up to Hernshaw Castle, and called upon her.

She begged to be excused from seeing him.

Now, Sir George was universally courted, and this rather nettled
him: however, he soon learned that she received nobody except a few
religious friends of her own sex.

Sir George then wrote her a letter that did him credit; it was full of
worthy sentiment and good sense. For instance, he said he desired to
intrude his friendly offices and his sympathy upon her, but nothing
more. Time had cured him of those warmer feelings which had once
ruffled his peace; but Time could not efface his tender esteem for
the lady he had loved in his youth, nor his profound respect for her
character.

Mrs. Gaunt wept over his gentle letter, and was on the verge of asking
herself why she had chosen Griffith instead of this chevalier. She sent
him a sweet, yet prudent reply; she did not encourage him to visit her;
but said, that, if ever she should bring herself to receive visits from
the gentlemen of the county during her husband's absence, he should
be the first to know it. She signed herself his unhappy, but deeply
grateful, servant and friend.

One day, as she came out of a poor woman's cottage, with a little
basket on her arm, which she had emptied in the cottage, she met Sir
George Neville full.

He took his hat off, and made her a profound bow. He was then about to
ride on, but altered his mind, and dismounted to speak to her.

The interview was constrained at first; but ere long he ventured to
tell her she really ought to consult with some old friend and practical
man like himself. He would undertake to scour the country, and find her
husband, if he was above ground.

"Me go a hunting the man," cried she, turning red; "not if he was my
king as well as my husband. He knows where to find me; and that is
enough."

"Well, but madam, would you not like to learn where he is, and what he
is doing?"

"Why, yes, my good, kind friend, I should like to know that." And
having pronounced these words with apparent calmness, she burst out
crying, and almost ran away from him.

Sir George looked sadly after her; and formed a worthy resolution.
He saw there was but one road to her regard. He resolved to hunt her
husband for her, without intruding on her, or giving her a voice in
the matter. Sir George was a magistrate, and accustomed to organize
inquiries. Spite of the length of time that had elapsed, he traced
Griffith for a considerable distance; pending further inquiries, he
sent Mrs. Gaunt word that the truant had not made for the sea, but had
gone due south.

Mrs. Gaunt returned him her warm thanks for this scrap of information.
So long as Griffith remained in the island there was always a hope he
might return to her. The money he had taken would soon be exhausted:
and poverty might drive him to her; and she was so far humbled by
grief, that she could welcome him even on those terms.

Affliction tempers the proud. Mrs. Gaunt was deeply injured as well as
insulted; but, for all that, in her many days and weeks of solitude
and sorrow, she took herself to task, and saw her fault. She became
more gentle, more considerate of her servants' feelings, more womanly.

For many months she could not enter "the Grove." The spirited woman's
very flesh revolted at the sight of the place where she had been
insulted and abandoned. But as she went deeper in religion, she forced
herself to go to the gate and look in, and say out loud, "I gave the
first offence," and then she would go in-doors again, quivering with
the internal conflict.

Finally, being a Catholic, and therefore attaching more value to
self-torture than we do, the poor soul made this very grove her place
of penance Once a week she had the fortitude to drag herself to the
very spot where Griffith had denounced her; and there she would kneel
and pray for him and for herself. And, certainly, if humility and
self-abasement were qualities of the body, here was to be seen their
picture; for her way was to set her crucifix up at the foot of a tree;
then to bow herself all down, between kneeling and lying; and put her
lips meekly to the foot of the crucifix and so pray long and earnestly.

Now, one day, while she was thus crouching in prayer, a gentleman,
booted, and spurred, and splashed, drew near, with hesitating steps.
She was so absorbed, she did not hear those steps at all, till they
were very near; but then she trembled all over; for her delicate ear
recognized a manly tread she had not heard for many a day. She dared
not move nor look, for she thought it was a mere sound, sent to her by
heaven to comfort her.

But the next moment a well-known mellow voice came like a thunder-clap,
it shook her so.

"Forgive me, my good dame, but I desire to know----"

The question went no farther, for Kate Gaunt sprang to her feet, with
a loud scream, and stood glaring at Griffith Gaunt, and he at her.

And thus husband and wife met again--met, by some strange caprice of
Destiny, on the very spot where they had parted so horribly.



CHAPTER XVII.


The gaze these two persons bent on one another may be half imagined; it
can never be described.

Griffith spoke first. "In black!" said he, in a whisper.

His voice was low; his face, though pale and grim, had not the terrible
aspect he wore at parting.

So she thought he had come back in an amicable spirit; and she flew to
him with a cry of love, and threw her arm round his neck, and panted on
his shoulder.

At this reception, and the tremulous contact of one he had loved so
dearly, a strange shudder ran through his frame: a shudder that marked
his present repugnance, yet indicated her latent power.

He himself felt he had betrayed some weakness; and it was all the worse
for her: he caught her wrist and put her from him, not roughly, but
with a look of horror. "The day is gone by for that, madam," he gasped.
Then, sternly: "Think you I came here to play the credulous husband?"

Mrs. Gaunt drew back in her turn, and faltered out, "What! come back
here, and not sorry for what you have done? not the least sorry? Oh, my
heart! you have almost broken it."

"Prithee, no more of this," said Griffith, sternly. "You and I are
nought to one another now, and for ever. But there, you are but a
woman, and I did not come to quarrel with you." And he fixed his eyes
on the ground.

"Thank God for that," faltered Mrs. Gaunt. "Oh, sir, the sight of
you--the thought of what you were to me once--till jealousy blinded
you. Lend me your arm, if you are a man; my limbs do fail me."

The shock had been too much; a pallor over-spread her lovely features,
her knees knocked together, and she was tottering like some tender tree
cut down, when Griffith, who, with all his faults, was a man, put out
his strong arm, and she clung to it, quivering all over, and weeping
hysterically.

That little hand, with its little feminine clutch, trembling on his
arm, raised a certain male compassion for her piteous condition; and
he bestowed a few cold, sad, words of encouragement on her. "Come,
come," said he, gently; "I shall not trouble you long. I'm cured of my
jealousy. 'Tis gone, along with my love. You and your saintly sinner
are safe from me. I am come hither for my own, my two thousand pounds,
and for nothing more."

"Ah! you are come back for money, not for me?" she murmured, with
forced calmness.

"For money; and not for you, of course," said he, coldly.

The words wore hardly out of his month, when the proud lady flung his
arm from her. "Then money shall you have, and not me; nor ought of me
but my contempt."

But she could not carry it off as heretofore. She turned her back
haughtily on him; but, at the first step, she burst out crying. "Come,
and I'll give you what you are come for," she sobbed. "Ungrateful!
heartless! Oh, how little I knew this man!"

She crept away before him, drooping her head, and crying bitterly; and
he followed her, hanging his head, and ill at ease; for there was such
true passion in her voice, her streaming eyes, and indeed in her whole
body, that he was moved, and the part he was playing revolted him. He
felt confused and troubled, and asked himself how on earth it was that
she, the guilty one, contrived to appear the injured one, and made him,
the wronged one, feel almost remorseful.

Mrs. Gaunt took no more notice of him now than if he had been a dog
following at her heels. She went into the drawing-room, and sank
helplessly on the nearest couch; threw her head wearily back, and shut
her eyes. Yet the tears trickled through the closed lids.

Griffith caught up a hand-bell, and rang it vigorously.

Quick light steps were soon heard pattering; and in darted Caroline
Ryder, with an anxious face; for of late she had conceived a certain
sober regard for her mistress, who had ceased to be her successful
rival, and who bore her grief like a man.

At sight of Griffith, Ryder screamed aloud, and stood panting.

Mrs. Gaunt opened her eyes. "Ay, child, he has come home," said she,
bitterly; "his body, but not his heart."

She stretched her hand out feebly, and pointed to a bottle of salts
that stood on the table. Ryder ran and put them to her nostrils. Mrs.
Gaunt whispered in her ear, "Send a swift horse for Father Francis;
tell him, life or death!"

Ryder gave her a very intelligent look, and presently slipped out, and
ran into the stable-yard.

At the gate she caught sight of Griffith's horse. What does this
quick-witted creature do but send the groom off on that horse, and not
on Mrs. Gaunt's.

"Now, Dame," said Griffith, doggedly, "are you better?"

"Ay, I thank you."

"Then listen to me. When you and I set up house together, I had two
thousand pounds. I spent it on this house. The house is yours. You
told me so, one day, you know."

"Ah, you can remember my faults."

"I remember all, Kate."

"Thank you, at least, for calling me Kate. Well, Griffith, since you
abandoned us, I thought, and thought, and thought, of all that might
befall you; and I said, 'What will he do for money? My jewels, that
you did me the honour to take, would not last you long, I feared. So I
reduced my expenses three-fourths at least, and I put by some money for
your need."

Griffith looked amazed. "For my need?" said he.

"For whose else? I'll send for it, and place it in your
hands--to-morrow."

"To-morrow? Why not to-day?"

"I have a favour to ask of you first."

"What is that?"

"Justice. If you are fond of money, I too have something I prize: my
honour. You have belied and insulted me, sir; but I know you were
under a delusion. I mean to remove that delusion, and make you see
how little I am to blame: for, alas! I own I was imprudent. But, oh
Griffith! as I hope to be saved, it was the imprudence of innocence and
over-confidence."

"Mistress," said Griffith, in a stern, yet agitated voice, "be advised,
and leave all this: rouse not a man's sleeping wrath. Let bygones be
bygones."

Mrs. Gaunt rose, and said, faintly, "So be it. I must go, sir, and give
some orders for your entertainment."

"Oh; don't put yourself about for me," said Griffith, "I am not the
master of this house."

Mrs. Gaunts lip trembled, but she was a match for him. "Then are you my
guest," said she; "and my credit is concerned in your comfort."

She made him a curtsy, as if he were a stranger, and marched to the
door, concealing, with great pride and art, a certain trembling of her
knees.

At the door she found Ryder, and bade her follow, much to that lady's
disappointment; for she desired a tête-à-tête with Griffith, and an
explanation.

As soon as the two women were out of Griffith's hearing, the mistress
laid her hand on the servant's arm, and, giving way to her feelings,
said, all in a flutter, "Child, if I have been a good mistress to thee,
show it now. Help me keep him in the house till Father Francis comes."

"I undertake to do so much," said Ryder, firmly. "Leave it to me,
mistress."

Mrs. Gaunt threw her arms round Ryder's neck and kissed her.

It was done so ardently, and by a woman hitherto so dignified and
proud, that Ryder was taken by surprise, and almost affected.

As for the service Mrs. Gaunt had asked of her, it suited her own
designs.

"Mistress," said she, "be ruled by me; keep out of his way a-bit,
while I get Miss Rose ready. You understand."

"Ah! I have one true friend in the house," said poor Mrs. Gaunt. She
then confided in Ryder, and went away to give her own orders for
Griffith's reception.

Ryder found little Rose, dressed her to perfection, and told her her
dear papa was come home. She then worked upon the child's mind in that
subtle way known to women, so that Rose went downstairs loaded and
primed, though no distinct instructions had been given her.

As for Griffith, he walked up and down, uneasy; and wished he had
stayed at the "Packhorse." He had not bargained for all these emotions;
the peace of mind he had enjoyed for some months seemed trickling away.

"Mercy, my dear," said he, to himself, "'twill be a dear penny to me, I
doubt."

Then he went to the window, and looked at the lawn, and sighed. Then
he sat down, and thought of the past.

Whilst he sat thus moody, the door opened very softly, and a little
cherubic face, with blue eyes and golden hair, peeped in. Griffith
started. "Ah!" cried Rose, with a joyful scream: and out flew her
little arms, and away she came, half running, half dancing, and was on
his knee in a moment, with her arms round his neck.

"Papa! papa!" she cried. "Oh, my dear, dear, dear, darling papa!" And
she kissed and patted his cheek again and again.

Her innocent endearments moved him to tears. "My pretty angel!" he
sighed: "my lamb!"

"How your heart beats: don't cry, dear papa. Nobody is dead: only we
thought you were. I'm so glad you are come home alive. Now we can take
off this nasty black: I hate it."

"What, 'tis for me you wear it, pretty one?"

"Ay. Mamma made us. Poor mamma has been so unhappy. And that reminds
me: you are a wicked man, papa. But I love you all one for that. It tis
so dull when everybody is good like mamma; and she makes me dreadfully
good too; but now you are come back, there will be a little, little,
wickedness again, it is to be hoped. Aren't you glad you are not dead,
and are come home instead? I am."

"I am glad I have seen thee. Come, take my hand, and let us go look at
the old place."

"Ay. But you must wait till I get on my new hat and feather."

"Nay, nay; art pretty enough bareheaded."

"Oh, papa! but I must, for decency. You are company now, you know."

"Dull company, sweetheart, thou'lt find me."

"I don't mean that: I mean, when you were here always, you were only
papa; but now you come once in an age, you're COMPANY. I won't budge
without 'em; so there, now."

"Well, little one, I do submit to thy hat and feather: only be quick or
I shall go forth without thee."

"If you dare," said Rose, impetuously: "for I won't be half a moment."

She ran and extorted from Ryder the new hat and feather, which by
rights she was not to have worn until next month.

Griffith and his little girl went all over the well-known premises, he
sad and moody, she excited and chattering, and nodding her head down,
and cocking her eye up every now and then, to get a glimpse of her
feather.

"And don't you go away again, dear papa. It tis so dull without you.
Nobody comes here. Mamma won't let 'em."

"Nobody except Father Leonard," said Griffith, bitterly.

"Father Leonard? Why, he never comes here. Leonard! That is the
beautiful priest that used to pat me on the head, and bid me love and
honour my parents. And so I do. Only mamma is always crying, and you
keep away: so how can I love and honour you, when I never see you, and
they keep telling me you are good for nothing, and dead."

"My young mistress, when did you see Father Leonard last?" said
Griffith, gnawing his lip.

"How can I tell? Why it was miles ago; when I was a mere girl. You know
he went away before you did."

"I know nothing of the kind. Tell me the truth now. He has visited here
since I went away."

"Nay, papa."

"That is strange. She visits him, then?"

"What, mamma? She seldom stirs out; and never beyond the village. We
keep no carriage now. Mamma is turned such a miser. She is afraid you
will be poor; so she puts it all by for you. But now you are come, we
shall have carriages and things again. Oh, by-the-by, Father Leonard! I
heard them say he had left England, so I did."

"When was that?"

"Well, I think that was a little bit after you went away."

"That is strange," said Griffith, thoughtfully.

He led his little girl by the hand, but scarcely listened to her
prattle; he was so surprised and puzzled by the information he had
elicited from her.

Upon the whole, however, he concluded that his wife and the priest had
perhaps been smitten with remorse, and had parted,--when it was too
late.

This, and the peace of mind he had found elsewhere, somewhat softened
his feelings towards them. "So," thought he, "they were not hardened
creatures after all. Poor Kate!"

As these milder feelings gained on him, Rose suddenly uttered a joyful
cry; and, looking up, he saw Mrs. Gaunt coming towards him, and Ryder
behind her. Both were in gay colours, which, in fact, was what had so
delighted Rose.

They came up, and Mrs. Gaunt seemed a changed woman. She looked young
and beautiful, and bent a look of angelic affection on her daughter;
and said to Griffith, "Is she not grown? Is she not lovely? Sure you
will never desert her again."

"'Twas not her I deserted, but her mother; and she had played me false
with her d----d priest," was Griffith's reply.

Mrs. Gaunt drew back with horror. "This, before my girl?" she cried.
"Griffith Gaunt, you lie!"

And this time it was the woman who menaced the man. She rose to six
feet high, and advanced on him with her great grey eyes flashing flames
at him. "Oh, that I were a man!" she cried: "this insult should be the
last. I'd lay you dead at her feet and mine."

Griffith actually drew back a step; for the wrath of such a woman was
terrible; more terrible perhaps to a brave man than to a coward.

Then he put his hands in his pockets with a dogged air; and said,
grinding his teeth: "But--as you are not a man, and I'm not a woman, we
can't settle it that way. So I give you the last word, and good day.
I'm sore in want of money; but I find I can't pay the price it is like
to cost me. Farewell."

"Begone!" said Mrs. Gaunt: "and, this time, for ever. Ruffian, and
fool, I loathe the sight of you."

Rose ran weeping to her. "Oh, mamma, don't quarrel with papa:" then
back to Griffith, "Oh, papa, don't quarrel with mamma--for my sake."

Griffith hung his head, and said, in a broken voice: "No, my lamb,
we twain must not quarrel before thee. We will part in silence, as
becomes those that once were dear, and have thee to show for't. Madam,
I wish you all health and happiness. Adieu."

He turned on his heel; and Mrs. Gaunt took Rose to her knees, and bent
and wept over her. Niobe over her last was not more graceful, nor more
sad.

As for Ryder she stole quietly after her retiring master. She found him
peering about, and asked him demurely what he was looking for.

"My good black horse, girl, to take me from this cursed place. Did I
not tie him to your gate?"

"The black horse? Why I sent him for Father Francis. Nay, listen to me,
master; you know I was always your friend, and hard upon her. Well,
since you went, things have come to pass that make me doubt. I do begin
to fear you were too hasty."

"Do you tell me this now, woman?" cried Griffith, furiously.

"How could I tell you before? Why did you break your tryst with me? If
you had come according to your letter, I'd have told you months ago
what I tell you now; but, as I was saying, the priest never came near
her after you left; and she never stirred abroad to meet him. More than
that, he has left England."

"Remorse! Too late."

"Perhaps it may, sir. I couldn't say; but there is one coming that
knows the very truth."

"Who is that?"

"Father Francis. The moment you came, sir, I took it on me to send for
him. You know the man: he won't tell a lie to please our Dame. And he
knows all: for Leonard has confessed to him. I listened and heard him
say as much. Then, master, be advised, and get the truth from Father
Francis."

Griffith trembled. "Francis is an honest man," said he; "I'll wait till
he comes. But oh, my lass, I find money may be bought too dear."

"Your chamber is ready, sir; and your clothes put out. Supper is
ordered. Let me show you your room. We are all so happy now."

"Well," said he, listlessly, "since my horse is gone, and Francis
coming, and I'm wearied and sick of the world, do what you will with me
for this one day."

He followed her mechanically to a bedroom, where was a bright fire, and
a fine shirt, and his silver-laced suit of clothes airing.

A sense of luxurious comfort struck him at the sight.

"Ay," he said, "I'll dress, and so to supper; I'm main hungry. It seems
a man must eat, let his heart be ever so sore."

Before she left him, Ryder asked him coldly why he had broken his
appointment with her.

"That is too long a story to tell you now," said he, coolly.

"Another time then," said she; and went out smiling, but bitter at
heart.

Griffith had a good wash, and enjoyed certain little conveniences which
he had not at the "Packhorse." He doffed his riding suit, and donned
the magnificent dress Ryder had selected for him; and with his fine
clothes he somehow put on more ceremonious manners.

He came down to the dining-room. To his surprise he found it
illuminated with wax candles, and the table and sideboard gorgeous with
plate.

Supper soon smoked upon the board; but, though it was set for three,
nobody else appeared.

Griffith inquired of Ryder whether he was to sup alone.

She replied, "My mistress desires you not to wait for her. She has no
stomach."

"Well, then, I have," said Griffith; and fell o with a will.

Ryder, who waited on this occasion, stood and eyed him with curiosity.
His conduct was so unlike a woman's.

Just as he concluded, the door opened, and a burly form entered.
Griffith rose and embraced him with his arms and lips, after the
fashion of the day. "Welcome, thou one honest priest!" said he.

"Welcome, thrice welcome, my long-lost son!" said the cordial Francis.

"Sit down, man, and eat with me. I'll begin again, for you."

"Presently, Squire; I've work to do first. Go thou and bid thy mistress
to come hither to me."

Ryder, to whom this was addressed, went out, and left the gentlemen
together.

Father Francis drew out of his pocket two packets, carefully tied and
sealed. He took a knife from the table and cut the strings, and broke
the seals. Griffith eyed him with curiosity.

Father Francis looked at him. "These," said he, very gravely, "are
the letters that Brother Leonard hath written, at sundry times, to
Catherine Gaunt, and these are the letters Catherine Gaunt hath written
to Brother Leonard."

Griffith trembled, and his face was convulsed.

"Let me read them at once," said he: and stretched out his hand, with
eyes like a dog's in the dark.

Francis withdrew them, quietly. "Not till she is also present," said he.

At that Griffith's good-nature, multiplied by a good supper, took the
alarm. "Come, come, sir," said he, "have a little mercy. I know you are
a just man, and, though a boon companion, most severe in all matters
of morality. But, I tell you plainly, if you are going to drag this
poor woman in the dirt, I shall go out of the room. What is the use
tormenting her? I've told her my mind before her own child: and now I
wish I had not. When I caught them in the Grove I lifted my hand to
strike her, and she never winced; I had better have left that alone
too, methinks. D--n the women: you are always in the wrong if you treat
'em like men. They are not wicked; they are weak. And this one hath
lain in my bosom, and borne me two children, and one he lieth in the
churchyard, and t'other hath her hair and my very eyes: and the truth
is, I can't bear any man on earth to miscall her but myself. God help
me: I doubt I love her still too well to sit by and see her tortured.
She was all in black for her fault, poor penitent wretch. Give me the
letters; but let her be."

Francis was moved by this appeal, but shook his head solemnly; and, ere
Griffith could renew his argument, the door was flung open by Ryder,
and a stately figure sailed in that took both the gentlemen by surprise.

It was Mrs. Gaunt, in full dress. Rich brocade that swept the ground:
magnificent bust, like Parian marble varnished; and on her brow a
diadem of emeralds and diamonds that gave her beauty an imperial stamp.

She swept into the room as only fine women can sweep, made Griffith
a haughty curtsy, and suddenly lowered her head, and received Father
Francis's blessing: then seated herself, and quietly awaited events.

"The brazen jade!" thought Griffith. "But how divinely beautiful!" And
he became as agitated as she was calm--in appearance. For, need I say
her calmness was put on? Defensive armour made for her by her pride and
her sex.

The voice of Father Francis now rose, solid, grave, and too impressive
to be interrupted.

"My daughter, and you who are her husband and my friend, I am here to
do justice between you both, with God's help; and to show you both your
faults.

"Catherine Gaunt, you began the mischief, by encouraging; another man
to interfere between you and your husband in things secular."

"But, father, he was my director, my priest."

"My daughter, do you believe, with the Protestants, that marriage is
a mere civil contract; or do you hold, with us, that it is one of the
holy sacraments?"

"Can you ask me?" murmured Kate, reproachfully.

"Well, then, those whom God and the whole Church have in holy sacrament
united, what right hath a single priest to disunite in heart, and make
the wife false to any part whatever of that most holy vow? I hear,
and not from you, that Leonard did set you against your husband's
friends, withdrew you from society, and sent him abroad alone. In
one word, he robbed your husband of his companion and his friend. The
sin was Leonard's: but the fault was yours. You were five years older
than Leonard, and a woman of sense and experience; he but a boy by
comparison. What right had you to surrender your understanding, in a
matter of this kind, to a poor silly priest, fresh from his seminary,
and as manifestly without a grain of common sense as he was full of
piety?"

This remonstrance produced rather a striking effect on both those who
heard it. Mrs. Gaunt seemed much struck with it. She leaned back in her
chair, and put her hand to her brow with a sort of despairing gesture
that Griffith could not very well understand: it seemed to him so
disproportionate.

It softened him, however, and he faltered out, "Ay, father, that is how
it all began. Would to heaven it had stopped there."

Francis resumed. "This false step led to consequences you never dreamed
of; for one of your romantic notions is, that a priest is an angel.
I have known you, in former times, try to take me for an angel: then
would I throw cold water on your folly by calling lustily for chines of
beef and mugs of ale. But I suppose Leonard thought himself an angel
too; and the upshot was, he fell in love with his neighbour's wife."

"And she with him," groaned Griffith.

"Not so," said Francis; "but perhaps she was nearer it than she thinks."

"Prove that," said Mrs. Gaunt, "and I'll fall on my knees to him before
you."

Francis smiled, and proceeded. "To be sure, from the moment you
discovered Leonard was in love with you, you drew back, and conducted
yourself with prudence and propriety. Read these letters, sir, and tell
me what you think of them."

He handed them to Griffith. Griffith's hand trembled visibly as he took
them.

"Stay," said Father Francis; "your better way will be to read the
whole correspondence according to their dates. Begin with this of Mrs.
Gaunt's."

Griffith read the letter in an audible whisper.

Mrs. Gaunt turned her head a little, and for the first time lowered her
eyes to the ground.


END OF VOL. II.



GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY

BY CHARLES READE

In Three Volumes. Vol III

London

CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY

1866



TABLE OF CONTENTS


    CHAPTER   I
    CHAPTER   II
    CHAPTER   III
    CHAPTER   IV
    CHAPTER   V
    CHAPTER   VI
    CHAPTER   VII
    CHAPTER   VIII
    CHAPTER   IX
    CHAPTER   X
    CHAPTER   XI
    CHAPTER   XII
    CHAPTER   XIII
    CHAPTER   XIV
    CHAPTER   XV



CHAPTER I


    "DEAR FATHER AND FRIEND,--The words you spoke to me to-day
    admit but one meaning; you are jealous of my husband.

    "Then you must be--how can I write it?--almost in love with me."

    "So then my poor husband was wiser than I. He saw a rival in
    you: and he has one.

    "I am deeply, deeply shocked. I ought to be very angry too;
    but, thinking of your solitary condition, and all the good you
    have done to my soul, my heart has no place for ought but pity.
    Only, as I am in my senses, and you are not, you must now obey
    me, as heretofore I have obeyed you. You must seek another
    sphere of duty without delay.

    "These seem harsh words from me to you. You will live to see
    they are kind ones.

    "Write me one line, and no more, to say you will be ruled by me
    in this.

    "God and the saints have you in their holy keeping. So prays
    your affectionate and

    "Sorrowful daughter and true friend,

                                                "CATHERINE GAUNT."

"Poor soul!" said Griffith. "Said I not that women are not wicked, but
weak? Who would think that after this he could get the better of her
good resolves--the villain!"

"Now read his reply," said Father Francis.

"Ay," said Griffith. "So this is his one word of reply, is it? three
pages closely writ--the villain, oh the villain!"

"Read the villain's letter," said Francis, calmly.

The letter was very humble and pathetic; the reply of a good, though
erring man, who owned, that in a moment of weakness, he had been
betrayed into a feeling inconsistent with his holy profession. He
begged his correspondent, however, not to judge him quite so hardly. He
reminded her of his solitary life, his natural melancholy, and assured
her that all men in his condition had moments when they envied those
whose bosoms had partners. "Such a cry of anguish," said he, "was once
rung from a maiden queen, maugre all her pride. The Queen of Scots hath
a son: and I am but a barren stock." He went on to say that prayer
and vigilance united do much. "Do not despair so soon of me. Flight
is not cure: let me rather stay and, with God's help and the saints',
overcome this unhappy weakness. If I fail, it will indeed be time for
me to go and never again see the angelic face of my daughter and my
benefactress."

Griffith laid down the letter. He was somewhat softened by it; and
said, gently, "I cannot understand it. This is not the letter of a
thorough bad man neither."

"No," said Father Francis, coldly, "'tis the letter of a self-deceiver:
and there is no more dangerous man, to himself and others, than your
self-deceiver. But now let us see whether he can throw dust in her
eyes, as well as his own." And he handed him Kate's reply.

The first word of it was, "You deceive yourself." The writer then
insisted, quietly, that he owed it to himself, to her, and to her
husband, whose happiness he was destroying, to leave the place at her
request.

"Either you must go, or I," said she: "and pray let it be you. Also
this place is unworthy of your high gifts: and I love you, in my way,
the way I mean to love you when we meet again--in Heaven; and I labour
your advancement to a sphere more worthy of you."

I wish space permitted me to lay the whole correspondence before the
reader; but I must confine myself to its general purport.

It proceeded in this way: the priest, humble, eloquent, pathetic; but
gently, yet pertinaciously, clinging to the place: the lady, gentle,
wise, and firm, detaching with her soft fingers, first one hand, then
another, of the poor priest's, till at last he was driven to the sorry
excuse that he had no money to travel with, nor place to go to.

"I can't understand it," said Griffith. "Are these letters all forged,
or are there two Kate Gaunts? the one that wrote these prudent letters,
and the one I caught upon this very priest's arm. Perdition!"

Mrs. Gaunt started to her feet. "Methinks 'tis time for me to leave the
room," said she, scarlet.

"Gently, my good friends; one thing at a time," said Francis. "Sit thou
down, impetuous. The letters, sir, what think you of them?"

"I see no harm in them," said Griffith.

"No harm! is that all? But I say these are very remarkable letters,
sir: and they show us that a woman may be innocent and unsuspicious,
and so seem foolish, yet may be wise for all that. In her early
communication with Leonard

    '----at Wisdom's gate Suspicion slept;
    And thought no ill where no ill seemed.'

But, you see, suspicion being once aroused, wisdom was not to be lulled
nor blinded. But that is not all: these letters breathe a spirit of
Christian charity; of true, and rare, and exalted piety; tender are
they, without passion; wise, yet not cold; full of conjugal love, and
of filial pity for an erring father, whom she leads, for his good, with
firm yet dutiful hand. Trust to my great experience: doubt the chastity
of snow rather than hers who could write these pure and exquisite
lines. My good friend, you heard me rebuke and sneer at this poor lady,
for being too innocent and unsuspicious of man's frailty: now hear me
own to you that I could no more have written these angelic letters,
than a barn-door fowl could soar to the mansions of the saints in
heaven."

This unexpected tribute took Mrs. Gaunt's heart by storm; she threw her
arms round Father Francis's neck, and wept upon his shoulder.

"Ah!" she sobbed, "you are the only one left that loves me."

She could not understand justice praising her: it must be love.

"Ay," said Griffith, in a broken voice, "she writes like an angel: she
speaks like an angel: she looks like an angel. My heart says she is an
angel. But my eyes have shown me she is naught. I left her, unable to
walk, by her way of it; I came back, and found her on that priest's
arm, springing along, like a greyhound." He buried his head in his
hands, and groaned aloud.

Francis turned to Mrs. Gaunt, and said, a little severely, "How do you
account for that?"

"I'll tell _you_, Father," said Kate, "because you love me. I do not
speak to _you_, sir: for you never loved me."

"I could give thee the lie," said Griffith, in a trembling voice; "but
'tis not worth while. Know, sir, that within twenty-four hours after
I caught her with that villain, I lay a dying for her sake; and lost
my wits; and, when I came to, they were a making my shroud in the very
room where I lay. No matter; no matter; I never loved her."

"Alas! poor soul!" sighed Kate: "would I had died ere I brought thee to
that!" And, with this, they both began to cry at the same moment.

"Ay, poor fools," said Father Francis, softly; "neither of ye loved
t'other; that is plain. So now sit you there, and let us have your
explanation; for you must own appearances are strong against you."

Mrs. Gaunt drew her stool to Francis's knee, and addressing herself to
him alone, explained as follows:--

"I saw Father Leonard was giving way, and only wanted one good push,
after a manner. Well, you know I had got him, by my friends, a good
place in Ireland: and I had money by me for his journey; so, when my
husband talked of going to the fair, I thought, 'Oh if I could but get
this settled to his mind before he comes back.' So I wrote a line to
Leonard. You can read it if you like. Tis dated the 30th of September,
I suppose."

"I will," said Francis: and read this out:--

    "DEAR FATHER AND FRIEND,--You have fought the good fight, and
    conquered. Now, therefore, I will see you once more, and thank
    you for my husband (he is so unhappy), and put the money for
    your journey into your hand myself; your journey to Ireland.
    You are the Duke of Leinster's chaplain; for I have accepted
    that place for you. Let me see you to-morrow in the Grove, for
    a few minutes, at high noon. God bless you.

                                                "CATHERINE GAUNT."

"Well, father," said Mrs. Gaunt, "'tis true that I could only walk two
or three times across the room. But, alack, you know what women are;
excitement gives us strength. With thinking that our unhappiness was at
an end; that, when he should come back from the fair, I should fling my
arm round his neck, and tell him I had removed the cause of his misery,
and so of mine, I seemed to have wings; and I did walk with Leonard,
and talked with rapture of the good he was to do in Ireland, and how
he was to be a mitred abbot one day (for he is a great man), and poor
little me be proud of him; and how we were all to be happy together
in heaven, where is no marrying nor giving in marriage. This was our
discourse; and I was just putting the purse into his hands, and bidding
him God-speed, when he--for whom I fought against my woman's nature,
and took this trying task upon me--broke in upon us, with a face of a
fiend; trampled on the poor good priest, that deserved veneration and
consolation from him, of all men; and raised his hand to me; and was
not man enough to kill me after all; but called me--ask him what he
called me--see if he dares to say it again before you; and then ran
away, like a coward as he is, from the lady he had defiled with his
rude tongue, and the heart he had broken. Forgive him? that I never
will; never; never."

"Who asked you to forgive him?" said the shrewd priest. "Your own
heart. Come, look at him."

"Not I," said she, irresolutely. Then, still more feebly: "He is nought
to me." And so stole a look at him.

Griffith, pale as ashes, had his hand on his brow, and his eyes were
fixed with horror and remorse.

"Something tells me she has spoken the truth," he said, in a quavering
voice. Then, with concentrated horror, "But if so--oh God, what have I
done?--What shall I do?"

Mrs. Gaunt extended her arms towards him, across the priest.

"Why, fall at thy wife's knees, and ask her to forgive thee."

Griffith obeyed: he fell on his knees, and Mrs. Gaunt leaned her
head on Francis's shoulder, and gave her hand across him to her
remorse-stricken husband.

Neither spoke, nor desired to speak; and even Father Francis sat silent
and enjoyed that sweet glow which sometimes blesses the peacemaker,
even in this world of wrangles and jars.

But the good soul had ridden hard, and the neglected meats emitted
savory odors, and by-and-by he said, drily, "I wonder whether that fat
pullet tastes as well as it smells: can you tell me, Squire?"

"Oh, inhospitable wretch that I am," said Mrs. Gaunt: "I thought but of
my own heart."

"And forgot the stomach of your unspiritual father. But, madam, you are
pale, you tremble."

"'Tis nothing, sir: I shall soon be better. Sit you down and sup: I
will return anon."

She retired, not to make a fuss; but her heart palpitated violently,
and she had to sit down on the stairs.

Ryder, who was prowling about, found her there, and fetched her
hartshorn.

Mrs. Gaunt got better; but felt so languid and also hysterical, that
she retired to her own room for the night, attended by the faithful
Ryder, to whom she confided that a reconciliation had taken place, and,
to celebrate it, gave her a dress she had only worn a year. This does
not sound queenly to you ladies; but know that a week's wear tells far
more on the flimsy trash you wear now-a-days, than a year did on the
glorious silks of Lyons Mrs. Gaunt put on; thick as broad-cloth, and
embroidered so cunningly by the loom, that it would pass for rarest
needle-work. Besides, in those days, silk was silk.

As Ryder left her, she asked, "Where is the master to lie to-night?"

Mrs. Gaunt was not pleased at this question being put to her. Being a
singular mixture of frankness and finesse, she had retired to her own
room partly to test Griffith's heart. If he was as sincere as she was,
he would not be content with a _public_ reconciliation.

But the question being put to her plump, and by one of her own sex, she
colored faintly, and said, "Why, is there not a bed in his room?"

"Oh yes, madam."

"Then see it be well aired. Put down all the things before the fire;
and then tell me; I'll come and see. The feather bed, mind, as well as
the sheets and blankets."

Ryder executed all this with zeal. She did more: though Griffith and
Francis sat up very late, she sat up too; and, on the gentlemen leaving
the supper-room, she met them both, with bed-candles, in a delightful
cap, and undertook, with cordial smiles, to show them both their
chambers.

"Tread softly on the landing, an if it please you, gentlemen. My
mistress hath been unwell; but she is in a fine sleep now, by the
blessing, and I would not have her disturbed."


Father Francis went to bed thoughtful. There was something about
Griffith he did not like: the man every now and then broke out into
boisterous raptures; and presently relapsed into moody thoughtfulness.
Francis almost feared that his cure was only temporary.

In the morning, before he left, he drew Mrs. Gaunt aside, and told her
his misgivings. She replied that she thought she knew what was amiss,
and would soon set that right.

Griffith tossed and turned in his bed, and spent a stormy night. His
mind was in a confused whirl, and his heart distracted. The wife he had
loved so tenderly, proved to be the very reverse of all he had lately
thought her! She was pure as snow, and had always loved him; loved him
now, and only wanted a good excuse to take him to her arms again. But
Mercy Vint!--his wife, his benefactress! a woman as chaste as Kate,
as strict in life and morals--what was to become of her? How could he
tell her she was not his wife? how to reveal to her her own calamity,
and his treason? And, on the other hand, desert her without a word! and
leave her hoping, fearing, pining, all her life! Affection, humanity,
gratitude, alike forbade it.

He came down in the morning, pale for him, and worn with the inward
struggle.

Naturally there was a restraint between him and Mrs. Gaunt; and only
short sentences passed between them.

He saw the peacemaker off, and then wandered all over the premises,
and the past came nearer, and the present seemed to retire into the
background.

He wandered about like one in a dream; and was so self-absorbed, that
he did not see Mrs. Gaunt coming towards him with observant eyes.

She met him full; he started like a guilty thing.

"Are you afraid of me?" said she, sweetly.

"No, my dear, not exactly; and yet I am: afraid, or ashamed, or both."

"You need not. I said I forgive you; and you know I am not one that
does things by halves."

"You are an angel!" said he, warmly; "but (suddenly relapsing into
despondency) we shall never be happy together again."

She sighed. "Say not so. Time and sweet recollections may heal even
this wound by degrees."

"God grant it," said he, despairingly.

"And, though we can't be lovers again all at once, we may be friends;
to begin, tell me, what have you on your mind? Come, make a friend of
me."

He looked at her in alarm.

She smiled. "Shall I guess?" said she.

"You will never guess," said he; "and I shall never have the heart to
tell you."

"Let me try. Well, I think you have run in debt, and are afraid to ask
me for the money."

Griffith was greatly relieved by this conjecture; he drew a long
breath: and, after a pause, said, cunningly, "What made you think that?"

"Because you came here for money, and not for happiness. You told me so
in the Grove."

"That is true. What a sordid wretch you must think me?"

"No, because you were under a delusion. But I do believe you are just
the man to turn reckless, when you thought me false, and go drinking
and dicing." She added, eagerly, "I do not suspect you of anything
worse."

He assured her that was not the way of it.

"Then tell me the way of it. You must not think, because I pester you
not with questions, I have no curiosity. Oh, how often have I longed to
be a bird, and watch you day and night unseen. How would you have liked
that? I wish you had been one, to watch me. Ah, you don't answer. Could
you have borne so close an inspection, sir?"

Griffith shuddered at the idea; and his eyes fell before the full grey
orbs of his wife.

"Well, never mind," said she, "tell me your story."

"Well, then, when I left you I was raving mad."

"That is true, I'll be sworn."

"I let my horse go; and he took me near a hundred miles from here, and
stopped at--at--a farmhouse. The good people took me in."

"God bless them for it. I'll ride and thank them."

"Nay, nay; 'tis too far. There I fell sick of a fever, a brain-fever:
the doctor blooded me."

"Alas! would he had taken mine instead."

"And I lost my wits for several days; and when I came back I was weak
as water, and given up by the doctor: and the first thing I saw, was an
old hag set a making of my shroud."

Here the narrative was interrupted a moment by Mrs. Gaunt seizing him
convulsively, and then holding him tenderly, as if he was even now
about to be taken from her.

"The good people nursed me, and so did their daughter, and I came back
from the grave. I took an inn; but I gave up that, and had to pay
forfeit; and so my money all went; but they kept me on. To be sure I
helped on the farm: they kept a hostelry as well. By-and-by came that
murrain among the cattle. Did you have it in these parts too?"

"I know not; nor care. Prithee, leave cattle, and talk of thyself."

"Well, in a word, they were ruined, and going to be sold up. I could
not bear that: I became bondsman for the old man. It was the least I
could do. Kate, they had saved thy husband's life."

"Not a word more, Griffith. How much stand you pledged for?"

"A large sum."

"Would five hundred pounds be of any avail?"

"Five hundred pounds! Ay, that it would, and to spare; but where can I
get so much money? And the time so short."

"Give me thy hand, and come with me," said Mrs. Gaunt, ardently.

She took his hand, and made a swift rush across the lawn. It was not
exactly running, nor walking, but some grand motion she had when
excited. She put him to his stride to keep up with her at all; and in
two minutes she had him into her boudoir. She unlocked a bureau, all in
a hurry, and took out a bag of gold. "There!" she cried, thrusting it
into his hand, and blooming all over with joy and eagerness: "I thought
you would want money; so I saved it up. You shall not be in debt a day
longer. Now mount thy horse, and carry it to those good souls: only,
for my sake, take the gardener with thee--I have no groom now but
he--and both well armed."

"What! go this very day?"

"Ay, this very hour. I can bear thy absence for a day or two more; I
have borne it so long: but I cannot bear thy plighted word to stand in
doubt a day, no not an hour. I am your wife, sir, your true and loving
wife; your honor is mine, and is as dear to me now as it was when you
saw me with Father Leonard in the Grove, and read me all awry. Don't
wait a moment, begone at once."

"Nay, nay, if I go to-morrow I shall be in time."

"Ay, but," said Mrs. Gaunt, very softly, "I am afraid if I keep you
another hour I shall not have the heart to let you go at all: and the
sooner gone, the sooner back for good, please God. There, give me one
kiss, to live on, and begone this instant."

He covered her hands with kisses and tears. "I'm not worthy to kiss any
higher than thy hand," he said: and so ran sobbing from her.



CHAPTER II


He went straight to the stable, and saddled Black Dick.

But, in the very act, his nature revolted. What, turn his back on her
the moment he had got hold of her money, to take to the other. He could
not do it.

He went back to her room, and came so suddenly that he caught her
crying. He asked her what was the matter.

"Nothing," said she, with a sigh: "only a woman's foolish misgivings. I
was afraid perhaps you would not come back. Forgive me."

"No fear of that," said he. "However, I have taken a resolve not to go
to-day. If I go tomorrow, I shall be just in time; and Dick wants a
good day's rest."

Mrs. Gaunt said nothing; but her expressive face was triumphant.

Griffith and she took a walk together; and he, who used to be the more
genial of the two, was dull, and she full of animation.

This whole day she laid herself out to bewitch her husband, and put him
in high spirits.

It was uphill work; but, when such a woman sets herself in earnest to
delight a man, she reads our sex a lesson in the art, that shows us we
are all babies at it.

However, it was at supper she finally conquered.

Here the lights, her beauty set off with art, her deepening eyes, her
satin skin, her happy excitement, her wit and tenderness, and joyous
sprightliness, enveloped Griffith in an atmosphere of delight, and
drove everything out of his head but herself: and with this, if the
truth must be told, the sparkling wines co-operated.

Griffith plied the bottle a little too freely. But Mrs. Gaunt, on this
one occasion, had not the heart to check him. The more he toasted her,
the more uxorious he became, and she could not deny herself even this
joy; but, besides, she had less of the prudent wife in her just then,
than of the weak indulgent mother. Anything rather than check his love:
she was greedy of it.

At last, however, she said to him, "Sweetheart, I shall go to bed: for,
I see, if I stay longer, I shall lead thee into a debauch. Be good now:
drink no more when I am gone. Else I'll say thou lovest thy bottle more
than thy wife."

He promised faithfully. But, when she was gone, modified his pledge by
drinking just one bumper to her health: which bumper let in another:
and, when at last he retired to rest, he was in that state of mental
confusion wherein the limbs appear to have a memory independent of the
mind.

In this condition do some men's hands wind up their watches, the mind
taking no appreciable part in the ceremony.

By some such act of what physicians call "organic memory," Griffith's
feet carried him to the chamber he had slept in a thousand times, and
not into the one Mrs. Ryder had taken him to the night before.

The next morning he came down rather late for him, and found himself
treated with a great access of respect by the servants.

His position was no longer doubtful; he was the master of the house.

Mrs. Gaunt followed in due course, and sat at breakfast with him,
looking young and blooming as Hebe, and her eye never off him long.

She had lived temperately, and had not yet passed the age when
happiness can restore a woman's beauty and brightness in a single day.

As for him, he was like a man in a heavenly dream: he floated in the
past and the present: the recent and the future seemed obscure and
distant, and comparatively in a mist.


But that same afternoon, after a most affectionate farewell, and
many promises to return as soon as ever he had discharged his
obligations, Griffith Gaunt started for the "Packhorse," to carry to
Mercy Leicester, alias Vint, the money Catherine Gaunt had saved by
self-denial and economy.

And he went south a worse man than he came.

When he left Mercy Leicester, he was a bigamist in law, but not at
heart. Kate was dead to him: he had given her up for ever: and was
constant and true to his new wife.

But now he was false to Mercy, yet not true to Kate; and, curiously
enough, it was a day or two passed with his lawful wife that had
demoralized him. His unlawful wife had hitherto done nothing but
improve his character.

But a great fault once committed is often the first link in a chain of
acts, that look like crimes, but are, strictly speaking, consequences.

This man, blinded at first by his own foible, and, after that,
the sport of circumstances, was single-hearted by nature; and his
conscience was not hardened. He desired earnestly to free himself and
both his wives from the cruel situation; but, to do this, one of them
he saw must be abandoned entirely; and his heart bled for her.

A villain or a fool would have relished the situation; many men would
have dallied with it; but, to do this erring man justice, he writhed
and sorrowed under it, and sincerely desired to end it.

And this was why he prized Kate's money so. It enabled him to render a
great service to her he had injured worse than he had the other, to her
he saw he must abandon.

But this was feeble comfort after all. He rode along a miserable
man; none the less wretched and remorseful, that, ere he got into
Lancashire, he saw his way clear. This was his resolve: to pay old
Vint's debts with Kate's money; take the "Packhorse," get it made over
to Mercy; give her the odd two hundred pounds and his jewels, and fly.
He would never see her again: but would return home, and get the rest
of the two thousand pounds from Kate, and send it Mercy by a friend,
who should tell her he was dead, and had left word with his relations
to send her all his substance.

At last the "Packhorse" came in sight. He drew rein, and had half a
mind to turn back; but, instead of that, he crawled on, and very sick
and cold he felt.

Many a man has marched to the scaffold with a less quaking heart than
he to the "Packhorse."

His dejection contrasted strangely with the warm reception he met from
everybody there. And the house was full of women; and they seemed,
somehow, all cock-a-hoop, and filled with admiration of _him._

"Where is she?" said he, faintly.

"Hark to the poor soul!" said a gossip. "Dame Vint, where's thy
daughter? gone out a-walking belike?"

At this the other women present chuckled and clucked.

"I'll bring you to her," said Mrs. Vint; "but prithee be quiet and
reasonable; for to be sure she is none too strong."

There was some little preparation, and then Griffith was ushered into
Mercy's room, and found her in bed, looking a little pale, but sweeter
and comelier than ever. She had the bedclothes up to her chin.

"You look wan, my poor lass," said he; "what ails ye?"

"Nought ails me now thou art come," said she, lovingly.

Griffith put the bag on the table. "There," said he, "there's five
hundred pounds in gold. I come not to thee empty-handed."

"Nor I to thee," said Mercy, with a heavenly smile. "See!"

And she drew down the bedclothes a little, and showed the face of a
babe scarcely three days old: a little boy.

She turned in the bed, and tried to hold him up to his father, and
said, "Here's _my_ treasure for thee!" And the effort, the flush on
her cheek, and the deep light in her dove-like eyes, told plainly that
the poor soul thought she had contributed to their domestic wealth
something far richer than Griffith had with his bag of gold.


The father littered an ejaculation, and came to her side, and, for a
moment, Nature overpowered everything else. He kissed the child; he
kissed Mercy again and again.

"Now God he praised for both," said he, passionately; "but most for
thee, the best wife, the truest friend--." He, thinking of her virtues,
and the blow he had come to strike her, he broke down, and was almost
choked with emotion; whereupon Mrs. Vint exerted female authority, and
bundled him out of the room. "Is that the way to carry on at such a
time?" said she. "'Twas enow to upset her altogether. Oh, but you men
have little sense in women's matters. I looked to _you_ to give her
courage, not to set her off into hysterics after a manner. Nay, keep up
her heart, or keep your distance, say I, that am her mother."

Griffith took this hint, and ever after took pity on Mercy's weak
condition; and, suspending the fatal blow, did all he could to restore
her to health and spirits.

Of course, to do that, he must deceive her; and so his life became a
lie.

For, hitherto, she had never looked forward much; but now her eyes were
always diving into futurity: and she lay smiling and discussing the
prospects of her boy; and Griffith had to sit by her side, and see her
gnaw the boy's hand, and kiss his feet, and anticipate his brilliant
career. He had to look and listen with an aching heart, and assent with
feigned warmth, and an inward chill of horror and remorse.

One Drummond, a travelling artist, called; and Mercy, who had often
refused to sit to him, consented now; for, she said, when he grows up
he shall know how his parents looked in their youth, the very year
their darling was born. So Griffith had to sit with her, and excellent
likenesses the man produced; but a horrible one of the child. And
Griffith thought,--"Poor soul; a little while and this picture will be
all that shall be left to thee of me."

For all this time he was actually transacting the preliminaries of
separation. He got a man of law to make all sure. The farm, the
stock, the furniture and goodwill of the "Packhorse," all these he
got assigned to Mercy Leicester for her own use, in consideration of
three hundred and fifty pounds, whereof three hundred were devoted to
clearing the concern of its debts, the odd fifty was to sweeten the
pill to Harry Vint.

When the deed came to be executed, Mercy was surprised, and uttered a
gentle remonstrance. "What have I to do with it?" said she. "'Tis thy
money, not mine."

"No matter," said Griffith; "I choose to have it so."

"Your will is my law," said Mercy.

"Besides," said Griffith, "the old folk will not feel so sore, nor be
afraid of being turned out, if it is in thy name."

"And that is true," said Mercy. "Now who had thought of that, but my
good man?" And she threw her arms lovingly round his neck, and gazed on
him adoringly.

But his lion-like eyes avoided her dove-like eyes; and an involuntary
shudder ran through him.

The habit of deceiving Mercy led to a consequence he had not
anticipated. It tightened the chain that held him. She opened his eyes
more and more to her deep affection, and he began to fear she would die
if he abandoned her.

And then her present situation was so touching. She had borne him a
lovely boy: that must be abandoned too, if he left her; and somehow the
birth of this child had embellished the mother; a delicious pink had
taken the place of her rustic bloom; and her beauty was more refined
and delicate. So pure, so loving, so fair, so maternal, to wound her
heart now, it seemed like stabbing an angel.

One day succeeded to another, and still Griffith had not the heart to
carry out his resolve. He temporized; he wrote to Kate that he was
detained by the business; and he stayed on and on, strengthening his
gratitude and his affection, and weakening his love for the absent,
and his resolution; till, at last, he became so distracted and divided
in heart, and so demoralized, that he began to give up the idea of
abandoning Mercy, and babbled to himself about fate and destiny, and
decided that the most merciful course would be to deceive both women.
Mercy was patient. Mercy was unsuspicious. She would content herself
with occasional visits, if he could only feign some plausible tale to
account for long absences.

Before he got into this mess he was a singularly truthful person; but
now a he was nothing to him. But, for that matter, many a man has been
first made a liar by his connexion with two women; and by degrees has
carried his mendacity into other things.

However, though now blessed with mendacity, he was cursed with a lack
of invention; and sorely puzzled how to live at Hernshaw, yet visit the
"Packhorse."

The best thing he could hit upon was to pretend to turn bagman; and so
Mercy would believe he was travelling all over England, when all the
time he was quietly living at Hernshaw.

And perhaps these long separations might prepare her heart for a final
parting, and so let in his original plan a few years hence.

He prepared this manœuvre with some art: he told her, one day, he had
been to Lancaster, and there fallen in with a friend, who had as good
as promised him the place of a commercial traveller for a mercantile
house.

"A traveller!" said Mercy. "Heaven forbid! If you knew how I wearied
for you when you went to Cumberland."

"To Cumberland! How know you I went thither?"

"Oh, I but guessed that; but now I know it, by your face. But go where
thou wilt, the house is dull directly. Thou art our sunshine. Isn't he,
my poppet?"

"Well, well; if it kept me too long from thee, I could give it up. But,
child, we must think of young master. You could manage the inn, and
your mother the farm, without me; and I should be earning money on my
side. I want to make a gentleman of him."

"Anything for him," said Mercy, "anything in the world." But the tears
stood in her eyes.

In furtherance of this deceit, Griffith did one day actually ride to
Lancaster, and slept there. He wrote to Kate, from that town, to say he
was detained by a slight illness, but hoped to be home in a week: and
the next day brought Mercy home some ribbons, and told her he had seen
the merchant, and his brother, and they had made him a very fair offer.
"But I've a week to think of it," said he, "so there's no hurry."

Mercy fixed her eyes on him in a very peculiar way, and made no reply.
You must know that something very curious had happened whilst Griffith
was gone to Lancaster.

A travelling pedlar, passing by, was struck with the name on the
signboard. "Halloo!" said he, "why here's a namesake of mine; I'll have
a glass of his ale any way."

So he came into the public room, and called for a glass; taking care to
open his pack and display his inviting wares. Harry Vint served him.
"Here's your health," said the pedlar. "You must drink with me, you
must."

"And welcome," said the old man.

"Well," said the pedlar, "I do travel five counties; but for all that
you are the first namesake I have found. I am Thomas Leicester, too, as
sure as you are a living sinner."

The old man laughed, and said, "Then no namesake of mine are you; for
they call me Harry Vint. Thomas Leicester, he that keeps this inn now,
is my son-in-law: he is gone to Lancaster this morning."

The pedlar said that was a pity, he should have liked to see his
namesake, and drink a glass with him.

"Come again to-morrow," said Harry Vint, ironically. "Dame," he cried,
"come hither. Here's another Thomas Leicester for ye, wants to see our
one."

Mrs. Vint turned her head, and inspected the pedlar from afar, as if he
was some natural curiosity.

"Where do you come from, young man?" said she.

"Well, I came from Kendal last; but I am Cumberland born."

"Why, that is where t'other comes from," suggested Paul Carrick, who
was once more a frequenter of the house.

"Like enow," said Mrs. Vint.

With that she dropped the matter as one of no consequence, and retired.
But she went straight to Mercy, in the parlor, and told her there was a
man in the kitchen that called himself Thomas Leicester.

"Well, mother?" said Mercy, with high indifference, for she was trying
new socks on King Baby.

"He comes from Cumberland."

"Well, to be sure, names do run in counties."

"That is true; but, seems to me, he favors your man: much of a height,
and--There, do just step into the kitchen a moment."

"La, mother," said Mercy, "I don't desire to see any more Thomas
Leicesters than my own: 'tis the man, not the name. Isn't it, my lamb?"

Mrs. Vint went back to the kitchen discomfited; but, with quiet
pertinacity, she brought Thomas Leicester into the parlor, pack and all.

"There, Mercy," said she, "lay out a penny with thy husband's namesake."

Mercy did not reply, for, at that moment, Thomas Leicester caught
sight of Griffith's portrait, and gave a sudden start, and a most
extraordinary look besides.

Both the women's eyes happened to be upon him, and they saw at once
that he knew the original.

"You know my husband?" said Mercy Vint, after a while.

"Not I," said Leicester, looking askant at the picture.

"Don't tell no lies," said Mrs. Vint. "You do know him well." And she
pointed her assertion by looking at the portrait.

"Oh, I know him, whose picture hangs there, of course," said Leicester.

"Well, and that is her husband."

"Oh, that is her husband, is it?" And he was unaffectedly puzzled.

Mercy turned pale. "Yes, he is my husband," said she, "and this is our
child. Can you tell me anything about him? for he came a stranger to
these parts. Belike you are a kinsman of his?"

"So they say."

This reply puzzled both women.

"Any way," said the pedlar, "you see we are marked alike." And he
showed a long black mole on his forehead. Mercy was now as curious as
she had been indifferent. "Tell me all about him," said she: "how comes
it that he is a gentleman and thou a pedlar?"

"Well, because my mother was a gipsy, and his a gentlewoman."

"What brought him to these parts?"

"Trouble, they say."

"What trouble?"

"Nay, I know not." This after a slight but visible hesitation.

"But you have heard say."

"Well, I am always on the foot, and don't bide long enough in one
place to learn all the gossip. But I do remember hearing he was gone
to sea: and that was a lie, for he had settled here, and married you.
I'fackins, he might have done worse. He has got a bonny buxom wife, and
a rare fine boy, to be sure."

And now the pedlar was on his guard, and determined he would not be
the one to break up the household he saw before him, and afflict the
dove-eyed wife and mother. He was a good-natured fellow, and averse
to make mischief with his own hands. Besides, he took for granted
Griffith loved his new wife better than the old one; and above all, the
punishment of bigamy was severe, and was it for him to get the Squire
indicted, and branded in the hand for a felon?

So the women could get nothing more out of him; he lied, evaded,
shuffled, and feigned utter ignorance; pleading, adroitly enough, his
vagrant life.

All this, however, aroused vague suspicions in Mrs. Vint's mind, and
she went and whispered them to her favorite, Paul Carrick. "And, Paul,"
said she, "call for what you like, and score it to me; only treat this
pedlar till he leaks out summut: to be sure he'll tell a man more than
he will us."

Paul entered with zeal into this commission: treated the pedlar to a
chop, and plied him well with the best ale.

All this failed to loose the pedlar's tongue at the time, but it
muddled his judgment: on resuming his journey, he gave his entertainer
a wink. Carrick rose and followed him out.

"You seem a decent lad," said the pedlar, "and a good-hearted one. Will
do me a favor?"

Carrick said he would, if it lay in his power.

"Oh, it is easy enow," said the pedlar, "'Tis just to give you Thomas
Leicester, into his own hand, this here trifle as soon as ever he comes
home." And he handed Carrick a hard substance wrapped in paper. Carrick
promised.

"Ay, ay, lad," said the pedlar, "but see you play fair, and give it
him unbeknown. Now don't you be so simple as show it to any of the
women-folk. Dy'e understand?"

"All right," said Carrick, knowingly. And so the boon companions for a
day shook hands and parted.

And Carrick took the little parcel straight to Mrs. Vint, and told her
every word the pedlar had said.

And Mrs. Vint took the little parcel straight to Mercy, and told her
what Carrick said the pedlar had said.

And the pedlar went off flushed with beer and self-complacency; for he
thought he had drawn the line precisely; had faithfully discharged his
promise to his lady and benefactress, but not so as to make mischief in
another household.

Such was the power of Ale--in the last century.

Mercy undid the paper and found the bullet, on which was engraved

                  "I LOVE KATE."

As she read these words a knife seemed to enter her heart; the pang was
so keen.

But she soon took herself to task. "Thou naughty woman," said she.
"What! jealous of the dead?"

She wrapped the bullet up; put it carefully away; had a good cry; and
was herself again.

But all this set her watching Griffith, and reading his face. She
had subtle, vague, misgivings; and forbade her mother to mention the
pedlar's visit to Griffith yet awhile. Woman-like, she preferred to
worm out the truth.

On the evening of his return from Lancaster, as he was smoking his
pipe, she quietly tested him. She fixed her eyes on him, and said,
"One was here to-day that knows thee, and brought thee this." She then
handed him the bullet, and watched his face.

Griffith undid the paper carelessly enough; but, at sight of the
bullet, uttered a loud cry, and his eyes seemed ready to start out of
his head.

He turned as pale as ashes, and stammered piteously, "What? what? what
d'ye mean? In Heaven's name, what is this? How? Who?"

Mercy was surprised, but also much concerned at his distress, and tried
to soothe him. She also asked him, piteously, whether she had done
wrong to give it him. "God knows," said she, "'tis no business of mine
to go and remind thee of her thou hast loved better mayhap than thou
lovest me. But to keep it from thee, and she in her grave, oh I had not
the heart!"

But Griffith's agitation increased instead of diminishing; and, even
while she was trying to soothe him, he rushed wildly out of the room,
and into the open air.

Mercy went, in perplexity and distress, and told her mother.

Mrs. Vint, not being blinded by affection, thought the whole thing had
a very ugly look, and said as much. She gave it as her opinion that
this Kate was alive, and had sent the token herself, to make mischief
between man and wife.

"That shall she never," said Mercy, stoutly; but now her suspicions
were thoroughly excited, and her happiness disturbed.

The next day Griffith found her in tears: he asked her what was the
matter. She would not tell him.

"You have your secrets," said she: "and so now I have mine."


Griffith became very uneasy.

For now Mercy was often in tears, and Mrs. Vint looked daggers at him.

All this was mysterious, and unintelligible, and, to a guilty man, very
alarming.

At last he implored Mercy to speak out. He wanted to know the worst.

Then Mercy did speak out. "You have deceived me," said she. "Kate is
alive. This very morning, between sleeping and waking, you whispered
her name; ay, false man, whispered it like a lover. You told me she was
dead. But she is alive; and has sent you a reminder, and the bare sight
of it hath turned your heart her way again. What shall I do? Why did
you marry me, if you could not forget her? I did not want you to desert
any woman for me. The desire of my heart was always for your happiness.
But oh, Thomas, deceit and falsehood will not bring you happiness, no
more than they will me. What shall I do? what shall I do?"

Her tears flowed freely, and Griffith sat down, and groaned with horror
and remorse, beside her.

He had not the courage to tell her the horrible truth, that Kate was
his wife, and she was not.

"Do not thou afflict thyself," he muttered. "Of course, with you
putting that bullet in my hand so sudden, it set my fancy a wandering
back to other days."

"Ah!" said Mercy, "if it be no worse than that, there's little harm.
But why did thy namesake start so at sight of thy picture?"

"My namesake!" cried Griffith, all aghast.

"Ay, he that brought thee that love-token; Thomas Leicester. Nay, for
very shame, feign not ignorance of him; why, he hath thy very mole on
his temple, and knew thy picture in a moment. He is thy half-brother,
is he not?"

"I am a ruined man," cried Griffith; and sank into a chair without
power of motion.

"God help me, what is all this?" cried Mercy. "Oh, Thomas, Thomas, I
could forgive thee ought but deceit: for both our sakes speak out, and
tell me the worst; no harm shall come near thee while I live."

"How can I tell thee? I am an unfortunate man. The world will call me
a villain; yet I am not a villain at heart. But who will believe me? I
have broken the law. Thee I could trust, but not thy folk; they never
loved me. Mercy, for pity's sake, when was that Thomas Leicester here?"

"Four days ago."

"Which way went he?"

"I hear he told Paul he was going to Cumberland."

"If he gets there before me, I shall rot in gaol."

"Now Heaven forbid! Oh, Thomas, then mount and ride after him."

"I will, and this very moment."

He saddled Black Dick, and loaded his pistols for the journey; but, ere
he went, a pale face looked out into the yard, and a finger beckoned.
It was Mercy. She bade him follow her. She took him to her room, where
their child was sleeping; and then she closed, and even locked the door.

"No soul can hear us," said she; "now, look me in the face, and tell me
God's truth. Who and what are you?"

Griffith shuddered at this exordium; he made no reply.

Mercy went to a box, and took out an old shirt of his; the one he wore
when he first came to the "Packhorse." She brought it to him and showed
him "G. G." embroidered on it with a woman's hair. (Ryder's.)

"Here are your initials," said she, "now leave useless falsehoods; be a
man, and tell me your real name."

"My name is Griffith Gaunt."

Mercy, sick at heart, turned her head away; but she had the resolution
to urge him on. "Go on," said she, in an agonized whisper: "if you
believe in God, and a judgment to come, deceive me no more. The truth!
I say: the truth!"

"So be it," said Griffith, desperately: "when I have told thee what a
villain I am. I can die at thy feet, and then thou wilt forgive me."

"Who is Kate?" was all she replied.

"Kate is--MY WIFE."


"I thought her false; who could think any other; appearances were so
strong against her: others thought so beside me. I raised my hand
to kill her; but she never winced. I trampled on him I believed her
paramour: I fled, and soon I lay a dying in this house for her sake. I
told thee she was dead. Alas! I thought her dead to me. I went back to
our house (it is her house) sore against the grain, to get money for
thee and thine. Then she cleared herself, bright as the sun, and pure
as snow. She was all in black for me; she had put by money, against
I should come to my senses and need it. I told her I owed a debt in
Lancashire, a debt of gratitude as well as money: and so I did. How
have I repaid it? The poor soul forced five hundred pounds on me. I had
much ado to keep her from bringing it hither with her own hands; oh,
villain! villain! Then I thought to leave thee, and send thee word I
was dead; and heap money on thee. Money! But how could I? Thou wast my
benefactress, my more than wife. All the riches of the world can make
no return to thee. What, what shall I do? Shall I fly with thee and thy
child across the seas? Shall I go back to her? No, the best thing I can
do is to take this good pistol, and let the life out of my dishonorable
carcass, and free two honest women from me by one resolute act."

In his despair he cocked the pistol; and, at a word from Mercy, this
tale had ended.

But the poor woman, pale and trembling, tottered across the room, and
took it out of his hand. "I would not harm thy body, nor thy soul," she
gasped. "Let me draw my breath, and think."

She rocked herself to and fro in silence.

Griffith stood trembling like a criminal before his judge.

It was long ere she could speak, for anguish. Yet when she did speak,
it was with a sort of deadly calm.

"Go tell the truth to _her_, as you have done to me: and, if she can
forgive you, all the better for you. I can never forgive you, nor yet
can harm you. My child, my child! Thy father is our ruin. Oh begone,
man, or the sight of you will kill us both."

"At that he fell at her knees; kissed, and wept over her cold hand,
and, in his pity and despair, offered to cross the seas with her and
her child, and so repair the wrong he had done her.

"Tempt me not," she sobbed. "Go: leave me. None here shall ever know
thy crime, but she whose heart thou hast broken, and ruined her good
name."

He took her in his arms, in spite of her resistance, and kissed her
passionately; but, for the first time, she shuddered at his embrace,
and that gave him the power to leave her.

He rushed from her, all but distracted, and rode away to Cumberland;
but not to tell the truth to Kate, if he could possibly help it.



CHAPTER III


At this particular time, no man's presence was more desired in that
county than Griffith Gaunt's.

And this I need not now he telling the reader, if I had related this
story on the plan of a miscellaneous chronicle. But the affairs of the
heart are so absorbing, that, even in a narrative, they thrust aside
important circumstances of a less moving kind.

I must therefore go back a step, before I advance further. You must
know that forty years before our Griffith Gaunt saw the light, another
Griffith Gaunt was born in Cumberland: a younger son, and the family
estate entailed; but a shrewd lad, who chose rather to hunt fortune
elsewhere, than to live in miserable dependence on his elder brother.
His godfather, a city merchant, encouraged him, and he left Cumberland.
He went into commerce, and in twenty years became a wealthy man, so
wealthy that he lived to look down on his brother's estate, which he
had once thought opulence. His life was all prosperity, with a single
exception; but that a bitter one. He laid out some of his funds in a
fashionable and beautiful wife. He loved her before marriage: and, as
she was always cold to him, he loved her more and more.

In the second year of their marriage she ran away from him; and no
beggar in the streets of London was so miserable as the wealthy
merchant.

It blighted the man, and left him a sore heart all his days. He never
married again; and railed on all womankind for this one. He led a
solitary life in London till he was sixty-nine; and then, all of a
sudden, Nature, or accident, or both, changed his whole habits. Word
came to him that the family estate, already deeply mortgaged, was for
sale, and a farmer who had rented a principal farm on it, and held a
heavy mortgage, had made the highest offer.

Old Griffith sent down Mr. Atkins, his solicitor, post haste, and
snapped the estate out of that purchaser's hands.

When the lands and house had been duly conveyed to him, he came down,
and his heart seemed to bud again, in the scenes of his childhood.

Finding the house small, and built in a valley instead of on rising
ground, he got an army of bricklayers, and began to build a mansion
with a rapidity unheard of in those parts; and he looked about for some
one to inherit it.

The name of Gaunt had dwindled down to three since he left Cumberland;
but a rich man never lacks relations. Featherstonhaughs, and
Underhills, and even Smiths, poured in, with parish registers in their
laps, and proved themselves Gauntesses; and flattered and carneyed the
new head of the family.

Then the perverse old gentleman felt inclined to look elsewhere. He
knew he had a namesake at the other side of the county, but this
namesake did not come near him.

This independent Gaunt excited his curiosity and interest. He made
inquiries, and heard that young Griffith had just quarrelled with his
wife, and gone away in despair.

Griffith senior took for granted that the fault lay with Mrs. Gaunt,
and wasted some good sympathy on Griffith junior.

On further inquiry he learnt that the truant was dependent on his wife.
Then, argued the moneyed man, he would not run away from her, but that
his wound was deep.

The consequence of all this was, that he made a will very favorable to
his absent and injured (?) namesake. He left numerous bequests; but
made Griffith his residuary legatee; and having settled this matter,
urged on, and superintended his workmen.

Alas! just as the roof was going on, a narrower house claimed him, and
he made good the saying of the wise bard--

    --Tu secanda marmora
    Locas sub ipsum funus et sepulchri
    Immemor struis domos.

The heir of his own choosing could not be found to attend his funeral;
and Mr. Atkins, his solicitor, a very worthy man, was really hurt at
this. With the quiet bitterness of a displeased attorney, he merely
sent Mrs. Gaunt word her husband inherited something under the will,
and she would do well to produce him, or else furnish him (Atkins) with
proof of his decease.

Mrs. Gaunt was offended by this cavalier note, and replied very like a
woman, and very unlike Business.

"I do not know where he is," said she, "nor whether he is alive or
dead. Nor do I feel disposed to raise the hue and cry after him. But,
favor me with your address, and I shall let you know should I hear
anything about him."

Mr. Atkins was half annoyed, half amused, at this piece of
indifference. It never occurred to him that it might be all put on.

He wrote back to say that the estate was large, and, owing to the terms
of the will, could not be administered without Mr. Griffith Gaunt;
and, in the interest of the said Griffith Gaunt, and also of the other
legatees, he really must advertise for him.

La Gaunt replied that he was very welcome to advertise for whomsoever
he pleased.

Mr. Atkins was a very worthy man; but human. To tell the truth, he
was himself one of the other legatees. He inherited (and, to be just,
had well deserved,) four thousand guineas, under the will, and could
not legally touch it without Griffith Gaunt. This little circumstance
spurred his professional zeal.

Mr. Atkins advertised for Griffith Gaunt, in the London and Cumberland
papers, and in the usual enticing form. He was to apply to Mr. Atkins,
Solicitor, of Gray's Inn, and he would hear of something greatly to his
advantage.

These advertisements had not been out a fortnight, when Griffith came
home, as I have related.

But Mr. Atkins had punished Mrs. Gaunt for her insouciance, by not
informing her of the extent of her good fortune; so she merely told
Griffith, casually, that old Griffith Gaunt had left him some money,
and the solicitor, Mr. Atkins, could not get on without him. Even this
information she did not vouchsafe until she had given him her 500_l_.,
for she grudged Atkins the pleasure of supplying her husband with money.

However, as soon as Griffith left her, she wrote to Mr. Atkins to say
that her husband had come home in perfect health, thank God; had only
stayed two days, but was to return in a week.

When ten days had elapsed, Atkins wrote to inquire.

She replied he had not yet returned: and this went on till Mr. Atkins
showed considerable impatience.

As for Mrs. Gaunt, she made light of the matter to Mr. Atkins; but, in
truth, this new mystery irritated her and pained her deeply.

In one respect she was more unhappy than she had been before he came
back at all. Then she was alone; her door was closed to commentators.
But now, on the strength of so happy a reconciliation, she had
re-entered the world, and received visits from Sir George Neville,
and others; and, above all, had announced that Griffith would be back
for good in a few days. So now his continued absence exposed her to
sly questions from her own sex, to the interchange of glances between
female visitors, as well as to the internal torture of doubt and
suspense.

But what distracted her most, was the view Mrs. Ryder took of the
matter.

That experienced lady had begun to suspect some other woman was at the
bottom of Griffith's conduct: and her own love for Griffith was now
soured; repeated disappointments and affronts, spretæque injuria formæ,
had not quite extinguished it, but had mixed so much spite with it,
that she was equally ready to kiss or to stab him.

So she took every opportunity to instill into her mistress, whose
confidence she had won at last, that Griffith was false to her.

"That is the way with these men that are so ready to suspect others.
Take my word for it. Dame, he has carried your money to his leman. 'Tis
still the honest woman that must bleed for some nasty trollop or other."

She enforced this theory by examples drawn from her own observations in
families, and gave the very names; and drove Mrs. Gaunt almost mad with
fear, anger, jealousy, and cruel suspense. She could not sleep, she
could not eat; she was in a constant fever.

Yet before the world she battled it out bravely, and indeed none but
Ryder knew the anguish of her spirit, and her passionate wrath.

At last there came a most eventful day.

Mrs. Gaunt had summoned all her pride and fortitude, and invited
certain ladies and gentlemen to dine and sup.

She was one of the true Spartan breed, and played the hostess as well
as if her heart had been at ease. It was an age in which the host
struggled fiercely to entertain the guests; and Mrs. Gaunt was taxing
all her powers of pleasing in the dining-room, when an unexpected guest
strolled into the kitchen. The pedlar, Thomas Leicester.

Jane welcomed him cordially, and he was soon seated at a table eating
his share of the feast.

Presently Mrs. Ryder came down, dressed in her best, and looking
handsomer than ever.

At sight of her, Tom Leicester's affection revived; and he soon took
occasion to whisper an inquiry whether she was still single.

"Ay," said she, "and like to be."

"Waiting for the master still? Mayhap I could cure you of that
complaint. But least said is soonest mended."

This mysterious hint showed Ryder he had a secret burning his bosom.
The sly hussy said nothing just then, but plied him with ale and
flattery; and, when he whispered a request for a private meeting out of
doors, she cast her eyes down, and assented.

And in that meeting she carried herself so adroitly, that he renewed
his offer of marriage, and told her not to waste her fancy on a man who
cared neither for her nor any other she in Cumberland.

"Prove that to me," said Ryder, cunningly, "and may be I'll take you at
your word."

The bribe was not to be resisted. Tom revealed to her, under a solemn
promise of secrecy, that the Squire had got a wife and child in
Lancashire; and had a farm and an inn, which latter he kept, under the
name of Thomas Leicester.

In short, he told her, in his way, all the particulars I have told in
mine.

She led him on with a voice of very velvet. He did not see how her
cheek paled and her eyes flashed jealous fury.

When she had sucked him dry, she suddenly turned on him, with a cold
voice, and said, "I can't stay any longer with you just now. She will
want me."

"You will meet me here again, lass?" said Tom, ruefully.

"Yes, for a minute, after supper."

She then left him and went to Mrs. Gaunt's room, and sat crouching
before the fire, all hate and bitterness.

What? he had left the wife he loved, and yet had not turned to her!

She sat there, waiting for Mrs. Gaunt, and nursing her vindictive fury,
two mortal hours.

At last, just before supper, Mrs. Gaunt came up to her room, to cool
her fevered hands and brow, and found this creature crouched by her
fire, all in a heap, with pale cheek, and black eyes that glittered
like basilisk's.

"What is the matter, child?" said Mrs. Gaunt. "Good Heavens! what hath
happened?"

"Dame!" said Ryder, sternly, "I have got news of him."

"News of him?" faltered Mrs. Gaunt. "Bad news?"

"I don't know whether to tell you or not," said Ryder, sulkily, but
with a touch of human feeling.

"What cannot I bear? What have I not borne? Tell me the truth."

The words were stout, but she trembled all over in uttering them.

"Well, it is as I said; only worse. Dame, he has got a wife and child
in another county; and no doubt been deceiving her, as he has us."

"A wife!" gasped Mrs. Gaunt, and one white hand clutched her bosom, and
the other the mantelpiece.

"Ay, Thomas Leicester, that is in the kitchen now, saw her, and saw
his picture hanging aside hers on the wall. And he goes by the name of
Thomas Leicester: that was what made Tom go into the inn, seeing his
own name on the sign-board. Nay, Dame, never give way like that, lean
on me; so. He is a villain, a false, jealous, double-faced villain."

Mrs. Gaunt's head fell on Ryder's shoulder, and she said no word;
but only moaned and moaned, and her white teeth clicked convulsively
together.

Ryder wept over her sad state: the tears were half impulse, half
crocodile.

She applied hartshorn to the sufferer's nostrils, and tried to rouse
her mind by exciting her anger. But all was in vain. There hung the
betrayed wife, pale, crushed, and quivering under the cruel blow.

Ryder asked her if she should go down and excuse her to her guests.

She nodded a feeble assent.

Ryder then laid her down on the bed with her head low, and was just
about to leave her on that errand, when hurried steps were heard
outside the door, and one of the female servants knocked; and, not
waiting to be invited, put her head in, and cried, "Oh, Dame, the
Master is come home. He is in the kitchen."



CHAPTER IV


Mrs. Ryder made an agitated motion with her hand, and gave the girl
such a look withal, that she retired precipitately.

But Mrs. Gaunt had caught the words, and they literally transformed
her. She sprang off the bed, and stood erect, and looked a Saxon
Pythoness: golden hair streaming down her back and grey eyes gleaming
with fury.

She caught up a little ivory-handled knife, and held it above her head.

"I'll drive this into his heart before them all," she cried," and tell
them the reason _afterwards!_"

Ryder looked at her for a moment in utter terror. She saw a woman with
grander passions than herself: a woman that looked quite capable of
executing her sanguinary threat. Ryder made no more ado, but slipped
out directly to prevent a meeting that might be attended with such
terrible consequences.

She found her master in the kitchen, splashed with mud, drinking a horn
of ale after his ride, and looking rather troubled and anxious; and, by
the keen eye of her sex, she saw that the female servants were also in
considerable anxiety. The fact is they had just extemporized a lie.

Tom Leicester being near the kitchen window, had seen Griffith ride
into the court-yard.

At sight of that well-known figure, he drew back, and his heart quaked
at his own imprudence, in confiding Griffith's secret to Caroline Ryder.

"Lasses," said he, hastily, "do me a kindness for old acquaintance.
Here's the Squire. For heaven's sake don't let him know I am in the
house, or there will be bloodshed between us; he is a hasty man, and
I'm another. I'll tell ye more by and by."

The next moment Griffith's tread was heard approaching the very door,
and Leicester darted into the housekeeper's room, and hid in a cupboard
there.

Griffith opened the kitchen door, and stood upon the threshold.

The women curtseyed to him, and were loud in welcome.

He returned their civilities briefly; and then his first word
was--"Hath Thomas Leicester been here?"

You know how servants stick together against their master. The girls
looked him in the face, like candid doves, and told him Leicester had
not been that way for six months or more.

Why, I have tracked him to within two miles," said Griffith, doubtfully.

"Then he is sure to come here," said Jane, adroitly. "He wouldn't ever
think to go by us."

"The moment he enters the house you let me know. He is a
mischief-making loon."

He then asked for a horn of ale; and, as he finished it, Ryder came in,
and he turned to her, and asked her after her mistress.

"She is well, just now," said Ryder; "but she has been took with a
spasm: and it would be well, sir, if you could dress, and entertain the
company in her place awhile. For I must tell you your being so long
away hath set their tongues going, and almost broken my lady's heart."

Griffith sighed, and said he could not help it, and now he was here, he
would do all in his power to please her. I'll go to her at once," said
he.

"No, sir!" said Ryder, firmly. "Come with me. I want to speak to you."

She took him to his bachelor's room, and stayed a few minutes to talk
to him.

"Master," said she, solemnly; "things are very serious here. Why did
you stay so long away? Our Dame says some woman is at the bottom of it,
and she'll put a knife into you if you come a nigh her."

This threat did not appall Griffith, as Ryder expected. Indeed, he
seemed rather flattered.

"Poor Kate!" said he, "she is just the woman to do it. But I am afraid
she does not love me enough for that. But indeed how should she?"

"Well, sir," replied Ryder, "oblige me by keeping clear of her for a
little while. I have got orders to make your bed here. Now, dress, like
a good soul, and then go down and show respect to the company that is
in your house; for they know you are here."

"Why, that is the least I can do," said Griffith. "Put you out what I
am to wear, and then run and say I'll be with them anon."

Griffith walked into the dining-room, and, somewhat to his surprise,
after what Ryder had said, found Mrs. Gaunt seated at the head of her
own table, and presiding like a radiant queen over a brilliant assembly.

He walked in, and made a low bow to his guests first: then he
approached, to greet his wife more freely; but she drew back decidedly,
and made him a curtsy, the dignity and distance of which struck the
whole company.

Sir George Neville, who was at the bottom of the table, proposed, with
his usual courtesy, to resign his place to Griffith. But Mrs. Gaunt
forbade the arrangement.

"No, Sir George," said she, "this is but an occasional visitor: you are
my constant friend."

If this had been said pleasantly, well and good; but the guests looked
in vain into their hostess's face for the smile that ought to have
accompanied so strange a speech and disarmed it.

"Rarities are the more welcome," said a lady, coming to the rescue; and
edged aside to make room for him.

"Madam," said Griffith, "I am in your debt for that explanation; but I
hope you will be no rarity here, for all that."

Supper proceeded; but the mirth languished. Somehow or other, the chill
fact that there was a grave quarrel between two at the table, and those
two man and wife, insinuated itself into the spirits of the guests.

There began to be lulls: fatal lulls. And in one of these, some unlucky
voice was heard to murmur, "Such a meeting of man and wife, I never
saw."

The hearers felt miserable at this personality, that fell upon the ear
of Silence like a thunderbolt.

Griffith was ill-advised enough to notice the remark, though clearly
not intended for his ears. For one thing, his jealousy had actually
revived at the cool preference Kate had shown his old rival, Neville.

"Oh!" said he, bitterly, "a man is not always his wife's favorite."

"He does not always deserve to he," said Mrs. Gaunt, sternly.

When matters had gone that length, one idea seemed to occur pretty
simultaneously to all the well-bred guests: and that idea was, _Sauve
qui peut._

Mrs. Gaunt took leave of them, one by one, and husband and wife were
left alone.

Mrs. Gaunt by this time was alarmed at the violence of her own
passions, and wished to avoid Griffith for that night at all events. So
she cast one terribly stern look upon him, and was about to retire in
grim silence. But he, indignant at the public affront she had put on
him, and not aware of the true cause, unfortunately detained her. He
said, sulkily, "What sort of a reception was that you gave me?"

This was too much. She turned on him furiously. "Too good for thee,
thou heartless creature! Thomas Leicester is here, and I know thee for
a villain."

"You know nothing," cried Griffith. "Would you believe that
mischief-making knave? What has he told you?"

"Go back to her!" cried Mrs. Gaunt furiously. "Me you can deceive
and pillage no more. So, this was your jealousy! False and forsworn
yourself, you dared to suspect and insult me. Ah! and you think I am
the woman to endure this? I'll have your life for it! I'll have your
life."

Griffith endeavored to soften her; protested that, notwithstanding
appearances, he had never loved but her.

"I'll soon be rid of you, and your love," said the raging woman. "The
constables shall come for you to-morrow. You have seen how I can love,
you shall know how I can hate."

She then, in her fury, poured out a torrent of reproaches and threats
that made his blood run cold. He could not answer her: he _had_
suspected her wrongfully, and been false to her himself. He _had_
abused her generosity, and taken her money for Mercy Vint.

After one or two vain efforts to check the torrent, he sank into a
chair, and hid his face in his hands.

But this did not disarm her, at the time. Her raging voice and raging
words were heard by the very servants, long after he had ceased to
defend himself.

At last she came out, pale with fury, and finding Ryder near the door,
shrieked out, "Take that reptile to his den, if he is mean enough
to lie in this house:" then, lowering her voice, "and bring Thomas
Leicester to me."

Ryder went to Leicester, and told him. But he objected to come. "You
have betrayed me," said he. "Curse my weak heart, and my loose tongue. I
have done the poor Squire an ill turn. I can never look him in the face
again. But 'tis all thy fault, double-face. I hate the sight of thee."

At this Ryder shed some crocodile tears; and very soon, by her
blandishments, obtained forgiveness.

And Leicester, since the mischief was done, was persuaded to see the
Dame, who was his recent benefactor, you know. He bargained, however,
that the Squire should be got to bed first, for he had a great dread of
meeting him. "He'll break every bone in my skin," said Tom; "or else I
shall do _him_ a mischief in my defense."

Ryder herself saw the wisdom of this: she bade him stay quiet, and she
went to look after Griffith.

She found him in the drawing-room, with his head on the table, in deep
dejection.

She assumed authority, and said he must go to bed.

He rose humbly, and followed her like a submissive dog.

She took him to his room. There was no fire.

"That is where you are to sleep," said she, spitefully.

"It is better than I deserve," said he, humbly.

The absurd rule about not hitting a man when he is down, has never
obtained a place in the great female soul; so Ryder lashed him without
mercy.

"Well, sir," said she, "methinks you have gained little by breaking
faith with me. Y' had better have set up your inn with me, than gone
and sinned against the law."

"Much better: would to Heaven I had!"

"What d'ye mean to do now? You know the saying. Between two stools--."

"Child," said Griffith, faintly, "methinks I shall trouble neither
long. I am not so ill a man as I seem; but who will believe that? I
shall not live long. And I shall leave an ill name behind me. _She_
told me so just now. And, oh, her eye was so cruel; I saw my death in
it."

"Come, come," said Ryder, relenting a little, "you mustn't believe
every word an angry woman says. There, take my advice; go to bed; and
in the morning don't speak to her; keep out of her way a day or two."

And with this piece of friendly advice she left him; and waited about
till she thought he was in bed and asleep.

Then she brought Thomas Leicester up to her mistress.

But Griffith was not in bed; and he heard Leicester's heavy tread cross
the landing. He waited and waited behind his door for more than half an
hour, and then he heard the same heavy tread go away again.

By this time nearly all the inmates of the house were asleep.

About twenty-five minutes after Leicester left Mrs. Gaunt, Caroline
Ryder stole quietly upstairs from the kitchen; and sat down to think it
all over.

She then proceeded to undress: but had only taken off her gown, when
she started and listened; for a cry of distress reached her from
outside the house.

She darted to the window and threw it open.

Then she heard a cry more distinct. "Help! help!"

It was a clear starlight night, but no moon.

The mere shone before her, and the cries were on the bank.

Now came something more alarming still. A flash: a pistol shot: and an
agonized voice cried loudly, "Murder! Help! Murder!"

That voice she knew directly. It was Griffith Gaunt's.



CHAPTER V


Ryder ran screaming, and alarmed the other servants.

All the windows that looked on the mere were hung open.

But no more sounds were heard. A terrible silence brooded now over
those clear waters.

The female servants huddled together, and quaked; for who could doubt
that a bloody deed had been done?

It was some time before they mustered the presence of mind to go and
tell Mrs. Gaunt. At last they opened her door. She was not in her room.

Ryder ran to Griffith's. It was locked.

She called to him. He made no reply.

They burst the door open. He was not there: and the window was open.

While their tongues were all going, in consternation, Mrs. Gaunt was
suddenly among them, very pale.

They turned, and looked at her aghast.

"What means all this?" said she. "Did I not hear cries outside?"

"Ay," said Ryder: "Murder! and a pistol fired. Oh, my poor master!"

Mrs. Gaunt was white as death; but self-possessed. "Light torches this
moment, and search the place," said she.

There was only one man in the house, and he declined to go out alone.
So Ryder and Mrs. Gaunt went with him, all three bearing lighted links.

They searched the place where Ryder had heard the cries. They went up
and down the whole bank of the mere, and east their torches; red light
over the placid waters themselves. But there was nothing to be seen,
alive or dead; no trace either of calamity or crime.

They roused the neighbors, and came back to the house with their
clothes all draggled and dirty.

Mrs. Gaunt took Ryder apart, and asked her if she could guess at what
time of the night Griffith had made his escape.

"He is a villain," said she, "yet I would not have him come to harm,
God knows. There are thieves abroad. But I hope he ran away as soon as
your back was turned, and so fell not in with them."

"Humph!" said Ryder. Then, looking Mrs. Gaunt In the face, she said,
quietly, "Where were you when you heard the cries?"

"I was on the other side of the house."

"What, out o'doors, at that time of night!"

"Ay; I was in the grove. Praying."

"Did you hear any voice you knew?"

"No: all was too indistinct. I heard a pistol, but no words. Did you?"

"I heard no more than you, madam," said Ryder, trembling.

No one went to bed any more that night in Hernshaw Castle.



CHAPTER VI


This mysterious circumstance made a great talk in the village, and in
the kitchen of Hernshaw Castle; but not in the drawing-room: for Mrs.
Gaunt instantly closed her door to visitors, and let it be known that
it was her intention to retire to a convent; and, in the meantime, she
desired not to be disturbed.

Ryder made one or two attempts to draw her out upon the subject, but
was sternly checked.

Pale, gloomy, and silent, the mistress of Hernshaw Castle moved about
the place like the ghost of her former self. She never mentioned
Griffith; forbade his name to be uttered in her hearing; and, strange
to say, gave Ryder strict orders not to tell any one what she had heard
from Thomas Leicester.

"This last insult is known but to you and me. If it ever gets abroad,
you leave my service that very hour."

This injunction set Ryder thinking. However, she obeyed it to the
letter. Her place was getting better and better; and she was a woman
accustomed to keep secrets.

A pressing letter came from Mr. Atkins.

Mrs. Gaunt replied that her husband had come to Hernshaw, but had left
again; and the period of his ultimate return was now more uncertain
than ever.

On this Mr. Atkins came down to Hernshaw Castle. But Mrs. Gaunt would
not see him. He retired very angry; and renewed his advertisements,
but in a more explicit form. He now published that Griffith Gaunt, of
Hernshaw and Bolton, was executor and residuary legatee to the late
Griffith Gaunt, of Coggleswade: and requested him to apply directly to
James Atkins, Solicitor, of Gray's Inn, London.

In due course this advertisement was read by the servants at Hernshaw;
and shown, by Ryder, to Mrs. Gaunt.

She made no comment whatever; and contrived to render her pale face
impenetrable.

Ryder became as silent and thoughtful as herself, and often sat bending
her black judicial brows.


By-and-by dark mysterious words began to be thrown out in Hernshaw
village.

"He will never come back at all."

"He will never come into that fortune."

"'Tis no use advertising for a man that is past reading."

These, and the like equivocal sayings, were followed by a vague buzz,
which was traceable to no individual author, but seemed to rise on all
sides, like a dark mist, and envelope that unhappy house.

And that dark mist of Rumor soon condensed itself into a palpable and
terrible whisper, "Griffith Gaunt hath met with foul play."


No one of the servants told Mrs. Gaunt this horrid rumor.

But the women used to look at her, and after her, with strange eyes.

She noticed this, and felt, somehow, that her people were falling away
from her. It added one drop to her bitter cup. She began to droop into
a sort of calm despondent lethargy.

Then came fresh trouble to rouse her.

Two of the county magistrates called on her in their official capacity,
and, with perfect politeness, but a very grave air, requested her
to inform them of all the circumstances attending her husband's
disappearance.

She replied, coldly and curtly, that she knew very little about it. Her
husband had left in the middle of the night.

"He came to stay?"

"I believe so."

"Came on horseback?"

"Yes."

"Did he go away on horseback?"

"No: for the horse is now in my stable."

"Is it true there was a quarrel between you and him that evening?"

"Gentlemen," said Mrs. Gaunt, drawing herself back, haughtily, "did you
come here to gratify your curiosity?"

"No, madam," said the elder of the two; "but to discharge a very
serious and painful duty, in which I earnestly request you, and even
advise you, to aid us. Was there a quarrel?"

"There was--a mortal quarrel."

The gentlemen exchanged glances and the elder made a note.

"May we ask the subject of that quarrel?"

Mrs. Gaunt declined, positively, to enter into a matter so delicate.

A note was taken of this refusal.

"Are you aware, madam, that your husband's voice was heard calling for
help, and that a pistol-shot was fired?"

Mrs. Gaunt trembled visibly.

"I heard the pistol shot," said she, "but not the voice distinctly. Oh,
I hope it was not his voice Ryder heard."

"Ryder, who is he?"

"Ryder is my lady's-maid: her bedroom is on that side the house."

"Can we see Mrs. Ryder?"

"Certainly," said Mrs. Gaunt, and rose and rang the bell.

Mrs. Ryder answered the bell, in person, very promptly; for she was
listening at the door.

Being questioned, she told the magistrates what she had heard down by
the mere and said she was sure it was her master's voice that cried
"Help!" and "Murder!" And with this she began to cry.

Mrs. Gaunt trembled and turned pale.

The magistrates confined their questions to Ryder.

They elicited, however, very little more from her. She saw the drift
of their questions, and had an impulse to defend her mistress there
present. Behind her back it would have been other-wise.

That resolution once taken, two children might as well have tried to
extract evidence from her as two justices of the peace.

And then Mrs. Gaunt's pale face and noble features touched them. The
case was mysterious, but no more; and they departed little the wiser
and with some apologies for the trouble they had given her.

The next week down came Mr. Atkins out of all patience, and determined
to find Griffith Gaunt, or else obtain some proof of his decease.

He obtained two interviews with Ryder, and bribed her to tell him all
she knew. He prosecuted other inquiries with more method than had
hitherto been used, and elicited an important fact, viz., that Griffith
Gaunt had been seen walking in a certain direction at one o'clock
in the morning, followed at a short distance by a tall man with a
knapsack, or the like, on his back.

The person who gave this tardy information was the wife of a certain
farmer's man, who wired hares upon the sly. The man himself, being
assured that, in a case so serious as this, no particular inquiries
should be made how he came to be out so late, confirmed what his wife
had let out, and added that both men had taken the way that would lead
them to the bridge, meaning the bridge over the mere. More than that he
could not say, for he had _met_ them, and was full half a mile from the
mere, before those men could have reached it.

Following up this clue, Mr. Atkins learned so many ugly things, that he
went to the Bench on justicing day, and demanded a full and searching
inquiry on the premises.

Sir George Neville, after in vain opposing this, rode off straight from
the Bench to Hernshaw, and in feeling terms conveyed the bad news to
Mrs. Gaunt; and then, with the utmost delicacy, let her know that some
suspicion rested upon herself, which she would do well to meet with the
bold front of innocence.

"What suspicion, pray?" said Mrs. Gaunt, haughtily.

Sir George shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "That you have done
Gaunt the honor--to put him out of the way."

Mrs. Gaunt took this very differently from what Sir George expected.

"What!" she cried, "are they so sure he is dead? murdered!"

And with this, she went into a passion of grief and remorse.

Even Sir George was puzzled, as well as affected, by her convulsive
agitation.



CHAPTER VII


Though it was known the proposed inquiry might result in the committal
of Mrs. Gaunt on a charge of murder, yet the respect in which she had
hitherto been held, and the influence of Sir George Neville, who having
been her lover, stoutly maintained her innocence, prevailed so far,
that even this inquiry was private, and at her own house. Only she was
present in the character of a suspected person, and the witnesses were
examined before her.

First, the poacher gave his evidence.

Then, Jane the cook proved, that a pedlar called Thomas Leicester had
been in the kitchen, and secreted about the premises till a late hour;
and this Thomas Leicester corresponded exactly to the description given
by the poacher.

This threw suspicion on Thomas Leicester, but did not connect Mrs.
Gaunt with the deed in any way.

But Ryder's evidence filled this gap. She revealed three serious
facts:--

First, that, by her mistress's orders, she had introduced this very
Leicester into her mistress's room about midnight, where he had
remained nearly half an hour, and had then left the house.

Secondly, that Mrs. Gaunt herself had been out of doors after midnight.

And, thirdly, that she had listened at the door, and heard her threaten
Griffith Gaunt's life.

This is a mere précis of the evidence, and altogether it looked so
suspicious, that the magistrates, after telling Mrs. Gaunt she could
ask the witnesses any question she chose, a suggestion she treated with
marked contempt, put their heads together a moment, and whispered.
Then the eldest of them, Mr. Underhill, who lived at a considerable
distance, told her gravely he must commit her to take her trial at the
next assizes.

"Do what you conceive to be your duty, gentlemen," said Mrs. Gaunt,
with marvellous dignity. "If I do not assert my innocence, it is
because I disdain the accusation too much."

"I shall take no part in the committal of this innocent lady," said Sir
George Neville: and was about to leave the room.

But Mrs. Gaunt begged him to stay. "To be guilty, is one thing," said
she, "to be accused, is another: I shall go to prison as easy as to my
dinner, and to the gallows as to my bed."

The presiding magistrate was staggered a moment by these words; and
it was not without considerable hesitation he took the warrant, and
prepared to fill it up.

Then Mr. Houseman, who had watched the proceedings very keenly, put in
his word. "I am here for the accused person, sir, and, with your good
leave, object to her committal--on grounds of law."

"What may they be, Mr. Houseman?" said the magistrate, civilly; and
laid his pen down to hear them.

"Briefly, sir, these. Where a murder is proven, you can commit a subject
of this realm upon suspicion. But you cannot suspect the murder as well
as the culprit, and so commit. The murder must be proved to the senses.
Now in this case the death of Mr. Gaunt by violence is not proved.
Indeed his very death rests but upon suspicion. I admit that the law
of England in this respect has once or twice been tampered with, and
persons have even been executed where no corpus delicti was found; but
what was the consequence? In each ease the murdered man turned out to
be alive, and justice was the only murderer. After Harrison's case, and
*'s, no Cumberland jury will ever commit for murder, unless the corpus
delicti has been found, and with signs of violence upon it. Come, come,
Mr. Atkins, you are too good a lawyer, and too humane a man, to send my
client to prison on the suspicion of a suspicion, which you know the
very breath of the judge will blow away, even if the grand jury let it
go into court. I offer bail, ten thousand pounds in two sureties; Sir
George Neville here present, and myself."

The magistrate looked at Mr. Atkins.

"I am not employed by the Crown," said that gentleman, "but acting on
mere civil grounds, and have no right nor wish to be severe. Bail by
all means; but is the lady so sure of her innocence as to lend me her
assistance to find the corpus delicti?"

The question was so shrewdly put, that any hesitation would have ruined
Mrs. Gaunt.

Houseman, therefore, replied eagerly and promptly, "I answer for her,
she will."

Mrs. Gaunt bowed her head in assent.

"Then," said Atkins, "I ask leave to drag, and, if need be, to drain,
that piece of water there, called 'the mere.'"

"Drag it, or drain it, which you will," said Houseman.

Said Atkins, very impressively, "And, mark my words, at the bottom of
that very sheet of water there, I shall find the remains of the late
Griffith Gaunt."

At these solemn words, coming, as they did, not from a loose
unprofessional speaker, but from a lawyer, a man who measured all
his words, a very keen observer might have seen a sort of tremor run
all through Mr. Houseman's frame. The more admirable was the perfect
coolness and seeming indifference with which he replied.

"Find him, and I'll admit suicide; find him, with signs of violence,
and I'll admit homicide, by some person or persons unknown."

All further remarks were interrupted by bustle and confusion.

Mrs. Gaunt had fainted dead away.



CHAPTER VIII


Of course pity was the first feeling; but, by the time Mrs. Gaunt
revived, her fainting, so soon after Mr. Atkins's proposal, had
produced a sinister effect on the minds of all present; and every face
showed it, except the wary Houseman's.

On her retiring, it broke out first in murmurs, then in plain words.

As for Mr. Atkins, he now showed the moderation of an able man who
feels he has a strong cause.

He merely said, "I think there should be constables about, in case of
an escape being attempted; but I agree with Mr. Houseman, that your
worships will be quite justified in taking bail, provided the corpus
delicti should not be found. Gentlemen, you were most of you neighbors
and friends of the deceased, and are, I am sure, lovers of justice: I
do entreat you to aid me in searching that piece of water, by the side
of which the deceased gentleman was heard to cry for help; and, much I
fear, he cried in vain."

The persons thus appealed to entered into the matter with all the ardor
of just men, whose curiosity as well as justice is inflamed.

A set of old rusty drags was found on the premises: and men went
punting up and down the mere, and dragged it.

Rude hooks were made by the village blacksmith, and fitted to
cart-ropes; another boat was brought to Hernshaw in a wagon, and all
that afternoon the bottom of the mere was raked; and some curious
things fished up. But no dead man.

The next clay a score of amateur drags-men were out: some throwing
their drags from the bridge; some circulating in boats, and even in
large tubs.

And, meantime, Mr. Atkins and his crew went steadily up and down,
dragging every foot of those placid waters.

They worked till dinner time, and brought up a good copper pot with two
handles, a horse's head, and several decayed trunks of trees, which had
become saturated, and sunk to the bottom.

At about three in the afternoon, two boys who, for want of a boat, were
dragging from the bridge, found something heavy but elastic at the end
of their drag: they pulled up eagerly, and a thing like a huge turnip,
half gnawed, came up, with a great bob, and blasted their sight.

They let go, drags and all, and stood shrieking, and shrieking.

Those who were nearest them called out, and asked what was the matter;
but the boys did not reply, and their faces showed so white, that a
woman, who saw them, screamed to Sir. Atkins, and said she was sure
those boys had seen something out of the common.

Mr. Atkins came up, and found the boys blubbering. He encouraged them,
and they told him a fearful thing had come up; it was like a man's head
and shoulders all scooped out and gnawed by the fishes; and had torn
the drags out of their hands.

Mr. Atkins made them tell him the exact place; and was soon upon it
with his boat.

The water here was very deep, and though the boys kept pointing to the
very spot, the drags found nothing for some time.

But at last they showed, by their resistance, that they had clawed hold
of something.

"Draw slowly," said Sir. Atkins, "and, _if it is_, be men, and hold
fast."

The men drew slowly, slowly, and presently there rose to the surface a
Thing to strike terror and loathing into the stoutest heart.

The mutilated remains of a human face and body.

The greedy pike had cleared, not the features only, but the entire
flesh off the face; but had left the hair, and the tight skin of the
forehead, though their teeth had raked this last. The remnants they had
left made what they had mutilated doubly horrible; since now it was not
a skull; not a skeleton; but a face and a man gnawed down to the bones
and hair and feet. These last were in stout shoes that resisted even
those voracious teeth; and a leathern stock had offered some little
protection to the throat.

The men groaned, and hid their faces with one hand, and pulled softly
to the shore with the other; and then, with half-averted faces, they
drew the ghastly remains and fluttering rags gently and reverently to
land.

Mr. Atkins yielded to Nature, and was violently sick at the sight he
had searched for so eagerly.

As soon as he recovered his powers, he bade the constables guard the
body (it was a body, in law), and see that no one laid so much as a
finger on it until some magistrate had taken a deposition. He also
sent a messenger to Mr. Houseman, telling him the corpus delicti was
found. He did this, partly to show that gentleman he was right in
his judgment, and partly out of common humanity; since, after this
discovery, Mr. Houseman's client was sure to be tried for her life.

A magistrate soon came, and viewed the remains, and took careful notes
of the state in which they were found.

Houseman came, and was much affected, both by the sight of his dead
friend, so mutilated, and by the probable consequences to Mrs. Gaunt.
However, as lawyers fight very hard, he recovered himself enough to
remark that there were no marks of violence before death, and insisted
on this being inserted in the magistrate's notes.

An inquest was ordered next day, and meantime Mrs. Gaunt was told she
could not quit the upper apartments of her own house. Two constables
were placed on the ground floor night and day.

Next day the remains were removed to the little inn, where Griffith had
spent so many jovial hours; laid on a table, and covered with a white
sheet.

The coroner's jury sat in the same room, as was then the custom, and
the evidence I have already noticed was gone into and the finding of
the body deposed to. The jury, without hesitation, returned a verdict
of willful murder.

Mrs. Gaunt was then brought in. She came, white as a ghost, leaning
upon Houseman's shoulder.

Upon her entering, a juryman, by a humane impulse, drew the sheet over
the remains again.

The coroner, according to the custom of the day, put a question to Mrs.
Gaunt, with the view of eliciting her guilt. If I remember right, he
asked her how she came to be out of doors so late on the night of the
murder. Mrs. Gaunt, however, was in no condition to answer queries. I
doubt if she even heard this one. Her lovely eyes, dilated with horror,
were fixed on that terrible sheet, with a stony glance. "Show me," she
gasped, "and let me die too."

The jurymen looked, with doubtful faces, at the coroner, he bowed a
grave assent.

The nearest juryman withdrew the sheet.

Now, the belief was not yet extinct that the dead body shows some signs
of its murderer's approach.

So every eye glared on her and It by turns, as she, with dilated,
horror-stricken orbs, looked on that awful Thing.



CHAPTER IX


She recoiled with a violent shudder at first; and hid her face with one
hand. Then she gradually stole a horror-stricken side glance.

She had not looked at it so a moment, when she uttered a loud cry, and
pointed at its feet with quivering hand.

"THE SHOES! THE SHOES!--IT IS NOT MY GRIFFITH."

With this she fell into violent hysterics, and was carried out of the
room at Houseman's earnest entreaty.

As soon as she was gone, Mr. Houseman, being freed from his fear that
his client would commit herself irretrievably, recovered a show of
composure, and his wits went keenly to work.

"On behalf of the accused," said he, "I admit the suicide of some
person unknown, wearing heavy hobnailed shoes; probably one of the
lower order of people."

This adroit remark produced some little effect, notwithstanding the
strong feeling against the accused.

The coroner inquired if there were any bodily marks by which the
remains could be identified.

"My master had a long black mole on his forehead," suggested Caroline
Ryder.

"'Tis here!" cried a juryman, bending over the remains.

And now they all gathered in great excitement round the corpus delicti;
and there, sure enough, was a long black mole.

Then was there a buzz of pity for Griffith Gaunt, followed by a stern
murmur of execration.

"Gentlemen," said the coroner solemnly, "behold in this the finger of
Heaven. The poor gentleman may well have put off his boots, since, it
seems, he left his horse; but he could not take from his forehead his
natal sign; and that, by God's will, hath strangely escaped mutilation,
and revealed a most foul deed. We must now do our duty, gentlemen,
without respect of persons."

A warrant was then issued for the apprehension of Thomas Leicester.
And, that same night, Mrs. Gaunt left Hernshaw in her own chariot
between two constables, and escorted by armed yeomen.

Her proud head was bowed almost to her knees, and her streaming eyes
hidden in her lovely hands. For why? A mob accompanied her for miles,
shouting, "Murderess!--Bloody Papist!--Hast done to death the kindliest
gentleman in Cumberland. We'll all come to see thee hanged.--Fair face
but foul heart!"--and groaning, hissing and cursing, and indeed only
kept from violence by the escort.

And so they took that poor proud lady and lodged her in Carlisle gaol.

She was enceinte into the bargain. By the man she was to be hanged for
murdering.



CHAPTER X


The county was against her, with some few exceptions. Sir George
Neville and Mr. Houseman stood stoutly by her.

Sir George's influence and money obtained her certain comforts in gaol;
and, in that day, the law of England was so far respected in a gaol,
that untried prisoners were not thrown into cells, nor impeded, as they
now are, in preparing their defense.

Her two staunch friends visited her every day, and tried to keep her
heart up.

But they could not do it. She was in a state of dejection bordering
upon lethargy.

"If he is dead," said she, "what matters it? If, by God's mercy, he
is alive still, he will not let me die for want of a word from him.
Impatience hath been my bane. Now, I say, God's will be done. I am
weary of the world."

Houseman tried every argument to rouse her out of this desperate frame
of mind; but in vain.

It ran its course, and then, behold, it passed away like a cloud, and
there came a keen desire to live and defeat her accusers.

She made Houseman write out all the evidence against her; and she
studied it by day, and thought of it by night; and often surprised both
her friends by the acuteness of her remarks.


Mr. Atkins discontinued his advertisements; it was Houseman who now
filled every paper with notices informing Griffith Gaunt of his
accession to fortune, and entreated him for that, and other weighty
reasons, to communicate in confidence with his old friend John
Houseman, attorney-at-law.

Houseman was too wary to invite him to appear and save his wife; for,
in that case, he feared the Crown would use his advertisements as
evidence at the trial, should Griffith not appear.

The fact is, Houseman relied more upon certain lacunæ in the evidence,
and the absence of all marks of violence, than upon any hope that
Griffith might be alive.

The assizes drew near, and no fresh light broke in upon this mysterious
case.

Mrs. Gaunt lay in her bed at night, and thought and thought.

Now the female understanding has sometimes remarkable power under such
circumstances. By degrees Truth flashes across it, like lightning in
the dark.

After many such nightly meditations, Mrs. Gaunt sent one day for Sir
George Neville and Mr. Houseman, and addressed them as follows "I
believe he is alive, and that I can guess where he is at this moment."

Both the gentlemen started, and looked amazed.

"Yes, sirs; so sure as we sit here, he is now at a little inn in
Lancashire, called the 'Packhorse,' with a woman he calls his wife."
And, with this, her face was scarlet, and her eyes flashed their old
fire.

She exacted a solemn promise of secrecy from them, and then she told
them all she had learned from Thomas Leicester.

"And so now," said she, "I believe you can save my life, if you think
it is worth saving." And with this, she began to cry bitterly.

But Houseman, the practical, had no patience with the pangs of love
betrayed, and jealousy, and such small deer, in a client whose life was
at stake.

"Great Heaven! madam," said he, roughly, "why did you not tell me this
before?"

"Because I am not a man--to go and tell everything all at once," sobbed
Mrs. Gaunt. "Besides, I wanted to shield his good name, whose dear life
they pretend I have taken."

As soon as she recovered her composure, she begged Sir George Neville
to ride to the "Packhorse" for her. Sir George assented eagerly; but
asked how he was to find it. "I have thought of that too," said she.
"His black horse has been to and fro. Ride that horse into Lancashire,
and give him his head: ten to one but he takes you to the place, or
where you may hear of it. If not, go to Lancaster, and ask about the
'Packhorse.' He wrote to me from Lancaster: see." And she showed him
the letter.

Sir George embraced with ardor this opportunity of serving her. "I'll
be at Hernshaw in one hour," said he, "and ride the black horse south
at once."

"Excuse me," said Houseman; "but would it not be better for me to go?
As a lawyer, I may be more able to cope with her."

"Nay," said Mrs. Gaunt, "Sir George is young and handsome: if he
manages well, she will tell him more than she will you. All I beg
of him is, to drop the chevalier, for this once, and see women with
a woman's eyes and not a man's; see them _as they are._ Do not go
telling a creature of this kind that she has had my money, as well as
my husband, and ought to pity me lying here in prison. Keep me out of
her sight as much as you can. Whether Griffith hath deceived her or not
you will never raise in her any feeling but love for him, and hatred
for his lawful wife. Dress like a yeoman; go quietly, and lodge in the
house a day or two; begin by flattering her; and then get from her
when she saw him last, or heard from him. But indeed I fear you will
surprise him with her."

"Fear?" exclaimed Sir George.

"Well, hope, then," said the lady; and a tear trickled down her face in
a moment. "But, if you do, promise me, on your honor as a gentleman,
not to affront him. For I know you think him a villain."

"A d----d villain! saving your presence."

"Well, sir, you have said it to me. Now promise me to say nought to
_him_, but just this: 'Rose Gaunt's mother she lies in Carlisle gaol,
to be tried for her life for murdering you. She begs of you not to let
her die publicly upon the scaffold; but quietly at home, of her broken
heart.'"

"Write it," said Sir George, with the tears in his eyes, "that I may
just put it in his hand: for I can never utter your sweet words to such
a monster as he is."

Armed with this appeal, and several minute instructions, which it
is needless to particularize here, that staunch friend rode into
Lancashire.

And next day the black horse justified his mistress's sagacity, and his
own.

He seemed all along to know where he was going, and late in the
afternoon he turned off the road on to a piece of green: and Sir
George, with beating heart, saw right before him the sign of the
"Packhorse," and, on coming nearer, the words

        THOMAS LEICESTER.

He dismounted at the door, and asked if he could have a bed.

Mrs. Vint said yes; and supper into the bargain, if he liked.

He ordered a substantial supper directly.

Mrs. Vint saw at once it was a good customer, and showed him into the
parlor.

He sat down by the fire. But, the moment she retired, he got up and
made a circuit of the house, looking quietly into every window, to see
if he could catch a glance of Griffith Gaunt.

There were no signs of him; and Sir George returned to his parlor
heavy-hearted. One hope, the greatest of all, had been defeated
directly. Still, it was just possible that Griffith might be away on
temporary business.

In this faint hope, Sir George strolled about till his supper was ready
for him.

When he had eaten his supper, he rang the bell, and, taking advantage
of a common custom, insisted on the landlord, Thomas Leicester, taking
a glass with him.

"Thomas Leicester!" said the girl. "He is not at home. But I'll send
Master Vint."

Old Vint came in, and readily accepted an invitation to drink his
guest's health.

Sir George found him loquacious, and soon extracted from him that his
daughter Mercy was Leicester's wife, that Leicester was gone on a
journey, and that Mercy was in care for him. "Leastways," said he, "she
is very dull, and cries at times when her mother speaks of him; but she
is too close to say much."

All this puzzled Sir George Neville sorely.

But greater surprises were in store.

The next morning, after breakfast, the servant came and told him Dame
Leicester desired to see him.

He started at that; but put on nonchalance, and said he was at her
service.

He was ushered into another parlor, and there he found a grave, comely,
young woman, seated working, with a child on the floor beside her. She
rose quietly; he bowed low and respectfully; she blushed faintly; but,
with every appearance of self-possession, curtsied to him; then eyed
him point-blank a single moment; and requested him to be seated.

"I hear, sir," said she, "you did ask my father many questions last
night; may I ask you one?"

Sir George colored, but bowed assent.

"From whom had you the black horse you ride?"

Now, if Sir George had not been a veracious man, he would have been
caught directly. But, although he saw at once the oversight he had
committed, he replied, "I had him of a lady in Cumberland, one Mistress
Gaunt."

Mercy Vint trembled.

"No doubt," said she, softly. "Excuse my question; you shall understand
that the horse is well known here."

"Madam," said Sir George, "if you admire the horse, he is at your
service for twenty pounds, though indeed he is worth more."

"I thank you, sir," said Mercy, "I have no desire, for the horse
whatever; and be pleased to excuse my curiosity; you must think me
impertinent."

"Nay, madam," said Sir George, "I consider nothing impertinent that
hath procured me the pleasure of an interview with you."

He then, as directed by Mrs. Gaunt, proceeded to flatter the mother
and the child, and exerted those powers of pleasing which had made him
irresistible in society.

Here, however, he found they went a very little way. Mercy did not even
smile. She cast out of her dove-like eyes a gentle, humble, reproachful
glance, as much as to say, "What! do I seem so vain a creature as to
believe all this?"

Sir George himself had tact and sensibility; and, by-and-by became
discontented with the part he was playing, under those meek, honest,
eyes.

There was a pause: and, as her sex have a wonderful art of reading the
face, Mercy looked at him steadily, and said, "Yes, sir, 'tis best
to be straightforward, especially with women-folk." Before he could
recover this little facer, she said, quietly, "What is your name?"

"George Neville."

"Well, George Neville," said Mercy, very slowly and softly, "when you
have a mind to tell me what you came here for, and who sent you, you
will find me in this little room. I seldom leave it now. I beg you to
speak your errand to none but me." And she sighed deeply.

Sir George bowed low, and retired to collect his wits.

He had come here strongly prepossessed against Mercy. But, instead
of a vulgar, shallow woman, whom he was to surprise into confession,
he encountered a soft-eyed Puritan, all unpretending dignity, grace,
propriety, and sagacity.

"Flatter her!" said he, to himself, "I might as well flatter an
iceberg. Out-wit her! I feel like a child beside her."

He strolled about in a brown study, not knowing what to do.

She had given him a fair opening. She had invited him to tell the
truth. But he was afraid to take her at her word: and yet what was the
use to persist in what his own eyes told him was the wrong course?

Whilst he hesitated, and debated within himself, a trifling incident
turned the scale.

A poor woman came begging, with her child, and was received rather
roughly by Harry Vint. "Pass on, good woman," said he, "we want no
tramps here."

Then a window was opened on the ground floor, and Mercy beckoned the
woman. Sir George flattened himself against the wall, and listened to
the two talking.

Mercy examined the woman gently, but shrewdly, and elicited a tale of
genuine distress. Sir George then saw her hand out to the woman some
warm flannel for herself, a piece of stuff for the child, a large piece
of bread, and a sixpence.

He also caught sight of Mercy's dove-like eyes, as she bestowed her
alms, and they were lit with an inward lustre.

"She cannot be an ill woman," thought Sir George. "I'll e'en go by my
own eyes and judgment. After all, Mrs. Gaunt has never seen her; and I
have."

He went and knocked at Mercy's door.

"Come in," said a mild voice.

Neville entered, and said, abruptly, and with great emotion, "Madam, I
see you can feel for the unhappy; so I take my own way now, and appeal
to your pity. I _have_ come to speak to you on the saddest business."

"You come from _him_," said Mercy, closing her lips tight; but her
bosom heaved. Her heart and her judgment grappled like wrestlers that
moment.

"Nay, madam," said Sir George, "I come from _her._"

Mercy knew in a moment who "her" must be.

She looked scared, and drew back with manifest signs of repulsion.

The movement did not escape Sir George: it alarmed him: he remembered
what Mrs. Gaunt had said; that this woman would be sure to hate Gaunt's
lawful wife. But it was too late to go back. He did the next best
thing, he rushed on.

He threw himself on his knees before Mercy Vint.

"Oh, madam!" he cried, piteously, "do not set your heart against the
most unhappy lady in England. If you did but know her, her nobleness,
her misery! Before you steel yourself against me, her friend, let me
ask you one question. Do you know where Mrs. Gaunt is at this moment?"

Mercy answered, coldly, "How should I know where the lady is?"

"Well then, she lies in Carlisle gaol."

"She--lies--in Carlisle gaol?" repeated Mercy, looking all confused.

"They accuse her of murdering her husband."

Mercy uttered a scream, and catching her child up off the floor, began
to rock herself and moan over it.

"No, no, no," cried Sir George, "she is innocent, she is innocent."

"What is that to _me?_" cried Mercy, wildly, "He is murdered, he is
dead, and my child an orphan." And so she went on moaning and rocking
herself.

"But I tell you he is not dead at all," cried Sir George. "'Tis all a
mistake. When did you see him last?"

"More than six weeks ago."

"I mean, when did you hear from him last?"

"Never, since that day."

Sir George groaned aloud at this intelligence.

And Mercy, who heard him groan, was heart-broken. She accused herself
of Griffith's death. "'Twas I who drove him from me," said she. "'Twas
I who bade him go back to his lawful wife; and the wretch hated him.
I sent him to his death." Her grief was wild, and deep; she could not
hear Sir George's arguments.

But presently she said, sternly, "What does that woman say for herself?"

"Madam," said Sir George, dejectedly, "Heaven knows you are in no
condition to fathom a mystery that hath puzzled wiser heads than yours
or mine; and I am but little able to lay the tale before you fairly:
for your grief it moves me deeply, and I could curse myself for putting
the matter to you so bluntly and uncouthly. Permit me to retire a
while, and compose my own spirits for the task I have undertaken too
rashly."

"Nay, George Neville," said Mercy, "stay you there: only give me a
moment to draw my breath."

She struggled hard for a little composure, and, after a shower of
tears, she hung her head over the chair like a crushed thing, but made
him a sign of attention.

Sir George told the story as fairly as he could; only of course his
bias was in favor of Mrs. Gaunt; but as Mercy's bias was against her,
this brought the thing nearly square.

When he came to the finding of the body, Mercy was seized with a deadly
faintness; and, though she did not become insensible, yet she was in no
condition to judge or even to comprehend.

Sir George was moved with pity, and would have called for help; but she
shook her head. So then he sprinkled water on her face, and slapped her
hand: and a beautifully moulded hand it was.

When she got a little better she sobbed faintly, and sobbing thanked
him, and begged him to go on.

"My mind is stronger than my heart," she said. "I'll hear it all,
though it kill me where I sit."

Sir George went on, and, to avoid repetition, I must ask the reader to
understand that he left out nothing whatever which has been hitherto
related in these pages; and, in fact, told her one or two little things
that I have omitted.

When he had done, she sat quite still a minute or two, pale as a statue.

Then she turned to Neville, and said solemnly, "You wish to know the
truth in this dark matter: for dark it is in very sooth."

Neville was much impressed by her manner, and answered respectfully,
Yes, he desired to know--by all means.

"Then take my hand," said Mercy, "and kneel down with me."

Sir George looked surprised, but obeyed, and kneeled down beside her,
with his hand in hers.

There was a long pause, and then took place a transformation.

The dove-like eyes were lifted to Heaven, and gleamed like opals with
an inward and celestial light; the comely face shone with a higher
beauty, and the rich voice rose in ardent supplication.

"Thou God, to whom all hearts be known, and no secrets hid from thine
eye, look down now on thy servant in sore trouble, that putteth her
trust in thee. Give wisdom to the simple this day, and understanding
to the lowly. Thou that didst reveal to babes and sucklings the
great things that were hidden from the wise, oh show us the truth in
this dark matter: enlighten us by thy spirit, for his dear sake, who
suffered more sorrows than I suffer now. Amen. Amen."

Then she looked at Neville: and he said "Amen," with all his heart, and
the tears in his eyes.

He had never heard real live prayer before. Here the little hand
gripped his hard, as she wrestled, and the heart seemed to rise out of
the bosom and fly to Heaven on the sublime and thrilling voice.

They rose, and she sat down; but it seemed as if her eyes once raised
to Heaven in prayer could not come down again: they remained fixed and
angelic, and her lips still moved in supplication.

Sir George Neville, though a loose liver, was no scoffer; he was
smitten with reverence for this inspired countenance, and retired,
bowing low and obsequiously.

He took a long walk and thought it all over. One thing was clear, and
consoling. He felt sure he had done wisely to disobey Mrs. Gaunt's
instructions, and make a friend of Mercy, instead of trying to set
his wits against hers. Ere he returned to the "Packhorse," he had
determined to take another step in the right direction. He did not like
to agitate her with another interview, so soon. But he wrote her a
little letter.

    "MADAM,--When I came here, I did not know you; and therefore
    I feared to trust you too far. But, now I do know you for the
    best woman in England, I take the open way with you.

    "Know that Mrs. Gaunt said the man would be here with you; and
    she charged me with a few written lines to him. She would be
    angry if she knew that I had shown them to any other. Yet I
    take on me to show them to you: for I believe you are wiser
    than any of us, if the truth were known. I do therefore entreat
    you to read these lines, and tell me whether you think the hand
    that wrote them can have shed the blood of him to whom they are
    writ.

    "I am, Madam,

    "With profound respect,

    "Your grateful and very humble servant,

                                                  "GEORGE NEVILLE."

He very soon received a line in reply, written in a clear and beautiful
handwriting.

"Mercy Vint sends you her duty; and she will speak to you at nine of
the clock to-morrow morning. Pray for light."


At the appointed time Sir George found her working until her needle.
His letter lay on the table before her.

She rose and curtsied to him, and called the servant to take away the
child for a while. She went with her to the door and kissed the bairn
several times at parting, as if he was going away for good. "I'm loath
to let him go," said she to Neville: "but it weakens a mother's mind to
have her babe in the room; takes her attention off each moment. Pray
you be seated. Well, sir, I have read these lines of Mistress Gaunt,
and wept over them. Methinks I had not done so were they cunningly
devised. Also I lay all night and thought."

"That is just what she does."

"No doubt, sir; and the upshot is, I don't _feel_ as if he was dead.
Thank God."

"That is something," said Neville. But he could not help thinking it
was very little; especially to produce in a court of justice.

"And now," said she, thoughtfully, "you say that the real Thomas
Leicester was seen thereabouts as well as my Thomas Leicester. Then
answer me one little question. What had the real Thomas Leicester on
his feet that night?"

"Nay, I know not," was the half-careless reply.

"Bethink you. 'Tis a question that must have been often put in your
hearing."

"Begging your pardon, it was never put at all; nor do I see--"

"What, not at the inquest?"

"No."

"That is very strange. What, so many wise heads have bent over this
riddle, and not one to ask how was you pedlar shod!"

"Madam," said Sir George, "our minds were fixed upon the fate of Gaunt.
Many did ask how was the pedlar armed; but none how was he shod."

"Hath he been seen since?"

"Not he; and that hath an ugly look; for the constables are out after
him with hue and cry; but he is not to be found."

"Then," said Mercy, "I must e'en answer my own question. I do know how
that pedlar was shod. With hobnailed shoes."

Sir George bounded from his chair. One great ray of daylight broke in
upon him.

"Ay," said Mercy, "she was right. Women do see clearer in some things
than men. The pair went from my house to hers: he you call Griffith
Gaunt had on a new pair of boots; and by the same token 'twas I did pay
for them, and there is the receipt in that cupboard: he you call Thomas
Leicester went hence in hobnailed shoes. I think the body they found
was the body of Thomas Leicester the pedlar. May God have mercy on his
poor unprepared soul."

Sir George uttered a joyful exclamation. But the next moment he had a
doubt, "Ay, but," said he, "you forget the mole. 'Twas on that they
built."

"I forget nought," said Mercy, calmly. "The pedlar had a black mole
over his left temple, he showed it me in this very room. You have found
the body of Thomas Leicester, and Griffith Gaunt is hiding from the
law that he hath broken, he is afeared of her and her friends if he
shows his face in Cumberland; he is afeared of my folk if he be seen in
Lancashire. Ah, Thomas, as if I would let them harm thee!"

Sir George Neville walked to and fro in grand excitement.

"Oh, blessed day that I came hither. Madam you are an angel. You will
save an innocent broken-hearted lady from death and dishonor. Your good
heart and rare wit have read in a moment the dark riddle that hath
puzzled a county."

"George," said Mercy, gravely, "you have gotten the wrong end of the
stick. The wise in their own conceit are blinded; in Cumberland, where
all this befell, they went not to God for light, as you and I did,
George."

In saying this she gave him her hand to celebrate their success.

He kissed it devoutly, and owned afterward that it was the proudest
moment of his life, when that sweet Puritan gave him her neat hand so
cordially, with a pressure so gentle yet frank.

And now came the question how they were to make a Cumberland jury see
this matter as they saw it.

He asked her would she come to the trial as a witness?

At that she drew back with manifest repugnance.

"My shame would be public. I must tell who I am; and what. A ruined
woman."

"Say rather an injured saint. You have nothing to be ashamed of. All
good men would feel for you."

Mercy shook her head. "Ay, but the women; shame is shame with us; right
or wrong goes for little. Nay, I hope to do better for you than that. I
must find _him_: and send him to deliver her. 'Tis his only chance of
happiness."

She then asked him if he would draw up an advertisement of quite a
different kind from those he had described to her.

He assented, and between them they concocted the following:--


"If Thomas Leicester, who went from the "Packhorse" two months ago,
will come thither at once, Mercy will be much beholden to him, and tell
him strange things that have befallen."

Sir George then, at her request, rode over to Lancaster, and inserted
the above in the county paper, and also in a small sheet that was
issued in the city three times a week. He had also hand-bills to
the same effect printed, and sent into Cumberland and Westmoreland.
Finally, he sent a copy to his man of business in London, with orders
to insert it in all the journals.

Then he returned to the "Packhorse," and told Mercy what he had done.

The next day he bade her farewell, and away for Carlisle. It was a two
days' journey. He reached Carlisle in the evening, and went all glowing
to Mrs. Gaunt. "Madam," said he, "be of good cheer. I bless the day I
went to see her; she is an angel of wit and goodness." He then related
to her, in glowing terms, most that had passed between Mercy and him.
But to his surprise, Mrs. Gaunt wore a cold, forbidding air.

"This is all very well," said she. "But 'twill avail me little unless
_he_ comes before the judge and clears me; and she will never let him
do that."

"Ay, that she will--if she can find him."

"If she can find him? How simple you are."

"Nay, madam, not so simple but I can tell a good woman from a bad one,
and a true from a false."

"What! when you are in love with her? Not if you were the wisest of
your sex."

"In love with her?" cried Sir George; and colored high.

"Ay," said the lady. "Think you I cannot tell? Don't deceive yourself.
You have gone and fallen in love with her. At your years! Not that 'tis
any business of mine."

"Well, madam," said Sir George, stiffly, "say what you please on that
score; but, at least welcome my good news."

Mrs. Gaunt begged him to excuse her petulance, and thanked him kindly
for all he had just done. But the next moment she rose from her chair
in great agitation, and burst out, "I'd as lieve die as owe anything to
that woman."

Sir George remonstrated. "Why hate her? She does not hate you."

"Oh yes she does. Tis not in nature she should do any other."

"Her acts prove the contrary."

"Her acts! she has _done_ nothing, but make fair promises; and that has
blinded you. Women of this sort are very cunning, and never show their
real characters to a man. No more; prithee mention not her name to me.
It makes me ill. I know he is with her at this moment. Ah, let me die,
and be forgotten: since I am no more beloved."

The voice was sad and weary now, and the tears ran fast.

Poor Sir George was moved and melted, and set himself to flatter and
console this impracticable lady, who hated her best friend in this sore
strait, for being what she was herself, a woman; and was much less
annoyed at being hanged than at not being loved.

When she was a little calmer he left her, and rode off to Houseman.
That worthy was delighted. "Get her to swear to those hobnailed shoes,"
said he, "and we shall shake them." He then let Sir George know that he
had obtained private information, which he would use in cross-examining
a principal witness for the Crown. "However," he added, "do not deceive
yourself: nothing can make the prisoner really safe but the appearance
of Griffith Gaunt; he has such strong motives for coming to light;
he is heir to a fortune, and his wife is accused of murdering him.
The jury will never believe he is alive till they see him. That man's
prolonged disappearance is hideous. It turns my blood cold when I think
of it."

"Do not despair on that score," said Neville. "I believe our good angel
will produce him."

Three days only before the assizes, came the long-expected letter from
Mercy Vint. Sir George tore it open, but bitter was his disappointment.
The letter merely said that Griffith had not appeared in answer to her
advertisements, and she was sore grieved and perplexed.

There were two postscripts, each on a little piece of paper.


First postscript, in a tremulous hand, "Pray."

Second postscript, in a firm hand, "Drain that water."


Houseman shrugged his shoulders impatiently, "Drain the mere? Let the
Crown do that. We should but fish up more trouble. And prayer quo' she!
'Tis not prayers we want, but evidence."

He sent his clerk off to travel post night and day, and subpoena Mercy,
and bring her back with him to the trial. She was to have every comfort
on the road, and be treated like a duchess.

The evening before the assizes, Mrs. Gaunt's apartments were Mr.
Houseman's head-quarters, and messages were coming and going all day,
on matters connected with the defense.

Just at sunset, up rattled a post-chaise, and the clerk got out and
came haggard and bloodshot before his employer.

"The witness has disappeared, sir. Left home last Tuesday, with her
child, and has never been seen nor heard of since."

Here was a terrible blow. They all paled under it; it seriously
diminished the chances of an acquittal.

But Mrs. Gaunt bore it nobly. She seemed to rise under it.

She turned to Sir George Neville with a sweet smile. "The noble heart
sees base things noble. No wonder then an artful woman deluded _you._
He has left England with her; and condemned me to the gallows. In cold
blood. So be it. I shall defend myself."

She then sat down with Mr. Houseman, and went through the written case
he had prepared for her: and showed him notes she had taken of full a
hundred criminal trials great and small.

While they were putting their heads together, Sir George sat in a brown
study, and uttered not a word. Presently he got up a little brusquely,
and said, "I'm going to Hernshaw."

"What, at this time of night? What to do?"

"To obey my orders. To drain the mere."

"And who could have ordered you to drain my mere?"

"Mercy Vint."

Sir George uttered this in a very curious way, half ashamed half
resolute, and retired before Mrs. Gaunt could vent in speech the
surprise and indignation that fired her eye.

Houseman implored her not to heed Sir George and his vagaries, but to
bend her whole mind on those approved modes of defense with which he
had supplied her.

Being now alone with her, he no longer concealed his great anxiety.

"We have lost an invaluable witness in that woman," said he. "I was mad
to think she would come."

Mrs. Gaunt shivered with repugnance. "I would not have her come for
all the world," said she. "For Heaven's sake never mention her name to
me. I want help from none but friends. Send Mrs. Houseman to me in the
morning; and do not distress yourself so. I shall defend myself far
better than you think. I have not studied a hundred trials for nought."

Thus the prisoner cheered up her attorney, and soon after insisted on
his going home to bed, for she saw he was worn out by his exertions.

And now she was alone.

All was silent.

A few short hours, and she was to be tried for her life; tried, not
by the All-wise Judge, but by fallible men, and under a system most
unfavorable to the accused.

Worse than all this, she was a Papist: and, as ill-luck would have it,
since her imprisonment an alarm had been raised that the Pretender
meditated another invasion. This report had set juries very much
against all the Romanists in the country, and had already perverted
justice in one or two cases, especially in the North.

Mrs. Gaunt knew all this, and trembled at the peril to come.

She spent the early part of the night in studying her defense. Then she
laid it quite aside and prayed long and fervently.

Towards morning she fell asleep from exhaustion.

When she awoke, Mrs. Houseman was sitting by her bedside, looking at
her, and crying.

They were soon clasped in each other's arms, condoling.

But presently Houseman came, and took his wife away rather angrily.

Mrs. Gaunt was prevailed on to eat a little toast and drink a glass of
wine, and then she sat waiting her dreadful summons.

She waited, and waited, until she became impatient to face her danger.

But there were two petty larcenies on before her. She had to wait.

At last, about noon, came a message to say that the grand jury had
found a true bill against her.

"Then may God forgive them!" said she.

Soon afterwards she was informed her time drew very near.

She made her toilet carefully, and passed with her attendant into a
small room under the court.

Here she had to endure another chilling wait, and in a sombre room.

Presently she heard a voice above her cry out, "The King _versus_
Catherine Gaunt."

Then she was beckoned to.

She mounted some steps, badly lighted, and found herself in the glare
of day, and greedy eyes, in the felon's dock.

In a matter entirely strange, we seldom know beforehand what we can do,
and how we shall carry ourselves. Mrs. Gaunt no sooner set her foot in
that dock, and saw tiny awful front of Justice face to face, than her
tremors abated, and all her powers awoke, and she thrilled with love
of life, and bristled with all those fine arts of defense that nature
lends to superior women.

She entered on that defense before she spoke a word; for she attacked
the prejudices of the court by deportment.

She curtsied reverently to the Judge, and contrived to make her
reverence seem a wiling homage, unmixed with fear.

She cast her eyes round, and saw the court thronged with ladies and
gentlemen she knew. In a moment she read in their faces that only two
or three were on her side. She bowed to those only; and they returned
her courtesy. This gave an impression (a false one) that the gentry
sympathized with her.

After a little murmur of functionaries, the Clerk of Arraigns turned to
the prisoner, and said, in a loud voice, "Catherine Gaunt, hold up thy
hand."

She held up her hand, and he recited the indictment, which charged
that, not having the fear of God before her eyes, but being moved by
the instigation of the Devil, she had on the fifteen of October, in
the tenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, aided and abetted
one Thomas Leicester in an assault upon one Griffith Gaunt, Esq., and
him, the said Griffith Gaunt, did with force and arms assassinate and
do to death, against the peace of our said Lord the King, his crown and
dignity.

After reading the indictment, the Clerk of Arraigns turned to the
prisoner, "How sayest thou, Catherine Gaunt, art thou guilty of the
felony and murder whereof thou standest indicted--or not guilty?"

"I am not guilty."

"Culprit, how wilt thou be tried?"

"Culprit I am none, but only accused: I will be tried by God and my
country."

"God send thee a good deliverance."

Mr. Whitworth, the junior counsel for the Crown, then rose to open the
case; but the prisoner, with a pale face, but most courteous demeanor,
begged his leave to make a previous motion to the court. Mr. Whitworth
bowed, and sat down. "My Lord," said she, "I have first a favor to ask:
and that favor, methinks, you will grant, since it is but justice,
impartial justice. My accuser, I hear, has too counsel; both learned
and able. I am but a woman, and no match for their skill; therefore, I
beg your Lordship to allow me counsel on my defense, to matter of fact
as well as of law. I know this is not usual; but it is just; and I am
informed it has sometimes been granted in trials of life and death, and
that your Lordship hath the _power_, if you have the _will_, to do me
so much justice."

The Judge looked towards Mr. Sergeant Wiltshire, who was the leader on
the other side: he rose instantly and replied to this purpose: "The
prisoner is misinformed. The truth is, that from time immemorial, and
down to the other day, a person indicted for a capital offense was
never allowed counsel at all, except to matters of law, and these must
be started by himself. By recent practice, the rule hath been so far
relaxed, that counsel have sometimes been permitted to examine, and
cross-examine, witnesses for a prisoner; but never to make observations
on the evidence, nor to draw inferences from it to the point in issue."

_Mrs. Gaunt._ So, then, if I be sued for a small sum of money, I may
have skilled orators to defend me against their like. But, if I be sued
for my life and honor, I may not oppose skill to skill; but must stand
here a child against you that are masters. 'Tis a monstrous iniquity,
and you yourself, sir, will not deny it.

_Sergeant Wiltshire._ Madam, permit me: whether it be a hardship to
deny full counsel to prisoners in criminal cases, I shall not pretend
to say; but if it be, 'tis a hardship of the law's making, and not of
mine, nor of my lord's: and none have suffered by it (at least in our
day) but those who had broken the law.

The Sergeant then stopped a minute, and whispered with his junior.
After which he turned to the Judge. "My Lord, we, that are of counsel
for the Crown, desire to do nothing that is hard where a person's life
is at stake. We yield to the prisoner any indulgence for which your
Lordship can find a precedent in your reading; but no more: and so we
leave the matter to you."

_The Clerk of Arraigns._ Crier, proclaim silence.

_The Crier._ Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! His Majesty's Justices do straitly
charge all manner of persons to keep silence on pain of imprisonment.

_The Judge._ Prisoner, what my brother Wiltshire says, the law is clear
in: there is no precedent for what you ask, and the contrary practice
stares us in the face for centuries. What seems to you a partial
practice, and, to be frank, some learned persons are of your mind, must
be set against this, that in capital cases the burden of proof lies on
the Crown and not on the accused. Also it is my duty to give you all
the assistance I can, and that I shall do. Thus then it is: you can be
allowed counsel to examine your own witnesses, and cross-examine the
witnesses for the Crown, and speak to points of law, to be started by
yourself,--but no further.

He then asked her what gentleman there present he should assign to her
for counsel.

Her reply to this inquiry took the whole court by surprise, and made
her solicitor, Houseman, very miserable. "None, my Lord," said she.
"Half justice is injustice; and I will lend it no color. I will not
set able men to fight for me with their hands tied, against men as
able whose hands be free. Counsel, on terms so partial, I will have
none. My counsel shall be three, and no more. Yourself, my Lord,--my
Innocence,--and the Lord God Omniscient."

These words, grandly uttered, caused a dead silence in the court, but
only for a few moments. It was broken by the loud mechanical voice of
the crier, who proclaimed silence, and then called the names of the
jury that were to try this cause.

Mrs. Gaunt listened keenly to the names; familiar and bourgeois names,
that now seemed regal, for they who owned them held her life in their
hands.

Each juryman was sworn in the grand old form, now slightly curtailed.

"Joseph King, look upon the prisoner.--You shall well and truly try,
and true deliverance make, between our Sovereign Lord the King and the
prisoner at the bar, whom you shall have in charge, and a true verdict
give, according to the evidence. So help you God."

Mr. Whitworth, for the Crown, then opened the case, but did little more
than translate the indictment into more rational language.

He sat down, and Sergeant Wiltshire addressed the court somewhat after
this fashion:--

"May it please your Lordship, and you, gentlemen of the jury, this is
a case of great expectation and importance. The prisoner at the bar,
a gentlewoman by birth and education, and, as you must have already
perceived, by breeding also, stands indicted for no less a crime than
murder.

"I need not paint to you the heinousness of this crime: you have but to
consult your own breasts. Who ever saw the ghastly corpse of the victim
weltering in its blood, and did not feel his own blood run cold through
his veins? Has the murderer fled? with what eagerness do we pursue!
with what zeal apprehend! with what joy do we bring him to justice!
Even the dreadful sentence of death does not shock us, when pronounced
upon him; we hear it with solemn satisfaction; and acknowledge the
justice of the divine sentence, 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man
shall his blood be shed.'

"But if this be the case in every common murder, what shall be thought
of her who has murdered her husband? the man in whose arms she has
lain and whom she has sworn at God's altar to love and cherish. Such
a murderer is a robber as well as an assassin; for she robs her own
children of their father, that tender parent, who can never be replaced
in this world.

"Gentlemen, it will, I fear, be proved that the prisoner at the bar
hath been guilty of murder in this high degree: and, though I will
endeavor rather to extenuate than to aggravate, yet I trust (sic) I
have such a history to open as will shock the ears of all who hear me.

"Mr. Griffith Gaunt, the unfortunate deceased, was a man of descent
and worship. As to his character, it was inoffensive; he was known
as a worthy kindly gentleman; deeply attached to her who now stands
accused of his murder. They lived happily together for some years; but,
unfortunately, there was a thorn in the rose of their wedded life; he
was of the Church of England; she was, and is, a Roman Catholic. This
led to disputes: and no wonder; since the same unhappy difference hath
more than once embroiled a nation, let alone a single family.

"Well, gentlemen, about a year ago there was a more violent quarrel
than usual between the deceased and the prisoner at the bar: and the
deceased left his home for several months.

"He returned upon a certain day in this year, and a reconciliation,
real or apparent, took place. He left home again soon afterwards,
but only for a short period. On the 15th of last October he suddenly
returned for good, as he intended: and here begins the tragedy, to
which what I have hitherto related was but the prologue.

"Scarce an hour before he came, one Thomas Leicester entered the house.
Now this Thomas Leicester was a creature of the prisoner's. He had been
her gamekeeper; and was now a pedlar. It was the prisoner who set him
up as a pedlar, and purchased the wares to start him in his trade.

"Gentlemen, this pedlar, as I shall prove, was concealed in the house
when the deceased arrived. One Caroline Ryder, who is the prisoner's
gentlewoman, was the person who first informed her of Leicester's
arrival, and it seems she was much moved; Mrs. Ryder will tell you
she fell into hysterics. But, soon after, her husband's arrival was
announced, and then the passion was of a very different kind. So
violent was her rage against this unhappy man that, for once, she
forgot all prudence, and threatened his life before a witness. Yes,
gentlemen, we shall prove that this gentlewoman, who in appearance
and manners might grace a court, was so transported out of her usual
self that she held up a knife--a knife, gentlemen, and vowed to put it
into her husband's heart. And this was no mere temporary ebullition of
wrath; we shall see presently that, long after she had time to cool,
she repeated this menace to the unfortunate man's face. The first
threat, however was uttered in her own bedroom, before her confidential
servant, Caroline Ryder aforesaid. But now the scene shifts. She has,
to all appearance, recovered herself, and sits smiling at the head of
her table; for, you must know, she entertained company that night,
persons of the highest standing in the county.

"Presently her husband, all unconscious of the terrible sentiments she
entertained towards him, and the fearful purpose she had announced,
enters the room, makes obeisance to his guests, and goes to take his
wife's hand.

"What does she? She draws back with so strange a look and such
forbidding words, that the company were disconcerted. Consternation
fell on all present; and, ere long, they made their excuses, and left
the house. Thus the prisoner was left alone with her husband. But,
meantime, curiosity had been excited by her strange conduct, and some
of the servants, with foreboding hearts, listened at the door of
the dining-room. What did they hear, gentlemen? A furious quarrel,
in which, however, the deceased was comparatively passive, and the
prisoner again threatened his life, with vehemence. Her passion, it is
clear, had not cooled.

"Now it may fairly be alleged, on behalf of the prisoner, that, the
witnesses for the Crown were on one side of the door, the prisoner
and the deceased on the other; and that such evidence should be
received with caution. I grant this--where it is not sustained by other
circumstances, or by direct proofs. Let us then give the prisoner the
benefit of this doubt, and let us inquire how the deceased himself
understood her; he who not only heard the words, and the accents, but
saw the looks, whatever they were, that accompanied them.

"Gentlemen, he was a man of known courage and resolution; yet he was
found after this terrible interview, much cowed and dejected. He spoke
to Mrs. Ryder of his death as an event not far distant, and so went to
his bedroom in a melancholy and foreboding state: and where was that
bedroom? He was thrust by his wife's orders into a small chamber, and
not allowed to enter hers: he, the master of the house, her husband,
and her lord.

"But his interpretation of the prisoner's words did not end there. He
left us a further comment by his actions next ensuing. He dared not (I
beg pardon, this is my inference; receive it as such), he _did_ not,
remain in that house a single night. He bolted his chamber-door inside;
and in the very dead of night, notwithstanding the fatigues of the
day's journey (for he had ridden some distance), he let himself out by
the window, and reached the ground safely, though it was a height of
fourteen feet; a leap, gentlemen, that few of us would venture to take.
But what will not men risk when destruction is at their heels? He did
not wait even to saddle his horse; but fled on foot. Unhappy man, he
fled from danger, and met his death.

"From the hour when he went up to bed none of the inmates of the house
ever saw Griffith Gaunt alive; but one Thomas Hayes, a laborer, saw him
walking in a certain direction at one o'clock that morning; and behind
him, gentlemen, there walked another man.

"Who was that other man?

"When I have told you (and this is an essential feature of the case)
how the prisoner was employed during the time that her husband lay
quaking in his little room, waiting an opportunity to escape,--when
I tell you this, I fear you will divine who it was that followed the
deceased, and for what purpose.

"Gentlemen, when the prisoner had threatened her husband in person, as
I have described, she retired to her own room, but not to sleep. She
ordered her maid, Mrs. Ryder, to bring Thomas Leicester to her chamber.
Yes, gentlemen, she received this pedlar at midnight in her bed-chamber.

"Now, an act so strange as this admits, I think, of but two
interpretations. Either she had a guilty amour with this fellow, or
she had some extraordinary need of his services. Her whole character,
by consent of the witnesses, renders it very improbable that she would
descend to a low amour. Moreover she acted too publicly in the matter.
The man, as we know, was her tool, her creature: she had bought his
wares for him, and set him up as a pedlar. She openly summoned him to
her presence, and kept him there about half-an-hour.

"He went from her, and very soon after is seen, by Thomas Hayes,
following Griffith Gaunt--at one o'clock in the morning--that Griffith
Gaunt, who, after that hour, was never seen alive.

"Gentlemen, up to this point the evidence is clear, connected, and
cogent; but it rarely happens in cases of murder that any human eye
sees the very blow struck. The penalty is too severe for such an act to
be done in the presence of an eye-witness: and not one murderer in ton
could be convicted without the help of circumstantial evidence.

"The next link, however, is taken up by an ear-witness, and, in some
cases, the ear is even better than the eye; for instance, as to the
discharge of firearms: for, by the eye alone, we could not positively
tell whether a pistol had gone off or had but flashed in the pan.
Well, then, gentlemen, a few minutes after Mr. Gaunt was last seen
alive, which was by Thomas Hayes, Mrs. Ryder, who had retired to her
bedroom, heard the said Gaunt distinctly cry for help: she also heard
a pistol-shot discharged. This took place by the side of a lake or
large pond near the house, called 'the mere.' Mrs. Ryder alarmed the
house, and she and the other servants proceeded to her master's room:
they found it bolted from the inside. They broke it open. Mr. Gaunt had
escaped by the window, as I have already told you.

"Presently in comes the prisoner from out of doors. This is at one
o'clock in the morning. How she appears to have seen at once that she
must explain her being abroad at that time, so she told Mrs. Ryder that
she had been out--praying."

(Here some people laughed harshly; but were threatened severely, and
silenced).

"Is that credible? Do people go out of doors at one o'clock in the
morning, to pray? Nay; but I fear it was to do an act, that years of
prayer and penitence cannot efface.

"From that moment Mr. Gaunt was seen no more among living men. And what
made his disappearance the more mysterious was that he had actually
at this time just inherited largely from his namesake Mr. Gaunt of
Coggleswade; and his own interest, and that of the other legatees,
required his immediate presence. Mr. Atkins, the testator's solicitor,
advertised for this unfortunate gentleman; but he did not appear to
claim his fortune. Then plain men began to put this and that together,
and cried out 'foul play!'

"Justice was set in motion at last: but embarrassed by the circumstance
that the body of the deceased could not be found.

"At last, Mr. Atkins, the solicitor, being unable to get the estate
I have mentioned administered, for want of proof of Griffith Gaunt's
decease, entered heartily into this affair, on mere civil grounds. He
asked the prisoner, before several witnesses, if she would permit him
to drag that piece of water by the side of which Mr. Gaunt was heard to
cry for help, and, after that, seen no more.

"The prisoner did not reply; but Mr. Houseman, her solicitor, a very
worthy man, who has I believe, or had, up to that moment, a sincere
conviction of her innocence, answered for her, and told Mr. Atkins he
was welcome to drag or drain it. Then the prisoner said nothing. She
fainted away.

"After this, you may imagine with what expectation the water was
dragged. Gentlemen, after hours of fruitless labour, a body was found.

"But here an unforeseen circumstance befriended the prisoner. It seems
that piece of water swarms with enormous pike and other ravenous fish.
These had so horribly mutilated the deceased, that neither form nor
feature remained to swear by: and, as the law wisely and humanely
demands that in these eases a body shall be identified beyond doubt,
justice bade fair to be baffled again. But lo! as often happens in case
of murder, Providence interposed and pointed with unerring finger to a
slight but infallible mark. The deceased gentleman was known to have a
large mole over his left temple. It had been noticed by his servants,
and his neighbors. Well, gentlemen, the greedy fish had spared this
mole; spared it perhaps by His command who bade the whale swallow
Jonah, yet not destroy him. There it was, clear and infallible. It was
examined by several witnesses; it was recognized; it completed that
chain of evidence, some of it direct, some of it circumstantial, which
I have laid before you very briefly, and every part of which I shall
now support by credible witnesses."

He called thirteen witnesses, including Mr. Atkins, Thomas Hayes, Jane
Bannister, Caroline Ryder, and others, and their evidence in chief bore
out every positive statement the counsel had made.

In cross-examining these witnesses Mrs. Gaunt took a line that
agreeably surprised the court. It was not for nothing she had studied
a hundred trials with a woman's observation and patient docility. She
had found out how badly people plead their own causes, and had noticed
the reasons; one of which is that they say too much, and stray from the
point. The line she took, with one exception, was keen brevity.

She cross-examined Thomas Hayes as follows:



CHAPTER XI


"You say the pedlar was a hundred yards behind my husband. Which of the
two men was walking fastest?"

Thomas Hayes considered a moment. "Well, I think the Squire was walking
rather the smartest of the two."

"Did the pedlar seem likely to overtake him?"

"Nay. Ye see, Dame, Squire he walked straight on; but the pedlar he
took both sides of the road at oust, as the saying is."

_The Prisoner._ Forgive me, Thomas, but I don't know what you mean.

_Hayes_ (compassionately). How should ye? You are never the worse for
liquor, the likes of you.

_The Prisoner_ (very keenly). Oh, he was in liquor, was he?

_Hayes._ Come, Dame, you do brew good ale at Hernshaw Castle. Ye
needn't go to deny that; for, Lord knows, 'tis no sin; and a poor
fellow may be jolly; yet not, to say, drunk.

_The Judge_ (sternly). Witness, attend, and answer directly.

_The Prisoner._ Nay, my lord, 'tis a plain country body, and means no
ill. Good Thomas, be so much my friend as to answer plainly. Was the
man drunk or sober?

_Hayes._ All I know is he went from one side of the road to t'other.

_The Prisoner._ Thomas Hayes, as you hope to be saved eternally, was
the pedlar drunk or sober?

_Hayes._ Well, if I must tell on my neighbor or else be damned, then
that there pedlar was as drunk as a lord.

Here, notwithstanding the nature of the trial, the laughter was
irrepressible, and Mrs. Gaunt sat quietly down (for she was allowed a
seat), and said no more.

To the surgeon, who had examined the body officially, she put this
question, "Did you find any signs of violence?"

_The Surgeon._ None whatever; but, then, there was nothing to go by,
except the head and the bones.

_The Prisoner._ Have you experience in this kind? I mean, have you
inspected murdered bodies?

_The Surgeon._ Yes.

_The Prisoner._ How many?

_The Surgeon._ Two before this.

_The Prisoner._ Oh! pray, pray, do not say "before this:" I have great
hopes no murder at all hath been committed here. Let us keep to plain
cases. Please you describe the injuries in those two undoubted cases.

_The Surgeon._ In Wellyn's the skull was fractured in two places. In
Sherrett's the right arm was broken, and there were some contusions on
the head; but the cause of death was a stab that penetrated the lungs.

_The Prisoner._ Suppose Wellyn's murderers had thrown his body into the
water, and the fishes had so mutilated it as they have this one, could
you by your art have detected the signs of violence?

_The Surgeon._ Certainly. The man's skull was fractured. Wellyn's I
mean.

_The Prisoner._ I put the same question with regard to Sherrett's.

_The Surgeon._ I cannot answer it: here the lungs were devoured by the
fishes: no signs of lesion can be detected in an organ that has ceased
to exist.

_The Prisoner._ This is too partial. Why select one injury out of
several? What I ask is this: could you have detected violence in
Sherrett's case, although the fishes had eaten the flesh of his body.

_The Surgeon._ I answer that the minor injuries of Sherrett would
have been equally perceptible; to wit, the bruises on the head, and
the broken arm; but not the perforation of the lungs; and that it was
killed the man.

_Prisoner._ Then, so far as you know, and can swear, about murder, more
blows have always been struck than one, and some of the blows struck
in Sherrett's case, and Wellyn's, would have left traces that fishes'
teeth could not efface?

_The Surgeon._ That is so, if I am to be peevishly confined to my small
and narrow experience of murdered bodies. But my general knowledge of
the many ways in which life may be taken by violence--

The Judge stopped him, and said that, in a case of Blood, that could
hardly be admitted as evidence against his actual experience.

The prisoner put a drawing of the castle, the mere, and the bridge,
into the witnesses' hands, and elicited that it was correct, and also
the distances marked on it. They had, in fact, been measured exactly
for her.

The hobnailed shoes were produced, and she made some use of them,
particularly in cross-examining Jane Bannister.

_Prisoner._ Look at those shoes. Saw you ever the like on Mr. Gaunt's
feet?

_Jane._ That I never did, Dame.

_Prisoner._ What, not when he came into the kitchen on the 15th October?

_Jane._ Nay, he was booted. By the same token I saw the boy a cleaning
of them for supper.

_Prisoner._ Those boots, when you broke into his room, did you find
them?

_Jane._ Nay, when the man went, his boots went; as reason was. We found
nought of his but a soiled glove.

_Prisoner._ Had the pedlar boots on?

_Jane._ Alas! who ever see'd a booted pedlar?

_Prisoner._ Had he these very shoes on. Look at them.

_Jane._ I couldn't say for that. He had shoon, for they did properly
clatter on my bricks.

_The Judge._ Clatter on her bricks! What does she mean?

_Prisoner._ I think she means on the floor of her kitchen. 'Tis a brick
floor, if I remember right.

_The Judge._ Good woman, say, is that what you mean?

_Jane._ Ay, an't please you, my lord.

_Prisoner._ Had the pedlar a mole on his forehead?

_Jane._ Not that I know on. I never took so much notice of the man. But
la, Dame, now I look at you, I don't believe you was ever the one to
murder our master.

_Wiltshire._ We don't want your opinion. Confine yourself to facts.

_Prisoner._ You heard me rating my husband on that night; what was it I
said about the constables--do do you remember?

_Jane._ La, Dame, I wouldn't ask that if I was in your place.

_Prisoner._ I am much obliged to you for your advice; but answer
me--truly.

_Jane._ Well, if you will have it, I think you said they should be here
in the morning. But, indeed, good gentlemen, her bark was always worse
than her bite, poor soul.

_The Judge._ Here. That meant at Hernshaw Castle, I presume.

_Jane._ Ay, my lord, an' if it please your lordship's honor's worship.

Mrs. Gaunt, husbanding the patience of the court, put no questions
at all to several witnesses; but she cross-examined Mrs. Ryder very
closely. This was necessary; for Ryder was a fatal witness. Her memory
had stored every rash and hasty word the poor lady had uttered, and,
influenced either by animosity or prejudice, she put the worst color on
every suspicious circumstance. She gave her damnatory evidence neatly,
and clearly, and with a seeming candor and regret, that disarmed
suspicion.

When her examination in chief concluded, there was but one opinion
amongst the bar, and the auditors in general, viz., that the maid had
hung the mistress.

Mrs. Gaunt herself felt she had a terrible antagonist to deal with,
and, when she rose to cross-examine her, she looked paler than she had
done all through the trial.

She rose, but seemed to ask herself how to begin: and her pallor and
her hesitation, while they excited some little sympathy, confirmed
the unfavorable impression. She fixed her eyes upon the witnesses, as
if to discover where she was most vulnerable. Mrs. Ryder returned her
gaze calmly. The court was hushed; for it was evident a duel was coming
between two women of no common ability.

The opening rather disappointed expectation. Mrs. Gaunt seemed, by her
manner, desirous to propitiate the witness.

_Prisoner_ (very civilly). You say you brought Thomas Leicester to my
bedroom on that terrible night?

_Ryder_ (civilly). Yes, madam.

_Prisoner._ And you say he stayed there half-an-hour?

_Ryder._ Yes, madam; he did.

_Prisoner._ May I inquire how you know he stayed just half-an-hour?

_Ryder._ My watch told me that, madam. I brought him to you at a
quarter past eleven: and you did not ring for me till a quarter to
twelve.

_Prisoner._ And, when I did ring for you, what then?

_Ryder._ I came and took the man away, by your orders.

_Prisoner._ At a quarter to twelve?

_Ryder._ At a quarter to twelve.

_Prisoner._ This Leicester was a lover of yours?

_Ryder._ Not he.

_Prisoner._ Oh, fie! Why he offered you marriage; it went so far as
that.

_Ryder._ Oh, that was before you set him up pedlar.

_Prisoner._ 'Twas so, but he was single for your sake, and he renewed
his offer that very night. Come, do not forswear yourself about a
trifle.

_Ryder._ Trifle, indeed! Why, if he did, what has that to do with the
murder? You'll do yourself no good, madam, by going about so.

_Wiltshire._ Really, madam, this is beside the mark.

_Prisoner._ If so, it can do your case no harm. My lord, you did twice
interrupt the learned counsel, and forebode him to lead his witnesses;
I not once, for I am for stopping no mouths, but sifting all to the
bottom. Now, I implore you to let me have fair play in my turn, and an
answer from this slippery witness.

_The Judge._ Prisoner, I do not quite see your drift; but God forbid
you should be hampered in your defense. Witness, by virtue of your
oath, reply directly. Did this pedlar offer you marriage that night
after he left the prisoner?

_Ryder._ My lord, he did.

_Prisoner._ And confided to you he had orders to kill Mr. Gaunt?

_Ryder._ Not he, madam: that was not the way to win _me._

_Prisoner._ What! did not his terrible purpose peep out all the time he
was making love to you?

No reply.

_Prisoner._ You had the kitchen to your two selves? Come, don't
hesitate.

_Ryder._ The other servants were gone to bed. You kept the man so late.

_Prisoner._ Oh, I mean no reflection on your prudence. You went out of
doors with your wooer; just to see him off?

_Ryder._ Not I. What for? I had nobody to make away with. I just opened
the door for him, bolted it after him, and went straight to my bedroom.

_Prisoner._ How long had you been there when you heard the cry for help?

_Ryder._ Scarce ten minutes. I had not taken my stays off.

_Prisoner._ If you and Thomas Hayes speak true, that gives half an hour
you were making love with the murderer after he left me. Am I correct?

The witness now saw whither she had been led, and changed her manner:
she became sullen, and watched an opportunity to stab.

_Prisoner._ Had he a mole on his brow?

_Ryder._ Not that I know of.

_Prisoner._ Why, where were your eyes, then, when the murderer saluted
you at parting?

Ryder's eyes flashed; but she felt her temper tried, and governed it
all the more severely. She treated the question with silent contempt.

_Prisoner._ But you pass for a discreet woman; perhaps you looked
modestly down when the assassin saluted you?

_Ryder._ If he saluted me, perhaps I did.

_Prisoner._ In that case you could not see his mole; but you must have
noticed his shoes. Were these the shoes he wore? Look at them well.

_Ryder_ (after inspecting them). I do not recognise them.

_Prisoner._ Will you swear these were not the shoes he had on?

_Ryder._ How can I swear that? I know nothing about the man's shoes.
If you please, my lord, am I to be kept here all day with her foolish
trifling questions?

_The Judge._ All day, and all night too, if Justice requires it. The
law is not swift to shed blood.

_Prisoner._ My lord and the gentlemen of the jury were here before you,
and will be kept here after you. Prithee attend. Look at that drawing
of Hernshaw Castle and Hernshaw Mere. Now take this pencil, and mark
your bedroom on the drawing.

The pencil was taken from the prisoner, and handed to Ryder. She waited
like a cat till it came close to her; then recoiled with an admirable
scream. "Me handle a thing hot from the hand of a murderess! It makes
me tremble all over."

This cruel stab affected the prisoner visibly. She put her hand to her
bosom, and with tears in her eyes faltered out a request to the judge
that she might sit down a minute.

_The Judge._ To be sure you may. And you, my good woman, must not run
before the court, how do you know what evidence she may have in store?
At present we have only heard one side. Be more moderate.

The prisoner rose promptly to her feet. "My lord, I welcome the insult
that has disgusted your lordship and the gentlemen of the jury, and won
me those good words of comfort." To Ryder--"What sort of a night was
it?"

_Ryder._ Very little moon, but a clear, starry night.

_Prisoner._ Could you see the Mere, and the banks?

_Ryder._ Nay, but so much of it as faced my window.

_Prisoner._ Have you marked your window?

_Ryder._ I have.

_Prisoner._ Now mark the place where you heard Mr. Gaunt cry for help.

_Ryder._ 'Twas about here; under these trees. And that is why I could
not see him: along of the shadow.

_Prisoner._ Possibly. Did you see me on that side the Mere?

_Ryder._ No.

_Prisoner._ What colored dress had I on at that time?

_Ryder._ White satin.

_Prisoner._ Then you could have seen me, even among the trees, had I
been on that side the Mere?

_Ryder._ I can't say. However, I never said you were on the very spot
where the deed was done; but you were out of doors.

_Prisoner._ How do you know that?

_Ryder._ Why, you told me so yourself.

_Prisoner._ Then that is my evidence, not yours. Swear to no more than
you know. Had my husband, to your knowledge, a reason for absconding
suddenly?

_Ryder._ Yes, he had.

_Prisoner._ What was it?

_Ryder._ Fear of you.

_Prisoner._ Nay, I mean, had he not something to fear, something quite
different from that I am charged with?

_Ryder._ You know best, madam. I would gladly serve you, but I cannot
guess what you are driving at.

The prisoner was taken aback by this impudent reply. She hesitated to
force her servant to expose a husband, whom she believed to be living:
and her hesitation looked like discomfiture; and Ryder was victorious
in that encounter.

By this time they were both thoroughly embittered, and it was war to
the knife.

_Prisoner._ You listened to our unhappy quarrel that night?

_Ryder._ Quarrel! madam, 'twas all on one side.

_Prisoner._ How did you understand what I said to him about the
constables?

_Ryder._ Constables! I never heard you say the word.

_Prisoner._ Oh!

_Ryder._ Neither when you threatened him with your knife to me; nor
when you threatened him to his face.

_Prisoner._ Take care: you forget that Jane Bannister heard me; was her
ear nearer the keyhole than yours?

_Ryder._ Jane! she is a simpleton. You could make her think she heard
anything. I noticed you put the words in her mouth.

_Prisoner._ God forgive you, you naughty woman. You had better have
spoken the truth.

_Ryder._ My lord, if you please, am I to be miscalled--by a murderess?

_The Judge._ Come, come, this is no place for recrimination.

The prisoner now stooped and examined her papers, and took a distinct
line of cross-examination.

_Prisoner_ (with apparent carelessness). At all events, you are a
virtuous woman, Mrs. Ryder?

_Ryder._ Yes, madam, as virtuous as yourself, to say the least.

_Prisoner_ (still more carelessly). Married or single?

_Ryder._ Single, and like to be.

_Prisoner._ Yes, if I remember right, I made a point of that before I
engaged you as my maid.

_Ryder._ I believe the question was put.

_Prisoner._ Here is the answer in your handwriting. Is not that your
handwriting?

_Ryder_ (after inspecting it). It is.

_Prisoner._ You came highly recommended by your last mistress, a
certain Mrs. Hamilton. Here is her letter, describing you as a model.

_Ryder._ Well, madam, hitherto I have given satisfaction to all my
mistresses, Mrs. Hamilton among the rest. My character does not rest on
her word only, I hope.

_Prisoner._ Excuse me; I engaged, you on her word alone. Now, who is
this Mrs. Hamilton?

_Ryder._ A worshipful lady I served for eight months before I came to
you. She went abroad, or I should be with her now.

_Prisoner._ Now cast your eye over this paper.

It was the copy of a marriage certificate between Thomas Edwards and
Caroline Plunkett.

"Who is this Caroline Plunkett?"

Ryder turned very pale, and made no reply.

"I ask you who is this Caroline Plunkett?"

_Ryder_ (faintly). Myself.

_The Judge._ Why, you said you were single!

_Ryder._ So I am; as good as single. My husband and me we parted eight
years ago, and I have never seen him since.

_Prisoner._ Was it quite eight years ago?

_Ryder._ Nearly, 'twas in May, 1739.

_Prisoner._ Put you have lived with him since.

_Ryder._ Never, upon my soul.

_Prisoner._ When was your child born?

_Ryder._ My child! I have none.

_Prisoner._ In January, 1743, you left a baby at Biggleswade, with a
woman called Church--did you not?

_Ryder_ (panting). Of course I did. It was my sister's.

_Prisoner._ Do you mean to call God to witness that child was not yours?

Ryder hesitated.

_Prisoner._ Will you swear Mrs. Church did not see you nurse that child
in secret, and weep over it?

At this question the perspiration stood visible on Ryder's brow, her
checks were ghastly, and her black eyes roved like some wild animal's
round the court. She saw her own danger, and had no means of measuring
her inquisitor's information.

"My lord, have pity on me. I was betrayed, abandoned. Why am I so
tormented? I have not committed murder." So, catlike, she squealed and
scratched at once.

_Prisoner._ What! to swear away an innocent life, is not that murder?

_The Judge._ Prisoner, we make allowances for your sex, and your peril,
but you must not remark on the evidence at present. Examine as severely
as you will, but abstain from comment till you address the jury on your
defense.

_Sergeant Wiltshire._ My lord, I submit that this line of examination
is barbarous, and travels out of the case entirely.

_Prisoner._ Not so, Mr. Sergeant. 'Tis done by advice of an able
lawyer. My life is in peril unless I shake this witness's credit. To
that end I show you she is incontinent, and practiced in falsehood.
Unchastity has been held in these courts to disqualify a female
witness, hath it not, my lord?

_The Judge._ Hardly. But to disparage her evidence it has. And wisely;
for she who loses her virtue enters on a life of deceit; and lying
is a habit that spreads from one thing to many. Much wisdom there is
in ancient words. Our forefathers taught us to call a virtuous woman
an honest woman, and the law does but follow in that track; still,
however, leaving much to the discretion of the jury.

_Prisoner._ I would show her more mercy than she has shown to me.
Therefore I leave that matter. Witness, be so good as to examine Mrs.
Hamilton's letter, and compare it with your own. The "y's" and the
"s's" are peculiar in both, and yet the same. Come, confess; Mrs.
Hamilton's is a forgery. You wrote it. Be pleased to hand both letters
up to my lord to compare; the disguise is but thin.

_Ryder._ Forgery there was none. There is no Mrs. Hamilton. (She burst
into tears.) I had my child to provide for, and no man to help me! What
was I to do? A servant must live.

_Prisoner._ Then why not let her mistress live whose bread she has
eaten? My lord, shall not this false witness be sent hence to prison
for perjury?

_Wiltshire._ Certainly not. What woman on earth is expected to
reveal her own shame upon oath? 'Twas not fair nor human to put such
questions. Come, madam, leave torturing this poor creature. Show some
mercy; you may need it yourself.

_The Prisoner._ Sir, 'tis not mercy I ask, but justice according to
law. But, since you do me the honor to make me a request, I will
comply, and ask her but one question more. Describe my apartment into
which you showed Thomas Leicester that night. Begin at the outer door.

_Ryder._ First there is the ante-room; then the boudoir; then there's
your bed-chamber.

_Prisoner._ Into which of those three did you show Thomas Leicester?

_Ryder._ Into the ante-room.

_Prisoner._ Then why did you say it was in my chamber I entertained him?

_Ryder._ Madam, I meant no more than that it was your private apartment
upstairs.

_Prisoner._ You contrived to make the gentlemen think otherwise.

_The Judge._ That you did. 'Tis down in my notes that she received the
pedlar in her bed-chamber.

_Ryder_ (sobbing). God is my witness I did not mean to mislead your
lordship: and I ask my lady's pardon for not being more exact in that
particular.

At this the prisoner bowed to the judge, and sat down with one
victorious flash of her grey eye at the witness, who was in an abject
condition of fear, and hung all about the witness-box limp as a wet
towel.

Sergeant Wiltshire saw she was so thoroughly cowed she would be apt
to truckle, and soften her evidence to propitiate the prisoner; so he
asked her but one question.

"Were you and the prisoner on good terms?"

_Ryder._ On the best of terms. She was always a good and liberal
mistress to me.

_Wiltshire._ I will not prolong your sufferings. You may go down.

_The Judge._ But you will not leave the court till this trial is ended.
I have grave doubts whether I ought not to commit you.

Unfortunately for the prisoner, Ryder was not the last witness for the
Crown. The others that followed were so manifestly honest that it would
have been impolitic to handle them severely. The prisoner, therefore,
put very few questions to them; and, when the last witness went down,
the case looked very formidable.

The evidence for the Crown being now complete, the judge retired for
some refreshment; and the court buzzed like a hum of bees. Mrs. Gaunt's
lips and throat were parched; and her heart quaked.

A woman of quite the lower order thrust forth a great arm, and gave her
an orange. Mrs. Gaunt thanked her sweetly: and the juice relieved her
throat.

Also this bit of sympathy was of good omen, and did her heart good.

She buried her face in her hands, and collected all her powers for
the undertaking before her. She had noted down the exact order of her
topics, but no more.

The judge returned; the crier demanded silence; and the prisoner rose,
and turned her eyes modestly but steadily upon those who held her life
in their hands: and, true to the wisdom of her sex, the first thing she
aimed at was--to please.

"My lord, and you gentlemen of the jury, I am now to reply to a charge
of murder, founded on a little testimony, and a good deal of false,
but, I must needs say, reasonable conjecture.

"I am innocent; but unlike other innocent persons who have stood here
before me, I have no man to complain of.

"The magistrates who committed me proceeded with due caution and
humanity: they weighed my hitherto unspotted reputation, and were in
no hurry to prejudge me; here, in this court, I have met with much
forbearance; the learned counsel for the Crown has made me groan under
his abilities; that was his duty; but he said from the first he would
do nothing hard, and he has kept his word; often he might have stopped
me; I saw it in his face: but, being a gentleman and a Christian,
as well as a learned lawyer, methinks he said to himself, 'this is
a poor gentlewoman pleading for her life; let her have some little
advantage.' As for my lord, he has promised to be my counsel, so far as
his high station, and duty to the Crown, admit; and he has supported
and consoled me more than once with words of justice, that would not,
I think, have encouraged a guilty person, but have comforted and
sustained me beyond expression. So then I stand here, the victim, not
of man's injustice, but of deceitful appearances, and of honest, but
hasty and loose conjectures.

"These conjectures I shall now sift, and hope to show you how hollow
they are.

"Gentlemen, in every disputed matter the best way, I am told, is to
begin by settling what both parties are agreed in, and so to narrow the
matter. To use that way, then, I do heartily agree with the learned
counsel that murder is a heinous crime, and that, black as it is at the
best, yet it is still more detestable when 'tis a wife that murders her
husband, and robs her child of a parent who can never be replaced.

"I also agree with him that circumstantial evidence is often sufficient
to convict a murderer; and, indeed, were it not so, that most monstrous
of crimes would go oftenest unpunished: since, of all culprits,
murderers do most shun the eyes of men in their dark deeds, and so
provide before-hand that direct testimony to their execrable crime
there shall be none. Only herein I am advised to take a distinction
that escaped the learned sergeant; I say that first of all it ought to
be proved directly, and to the naked eye, that a man has been murdered;
and then, if none saw the crime done, let circumstances point out the
murderer.

"But here, they put the cart before the horse; they find a dead
body, with no marks of violence whatever; and labour to prove by
circumstantial evidence alone that this mere dead body is a murdered
body. This, I am advised, is bad in law, and contrary to general
precedents; and the particular precedents for it are not examples, but
warnings; since both the prisoners so rashly convicted were proved
innocent, after their execution."

(The judge took a note of this distinction.)

"Then, to go from principles to the facts, I agree and admit that, in a
moment of anger, I was so transported out of myself as to threaten my
husband's life before Caroline Ryder. But afterwards, when I saw him
face to face, then, that I threatened him with _violence_, that I deny.
The fact is I had just learned that he had committed a capital offense:
and what I threatened him with was the law. This was proved by Jane
Bannister. She says she heard me say the constables should come for him
next morning. For what? to murder him?"

_The Judge._ Give me leave, madam. Shall you prove Mr. Gaunt had
committed a capital offense?

_Prisoner._ I could, my lord; but I am loth to do it. For, if I did, I
should cast him into worse trouble than I am in myself.

_The Judge_ (shaking his head gravely). Let me advise you to advance
nothing you are not able and willing to prove.

_The Prisoner._ Then, I confine myself to this: it was proved by
a witness for the Crown that in the dining-room I threatened my
husband to his face with the law. Now this threat, and not that other
extravagant threat, which he never heard you know, was clearly the
threat which caused him to abscond that night.

"In the next place, I agree with the learned counsel that I was out
of doors at one o'clock that morning. But if he will use me as his
witness in that matter, then he must not pick and choose and mutilate
my testimony. Nay, let him take the whole truth, and not just so much
as he can square with the indictment. Either believe me, that I was out
of doors praying, or do not believe me that I was out of doors at all.

"Gentlemen, hear the simple truth. You may see in the map, on the south
side of Hernshaw Castle, a grove of large fir-trees. 'Tis a reverend
place, most fit for prayer and meditation. Here I have prayed a
thousand times and more before the fifteenth October. Hence 'tis called
'the Dame's haunt' as I shall prove, that am the dame 'tis called after.

"Let it not seem incredible to you that I should pray out of doors in
my grove, on a fine clear starry night. For aught I know, Protestants
may pray only by the fireside. But, remember, I am a Catholic. We
are not so contracted in our praying. We do not confine it to little
comfortable places. Nay, but for seventeen hundred years and more we
have prayed out of doors as much as in doors. And this our custom is
no fit subject for a shallow sneer. How does the learned sergeant know
that, beneath the vault of heaven at night, studded with those angelic
eyes, the stars, is an unfit place to bend the knee, and raise the soul
in prayer? Has he ever tried it?"

This sudden appeal to a learned and eminent, but by no means
devotional, sergeant, so tickled the gentlemen of the bar, that they
burst out laughing with singular unanimity.

This dashed the prisoner, who had not intended to be funny; and she
hesitated, and looked distressed.

_The Judge._ Proceed, madam; these remarks of yours are singular, but
quite pertinent, and no fit subject for ridicule. Gentlemen, remember
the public looks to you for an example.

_Prisoner._ My Lord, 'twas my fault for making that personal which
should be general. But women they are so. 'Tis our foible. I pray the
good Sergeant to excuse me.

"I say, then, generally, that when the sun retires, then earth fades,
but heaven comes out in tenfold glory: and I say the starry firmament
at night is a temple not built with hands, and the bare sight of
it subdues the passions, chastens the heart, and aids the soul in
prayer surprisingly. My lord, as I am a Christian woman, 'tis true
that my husband had wronged me cruelly and broken the law. 'Tis true
that I raged against him and he answered me not again. 'Tis true, as
that witness said, that my bark is worse than my bite. I cooled, and
then felt I had forgotten the wife and the Christian, in my wrath. I
repented, and, to be more earnest in my penitence, I did go and pray
out o' doors beneath those holy eyes of heaven that seemed to look down
with chaste reproach on my ungoverned heat. I left my fireside, my
velvet cushions, and all the little comforts made by human hands, that
adorn our earthly dwellings, but distract our eyes from God."

Some applause followed this piece of eloquence, exquisitely uttered. It
was checked, and the prisoner resumed, with an entire change of manner.

"Gentlemen, the case against me is like a piece of rotten wood
varnished all over. It looks fair to the eye; but will not bear
handling.

"As example of what I say, take three charges on which the learned
sergeant greatly relied on opening his case:

"1st. That I received Thomas Leicester in my bedroom.

"2nd. That he went hot from me after Mr. Gaunt.

"3rd. That he was seen following Mr. Gaunt with a bloody intent.

"How ugly these three proofs looked at first sight! Well, but when we
squeezed the witnesses ever so little, what did these three dwindle
down to?

"1st. That I received Thomas Leicester in an ante-room, which leads to
a boudoir, and that boudoir leads to my bedroom.

"2nd. That Thomas Leicester went from me to the kitchen, and there, for
a good half-hour, drank my ale (as it appears), and made love to his
old sweetheart, Caroline Ryder, the false witness for the Crown; and
went abroad fresh from her, and not from me.

"3rd. That he was not (to speak strictly) seen following Mr. Gaunt, but
just walking on the same road, drunk, and staggering, and going at such
a rate that, as the Crown's own witness swore, he could hardly in the
nature of things overtake Mr. Gaunt, who walked quicker, and straighter
too, than he.

"So then, even if a murder has been done, they have failed to connect
Thomas Leicester with it, or me with Thomas Leicester. Two broken links
in a chain of but three.

"And now I come to the more agreeable part of my defense. I do think
there has been no murder at all.

"There is no evidence of a murder.

"A body is found with the flesh eaten by fishes, but the bones, and
the head, uninjured. They swear a surgeon, who has examined the body,
and certainly he had the presumption to guess it looks like a murdered
body. But, being sifted, he was forced to admit that, so far as his
experience of murdered bodies goes, it is not like a murdered body; for
there is no bone broken, nor bruise on the head.

"Where is the body found? In the water. But water by itself is a
sufficient cause of death, and a common cause too; and kills without
breaking bones, or bruising the head. O perversity of the wise! For
every one creature murdered in England, ten are accidentally drowned;
and they find a dead man in the water, which is as much as to say they
find the slain in the arms of the slayer; yet they do not once suspect
the water, but go about in search of a strange and monstrous crime.

"Mr. Gaunt's cry for help was heard here, if it was heard at all (which
I greatly doubt), here by this clump of trees: the body was found here,
hard by the bridge; which is, by measurement, one furlong and sixty
paces from that clump of trees, as I shall prove. There is no current
in the mere lively enough to move a body, and what there is runs the
wrong way. So this disconnects the cry for help, and the dead body.
Another broken link!

"And now I come to my third defense, I say the body is not the body of
Griffith Gaunt.

"The body, mutilated it was, had two distinguishing marks: a mole on
the brow, and a pair of hobnailed shoes on the feet.

"Now the advisers of the Crown fix their eyes on that mole; but they
turn their heads away from the hobnailed shoes. But why? Articles of
raiment found on a body are legal evidence of identity. How often, my
lord, in cases of murder, hath the Crown relied on such particulars,
especially in cases where corruption had obscured the features.

"I shall not imitate this partiality, this obstinate prejudice; I shall
not ask you to shut your eyes on the mole, as they do on the shoes, but
shall meet the whole truth fairly.

"Mr. Gaunt went from my house, that morning, with boots on his feet,
and with a mole on his brow.

"Thomas Leicester went the same road, with shoes on his feet, and, as I
shall prove, with a mole on his brow.

"To be sure the Crown witnesses did not distinctly admit this mole on
him; but, you will remember, they dared not deny it on their oaths, and
so run their heads into an indictment for perjury.

"But, gentlemen, I shall put seven witnesses into the box, who will all
swear that they have known Thomas Leicester for years, and that he had
a mole upon his left temple.

"One of these witnesses is--the mother that bore him.

"I shall then call witnesses to prove that, on the fifteenth of
October, the bridge over the mere was in bad repair, and a portion of
the side rail gone; and that the body was found within a few yards of
that defective bridge; and then, as Thomas Leicester went that way,
drunk, and staggering from side to side, you may reasonably infer that
he fell into the water in passing the bridge. To show you this is
possible, I shall prove the same thing has actually occurred. I shall
swear the oldest man in the parish, who will depose to a similar event
that happened in his boyhood. He hath said it a thousand times before
to-day, and now will swear it. He will tell you that on a certain
day, sixty-nine years ago, the parson of Hernshaw, the Rev. Augustus
Murthwaite, went to cross this bridge at night, after carousing at
Hernshaw Castle with our great-grandfather, my husband's and mine,
the then proprietor of Hernshaw; and tumbled into the water; and his
body was found, gnawed out of the very form of humanity by the fishes,
within a yard or two of the spot where poor Tom Leicester was found,
that hath cost us all this trouble. So do the same causes bring round
the same events in a cycle of years. The only difference is that the
parson drank his death in our dining-room, and the pedlar in our
kitchen.

"No doubt, my lord, you have observed that sometimes a hasty and
involuntary inaccuracy gives quite a wrong color to a thing. I assure
you I have suffered by this. It is said that the moment Mr. Atkins
proposed to drag my mere, I fainted away. In this account there is
an omission. I shall prove that Mr. Atkins used these words--'And,
underneath that water, I undertake to find the remains of Griffith
Gaunt.' Now, gentlemen, you shall understand that at this time, and
indeed until the moment when I saw the shoes upon that poor corpse's
feet, I was in great terror for my husband's life. How could it be
otherwise? Caroline Ryder had told me she heard his cry for help. He
had disappeared. What was I to think? I feared he had fallen in with
robbers. I feared all manner of things. So when the lawyer said so
positively he would find his body, I was overpowered. Ah, gentlemen,
wedded love survives many wrongs, many angry words; I love my husband
still; and, when the man told me so brutally that he was certainly
dead, I fainted away. I confess it. Shall I be hanged for that?

"But now, thank God, I am full of hope that he is alive, and that good
hope has given me the courage to make this great effort to save my own
life.

"Hitherto I have been able to contradict my accusers positively; but
now I come to a mysterious circumstance that I own puzzles me. Most
persons accused of murder could, if they chose, make a clean breast,
and tell you the whole matter. But this is not my case. I know shoes
from boots, and I know Kate Gaunt from a liar and a murderess; but,
when all is said, this is still a dark mysterious business, and there
are things in it I can only deal with as you do, gentlemen, by bringing
my wits to bear upon them in reasonable conjecture.

"Caroline Ryder swears she heard Mr. Gaunt cry for help. And Mr. Gaunt
has certainly disappeared.

"My accusers have somewhat weakened this by trying to palm off the
body of Thomas Leicester on you for the body of Mr. Gaunt. But the
original mystery remains, and puzzles me. I might fairly appeal to you
to disbelieve the witness. She is proved incontinent, and a practiced
liar, and she forswore herself in this court, and my lord is in two
minds about committing her. But a liar does not always lie, and, to be
honest, I think she really believes she heard Mr. Gaunt cry for help,
for she went straight to his bedroom; and that looks as if she really
thought she heard his voice. But a liar may be mistaken; do not forget
that. Distance affects the voice: and I think the voice she heard was
Thomas Leicester's, and the place it came from higher up the mere.

"This, my notion, will surprise you less when I prove to you that
Leicester's voice bore a family likeness to Mr. Gaunt's. I shall
call two witnesses who have been out shooting with Mr. Gaunt and Tom
Leicester, and have heard Leicester halloo in the wood, and taken it
for Mr. Gaunt.

"Must I tell you the whole truth? This Leicester has always passed for
an illegitimate son of Mr. Gaunt's father. He resembled my husband
in form, stature, and voice: he had the Gaunt mole, and has often
spoken of it by that name. My husband forgave him many faults for no
other reason,--and I bought his wares and filled his pack for no other
reason,--than this; that he was my husband's brother by nature, though
not in law. 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE.'"

"Ah, that is a royal device; yet how often in this business have the
advisers of the Crown forgotten it?

"My lord, and gentlemen of the jury, I return from these conjectures to
the indisputable facts of my defense.

"Mr. Gaunt may be alive, or may be dead. He was certainly alive on the
fifteenth October, and it lies on the Crown to prove him dead, and not
on me to prove him alive. But, as for the body that forms the subject
of this indictment, it is the body of Thomas Leicester, who was seen on
the sixteenth October, at one in the morning, drunk and staggering, and
making for Hernshaw bridge, which leads to his mother's house; and on
all his former visits to Hernshaw Castle he went on to his mother's, as
I shall prove. This time, he never reached her, as I shall prove; but
on his way to her did meet his death by the will of God, and no fault
of man or woman, in Hernshaw Mere.

"Swear Sarah Leicester."

_The Judge._ I think you say you have several witnesses?

_Prisoner._ More than twenty, my lord.

_The Judge._ We cannot possibly dispose of them this evening. We
will hear your evidence tomorrow. Prisoner, this will enable you to
consult with your legal advisers, and let me urge upon you to prove,
if you can, that Mr. Gaunt has a sufficient motive for hiding and not
answering Mr. Atkins' invitation to inherit a large estate. Some such
proof is necessary to complete your defense: and I am sorry to see you
have made no mention of it in your address, which was otherwise able.

_Prisoner._ My lord, I think I can prove my own innocence without
casting a slur upon my husband.

_The Judge._ You _think?_ when your life is at stake. Be not so mad
as to leave so large a hole in your defense, if you can mend it. Take
_advice._

He said this very solemnly; then rose and left the court.

Mrs. Gaunt was conveyed back to prison, and there was soon prostrated
by the depression that follows an unnatural excitement.

Mr. Houseman found her on the sofa, pale and dejected, and clasping the
gaoler's wife convulsively, who applied hartshorn to her nostrils.

He proved but a Job's comforter. Her defense, creditable as it was to
a novice, seemed wordy and weak to him, a lawyer: and he was horrified
at the admissions she had made. In her place he would have admitted
nothing he could not throughly explain.

He came to insist on a change of tactics.

When he saw her sad condition, he tried to begin by consoling, and
encouraging her. But his own serious misgivings unfitted him for this
task, and very soon, notwithstanding the state she was in, he was
almost scolding her for being so mad as to withstand the judge, and set
herself against his advice. "There," said he, "my lord kept his word,
and became counsel for you. 'Close that gap in your defense,' says he,
'and you will very likely be acquitted.' 'Nay,' says you, 'I prefer to
chance it.' What madness! what injustice!"

"Injustice! to whom?"

"To whom? why, to yourself."

"What, may I not be unjust to myself?"

"Certainly not; you have no right to be unjust to anybody. Don't
deceive yourself; there is no virtue in this: it is mere miserable
weakness. What right have you to peril an innocent life merely to
screen the malefactor from just obloquy?"

"Alas!" said Mrs. Gaunt, "'tis more than obloquy. They will kill him;
they will brand him with a hot iron."

"Not unless he is indicted: and who will indict him? Sir George Neville
must be got to muzzle the Attorney-General, and the Lancashire jade
will not move against him, for you say they are living together."

"Of course they are: and, as you say, why should I screen him? But
'twill not serve, who can combat prejudice? If what I have said does
not convince them, an angel's voice would not. Sir, I am a Catholic,
and they will hang me. I shall die miserably, having exposed my
husband, who loved me once, oh! so dearly. I trifled with his love. I
deserve it all."

"You will not die at all, if you will only be good and obedient,
and listen to wiser heads. I have subpoenaed Caroline Ryder as your
witness, and given her a hint how to escape an indictment for perjury.
You will find her supple as a glove."

"Call a rattlesnake for my witness?"

"I have drawn her fangs. You will also call Sir George Neville, to
prove he saw Gaunt's picture at the 'Packhorse,' and heard the other
wife's tale. Wiltshire will object to this as evidence, and say why
don't you produce Mercy Vint herself. Then you will call me to prove
that I sent the subpoena to Mercy Vint. Come now, I cannot eat or sleep
till you promise me."

Mrs. Gaunt sighed deeply. "Spare me," said she, "I am worn out. Oh that
I could die before the trial begins again!"

Houseman saw the signs of yielding, and persisted. "Come, promise now,"
said he. "Then you will feel better."

"I will do whatever you bid me," said she. "Only, if they let me off, I
will go into a convent. No power shall hinder me."

"You shall go where you like, except to the gallows. Enough, 'tis a
promise, and I never knew you to break one. How I can eat my supper.
You are a good obedient child, and I am a happy attorney.'

"And I am the most miserable woman in all England."

"Child," said the worthy lawyer, "your spirits have given way, because
they were strung so high. You need repose. Go to bed now, and sleep
twelve hours. Believe me you will wake another woman."

"Ah! would I could!" cried Mrs. Gaunt, with all the eloquence of
despair.

Houseman murmured a few more consoling words, and then left her, after
once more exacting a promise that she would receive no more visits, but
go to bed directly. She was to send all intruders to him at the "Angel."

Mrs. Gaunt proceeded to obey his orders, and though it was but eight
o'clock, she made preparations for bed, and then went to her nightly
devotions.

She was in sore trouble; and earthly trouble turns the heart
heavenwards. Yet it was not so with her. The deep languor, that
oppressed her, seemed to have reached her inmost soul. Her beads,
falling one by one from her hand, denoted the number of her
supplications; but, for once, they were preces sine mente dictæ. Her
faith was cold, her belief in Divine justice was shaken for a time. She
began to doubt and to despond. That bitter hour, which David has sung
so well, and Bunyan, from experience, has described in his biography
as well as in his novel, sat heavy upon her, as it had on many a true
believer before her. So deep was the gloom, so paralysing the languor,
that at last she gave up all endeavor to utter words of prayer. She
placed her crucifix at the foot of the wall, and laid herself down on
the ground and kissed His feet, then drawing back, gazed upon that
effigy of the mortal sufferings of our Redeemer.

"O anima Christiana, respice vulnera patientis, sanguinem morientis,
precem redemptions nostræ."

She had lain thus a good half-hour, when a gentle tap came to the door.

"Who is that?" said she.

"Mrs. Menteith," the gaoler's wife replied, softly, and asked leave to
come in.

Now this Mrs. Menteith had been very kind to her, and stoutly
maintained her innocence. Mrs. Gaunt rose, and invited her in.

"Madam," said Mrs. Menteith, "what I come for, there is a person below
who much desires to see you."

"I beg to be excused," was the reply. "He must go to my solicitor at
the 'Angel,' Mr. Houseman."

Mrs. Menteith retired with that message, but in about five minutes
returned to say that the young woman declined to go to Mr. Houseman,
and begged hard to see Mrs. Gaunt. "And, Dame," said she, "if I were
you I'd let her come in; 'tis the honestest face, and the tears in her
soft eyes, at your denying her, 'Oh dear, dear' said she, 'I cannot
tell my errand to any but her.'"

"Well, well," said Mrs. Gaunt; "but what is her business?"

"If you ask me, I think her business is your business. Come, Dame, do
see the poor thing; she is civil spoken, and she tells me she has come
all the way out of Lancashire o' purpose."

Mrs. Gaunt recoiled, as if she had been stung.

"From Lancashire?" said she, faintly.

"Ay, madam," said Mrs. Menteith, "and that is a long road; and a child
upon her arm all the way, poor thing."

"Her name?" said Mrs. Gaunt, sternly.

"Oh, she is not ashamed of it. She gave it me directly."

"What has she the effrontery to take my name?"

Mrs. Menteith stared at her with utter amazement. "_Your_ name?" said
she. "'Tis a simple country body, and her name is Vint--Mercy Vint."

Mrs. Gaunt was very much agitated, and said she felt quite unequal to
see a stranger.

"Well, I'm sure I don't know what to do," said Mrs. Menteith. "She says
she will lie at your door all night, but she will see you. 'Tis the
face of a friend. She may know something. It seems hard to thrust her
and her child out into the street, after their coming all the way from
Lancashire."

Mrs. Gaunt stood silent awhile, and her intelligence had a severe
combat with her deep repugnance to be in the same room with Griffith
Gaunt's mistress (so she considered her). But a certain curiosity came
to the aid of her good sense; and after all she was a brave and haughty
woman, and her natural courage began to rise. She thought to herself,
"What, dare she come to me all this way, and shall I shrink from _her?_"

She turned to Mrs. Menteith with a bitter smile, and she said, very
slowly, and clenching her white teeth, "Since you desire it, and she
_insists_ on it, I will receive Mistress Mercy Vint."

Mrs. Menteith went off, and in about five minutes returned ushering in
Mercy Vint in a hood and travelling-cloak.

Mrs. Gaunt received her standing, and with a very formal curtsy, to
which Mercy made a quiet obeisance, and both women looked one another
all over in a moment.

Mrs. Menteith lingered, to know what on earth this was all about; but,
as neither spoke a word, and their eyes were fixed on each other, she
divined that her absence was necessary, and so retired, slowly, looking
very much amazed at both of them.



CHAPTER XII


"Be seated, mistress, if you please," said Mrs. Gaunt, with icy
civility, "and let me know to what I owe this extraordinary visit."

"I thank you. Dame," said Mercy, "for indeed I am sore fatigued." She
sat quietly down. "Why I have come to you? It was to serve you, and to
keep my word with George Neville."

"Will you be kind enough to explain?" said Mrs. Gaunt, in a freezing
tone, and with a look of her great grey eye to match.

Mercy felt chilled, and was too frank to disguise it. "Alas," said she,
softly, "'tis hard to be received so, and me come all the way from
Lancashire, with a heart like lead, to do my duty, God willing."

The tears stood in her eyes, and her mellow voice was sweet and patient.

The gentle remonstrance was not quite without effect. Mrs. Gaunt
colored a little: she said, stiffly, "Excuse me if I seem discourteous:
but you and I ought not to be in one room a moment. You do not see
this, apparently. But at least I have a right to insist that such an
interview shall be very brief, and to the purpose. Oblige me then, by
telling me in plain terms why you have come hither."

"Madam, to be your witness at the trial."

"_You_ to be _my_ witness?"

"Why not? If I can clear you? What, would you rather be condemned for
murder, than let me show them you are innocent? Alas, how you hate me!"

"Hate you, child?" said Mrs. Gaunt, coloring to her temples: "of course
I hate you. We are both of us flesh and blood, and hate one another.
And one of us is honest enough, and uncivil enough, to say so."

"Speak for yourself, Dame," replied Mercy, quietly, "for I hate you
not; and I thank God for it. To hate is to be miserable. I'd liever be
hated than to hate."

Mrs. Gaunt looked at her. "Your words are goodly and wise," said she;
"your face is honest; and your eyes are like a very dove's. But, for
all that, you hate me quietly, with all your heart. Human nature is
human nature."

"'Tis so. But grace is grace." Mercy was silent a moment, then resumed,
"I'll not deny I did hate you for a time, when first I learned the
man I had married had a wife, and you were she. We that be women are
too unjust to each other, and too indulgent to a man. But I have worn
out my hate. I wrestled in prayer, and the God of Love he did quench
my most unreasonable hate. For 'twas the man betrayed me; _you_ never
wronged me, nor I you. But you are right, madam; 'tis true that nature
without grace is black as pitch: the devil he was busy at my ear, and
whispered me, 'If the fools in Cumberland hang her, what fault o'
thine? Thou wilt be his lawful wife, and thy poor innocent child will
be a child of shame no more.' But, by God's grace, I did defy him. And
I do defy him." She rose swiftly from her chair, and her dove's eyes
gleamed with celestial light. "Get thee behind me, Satan. I tell thee
the hangman shall never have her innocent body, nor thou my soul."

The movement was so unexpected, the words and the look so simply noble,
that Mrs. Gaunt rose too, and gazed upon her visitor with astonishment
and respect--yet still with a dash of doubt.

She thought to herself, "If this creature is not sincere, what a
mistress of deceit she must be!"

But Mercy Vint soon returned to her quiet self. She sat down, and said,
gravely, and, for the first time, a little coldly, as one who had
deserved well, and been received ill--"Mistress Gaunt, you are accused
of murdering your husband. 'Tis false, for two days ago I saw him
alive."

"What do you say?" cried Mrs. Gaunt, trembling all over.

"Be brave, madam; you have borne great trouble, do not give way under
joy. He who has wronged us both--he who wedded you under his own name
of Griffith Gaunt, and me under the false name of Thomas Leicester, is
no more dead than we are; I saw him two days ago, and spoke to him, and
persuaded him to come to Carlisle town and do you justice."

Mrs. Gaunt fell on her knees. "He is alive: He is alive. Thank God! Oh,
thank God! He is alive: and God bless the tongue that tells me so. God
bless you eternally, Mercy Vint."

The tears of joy streamed down her face, and then Mercy's flowed too.
She uttered a little pathetic cry of joy. "Ah," she sobbed, "the bit of
comfort I needed so has come to my heavy heart. _She_ has blessed me!"

But she said this very softly, and Mrs. Gaunt was in a rapture, and did
not hear her.


"Is it a dream? my husband alive? and you the one to come and tell me
so? How unjust I have been to you. Forgive me. Why does he not come
himself?"

Mercy colored at this question, and hesitated.

"Well, Dame," said she, "for one thing, he has been on the fuddle for
the last two months."

"On the fuddle?"

"Ay; he owns he has never been sober a whole day. And that takes the
heart out of a man, as well as the brains. And then he has got it into
his head that you will never forgive him; and that he shall be cast in
prison if he shows his face in Cumberland."

"Why in Cumberland more than in Lancashire?" asked Mrs. Gaunt, biting
her lip.

Mercy blushed faintly: she replied with some delicacy, but did not
altogether mince the matter.

"He knows I shall never punish him for what he has done to me."

"Why not? I begin to think he has wronged you almost as much as he has
me."

"Worse, madam; worse. He has robbed me of my good name. You are still
his lawful wife, and none can point the finger at you. But, look at me:
I was an honest girl; respected by all the parish. What has he made of
me? The man that lay a dying in my house, and I saved his life, and so
my heart did warm to him, he blasphemed God's altar, to deceive and
betray me; and here I am, a poor forlorn creature, neither maid, wife,
nor widow; with a child on my arms that I do nothing but cry over; ay,
my poor innocent, I left thee down below, because I was ashamed she
should see thee; all me! ah me!" She lifted up her voice, and wept.

Mrs. Gaunt looked at her wistfully; and, like Mercy before her, had a
bitter struggle with human nature; a struggle so sharp that, in the
midst of it, she burst, out crying with strange violence: but, with
that burst, her great soul conquered.

She darted out of the room, leaving Mercy astonished at her abrupt
departure.

Mercy was patiently drying her eyes, when the door opened, and judge
her surprise when she saw Mrs. Gaunt glide into the room with her
little boy asleep in her arms, and an expression upon her face more
sublime than anything Mercy Vint had ever yet seen on earth. She kissed
the babe softly, and, becoming infantine as well as angelic by this
contact, sat herself down in a moment on the floor with him, and held
out her hand to Mercy. "There," said she, "come sit beside us; and see
how I hate him; no more than you do--sweet innocent."

They looked him all over, discussed his every feature learnedly,
kissed his limbs and extremities after the manner of their sex, and
comprehending at last that to have been both of them wronged by one man
was a bond of sympathy, not hate, the two wives of Griffith Gaunt laid
his child across their two laps, and wept over him together.


Mercy Vint took herself to task. "I am but a selfish woman," said she,
"to talk, or think of anything but that I came here for." She then
proceeded to show Mrs. Gaunt by what means she proposed to secure her
acquittal, without getting Griffith Gaunt into trouble.

Mrs. Gaunt listened with keen and grateful attention, until she came to
that part: then she interrupted her eagerly.

"Don't spare him for me. In your place I'd trounce the villain finely."

"Ay," said Mercy, "and then forgive him. But I am different. I shall
never forgive him; but I am a poor hand at punishing and revenging. I
always was. My name is Mercy, you know. To tell the truth, I was to
have been called Prudence, after my good aunt; but she said, nay: she
had lived to hear Greed, and Selfishness, and a heap of faults, named
Prudence: 'call the child something that means what it does mean, and
not after me,' quoth she. So with me hearing 'Mercy, Mercy,' called out
after me so many years, I do think the quality hath somehow got under
my skin; for I can't abide to see folk smart, let alone to strike the
blow. What, shall I take the place of God, and punish the evil-doers,
because 'tis me they wrong? Nay, Dame, I will never punish him, though
he hath wronged me cruelly: all I shall do is to think very ill of
him, and shun him, and tear his memory out of my heart. You look at
me; do you think I cannot? You don't know me. I am very resolute when
I see clear. Of course I loved him: loved him dearly. He was like a
husband to me, and a kind one. But the moment I knew how basely he
had deceived us both, my heart began to turn against the man, and now
'tis ice to him. Heaven knows what I am made of; for, believe me, I'd
liever ten times be beside you than beside him. My heart it lay like a
lump of lead till I heard your story, and found I could do you a good
turn; you that he had wronged, as well as me. I read your beautiful
eyes; but nay, fear me not; I'm not the woman to pine for the fruit
that is my neighbor's. All I ask for on earth is a few kind words and
looks from you. You are gentle and I am simple; but we are both one
flesh and blood, and your lovely wet eyes do prove it this moment. Dame
Gaunt--Kate--I ne'er was ten miles from home afore, and I am come all
this weary way to serve thee. Oh, give me the one thing that can do me
good in this world, the one thing I pine for--a little of _your_ love."

The words were scarce out of her lips when Mrs. Gaunt caught her
impetuously round the neck with both hands, and laid her on that erring
but noble heart of hers, and kissed her eagerly.

They kissed one another again and again, and wept over one another.

And now Mrs. Gaunt, who did nothing by halves, could not make enough of
Mercy Vint. She ordered supper and ate with her, to make her eat. Mrs.
Menteith offered Mercy a bed; but Mrs. Gaunt said she must lie with
her, she and her child.

"What," said she, "think you I'll let you out of my sight? Alas, who
knows when you and I shall ever be together again?"

"I know," said Mercy, very gravely. "In this world--never."

They slept in one bed, and held each other by the hand all night, and
talked to one another, and in the morning knew each the other's story,
and each the other's mind and character, better than their oldest
acquaintances knew either the one or the other.



CHAPTER XIII


The trial began again: and the court was crowded to suffocation. All
eyes were bent on the prisoner. She rose, calm and quiet, and begged
leave to say a few words to the court.

Mr. Whitworth objected to that. She had concluded her address
yesterday, and called a witness.

_Prisoner._ But I have not examined a witness yet.

_The Judge._ You come somewhat out of time, madam; but, if you will be
brief, we will hear you.

_Prisoner._ I thank you, my lord. It was only to withdraw an error.
The cry for help that was heard by the side of Hernshaw Mere, I said,
yesterday, that cry was uttered by Thomas Leicester. Well, I find I was
mistaken; the cry for help was uttered by my husband, by that Griffith
Gaunt I am accused of assassinating.

This extraordinary admission caused a great sensation in court. The
judge looked grave and sad; and Sergeant Wiltshire, who came into court
just then, whispered his junior, "She has put the rope round her own
neck. The jury would never have believed our witness."

_The Prisoner._ I will only add that a person came into the town last
night, who knows a great deal more about this mysterious business than
I do. I purpose, therefore, to alter the plan of my defense; and, to
save your time, my lord, who have dealt so courteously with me, I shall
call but a single witness.

Ere the astonishment caused by this sudden collapse of the defense was
in any degree abated, she called "Mercy Vint."

There was the usual stir and struggle; and then the calm self-possessed
face and figure of a comely young woman confronted the court. She was
sworn; and examined by the prisoner after this fashion.

"Where do you live?"

"At the 'Packhorse,' near Allerton, in Lancashire."

_Prisoner._ Do you know Mr. Griffith Gaunt?

_Mercy._ Madam, I do.

_Prisoner._ Was he at your place in October last?

_Mercy._ Yes, madam, on the thirteenth of October. On that day he left
for Cumberland.

_Prisoner._ On foot, or on horseback?

_Mercy._ On horseback.

_Prisoner._ With boots on, or shoes?

_Mercy._ He had a pair of new boots on.

_Prisoner._ Do you know Thomas Leicester?

_Mercy._ A pedlar called at our house on the eleventh of October, and
he said his name was Thomas Leicester.

_Prisoner._ How was he shod?

_Mercy._ In hobnailed shoes.

_Prisoner._ Which way went he on leaving you?

_Mercy._ Madam, he went northwards; I know no more for certain.

_Prisoner._ When did you see Mr. Gaunt last?

_Mercy._ Four days ago.

_The Judge._ What is that? you saw him alive four days ago?

_Mercy._ Ay, my lord; the last Wednesday that ever was.

At this the people burst out into a loud agitated murmur, and their
heads went to and fro all the time. In vain the crier cried and
threatened. The noise rose and surged, and took its course. It went
down gradually, as amazement gave way to curiosity; and then there was
a remarkable silence; and then the silvery voice of the prisoner, and
the mellow tones of the witness, appeared to penetrate the very walls
of the building, each syllable of those two beautiful speakers was
heard so distinctly.

_Prisoner._ Be so good as to tell the court what passed on Wednesday
last between Griffith Gaunt and you, relative to this charge of murder.

_Mercy._ I let him know one George Neville had come from Cumberland
in search of him, and had told me you lay in Carlisle gaol charged
with his murder. I did urge him to ride at once to Carlisle, and show
himself; but he refused. He made light of the matter. Then I told him,
not so; the circumstances looked ugly, and your life was in peril. Then
he said, nay, 'twas in no peril, for, if you were to be found guilty,
then he would show himself on the instant. Then I told him he was not
worthy the name of a man; and if he would not go, I would. "Go you,
by all means," said he, "and I'll give you a writing that will clear
her. Jack Houseman will be there, that knows my hand; and so does the
sheriff, and half the grand jury at the least."

_Prisoner._ Have you that writing?

_Mercy._ To be sure I have. Here 'tis.

_Prisoner._ Be pleased to read it.

_The Judge._ Stay a minute. Shall you prove it to be his handwriting?

_Prisoner._ Ay, my lord, by as many as you please.

_The Judge._ Then let that stand over for the present. Let me see it.

It was handed up to him; and he showed it to the sheriff, who said he
thought it was Griffith Gaunt's writing.

The paper was then read out to the jury. It ran as follows:--

    "Know all men, that I, Griffith Gaunt, Esq., of Bolton Hall
    and Hernshaw Castle, in the county of Cumberland, am alive and
    well; and the matter, which has so puzzled the good folk in
    Cumberland, befell as follows:--I left Hernshaw Castle in the
    dead of night upon the fifteenth of October. Why, is no man's
    business but mine. I found the stable locked; so I left my
    horse, and went on foot. I crossed Hernshaw Mere by the bridge,
    and had got about a hundred yards, as I suppose, on the way,
    when I heard some one fall with a great splash into the mere,
    and soon after cry dolefully for help. I, that am no swimmer,
    ran instantly to the north side to a clump of trees, where a
    boat used always to be kept. But the boat was not there. Then
    I cried lustily for help, and, as no one came, I fired my
    pistol and cried murder! For I had heard men will come sooner
    to that cry than to any other. But in truth I was almost out
    of my wits, that a fellow-creature should perish miserably so
    near me. Whilst I ran wildly to and fro, some came out of the
    Castle bearing torches. By this time I was at the bridge; but
    saw no signs of the drowning man; yet the night was clear.
    Then I knew that his fate was sealed; and for reasons of my
    own not choosing to be seen by those who were coming to his
    aid, I hastened from the place. My happiness being gone, and my
    conscience smiting me sore, and not knowing whither to turn, I
    took to drink, and fell into bad ways, and lived like a brute
    and not a man, for six weeks or more; so that I never knew of
    the good fortune that had fallen on me when least I deserved
    it; I mean by old Mr. Gaunt of Coggleswade making of me his
    heir. But one day at Kendal I saw Mercy Vint's advertisement;
    and I went to her, and learned that my wife lay in Carlisle
    gaol for my supposed murder. But I say that she is innocent,
    and nowise to blame in this matter; for I deserved every hard
    word she ever gave me; and as for killing, she is a spirited
    woman with her tongue, but hath not the heart to kill a fly.
    She is what she always was, the pearl of womankind; a virtuous,
    innocent, and noble lady. I have lost the treasure of her love,
    by my fault, not hers; but, at least, I have a right to defend
    her life and honour. Whoever molests her after this, out of
    pretended regard for me, is a liar, and a fool, and no friend
    of mine, but my enemy, and I his--to the death.

                                                "GRIFFITH GAUNT."

It was a day of surprises. This tribute from the murdered man to
his assassin was one of them. People looked in one another's faces
open-eyed.

The prisoner looked in the judge's, and acted on what she saw there.
"That is my defense," said she, quietly; and sat down.

If a show of hands had been called at that moment, she would have been
acquitted by acclamation.

But Mr. Whitworth was a zealous young barrister, burning for
distinction. He stuck to his case, and cross-examined Mercy Vint with
severity; indeed, with asperity.

_Whitworth._ What are you to receive for this evidence?

_Mercy._ Anan.

_Whitworth._ Oh, you know what I mean. Are you not to be paid for
telling us this romance?

_Mercy._ Hay, sir, I ask nought for telling of the truth.

_Whitworth._ You were in the prisoner's company yesterday.

_Mercy._ Yes, sir, I did visit her in the gaol last night.

_Whitworth._ And there concerted this ingenious defense.

_Mercy._ Well, sir, for that matter, I told her that her man was alive,
and I did offer to be her witness.

_Whitworth._ For nought.

_Mercy._ For no money or reward, if 'tis that you mean. Why, 'tis a joy
beyond money, to clear an innocent body, and save her life; and that
satisfaction is mine this day.

_Whitworth_ (sarcastically). These are very fine sentiments for a
person in your condition. Confess that Mrs. Gaunt primed you with all
that.

_Mercy._ Nay, sir, I left home in that mind; else I had not come at
all. Bethink you; 'tis a long journey for one in my way of life; and
this dear child on my arm all the way.

Mrs. Gaunt sat boiling with indignation. But Mercy's good temper and
meekness parried the attack that time. Mr. Whitworth changed his line.

_Whitworth._ You ask the jury to believe that Griffith Gaunt, Esquire,
a gentleman, and a man of spirit and honor, is alive, yet skulks and
sends you hither, when by showing his face in this court he could clear
his wife without a single word spoken?

_Mercy._ Yes, sir, I do hope to be believed; for I speak the naked
truth. But, with due respect to you, Mr. Gaunt did not send me hither
against my will. I could not bide in Lancashire and let an innocent
woman be murdered in Cumberland.

_Whitworth._ Murdered, quotha. That is a good jest. I'd have you to
know we punish murders here, not do them.

_Mercy._ I am glad to hear that, sir, on the lady's account.

_Whitworth._ Come, come. You pretend you discovered this Griffith Gaunt
alive, by means of an advertisement. If so, produce the advertisement.

Mercy Vint colored, and cast a swift uneasy glance at Mrs. Gaunt.

Rapid as it was, the keen eye of the counsel caught it.

"Nay, do not look to the culprit for orders," said he. "Produce it, or
confess the truth. Come, you never advertised for him."

"Sir, I did advertise for him."

"Then produce the advertisement."

"Sir, I will not," said Mercy, calmly.

"Then I shall move the court to commit you."

"For what offense, if you please?"

"For perjury, and contempt of court."

"I am guiltless of either, God knows. But I will not show the
advertisement."

_The Judge._ "This is very extraordinary. Perhaps you have it not about
you."

_Mercy._ "My lord, the truth is I have it in my bosom. But, if I show
it, it will not make this matter one whit clearer, and 'twill open the
wounds of two poor women. 'Tis not for myself. But, oh my lord, look at
her; hath she not gone through grief enow?"

The appeal was made with a quiet touching earnestness, that affected
every hearer. But the judge had a duty to perform. "Witness," said he,
"you mean well; but indeed you do the prisoner an injury by withholding
this paper. Be good enough to produce it at once."

_The Prisoner_ (with a deep sigh). Obey my lord.

_Mercy_ (with a deep sigh). There, sir, may the Lord forgive you the
useless mischief you are doing.

_Whitworth._ I am doing my duty, young woman. And yours is to tell the
whole truth, and not a part only.

_Mercy_ (acquiescing). That is true, sir.

_Whitworth._ Why, what is this? This not Mr. Gaunt you advertise for in
these papers. 'Tis Thomas Leicester.

_The Judge._ What is that? I don't understand.

_Whitworth._ Nor I neither.

_The Judge._ Let me see the papers. 'Tis Thomas Leicester sure enough.

_Whitworth._ And you mean to swear that Griffith Gaunt answered an
advertisement inviting Thomas Leicester?

_Mercy._ I do. Thomas Leicester was the name he went by in our part.

_Whitworth._ What? what? You are jesting.

_Mercy._ Is this a place or a time for jesting? I say he called himself
Thomas Leicester.

Here the business was interrupted again by a multitudinous murmur of
excited voices. Everybody was whispering astonishment to his neighbor.
And the whisper of a great crowd has the effect of a loud murmur.

_Whitworth._ Oh, he called himself Thomas Leicester, did he? Then what
makes you say he is Griffith Gaunt?

_Mercy._ Well, sir, the pedlar, whose real name was Thomas Leicester,
came to our house one day, and saw his picture, and knew it; and said
something to a neighbor that raised my suspicions. When he came home, I
took this shirt out of a drawer; 'twas the shirt he wore when he first
came to us. 'Tis marked "G. G." (The shirt was examined). Said I, "For
God's sake speak the truth: what does G. G. stand for?" Then he told me
his real name was Griffith Gaunt, and he had a wife in Cumberland. "Go
back to her," said I, "and ask her to forgive you." Then he rode north,
and I never saw him again till last Wednesday.

_Whitworth_ (satirically). You seem to have been mighty intimate with
this Thomas Leicester, whom you now call Griffith Gaunt. May I ask what
was, or is, the nature of your connection with him?

Mercy was silent.

_Whitworth._ I must press for a reply, that we may know what value to
attach to your most extraordinary evidence. Were you his wife--or his
mistress?

_Mercy._ Indeed I hardly know; but not his mistress, or I should not be
here.

_Whitworth._ You don't know whether you were married to the man or not?

_Mercy._ I do not say so. But--

She hesitated, and cast a piteous look at Mrs. Gaunt, who sat boiling
with indignation.

At this look, the prisoner, who had long contained herself with
difficulty, rose, with scarlet cheeks and flashing eyes, in defense of
her witness, and flung her prudence to the wind.

"Fie, sir," she cried. "The woman you insult is as pure as your own
mother, or mine. She deserves the pity, the respect, the veneration of
all good men. Know, my lord, that my miserable husband deceived and
married her under the false name he had taken; she has the marriage
certificate in her bosom. Pray make her show it whether she will or
not. My lord, this Mercy Vint is more an angel than a woman. I am her
rival after a manner; yet out of the goodness and greatness of her
noble heart, she came all that way to save me from an unjust death.
And is such a woman to be insulted? I blush for the hired advocate who
cannot see his superior in an incorruptible witness, a creature all
truth, piety, purity, unselfishness, and goodness. Yes, sir, you began
by insinuating that she was as venal as yourself; for you are one that
can be bought by the first comer; and now you would cast a slur on her
chastity, For shame! for shame! This is one of those rare women that
adorn our whole sex, and embellish human nature: and, so long as you
have the privilege of exchanging words with her, I shall stand here
on the watch, to see that you treat her with due respect: ay, sir,
with reverence; for I have measured you both, and she is as much your
superior as she is mine."

This amazing burst was delivered with such prodigious fire and
rapidity, that nobody was self-possessed enough to stop it in time. It
was like a furious gust of words sweeping over the court.

Mr. Whitworth, pale with auger, merely said, "Madam, the good taste
of these remarks I leave the court to decide upon. But you cannot be
allowed to give evidence in your own defense."

"No, but in hers I will," said Mrs. Gaunt; "no power shall hinder me."

_The Judge_ (coldly). Had you not better go on cross-examining the
witness?

_Whitworth._ Let me see your marriage certificate, if you have one?

It was handed to him.

"Well, now how do you know that this Thomas Leicester was Griffith
Gaunt?"

_The Judge._ Why, she has told you he confessed it to her.

_Mercy._ Yes, my lord; and, besides, he wrote me two letters signed
Thomas Leicester. Here they are, and I desire they may be compared with
the paper he wrote last Wednesday, and signed Griffith Gaunt. And more
than that, whilst we lived together as man and wife, one Hamilton, a
travelling painter, took our portraits, his and mine. I have brought
his with me. Let his friends and neighbors look on this portrait, and
say whose likeness it is. What I say and swear is, that on Wednesday
last I saw and spoke with that Thomas Leicester, or Griffith Gaunt,
whose likeness I now show you.

With that she lifted the portrait up, and showed it to all the court.

Instantly there was a roar of recognition.

It was one of those hard daubs that are nevertheless so monstrously
like the originals.

_The Judge_ (to Mr. Whitworth). Young gentleman, we are all greatly
obliged to you. You have made the prisoner's case. There was but one
weak point in it; I mean the prolonged absence of Griffith Gaunt. You
have now accounted for that. You have forced a very truthful witness to
depose that this Gaunt is himself a criminal, and is hiding from fear
of the law. The case for the Crown is a mere tissue of conjectures,
on which no jury could safely convict, even if there was no defense
at all. Under other circumstances I might decline to receive evidence
at second hand that Griffith Gaunt is alive; but here such evidence
is sufficient, for it lies on the Crown to prove the man dead; but
you have only proved that he was alive on the fifteenth of October,
and that, since then, _somebody_ is dead with shoes on. This somebody
appears on the balance of proof to be Thomas Leicester, the pedlar; and
he has never been heard of since, and Griffith Gaunt has. Then I say
you cannot carry the case farther. You have not a leg to stand on. What
say you, brother Wiltshire?

_Wiltshire._ My lord, I think there is no case against the prisoner,
and am thankful to your lordship for relieving me of a very unpleasant
task.

The question of guilty or not guilty was then put as a matter of form
to the jury, who instantly brought the prisoner in not guilty.

_The Judge._ Catherine Gaunt, you leave this court without a stain, and
with our sincere respect and sympathy. I much regret the fear and pain
you have been put to: you have been terribly punished for a hasty word.
Profit now by this bitter lesson; and may heaven enable you to add a
well-governed spirit to your many virtues and graces.

He half rose from his seat, and bowed courteously to her. She curtsied
reverently, and retired.

He then said a few words to Mercy Vint.

"Young woman, I have no words to praise you as you deserve. You have
shown us the beauty of the female character, and, let me add, the
beauty of the Christian religion. You have come a long way to clear the
innocent. I hope you will not stop there; but also punish the guilty
person, on whom we have wasted so much pity."

"Me, my lord," said Mercy, "I would not harm a hair of his head for as
many guineas as there be hairs in mine."

"Child," said my lord, "thou art too good for this world: but go thy
ways; and God bless thee."

Thus abruptly ended a trial that, at first, had looked so formidable
for the accused.

The Judge now retired for some refreshment, and while he was gone, Sir
George Neville dashed up to the Town Hall, four in hand, and rushed in
by the magistrate's door, with a pedlar's pack, which he had discovered
in the mere, a few yards from the spot where the mutilated body was
found.

He learned the prisoner was already acquitted. He left the pack with
the sheriff, and begged him to show it to the judge; and went in search
of Mrs. Gaunt.

He found her in the gaoler's house. She and Mercy Vint were seated hand
in hand. He started at first sight of the latter. There was a universal
shaking of hands, and glistening of eyes. And, when this was over,
Mrs. Gaunt turned to him, and said, piteously, "She will go back to
Lancashire to-morrow; nothing I can say will turn her."

"No, Dame," said Mercy, quietly, "Cumberland is no place for me.
My work is done here. Our paths in this world do lie apart. George
Neville, persuade her to go home at once, and not trouble about me."

"Indeed, madam," said Sir George, "she speaks wisely: she always does.
My carriage is at the door, and the people waiting by thousands in the
street to welcome your deliverance."

Mrs. Gaunt drew herself up with fiery and bitter disdain.

"Are they so," said she, grimly. "Then I'll baulk them. I'll steal away
in the dead of night. No, miserable populace, that howls and hisses
with the strong against the weak, you shall have no part in my triumph;
'tis sacred to my friends. You honoured me with your hootings; you
shall not disgrace me with your acclamations. Here I stay till Mercy
Vint, my guardian angel, leaves me for ever."

She then requested Sir George to order his horses hack to the inn, and
the coachman was to hold himself in readiness to start when the whole
town should be asleep.

Meantime a courier was despatched to Hernshaw Castle, to prepare for
Mrs. Gaunt's reception.

Mrs. Menteith made a bed up for Mercy Vint, and, at midnight, when the
coast was clear, came the parting.

It was a sad one.

Even Mercy, who had great self-command, could not then restrain her
tears.

To apply the sweet and touching words of Scripture, "They sorrowed most
of all for this, that they should see each other's face no more."

Sir George accompanied Mrs. Gaunt to Hernshaw.

She drew back into her corner of the carriage, and was very silent and
distrait.

After one or two attempts at conversation, he judged it wisest and even
most polite to respect her mood.

At last she burst out, "I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it!"

"Why, what is amiss?" inquired Sir George.

"What is amiss? Why, 'tis all amiss. 'Tis so heartless, so ungrateful,
to let that poor angel go home to Lancashire all alone, now she has
served my turn. Sir George, do not think I undervalue your company,
but if you _would_ but take her home instead of taking me! Poor thing,
she is brave; but, when the excitement of her good action is over, and
she goes back the weary road all alone, what desolation it will be. My
heart bleeds for her. I know I am an unconscionable woman, to ask such
a thing; but then you are a true chevalier; you always were; and you
saw her merit directly; oh, do pray leave me to slip unnoticed into
Hernshaw Castle, and do you accompany my benefactress to her humble
home. Will you, dear Sir George? 'Twould be such a load off my heart."

To this appeal, uttered with trembling lip and moist eyes, Sir George
replied in character. He declined to desert Mrs. Gaunt until he had
seen her safe home; but that done, he would ride back to Carlisle, and
escort Mercy home.

Mrs. Gaunt sighed, and said she was abusing his friendship, and should
kill him with fatigue, and he was a good creature. "If anything could
make me easy, this would," said she: "you know how to talk to a woman,
and comfort her. I wish I was a man: I'd cure her of Griffith before we
reached the 'Packhorse.' And, now I think of it, you are a very happy
man to travel eighty miles with an angel, a dove-eyed angel."

"I am a happy man to have an opportunity of complying with your
desires, madam," was the demure reply. "Tis not often you do me the
honor to lay your orders on me."

After this, nothing of any moment passed until they reached Hernshaw
Castle; and then, as they drove up to the door, and saw the hall
blazing with lights, Mrs. Gaunt laid her hand softly on Sir George, and
whispered, "You were right. I thank you for not leaving me."

The servants were all in the hall, to receive their mistress; and
amongst them were those who had given honest but unfavorable testimony
at the trial, being called by the Crown. These had consulted together,
and, after many pros and cons, had decided that they had better not
follow their natural impulse, and hide from her face, since that might
be a fresh offense. Accordingly, these witnesses, dressed in their
best, stood with the others in the hall, and made their obeisances,
quaking inwardly.

Mrs. Gaunt entered the hall leaning on Sir George's arm. She scarcely
bestowed a look upon the late witnesses for the Crown, but made them
one sweeping curtsy in return, and passed on; only Sir George felt her
taper fingers just nip his arm.

She made him partake of some supper, and then this chevalier des dames
rode home, snatched a few hours' sleep, put on the yeoman's suit in
which he had first visited the "Packhorse," and arriving at Carlisle,
engaged the whole inside of the coach; for his orders were to console,
and he did not see his way clear to do that with two or three strangers
listening to every word.



CHAPTER XIV


A great change was observable in Mrs. Gaunt after this fiery and
chastening ordeal. In a short time she had been taught many lessons.
She had learned that the law will not allow even a woman to say
anything and everything with impunity. She had been in a court of
justice, and seen how gravely, soberly, and fairly, an accusation is
sifted there; and, if false, annihilated; which, elsewhere, it never
is. Member of a sex that could never have invented a court of justice,
she had found something to revere and bless in that other sex, to which
her erring husband belonged. Finally, she had encountered, in Mercy
Vint, a woman, whom she recognised at once as her moral superior. The
contact of that pure and well-governed spirit told wonderfully upon
her; she began to watch her tongue, and to bridle her high spirit.
She became slower to give offense, and slower to take it. She took
herself to task, and made some little excuses even for Griffith. She
was resolved to retire from the world altogether; but, meantime, she
bowed her head to the lessons of adversity. Her features, always
lovely, but somewhat too haughty, were now softened and embellished
beyond description, by a mingled expression of grief, humility, and
resignation.

She never mentioned her husband; but it is not to be supposed she
never thought of him. She waited the course of events in dignified and
patient silence.

As for Griffith Gaunt, he was in the hands of two lawyers, Atkins and
Houseman. He waited on the first, and made a friend of him. "I am at
your service," said he; "but not if I am to be indicted for bigamy, and
burned in the hand."

"These fears are idle," said Atkins. "Mercy Vint declared in open court
she will not proceed against you."

"Ay, but there's my wife."

"She will keep quiet; I have Houseman's word for it."

"Ay, but there's the Attorney-General."

"Oh, he will not move, unless he is driven. We must use a little
influence. Mr. Houseman is of my mind, and he has the ear of the
county."

To be brief, it was represented in high quarters that to indict Mr.
Gaunt would only open Mrs. Gaunt's wounds afresh, and do no good; and
so Houseman found means to muzzle the Attorney-General.

Just three weeks after the trial, Griffith Gaunt, Esq., reappeared
publicly. The place of his reappearance was Coggleswade. He came and
set about finishing his new mansion with feverish rapidity. He engaged
an army of carpenters and painters, and spent thousands of pounds
on the decorating and furnishing of the mansion, and laying out the
grounds.

This was duly reported to Mrs. Gaunt, who said--not a word.

But at last one day came a letter to Mrs. Gaunt, in Griffith's
well-known handwriting.

With all her acquired self-possession, her hand trembled as she broke
open the seal.

It contained but these words:--

    "MADAM,--I do not ask you to forgive me; for, if you had done
    what I have, I could never forgive you. But, for the sake of
    Rose, and to stop their tongues, I do hope you will do me the
    honor to live under this my roof. I dare not face Hernshaw
    Castle. Your own apartments here are now ready for you. The
    place is large. Upon my honor I will not trouble you; but show
    myself always, as now,

    "Your penitent and very humble servant,

                                                 "GRIFFITH GAUNT."

The messenger was to wait for her reply.

This letter disturbed Mrs. Gaunt's sorrowful tranquillity at once. She
was much agitated, and so undecided, that she sent the messenger away,
and told him to call next day.

Then she sent off to Father Francis to beg his advice.

But her courier returned, late at night, to say Father Francis was away
from home.

Then she took Rose, and said to her, "My darling, papa wants us to go
to his new house, and leave dear old Hernshaw; I know not what to say
about that. What do _you_ say?"

"Tell him to come to us," said Bose, dictatorially. "Only," (lowering
her little voice very suddenly), "if he is naughty and won't, why then
we had better go to him. For he amuses me."

"As you please," said Mrs. Gaunt; and sent her husband this reply:--

    "SIR,--Rose and I are agreed to defer to your judgment and
    obey your wishes. Be pleased to let me know what day you will
    require us; and I must trouble you to send a carriage.

    "I am, sir,

    "Your faithful Wife, and humble Servant,

                                               "CATHERINE GAUNT."

At the appointed day, a carriage and four came wheeling up to the
door. The vehicle was gorgeously emblazoned, and the servants in rich
liveries; all which finery glittering in the sun, and the glossy
coats of the horses, did mightily please Mistress Rose. She stood on
the stone steps, and clapped her hands with delight. Her mother just
sighed, and said, "Ay, 'tis in pomp and show we must seek our happiness
now."

She leaned back in the carriage, and closed her eyes, yet not so close
but now and then a tear would steal out, as she thought of the past.

They drove up under an avenue to a noble mansion; and landed at the
foot of some marble steps, low and narrow, but of vast breadth.

As they mounted these, a hall door, through which the carriage could
have passed, was flung open, and discovered the servants all drawn up
to do honor to their mistress.

She entered the hall, leading Rose by the hand, the servants bowed and
curtsied down to the ground.

She received this homage with dignified courtesy, and her eye stole
round to see if the master of the house was coming to receive her.

The library door was opened hastily, and out came to meet her--Father
Francis.

"Welcome, madam, a thousand times welcome to your new home," said he,
in a stentorian voice, with a double infusion of geniality. "I claim
the honour of showing you your part of the house, though 'tis all yours
for that matter." And he led the way.

Now this cheerful stentorian voice was just a little shaky for once,
and his eyes were moist.

Mrs. Gaunt noticed, but said nothing before the people. She smiled
graciously, and accompanied him.

He took her to her apartments. They consisted of a salle-à-manger,
three delightful bedrooms, a boudoir, and a magnificent drawing-room,
fifty feet long, with two fire-places, and a bay-window thirty feet
wide, filled with the choicest flowers.

An exclamation of delight escaped Mrs. Gaunt. Then she said, "One
would think I was a queen." Then she sighed, "Ah," said she, "'tis a
fine thing to be rich." Then, despondently, "Tell him I think it very
beautiful."

"Nay, madam, I hope you will tell him so yourself."

Mrs. Gaunt made no reply to that; she added: "And it was kind of him
to have you here the first day: I do not feel so lonely as I should
without you."

She took Griffith at his word, and lived with Rose in her own
apartments.

For some time Griffith used to slip away whenever saw her coming.

One day she caught him at it, and beckoned him.

He came to her.

"You need not run away from me," said she: "I did not come into your
house to quarrel with you. Let us he friends." And she gave him her
hand sweetly enough, but oh so coldly.

"I hope for nothing more," said Griffith. "If you ever have a wish,
give me the pleasure of gratifying it--that is all."

"I wish to retire to a convent," said she, quietly.

"And desert your daughter?"

"I would leave her behind, to remind you of days gone by."

By degrees they saw a little more of one another; they even dined
together, now and then. But it brought them no nearer. There was no
anger, with its loving reaction. They were friendly enough, but an icy
barrier stood between them.

One person set himself quietly to sap this barrier. Father Francis was
often at the Castle, and played the peace-maker very adroitly.

The line he took might be called the innocent Jesuitical. He saw that
it would be useless to exhort these two persons to ignore the terrible
things that happened, and to make it up as if it was only a squabble.
What he did was to repeat to the husband every gracious word the wife
let fall, and _vice versa_, and to suppress all either said that might
tend to estrange them.

In short, he acted the part of Mr. Harmony in the play, and acted it to
perfection.

Gutta cavat lapidem.

Though no perceptible effect followed his efforts, yet there is no
doubt that he got rid of some of the bitterness. But the coldness
remained.

One day he was sent for all in a hurry by Griffith.

He found him looking gloomy and agitated.

The cause came out directly. Griffith had observed, at last, what all
the females in the house had seen two months ago, that Mrs. Gaunt was
in the family-way.

He now communicated this to Father Francis, with a voice of agony, and
looks to match.

"All the better, my son," said the genial priest; "'twill be another
tie between you. I hope it will be a fine boy to inherit your estates."
Then, observing a certain hideous expression distorting Griffith's
face, he fixed his eyes full on him, and said, sternly, "Are you not
cured yet of that madness of yours?"

"No, no, no," said Griffith, deprecatingly; "but why did she not tell
me?"

"You had better ask her."

"Not I. She will remind me I am nothing to her now. And, though 'tis
so, yet I would not hear it from her lips."

In spite of this wise resolution, the torture he was in drove him to
remonstrate with her on her silence.

She blushed high, and excused herself as follows:--

"I should have told you as soon as I knew it myself. But you were not
with me. I was all by myself--in Carlisle gaol."

This reply, uttered with hypocritical meekness, went through Griffith
like a knife. He turned white, and gasped for breath, but said nothing.
He left her, with a deep groan, and never ventured to mention the
matter again.

All he did in that direction was to redouble his attentions and
solicitude for her health.

The relation between these two was now more anomalous than ever.

Even Father Francis, who had seen strange things in families, used to
watch Mrs. Gaunt rise from table and walk heavily to the door, and her
husband dart to it and open it obsequiously, and receive only a very
formal reverence in return--and wonder how all this was to end.

However, under this icy surface, a change was gradually going on; and
one afternoon, to his great surprise, Mrs. Gaunt's maid came to ask
Griffith if he would come to Mrs. Gaunt's apartment.

He found her seated in her bay window, among her flowers. She seemed
another woman all of a sudden, and smiled on him her exquisite smile of
days gone by.

"Come, sit beside me," said she, "in this beautiful window that you
have given me."

"Sit beside you, Kate," said Griffith; "nay, let me kneel at your
knees; that is my place."

"As you will," said she, softly; and continued, in the same tone, "Now
listen to me; you and I are two fools; we have been very happy together
in days gone by; and we should both of us like to try again; but we
neither of us know how to begin. You are afraid to tell me you love
me and I am ashamed to own to you or anybody else that I love you, in
spite of it all--I do, though."

"You love me! a wretch like me, Kate? 'Tis impossible. I cannot be so
happy!"

"Child," said Mrs. Gaunt, "love is not reason; love is not common
sense. 'Tis a passion; like your jealousy, poor fool. I love you, as a
mother loves her child, all the more for all you have made me suffer.
I might not say as much if I thought we should be long together. But
something tells me I shall die this time: I never felt so before. I
want you to bury me at Hernshaw. After all, I spent more happy years
there than most wives ever know. I see you are very sorry for what you
have done. How could I die and leave thee in doubt of my forgiveness,
and my love? Kiss me, poor jealous fool; for I do forgive thee, and
love thee with all my sorrowful heart," And even with the words she
bowed herself and sank quietly into his arms, and he kissed her and
cried bitterly over her: bitterly. But she was comparatively calm. For
she said to herself, "the end is at hand."


Griffith, instead of pooh-poohing his wife's forebodings, set himself
to baffle them.

He used his wealth freely; and, besides the county doctor, had two very
eminent practitioners from London, one of whom was a grey-headed man,
the other singularly young for the fame he had obtained. But then he
was a genuine enthusiast in his art.



CHAPTER XV


Griffith, white as a ghost, and unable to shake off the forebodings
Catherine had communicated to him, walked incessantly up and down the
room; and at his earnest request, one or other of the four doctors in
attendance was constantly coming to him with information.

The case proceeded favorably, and to Griffith's surprise and joy, a
healthy boy was born about two o'clock in the morning. The mother was
reported rather feverish, but nothing to cause alarm.

Griffith threw himself on two chairs and fell fast asleep.

Towards morning lie found himself shaken, and there was Ashley, the
young doctor, standing beside him with a very grave face. Griffith
started up, and cried, "What is wrong, in God's name?"

"I am sorry to say there has been a sudden hemorrhage, and the patient
is much exhausted."

"She is dying, she is dying!" cried Griffith, in anguish.

"Not dying. But she will infallibly sink unless some unusual
circumstance occur to sustain vitality."

Griffith laid hold of him. "Oh, sir, take my whole fortune, but save
her! save her! save her!"

"Mr. Gaunt," said the young doctor, "be calm, or you will make matters
worse. There is one chance to save her; but my professional brethren
are prejudiced against it. However, they have consented, at my earnest
request, to refer my proposal to you. She is sinking for want of blood:
if you consent to my opening a vein and transfusing healthy blood from
a living subject into hers, I will undertake the operation. You had
better come and see her; you will be more able to judge."

"Let me lean on you," said Griffith. And the strong wrestler went
tottering up the stairs. There they showed him poor Kate, white as the
bed-clothes, breathing hard, and with a pulse that hardly moved.

Griffith looked at her horror-struck.

"Death has got hold of my darling," he screamed. "Snatch her away! for
God's sake, snatch her from him!"

The young doctor whipped off his coat, and bared his arm.

"There," he cried, "Mr. Gaunt consents. Now, Come, be quick with the
lancet, and hold this tube as I tell you; warm it first in that water."

Here came an interruption. Griffith Gaunt griped the young doctor's
arm, and with an agonized and ugly expression of countenance cried out,
"What? _your_ blood! What right have you to lose blood for her?"

"The right of a man who loves his art better than his blood," cried
Ashley, with enthusiasm.

Griffith tore off his coat and waistcoat, and bared his arm to the
elbow. "Take every drop I have. No man's blood shall enter her veins
but mine." And the creature seemed to swell to double his size, as with
flushed cheek and sparkling eyes he held out a bare arm corded like a
black-smith's, and white as a duchess's.

The young doctor eyed the magnificent limb a moment with rapture: then
fixed his apparatus and performed an operation which then, as now, was
impossible in theory; only he did it. He sent some of Griffith Gaunt's
bright red blood smoking hot into Kate Gaunt's veins.

This done, he watched his patient closely, and administered stimulants
from time to time.

She hung between life and death for hours. But at noon next day she
spoke, and seeing Griffith sitting beside her, pale with anxiety and
loss of blood, she said, "My dear, do not thou fret. I died last night.
I knew I should. But they gave me another life; and now I shall live to
a hundred."

They showed her the little boy; and, at sight of him, the whole woman
made up her mind to live.

And live she did. And, what is very remarkable, her convalescence was
more rapid than on any former occasion.

It was from a talkative nurse she first learned that Griffith had
given his blood for her. She said nothing at the time, but lay with an
angelic, happy smile, thinking of it.

The first time she saw him after that, she laid her hand on his arm,
and looking Heaven itself into his eyes, she said, "My life is very
dear to me now. 'Tis a present from thee."

She wanted a good excuse for loving him as frankly as before, and
now he had given her one. She used to throw it in his teeth in the
prettiest way. Whenever she confessed a fault, she was sure to turn
slyly round and say, "but what could one expect of me? I have his blood
in my veins."

But once she told Father Francis, quite seriously, that she had never
been quite the same woman since she lived by Griffith's blood; she was
turned jealous; and moreover it had given him a fascinating power over
her; and she could tell blindfold when he was in the room. Which last
fact indeed she once proved by actual experiment. But all this I leave
to such as study the occult sciences in this profound age of ours.

Starting with this advantage, Time, the great curer, gradually healed a
wound that looked incurable.

Mrs. Gaunt became a better wife than she had ever been before. She
studied her husband, and found he was not hard to please. She made his
home bright and genial; and so he never went abroad for the sunshine he
could have at home.

And he studied her; he added a chapel to the house, and easily
persuaded Francis to become the chaplain. Thus they had a peacemaker,
and a friend, in the house, and a man severe in morals, but candid in
religion, and an inexhaustible companion to them and their children.

And so, after that terrible storm, this pair pursued the even tenour of
a peaceful united life, till the olive branches rising around them, and
the happy years gliding on, almost obliterated that one dark passage,
and made it seem a mere fantastical, incredible, dream.


Mercy Vint and her child went home in the coach. It was empty at
starting, and, as Mrs. Gaunt had foretold, a great sense of desolation
fell upon her.

She leaned back, and the patient tears coursed steadily down her comely
cheeks.

At the first stage a passenger got down from the outside, and entered
the coach.

"What, George Neville!" said Mercy.

"The same," said he.

She expressed her surprise that he should be going her way.

"'Tis strange," said he; "but to me most agreeable."

"And to me too, for that matter," said she.

Sir George observed her eyes were red, and, to divert her mind and keep
up her spirits, launched into a flow of small talk.

In the midst of it, Mercy leaned back in the coach, and began to cry
bitterly. So much for that mode of consolation.

Upon this he faced the situation, and begged her not to grieve. He
praised the good action she had done, and told her how everybody
admired her for it, especially himself.

At that she gave him her hand in silence, and turned away her pretty
head. He carried her hand respectfully to his lips; and his manly heart
began to yearn over this suffering virtue; so grave, so dignified, so
meek. He was no longer a young man; he began to talk to her like a
friend. This tone, and the soft sympathetic voice in which a gentleman
speaks to a woman in trouble, unlocked her heart, and for the first
time in her life she was led to talk about herself.

She opened her heart to him. She told him she was not the woman to pine
for any man. Her youth, her health, and love of occupation would carry
her through. What she mourned was the loss of esteem, and the blot upon
her child. At that she drew the baby with inexpressible tenderness, and
yet with a half defiant air, closer to her bosom.

Sir George assured her she would lose the esteem of none but fools. "As
for me," said he, "I always respected you, but now I revere you. You
are a martyr, and an angel."

"George," said Mercy, gravely, "be you my friend, not my enemy."

"Why, madam," said he, "sure you can't think me such a wretch."

"I mean, our flatterers are our enemies."

Sir George took the hint, given, as it was, very gravely and decidedly;
and henceforth showed her his respect by his acts; he paid her as
much attention as if she had been a princess. He handed her out, and
handed her in; and coaxed her to eat here, and to drink there; and at
the inn where the passengers slept for the night, he showed his long
purse, and secured her superior comforts. Console her he could not; but
he broke the sense of utter desolation and loneliness with which she
started from Carlisle. She told him so in the inn, and descanted on the
goodness of God, who had sent her a friend in that bitter hour.

"You have been very kind to me, George," said she. "Now Heaven bless
you for it, and give you many happy days, and well spent."

This, from one who never said a word she did not mean, sank deep into
Sir George's; heart, and he went to sleep thinking of her, and asking
himself, was there nothing he could do for her.

Next morning Sir George handed Mercy and her babe into the coach; and
the villain tried an experiment to see what value she set on him. He
did not get in, so Mercy thought she had seen the last of him.

"Farewell, good, kind George," said she; "alas, there's nought but
meeting and parting in this weary world."

The tears stood in her sweet eyes, and she thanked him, not with words
only, but with the soft pressure of her womanly hand.

He slipped up behind the coach, and was ashamed of himself, and his
heart warmed to her more and more.

As soon as the coach stopped, my lord opened the door for Mercy to
alight. Her eyes were very red, he saw that. She started, and beamed
with surprise and pleasure.

"Why, I thought I had lost you for good," said she. "Whither are you
going? to Lancaster?"

"Not quite so far. I am going to the 'Packhorse.'"

Mercy opened her eyes, and blushed high. Sir George saw, and, to divert
her suspicions, told her merrily to beware of making objections. "I am
only a sort of servant in the matter. 'Twas Mrs. Gaunt ordered me."

"I might have guessed it," said Mercy. "Bless her; she knew I should be
lonely."

"She was not easy till she had got rid of me, I assure you," said Sir
George. "So let us make the best on't, for she is a lady that likes to
have her own way."

"She is a noble creature. George, I shall never regret anything I
have done for her. And she will not be ungrateful. Oh, the sting of
ingratitude: I have felt that. Have you?"

"No," said Sir George; "I have escaped that, by never doing any good
actions."

"I doubt you are telling me a lie," said Mercy Vint.

She now looked upon Sir George as Mrs. Gaunt's representative, and
prattled freely to him. Only now and then her trouble came over her,
and then she took a quiet cry without ceremony.

As for Sir George, he sat and studied, and wondered at her.

Never in his life had he met such a woman as this, who was as candid
with him as if he had been a woman. She seemed to have a window in her
bosom, through which he looked, and saw the pure and lovely soul within.

In the afternoon they reached a little town, whence a cart conveyed
them to the "Packhorse."

Here Mercy Vint disappeared, and busied herself with Sir George's
comforts.

He sat by himself in the parlor, and missed his gentle companion.

In the morning Mercy thought of course he would go.

But instead of that, he stayed, and followed her about, and began to
court her downright.

But the warmer he got, the cooler she. And at last she said, mighty
drily, "This is a very dull place for the likes of you."

"'Tis the sweetest place in England," said he; "at least to me; for it
contains--the woman I love."

Mercy drew back, and colored rosy red. "I hope not," said she.

"I loved you the first day I saw you, and heard your voice. And now I
love you ten times more. Let me dry thy tears for ever, sweet Mercy. Be
my wife."

"You are mad," said Mercy. "What, would you wed a woman in my
condition? I am more your friend than to take you at your word. And
what do you think I am made of, to go from one man to another, like
that?"

"Take your time, sweetheart; only give me your hand."

"George," said Mercy, very gravely, "I am beholden to you; but my duty
it lies another way. There is a young man in these parts (Sir George
groaned) that was my follower for two years and better. I wronged him
for one I never name now. I must marry that poor lad, and make him
happy, or else live and die as I am."

Sir George turned pale. "One word: do you love him?"

"I have a regard for him."

"Do you love him?"

"Hardly. But I wronged him, and I owe him amends. I shall pay my debt."

Sir George bowed, and retired sick at heart, and deeply mortified.
Mercy looked after him and sighed.

Next day, as he walked disconsolate up and down, she came to him and
gave him her hand. "You were a good friend to me that bitter day," said
she. "Now let me be yours. Do not bide here: 'twill but vex you."

"I am going, madam," said Sir George, stiffly. "I but wait to see the
man you prefer to me. If he is not too unworthy of you, I'll go; and
trouble you no more. I have learned his name."

Mercy blushed: for she knew Paul Carrick would bear no comparison with
George Neville.

The next day Sir George took leave to observe that this Paul Carrick
did not seem to appreciate her preference so highly as he ought. "I
understand he has never been here."

Mercy colored, but made no reply: and Sir George was sorry he had
taunted her. He followed her about, and showed her great attention, but
not a word of love.

There were fine trout streams in the neighborhood, and he busied
himself fishing, and in the evening read aloud to Mercy, and waited to
see Paul Carrick.

Paul never came; and, from a word Mercy let drop, he saw that she was
mortified. Then, being no tyro in love, he told her he had business in
Lancaster, and must leave her for a few days. But he would return, and
by that time perhaps Paul Carrick would be visible.

Now his main object was to try the effect of correspondence.

Every day he sent her a long love-letter from Lancaster.

Paul Carrick, who, in absenting himself for a time, had acted upon his
sister's advice rather than his own natural impulse, learned that Mercy
received a letter every day. This was a thing unheard of in that parish.

So then Paul defied his sister's advice, and presented himself to
Mercy; when the following dialogue took place:--

"Welcome home, Mercy."

"Thank you, Paul."

"Well, I'm single still, lass."

"So I hear."

"I'm come to say, let bygones be bygones."

"So be it," said Mercy, drily.

"You have tried a gentleman; now try a farrier."

"I have; and he did not stand the test."

"Anan."

"Why did you not come near mo for ten days?"

Paul blushed up to the eyes. "Well," said he, "I'll tell you the truth.
'Twas our Jess advised me to leave you quiet just at first."

"Ay, ay. I was to be humbled, and made to smart for my fault; and then
I should be thankful to take you. My lad, if ever you should be really
in love, take a friend's advice; listen to your own heart, and not to
shallow advisers. You have mortified a poor sorrowful creature who was
going to make a sacrifice for you, and you have lost her for ever."

"What d'ye mean?"

"I mean that ye are to think no more of Mercy Vint."

"Then it is true, ye jade; ye've gotten a fresh lover already."

"Say no more Than you know. If you were the only man on earth I would
not wed you, Paul Carrick."

Paul Carrick retired home, and blew up his sister; and told her that
she had "gotten him the sack again."

The next day Sir George came back from Lancaster, and Mercy lowered her
lashes for once at sight of him.

"Well," said he, "has this Carrick shown a sense of your goodness?"

"He has come,--and gone."

She then, with her usual frankness, told him what had passed. "And,"
said she, with a smile, "you are partly to blame; for how could I help
comparing your behavior to me with his? You came to my side when I was
in trouble, and showed me respect when I expected scorn from all the
world. A friend in need is a friend indeed."

"Reward me, reward me!" said Sir George, gaily; "you know the way."

"Nay, but I am too much _your_ friend," said Mercy.

"Be less my friend, then, and more my darling."

He pressed her, he urged her, he stuck to her, he pestered her.

She snubbed, and evaded, and parried, and liked him all the better for
his pestering her.

At last, one day, she said, "If Mrs. Gaunt thinks it will be for
your happiness, I will--in six months' time: but you shall not marry
in haste to repent at leisure. And I must have time to learn two
things--whether you can be constant to a simple woman like me, and
whether I can love again as tenderly as you deserve to be loved."

All his endeavors to shake this determination were vain. Mercy Vint had
a terrible deal of quiet resolution.

He retired to Cumberland, and in a long letter, asked Mrs. Gaunt's
advice. She replied characteristically. She began very soberly to
say that she should be the last to advise a marriage between persons
of different conditions in life. "But then," said she, "this Mercy is
altogether an exception. If a flower grows on a dunghill, 'tis still
a flower, and not a part of the dunghill. She has the essence of
gentility, and indeed her _manners_ are better bred than most of our
ladies. There is too much affectation abroad, and that is your true
vulgarity. Tack 'my lady' on to 'Mercy Vint,' and that dignified and
quiet simplicity of hers will carry her with credit through every court
in Europe. Then think of her virtues--(here the writer began to lose
her temper)--where can you hope to find such another? she is a moral
genius, and acts well, no matter under what temptation, as surely as
Claude and Raphael paint well. Why, sir, what do you seek in a wife?
Wealth? title? family? But you possess them already; you want something
in addition that will make you happy. Well, take that angelic goodness
into your house, and you will find, by your own absolute happiness, how
ill your neighbors have wived. For my part I see but one objection:
the child. Well, if you are man enough to take the mother, I am woman
enough to take the babe. In one word, he who has the sense to fall in
love with such an angel, and has not the sense to marry it, if he can,
is a fool."

"Postscript--My poor friend, to what end think you I sent you down in
the coach with her?"


Sir George, thus advised, acted as he would have done had the advice
been just the opposite.

He sent Mercy a love-letter by every post, and he often received one in
return; only his were passionate, and hers gentle and affectionate.

But one day came a letter that was a mere cry of distress.

"George; my child is dying. What shall I do?"

He mounted his horse, and rode to her.

He came too late. The little boy had died suddenly of croup, and was to
be buried next morning.

The poor mother received him upstairs, and her grief was terrible. She
clung sobbing to him, and could not be comforted. Yet she felt his
coming. But a mother's anguish overpowered all.

Crushed by this fearful blow, her strength gave way for a time, and she
clung to George Neville, and told him she had nothing left but him, and
one day implored him not to die and leave her.

Sir George said all he could think of to comfort her; and at the end of
a fortnight persuaded her to leave the "Packhorse" and England, as his
wife.

She had little power to resist now; and indeed little inclination.

They were married by special license, and spent a twelvemonth abroad.

At the end of that time they returned to Neville's Court, and Mercy
took her place there with the same dignified simplicity that had
adorned her in a humbler station.

Sir George had given her no lessons; but she had observed closely, for
his sake; and being already well educated, and very quick and docile,
she seldom made him blush except with pride.

They were the happiest pair in Cumberland. Her merciful nature now
found a larger field for its exercise, and, backed by her husband's
purse, she became the Lady Bountiful of the parish and the county.

The day after she reached Neville's Court came an exquisite letter to
her from Mrs. Gaunt. She sent an affectionate reply.

But the Gaunts and the Nevilles did not meet in society.

Sir George Neville and Mrs. Gaunt, being both singularly brave and
haughty people, rather despised this arrangement.

But it seems that, one day, when they were all four in the Town Hall,
folk whispered and looked; and both Griffith Gaunt and Lady Neville
surprised these glances, and determined, by one impulse, it should
never happen again. Hence it was quite understood that the Nevilles and
the Gaunts were not to be asked to the same party or ball.

The wives, however, corresponded, and Lady Neville easily induced Mrs.
Gaunt to co-operate with her in her benevolent acts, especially in
saving young women, who had been betrayed, from sinking deeper.

Living a good many miles apart, Lady Neville could send her stray sheep
to service near Mrs. Gaunt; and _vice versa_; and so, merciful, but
discriminating, they saved many a poor girl who had been weak, not
wicked.

So then, though they could not eat nor dance together in earthly
mansions, they could do good together; and, methinks, in the eternal
world, where years of social intercourse will prove less than cobwebs,
these their joint acts of mercy will be links of a bright, strong
chain, to bind their souls in everlasting amity.

It was a remarkable circumstance, that the one child of Lady Neville's
unhappy marriage died, but her nine children by Sir George all grew to
goodly men and women. That branch of the Nevilles became remarkable for
high principle and good sense; and this they owe to Mercy Vint, and to
Sir George's courage in marrying her. This Mercy was granddaughter to
one of Cromwell's ironsides, and brought her rare personal merit into
their house, and also the best blood of the old Puritans, than which
there is no blood in Europe more rich in male courage, female chastity,
and all the virtues.


THE END





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