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Title: Round the Sofa; vol. 2
Author: Gaskell, Elizabeth C.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Round the Sofa; vol. 2" ***

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                            ROUND THE SOFA.

                           BY THE AUTHOR OF

          “Mary Barton,” “Life of Charlotte Bronte,” &c. &c.

                             TWO VOLUMES.

                               VOL. II.

                                LONDON:

               SAMPSON LOW, SON & CO., 47 LUDGATE HILL.
                                 1859.



     LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET.



CONTENTS OF VOL. II.


                                PAGE

THE ACCURSED RACE                  3

THE DOOM OF THE GRIFFITHS         32

HALF A LIFE-TIME AGO              97

THE POOR CLARE                   179

THE HALF-BROTHERS                277



ROUND THE SOFA.


Mr. Dawson had often come in and out of the room during the time that
his sister had been telling us about Lady Ludlow. He would stop, and
listen a little, and smile or sigh as the case might be. The Monday
after the dear old lady had wound up her tale (if tale it could be
called), we felt rather at a loss what to talk about, we had grown so
accustomed to listen to Mrs. Dawson. I remember I was saying, “Oh, dear!
I wish some one would tell us another story!” when her brother said, as
if in answer to my speech, that he had drawn up a paper all ready for
the Philosophical Society, and that perhaps we might care to hear it
before it was sent off: it was in a great measure compiled from a
French book, published by one of the Academies, and rather dry in
itself; but to which Mr. Dawson’s attention had been directed, after a
tour he had made in England during the past year, in which he had
noticed small walled-up doors in unusual parts of some old parish
churches, and had been told that they had formerly been appropriated to
the use of some half-heathen race, who, before the days of gipsies, held
the same outcast pariah position in most of the countries of western
Europe. Mr. Dawson had been recommended to the French book which he
named, as containing the fullest and most authentic account of this
mysterious race, the Cagots. I did not think I should like hearing this
paper as much as a story; but, of course, as he meant it kindly, we were
bound to submit, and I found it, on the whole, more interesting than I
anticipated.



AN ACCURSED RACE.


We have our prejudices in England. Or, if that assertion offends any of
my readers, I will modify it: we have had our prejudices in England. We
have tortured Jews; we have burnt Catholics and Protestants, to say
nothing of a few witches and wizards. We have satirised Puritans, and we
have dressed-up Guys. But, after all, I do not think we have been so
bad as our Continental friends. To be sure, our insular position has
kept us free, to a certain degree, from the inroads of alien races; who,
driven from one land of refuge, steal into another equally unwilling to
receive them; and where, for long centuries, their presence is barely
endured, and no pains is taken to conceal the repugnance which the
natives of “pure blood” experience towards them.

There yet remains a remnant of the miserable people called Cagots in the
valleys of the Pyrenées; in the Landes near Bourdeaux; and, stretching
up on the west side of France, their numbers become larger in Lower
Brittany. Even now, the origin of these families is a word of shame to
them among their neighbours; although they are protected by the law,
which confirmed them in the equal rights of citizens about the end of
the last century. Before then they had lived, for hundreds of years,
isolated from all those who boasted of pure blood, and they had been,
all this time, oppressed by cruel local edicts. They were truly what
they were popularly called, The Accursed Race.

All distinct traces of their origin are lost. Even at the close of that
period which we call the Middle Ages, this was a problem which no one
could solve; and as the traces, which even then were faint and
uncertain, have vanished away one by one, it is a complete mystery at
the present day. Why they were accursed in the first instance, why
isolated from their kind, no one knows. From the earliest accounts of
their state that are yet remaining to us, it seems that the names which
they gave each other were ignored by the population they lived amongst,
who spoke of them as Crestiaa, or Cagots, just as we speak of animals by
their generic names. Their houses or huts were always placed at some
distance out of the villages of the country-folk, who unwillingly called
in the services of the Cagots as carpenters, or tilers, or
slaters--trades which seemed appropriated by this unfortunate race--who
were forbidden to occupy land, or to bear arms, the usual occupations
of those times. They had some small right of pasturage on the common
lands, and in the forests: but the number of their cattle and livestock
was strictly limited by the earliest laws relating to the Cagots. They
were forbidden by one act to have more than twenty sheep, a pig, a ram,
and six geese. The pig was to be fattened and killed for winter food;
the fleece of the sheep was to clothe them; but, if the said sheep had
lambs, they were forbidden to eat them. Their only privilege arising
from this increase was, that they might choose out the strongest and
finest in preference to keeping the old sheep. At Martinmas the
authorities of the commune came round, and counted over the stock of
each Cagot. If he had more than his appointed number, they were
forfeited; half went to the commune, and half to the baillie, or chief
magistrate of the commune. The poor beasts were limited as to the amount
of common land which they might stray over in search of grass. While the
cattle of the inhabitants of the commune might wander hither and thither
in search of the sweetest herbage, the deepest shade, or the coolest
pool in which to stand on the hot days, and lazily switch their dappled
sides, the Cagot sheep and pig had to learn imaginary bounds, beyond
which if they strayed, any one might snap them up, and kill them,
reserving a part of the flesh for his own use, but graciously restoring
the inferior parts to their original owner. Any damage done by the sheep
was, however, fairly appraised, and the Cagot paid no more for it than
any other man would have done.

Did a Cagot leave his poor cabin, and venture into the towns, even to
render services required of him in the way of his trade, he was bidden,
by all the municipal laws, to stand by and remember his rude old state.
In all the towns and villages in the large districts extending on both
sides of the Pyrenées--in all that part of Spain--they were forbidden to
buy or sell anything eatable, to walk in the middle (esteemed the
better) part of the streets, to come within the gates before sunrise, or
to be found after sunset within the walls of the town. But still, as the
Cagots were good-looking men, and (although they bore certain natural
marks of their caste, of which I shall speak by-and-by) were not easily
distinguished by casual passers-by from other men, they were compelled
to wear some distinctive peculiarity which should arrest the eye; and,
in the greater number of towns, it was decreed that the outward sign of
a Cagot should be a piece of red cloth sewed conspicuously on the front
of his dress. In other towns, the mark of Cagoterie was the foot of a
duck or a goose hung over their left shoulder, so as to be seen by any
one meeting them. After a time, the more convenient badge of a piece of
yellow cloth cut out in the shape of a duck’s foot, was adopted. If any
Cagot was found in any town or village without his badge, he had to pay
a fine of five sous, and to lose his dress. He was expected to shrink
away from any passer-by, for fear that their clothes should touch each
other; or else to stand still in some corner or by-place. If the Cagots
were thirsty during the days which they passed in those towns where
their presence was barely suffered, they had no means of quenching their
thirst, for they were forbidden to enter into the little cabarets or
taverns. Even the water gushing out of the common fountain was
prohibited to them. Far away, in their own squalid village, there was
the Cagot fountain, and they were not allowed to drink of any other
water. A Cagot woman having to make purchases in the town, was liable to
be flogged out of it if she went to buy anything except on a Monday--a
day on which all other people who could, kept their houses for fear of
coming in contact with the accursed race.

In the Pays Basque, the prejudices--and for some time the laws--ran
stronger against them than any which I have hitherto mentioned. The
Basque Cagot was not allowed to possess sheep. He might keep a pig for
provision, but his pig had no right of pasturage. He might cut and carry
grass for the ass, which was the only other animal he was permitted to
own; and this ass was permitted, because its existence was rather an
advantage to the oppressor, who constantly availed himself of the
Cagot’s mechanical skill, and was glad to have him and his tools easily
conveyed from one place to another.

The race was repulsed by the State. Under the small local governments
they could hold no post whatsoever. And they were barely tolerated by
the Church, although they were good Catholics, and zealous frequenters
of the mass. They might only enter the churches by a small door set
apart for them, through which no one of the pure race ever passed. This
door was low, so as to compel them to make an obeisance. It was
occasionally surrounded by sculpture, which invariably represented an
oak-branch with a dove above it. When they were once in, they might not
go to the holy water used by others. They had a bénitier of their own;
nor were they allowed to share in the consecrated bread when that was
handed round to the believers of the pure race. The Cagots stood afar
off, near the door. There were certain boundaries--imaginary lines--on
the nave and in the aisles which they might not pass. In one or two of
the more tolerant of the Pyrenean villages, the blessed bread was
offered to the Cagots, the priest standing on one side of the boundary,
and giving the pieces of bread on a long wooden fork to each person
successively.

When the Cagot died, he was interred apart, in a plot of burying-ground
on the north side of the cemetery. Under such laws and prescriptions as
I have described, it is no wonder that he was generally too poor to have
much property for his children to inherit; but certain descriptions of
it were forfeited to the commune. The only possession which all who were
not of his own race refused to touch, was his furniture. That was
tainted, infectious, unclean--fit for none but Cagots.

When such were, for at least three centuries, the prevalent usages and
opinions with regard to this oppressed race, it is not surprising that
we read of occasional outbursts of ferocious violence on their part. In
the Basses-Pyrenées, for instance, it is only about a hundred years
since, that the Cagots of Rehouilhes rose up against the inhabitants of
the neighbouring town of Lourdes, and got the better of them, by their
magical powers, as it is said. The people of Lourdes were conquered and
slain, and their ghastly, bloody heads served the triumphant Cagots for
balls to play at ninepins with! The local parliaments had begun, by this
time, to perceive how oppressive was the ban of public opinion under
which the Cagots lay, and were not inclined to enforce too severe a
punishment. Accordingly, the decree of the parliament of Toulouse
condemned only the leading Cagots concerned in this affray to be put to
death, and that henceforward and for ever no Cagot was to be permitted
to enter the town of Lourdes by any gate but that called Capdet-pourtet:
they were only to be allowed to walk under the rain-gutters, and neither
to sit, eat, nor drink in the town. If they failed in observing any of
these rules, the parliament decreed, in the spirit of Shylock, that the
disobedient Cagots should have two strips of flesh, weighing never more
than two ounces a-piece, cut out from each side of their spines.

In the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, it was considered
no more a crime to kill a Cagot than to destroy obnoxious vermin. A
“nest of Cagots,” as the old accounts phrase it, had assembled in a
deserted castle of Mauvezin, about the year sixteen hundred; and,
certainly, they made themselves not very agreeable neighbours, as they
seemed to enjoy their reputation of magicians; and, by some acoustic
secrets which were known to them, all sorts of moanings and groanings
were heard in the neighbouring forests, very much to the alarm of the
good people of the pure race; who could not cut off a withered branch
for firewood, but some unearthly sound seemed to fill the air, nor drink
water which was not poisoned, because the Cagots would persist in
filling their pitchers at the same running stream. Added to these
grievances, the various pilferings perpetually going on in the
neighbourhood made the inhabitants of the adjacent towns and hamlets
believe that they had a very sufficient cause for wishing to murder all
the Cagots in the Château de Mauvezin. But it was surrounded by a moat,
and only accessible by a drawbridge; besides which, the Cagots were
fierce and vigilant. Some one, however, proposed to get into their
confidence; and for this purpose he pretended to fall ill close to their
path, so that on returning to their stronghold they perceived him, and
took him in, restored him to health, and made a friend of him. One day,
when they were all playing at ninepins in the woods, their treacherous
friend left the party on pretence of being thirsty, and went back into
the castle, drawing up the bridge after he had passed over it, and so
cutting off their means of escape into safety. Then, going up to the
highest part of the castle, he blew a horn, and the pure race, who were
lying in wait on the watch for some such signal, fell upon the Cagots at
their games, and slew them all. For this murder I find no punishment
decreed in the parliament of Toulouse, or elsewhere.

As any intermarriage with the pure race was strictly forbidden, and as
there were books kept in every commune in which the names and
habitations of the reputed Cagots were written, these unfortunate people
had no hope of ever becoming blended with the rest of the population.
Did a Cagot marriage take place, the couple were serenaded with
satirical songs. They also had minstrels, and many of their romances are
still current in Brittany; but they did not attempt to make any
reprisals of satire or abuse. Their disposition was amiable, and their
intelligence great. Indeed, it required both these qualities, and their
great love of mechanical labour, to make their lives tolerable.

At last, they began to petition that they might receive some protection
from the laws; and, towards the end of the seventeenth century, the
judicial power took their side. But they gained little by this. Law
could not prevail against custom: and, in the ten or twenty years just
preceding the first French revolution, the prejudice in France against
the Cagots amounted to fierce and positive abhorrence.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Cagots of Navarre
complained to the Pope, that they were excluded from the fellowship of
men, and accursed by the Church, because their ancestors had given help
to a certain Count Raymond of Toulouse in his revolt against the Holy
See. They entreated his holiness not to visit upon them the sins of
their fathers. The Pope issued a bull--on the thirteenth of May,
fifteen hundred and fifteen--ordering them to be well-treated and to be
admitted to the same privileges as other men. He charged Don Juan de
Santa Maria of Pampeluna to see to the execution of this bull. But Don
Juan was slow to help, and the poor Spanish Cagots grew impatient, and
resolved to try the secular power. They accordingly applied to the
cortes of Navarre, and were opposed on a variety of grounds. First, it
was stated that their ancestors had had “nothing to do with Raymond
Count of Toulouse, or with any such knightly personage; that they were
in fact descendants of Gehazi, servant of Elisha (second book of Kings,
fifth chapter, twenty-seventh verse), who had been accursed by his
master for his fraud upon Naaman, and doomed, he and his descendants, to
be lepers for evermore. Name, Cagots or Gahets; Gahets, Gehazites. What
can be more clear? And if that is not enough, and you tell us that the
Cagots are not lepers now; we reply that there are two kinds of leprosy,
one perceptible and the other imperceptible, even to the person
suffering from it. Besides, it is the country talk, that where the Cagot
treads, the grass withers, proving the unnatural heat of his body. Many
credible and trustworthy witnesses will also tell you that, if a Cagot
holds a freshly-gathered apple in his hand, it will shrivel and wither
up in an hour’s time as much as if it had been kept for a whole winter
in a dry room. They are born with tails; although the parents are
cunning enough to pinch them off immediately. Do you doubt this? If it
is not true, why do the children of the pure race delight in sewing on
sheep’s tails to the dress of any Cagot who is so absorbed in his work
as not to perceive them? And their bodily smell is so horrible and
detestable that it shows that they must be heretics of some vile and
pernicious description, for do we not read of the incense of good
workers, and the fragrance of holiness?”

Such were literally the arguments by which the Cagots were thrown back
into a worse position than ever, as far as regarded their rights as
citizens. The Pope insisted that they should receive all their
ecclesiastical privileges. The Spanish priests said nothing; but tacitly
refused to allow the Cagots to mingle with the rest of the faithful,
either dead or alive. The accursed race obtained laws in their favour
from the Emperor Charles the Fifth; which, however, there was no one to
carry into effect. As a sort of revenge for their want of submission,
and for their impertinence in daring to complain, their tools were all
taken away from them by the local authorities: an old man and all his
family died of starvation, being no longer allowed to fish.

They could not emigrate. Even to remove their poor mud habitations, from
one spot to another, excited anger and suspicion. To be sure, in sixteen
hundred and ninety-five, the Spanish government ordered the alcaldes to
search out all the Cagots, and to expel them before two months had
expired, under pain of having fifty ducats to pay for every Cagot
remaining in Spain at the expiration of that time. The inhabitants of
the villages rose up and flogged out any of the miserable race who might
be in their neighbourhood; but the French were on their guard against
this enforced irruption, and refused to permit them to enter France.
Numbers were hunted up into the inhospitable Pyrenées, and there died of
starvation, or became a prey to wild beasts. They were obliged to wear
both gloves and shoes when they were thus put to flight, otherwise the
stones and herbage they trod upon, and the balustrades of the bridges
that they handled in crossing, would, according to popular belief, have
become poisonous.

And all this time, there was nothing remarkable or disgusting in the
outward appearance of this unfortunate people. There was nothing about
them to countenance the idea of their being lepers--the most natural
mode of accounting for the abhorrence in which they were held. They were
repeatedly examined by learned doctors, whose experiments, although
singular and rude, appear to have been made in a spirit of humanity. For
instance, the surgeons of the king of Navarre, in sixteen hundred, bled
twenty-two Cagots, in order to examine and analyse their blood. They
were young and healthy people of both sexes; and the doctors seem to
have expected that they should have been able to extract some new kind
of salt from their blood which might account for the wonderful heat of
their bodies. But their blood was just like that of other people. Some
of these medical men have left us a description of the general
appearance of this unfortunate race, at a time when they were more
numerous and less intermixed than they are now. The families existing in
the south and west of France, who are reputed to be of Cagot descent at
this day, are, like their ancestors, tall, largely made, and powerful in
frame; fair and ruddy in complexion, with gray-blue eyes, in which some
observers see a pensive heaviness of look. Their lips are thick, but
well-formed. Some of the reports name their sad expression of
countenance with surprise and suspicion--“They are not gay, like other
folk.” The wonder would be if they were. Dr. Guyon, the medical man of
the last century who has left the clearest report on the health of the
Cagots, speaks of the vigorous old age they attain to. In one family
alone, he found a man of seventy-four years of age; a woman as old,
gathering cherries; and another woman, aged eighty-three, was lying on
the grass, having her hair combed by her great-grandchildren. Dr. Guyon
and other surgeons examined into the subject of the horribly infectious
smell which the Cagots were said to leave behind them, and upon
everything they touched; but they could perceive nothing unusual on this
head. They also examined their ears, which, according to common belief
(a belief existing to this day), were differently shaped from those of
other people; being round and gristly, without the lobe of flesh into
which the earring is inserted. They decided that most of the Cagots whom
they examined had the ears of this round shape; but they gravely added,
that they saw no reason why this should exclude them from the good-will
of men, and from the power of holding office in Church and State. They
recorded the fact, that the children of the towns ran baaing after any
Cagot who had been compelled to come into the streets to make purchases,
in allusion to this peculiarity of the shape of the ear, which bore some
resemblance to the ears of the sheep as they are cut by the shepherds in
this district. Dr. Guyon names the case of a beautiful Cagot girl, who
sang most sweetly, and prayed to be allowed to sing canticles in the
organ-loft. The organist, more musician than bigot, allowed her to come;
but the indignant congregation, finding out whence proceeded that clear,
fresh voice, rushed up to the organ-loft, and chased the girl out,
bidding her “remember her ears,” and not commit the sacrilege of
singing praises to God along with the pure race.

But this medical report of Dr. Guyon’s--bringing facts and arguments to
confirm his opinion, that there was no physical reason why the Cagots
should not be received on terms of social equality by the rest of the
world--did no more for his clients than the legal decrees promulgated
two centuries before had done. The French proved the truth of the saying
in Hudibras,

    He that’s convinced against his will
    Is of the same opinion still.

And, indeed, the being convinced by Dr. Guyon that they ought to receive
Cagots as fellow-creatures, only made them more rabid in declaring that
they would not. One or two little occurrences which are recorded, show
that the bitterness of the repugnance to the Cagots was in full force at
the time just preceding the first French revolution. There was a M.
d’Abedos, the curate of Lourbes, and brother to the seigneur of the
neighbouring castle, who was living in seventeen hundred and eighty; he
was well-educated for the time, a travelled man, and sensible and
moderate in all respects but that of his abhorrence of the Cagots: he
would insult them from the very altar, calling out to them, as they
stood afar off, “Oh! ye Cagots, damned for evermore!” One day, a
half-blind Cagot stumbled and touched the censer borne before this Abbé
de Lourbes. He was immediately turned out of the church, and forbidden
ever to re-enter it. One does not know how to account for the fact, that
the very brother of this bigoted abbé, the seigneur of the village, went
and married a Cagot girl; but so it was, and the abbé brought a legal
process against him, and had his estates taken from him, solely on
account of his marriage, which reduced him to the condition of a Cagot,
against whom the old law was still in force. The descendants of this
Seigneur de Lourbes are simple peasants at this very day, working on the
lands which belonged to their grandfather.

This prejudice against mixed marriages remained prevalent until very
lately. The tradition of the Cagot descent lingered among the people,
long after the laws against the accursed race were abolished. A Breton
girl, within the last few years, having two lovers each of reputed Cagot
descent, employed a notary to examine their pedigrees, and see which of
the two had least Cagot in him; and to that one she gave her hand. In
Brittany the prejudice seems to have been more virulent than anywhere
else. M. Emile Souvestre records proofs of the hatred borne to them in
Brittany so recently as in eighteen hundred and thirty-five. Just lately
a baker at Hennebon, having married a girl of Cagot descent, lost all
his custom. The godfather and godmother of a Cagot child became Cagots
themselves by the Breton laws, unless, indeed, the poor little baby died
before attaining a certain number of days. They had to eat the butchers’
meat condemned as unhealthy; but, for some unknown reason, they were
considered to have a right to every cut loaf turned upside down, with
its cut side towards the door, and might enter any house in which they
saw a loaf in this position, and carry it away with them. About thirty
years ago, there was the skeleton of a hand hanging up as an offering in
a Breton Church near Quimperle, and the tradition was, that it was the
hand of a rich Cagot who had dared to take holy water out of the usual
bénitier, some time at the beginning of the reign of Louis the
Sixteenth; which an old soldier witnessing, he lay in wait, and the next
time the offender approached the bénitier he cut off his hand, and hung
it up, dripping with blood, as an offering to the patron saint of the
church. The poor Cagots in Brittany petitioned against their opprobrious
name, and begged to be distinguished by the appellation of Malandrins.
To English ears one is much the same as the other, as neither conveys
any meaning; but, to this day, the descendants of the Cagots do not like
to have this name applied to them, preferring that of Malandrin.

The French Cagots tried to destroy all the records of their pariah
descent, in the commotions of seventeen hundred and eighty-nine; but if
writings have disappeared, the tradition yet remains, and points out
such and such a family as Cagot, or Malandrin, or Oiselier, according to
the old terms of abhorrence.

There are various ways in which learned men have attempted to account
for the universal repugnance in which this well-made, powerful race are
held. Some say that the antipathy to them took its rise in the days when
leprosy was a dreadfully prevalent disease; and that the Cagots are more
liable than any other men to a kind of skin disease, not precisely
leprosy, but resembling it in some of its symptoms; such as dead
whiteness of complexion, and swellings of the face and extremities.
There was also some resemblance to the ancient Jewish custom in respect
to lepers, in the habit of the people; who, on meeting a Cagot, called
out, “Cagote? Cagote?” to which they were bound to reply, “Perlute!
perlute!” Leprosy is not properly an infectious complaint, in spite of
the horror in which the Cagot furniture, and the cloth woven by them,
are held in some places; the disorder is hereditary, and hence (say this
body of wise men, who have troubled themselves to account for the origin
of Cagoterie) the reasonableness and the justice of preventing any mixed
marriages, by which this terrible tendency to leprous complaints might
be spread far and wide. Another authority says, that though the Cagots
are fine-looking men, hard-working, and good mechanics, yet they bear in
their faces, and show in their actions, reasons for the detestation in
which they are held: their glance, if you meet it, is the jettatura, or
evil-eye, and they are spiteful, and cruel, and deceitful above all
other men. All these qualities they derive from their ancestor Gehazi,
the servant of Elisha, together with their tendency to leprosy.

Again, it is said that they are descended from the Arian Goths, who were
permitted to live in certain places in Guienne and Languedoc, after
their defeat by King Clovis, on condition that they abjured their
heresy, and kept themselves separate from all other men for ever. The
principal reason alleged in support of this supposition of their Gothic
descent, is the specious one of derivation,--Chiens Gots, Cans Gots,
Cagots, equivalent to Dogs of Goths.

Again, they were thought to be Saracens, coming from Syria. In
confirmation of this idea, was the belief that all Cagots were possessed
by a horrible smell. The Lombards, also, were an unfragrant race, or so
reputed among the Italians: witness Pope Stephen’s letter to
Charlemagne, dissuading him from marrying Bertha, daughter of Didier,
King of Lombardy. The Lombards boasted of Eastern descent, and were
noisome. The Cagots were noisome, and therefore must be of Eastern
descent. What could be clearer? In addition, there was the proof to be
derived from the name Cagot, which those maintaining the opinion of
their Saracen descent held to be Chiens, or Chasseurs des Gots, because
the Saracens chased the Goths out of Spain. Moreover, the Saracens were
originally Mahometans, and as such obliged to bathe seven times a-day:
whence the badge of the duck’s foot. A duck was a water-bird: Mahometans
bathed in the water. Proof upon proof!

In Brittany the common idea was, they were of Jewish descent. Their
unpleasant smell was again pressed into the service. The Jews, it was
well known, had this physical infirmity, which might be cured either by
bathing in a certain fountain in Egypt--which was a long way from
Brittany--or by anointing themselves with the blood of a Christian
child. Blood gushed out of the body of every Cagot on Good Friday. No
wonder, if they were of Jewish descent. It was the only way of
accounting for so portentous a fact. Again; the Cagots were capital
carpenters, which gave the Bretons every reason to believe that their
ancestors were the very Jews who made the cross. When first the tide of
emigration set from Brittany to America, the oppressed Cagots crowded to
the ports, seeking to go to some new country, where their race might be
unknown. Here was another proof of their descent from Abraham and his
nomadic people; and, the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness and
the Wandering Jew himself, were pressed into the service to prove that
the Cagots derived their restlessness and love of change from their
ancestors, the Jews. The Jews, also, practised arts-magic, and the
Cagots sold bags of wind to the Breton sailors, enchanted maidens to
love them--maidens who never would have cared for them, unless they had
been previously enchanted--made hollow rocks and trees give out strange
and unearthly noises, and sold the magical herb called bon-succès. It is
true enough that, in all the early acts of the fourteenth century, the
same laws apply to Jews as to Cagots, and the appellations seem used
indiscriminately; but their fair complexions, their remarkable devotion
to all the ceremonies of the Catholic Church, and many other
circumstances, conspire to forbid our believing them to be of Hebrew
descent.

Another very plausible idea is, that they are the descendants of
unfortunate individuals afflicted with goîtres, which is, even to this
day, not an uncommon disorder in the gorges and valleys of the Pyrenées.
Some have even derived the word goître from Got, or Goth; but their
name, Crestiaa, is not unlike Cretin, and the same symptoms of idiotism
were not unusual among the Cagots; although sometimes, if old tradition
is to be credited, their malady of the brain took rather the form of
violent delirium, which attacked them at new and full moons. Then the
workmen laid down their tools, and rushed off from their labour to play
mad pranks up and down the country. Perpetual motion was required to
alleviate the agony of fury that seized upon the Cagots at such times.
In this desire for rapid movement, the attack resembled the Neapolitan
tarantella; while in the mad deeds they performed during such attacks,
they were not unlike the northern Berserker. In Béarn especially, those
suffering from this madness were dreaded by the pure race; the Béarnais,
going to cut their wooden clogs in the great forests that lay around the
base of the Pyrenées, feared above all things to go too near the periods
when the Cagoutelle seized on the oppressed and accursed people; from
whom it was then the oppressors’ turn to fly. A man was living within
the memory of some, who had married a Cagot wife; he used to beat her
right soundly when he saw the first symptoms of the Cagoutelle, and,
having reduced her to a wholesome state of exhaustion and insensibility,
he locked her up until the moon had altered her shape in the heavens. If
he had not taken such decided steps, say the oldest inhabitants, there
is no knowing what might have happened.

From the thirteenth to the end of the nineteenth century, there are
facts enough to prove the universal abhorrence in which this unfortunate
race was held; whether called Cagots, or Gahets in Pyrenean districts,
Caqueaux in Brittany, or Vaqueros in Asturias. The great French
revolution brought some good out of its fermentation of the people: the
more intelligent among them tried to overcome the prejudice against the
Cagots.

In seventeen hundred and eighteen, there was a famous cause tried at
Biarritz relating to Cagot rights and privileges. There was a wealthy
miller, Etienne Arnauld by name, of the race of Gotz, Quagotz, Bisigotz,
Astragotz, or Gahetz, as his people are described in the legal document.
He married an heiress a Gotte (or Cagot) of Biarritz; and the
newly-married, well-to-do couple saw no reason why they should stand
near the door in the church, nor why he should not hold some civil
office in the commune, of which he was the principal inhabitant.
Accordingly, he petitioned the law that he and his wife might be allowed
to sit in the gallery of the church, and that he might be relieved from
his civil disabilities. This wealthy white miller, Etienne Arnauld,
pursued his rights with some vigour against the Baillie of Labourd, the
dignitary of the neighbourhood. Whereupon the inhabitants of Biarritz
met in the open air, on the eighth of May, to the number of one hundred
and fifty; approved of the conduct of the Baillie in rejecting Arnauld,
made a subscription, and gave all power to their lawyers to defend the
cause of the pure race against Etienne Arnauld--“that stranger,” who,
having married a girl of Cagot blood, ought also to be expelled from the
holy places. This lawsuit was carried through all the local courts, and
ended by an appeal to the highest court in Paris; where a decision was
given against Basque superstitions; and Etienne Arnauld was
thenceforward entitled to enter the gallery of the church.

Of course, the inhabitants of Biarritz were all the more ferocious for
having been conquered; and, four years later, a carpenter, Miguel
Legaret, suspected of Cagot descent, having placed himself in church
among other people, was dragged out by the abbé and two of the jurats of
the parish. Legaret defended himself with a sharp knife at the time, and
went to law afterwards; the end of which was, that the abbé and his two
accomplices were condemned to a public confession of penitence, to be
uttered while on their knees at the church door, just after high-mass.
They appealed to the parliament of Bourdeaux against this decision, but
met with no better success than the opponents of the miller Arnauld.
Legaret was confirmed in his right of standing where he would in the
parish church. That a living Cagot had equal rights with other men in
the town of Biarritz seemed now ceded to them; but a dead Cagot was a
different thing. The inhabitants of pure blood struggled long and hard
to be interred apart from the abhorred race. The Cagots were equally
persistent in claiming to have a common burying-ground. Again the texts
of the old Testament were referred to, and the pure blood quoted
triumphantly the precedent of Uzziah the leper (twenty-sixth chapter of
the second book of Chronicles), who was buried in the field of the
Sepulchres of the Kings, not in the sepulchres themselves. The Cagots
pleaded that they were healthy and able-bodied; with no taint of leprosy
near them. They were met by the strong argument so difficult to be
refuted, which I have quoted before. Leprosy was of two kinds,
perceptible and imperceptible. If the Cagots were suffering from the
latter kind, who could tell whether they were free from it or not? That
decision must be left to the judgment of others.

One sturdy Cagot family alone, Belone by name, kept up a lawsuit,
claiming the privilege of common sepulture, for forty-two years;
although the curé of Biarritz had to pay one hundred livres for every
Cagot not interred in the right place. The inhabitants indemnified the
curate for all these fines.

M. de Romagne, Bishop of Tarbes, who died in seventeen hundred and
sixty-eight, was the first to allow a Cagot to fill any office in the
Church. To be sure, some were so spiritless as to reject office when it
was offered to them, because, by so claiming their equality, they had to
pay the same taxes as other men, instead of the Rancale or poll-tax
levied on the Cagots; the collector of which had also a right to claim a
piece of bread of a certain size for his dog at every Cagot dwelling.

Even in the present century, it has been necessary in some churches for
the archdeacon of the district, followed by all his clergy, to pass out
of the small door previously appropriated to the Cagots, in order to
mitigate the superstition which, even so lately, made the people refuse
to mingle with them in the house of God. A Cagot once played the
congregation at Larroque a trick suggested by what I have just named. He
slily locked the great parish-door of the church, while the greater part
of the inhabitants were assisting at mass inside; put gravel into the
lock itself, so as to prevent the use of any duplicate key,--and had the
pleasure of seeing the proud pure-blooded people file out with bended
head, through the small low door used by the abhorred Cagots.

We are naturally shocked at discovering, from facts such as these, the
causeless rancour with which innocent and industrious people were so
recently persecuted. The moral of the history of the accursed race may,
perhaps, be best conveyed in the words of an epitaph on Mrs. Mary Hand,
who lies buried in the churchyard of Stratford-on-Avon.

    What faults you saw in me,
      Pray strive to shun;
    And look at home: there’s
      Something to be done.

For some time past I had observed that Miss Duncan made a good deal of
occupation for herself in writing, but that she did not like me to
notice her employment. Of course, this made me all the more curious; and
many were my silent conjectures--some of them so near the truth that I
was not much surprised when, after Mr. Dawson had finished reading his
Paper to us, she hesitated, coughed, and abruptly introduced a little
formal speech, to the effect that she had noted down an old Welsh story,
the particulars of which had often been told her in her youth, as she
lived close to the place where the events occurred. Everybody pressed
her to read the manuscript, which she now produced from her reticule;
but, when on the point of beginning, her nervousness seemed to overcome
her, and she made so many apologies for its being the first and only
attempt she had ever made at that kind of composition, that I began to
wonder if we should ever arrive at the story at all. At length, in a
high-pitched, ill-assured voice, she read out the title:

                     “THE DOOM OF THE GRIFFITHS.”



THE DOOM OF THE GRIFFITHS.


CHAPTER I.

I have always been much interested by the traditions which are scattered
up and down North Wales relating to Owen Glendower (Owain Glendwr is the
national spelling of the name), and I fully enter into the feeling which
makes the Welsh peasant still look upon him as the hero of his country.
There was great joy among many of the inhabitants of the principality,
when the subject of the Welsh prize poem at Oxford, some fifteen or
sixteen years ago, was announced to be “Owain Glendwr.” It was the most
proudly national subject that had been given for years.

Perhaps, some may not be aware that this redoubted chieftain is, even in
the present days of enlightenment, as famous among his illiterate
countrymen for his magical powers as for his patriotism. He says
himself--or Shakspeare says it for him, which is much the same thing--

                  ‘At my nativity
    The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes
    Of burning cressets.....
    .... I can call spirits from the vasty deep.’

And few among the lower orders in the principality would think of
asking Hotspur’s irreverent question in reply.

Among other traditions preserved relative to this part of the Welsh
hero’s character, is the old family prophecy which gives a title to this
tale. When Sir David Gam, “as black a traitor as if he had been born in
Builth,” sought to murder Owen at Machynlleth, there was one with him
whose name Glendwr little dreamed of having associated with his enemies.
Rhys ap Gryfydd, his “old familiar friend,” his relation, his more than
brother, had consented unto his blood. Sir David Gam might be forgiven,
but one whom he had loved, and who had betrayed him, could never be
forgiven. Glendwr was too deeply read in the human heart to kill him.
No, he let him live on, the loathing and scorn of his compatriots, and
the victim of bitter remorse. The mark of Cain was upon him.

But before he went forth--while yet he stood a prisoner, cowering
beneath his conscience before Owain Glendwr--that chieftain passed a
doom upon him and his race:

“I doom thee to live, because I know thou wilt pray for death. Thou
shalt live on beyond the natural term of the life of man, the scorn of
all good men. The very children shall point to thee with hissing tongue,
and say, ‘There goes one who would have shed a brother’s blood!’ For I
loved thee more than a brother, oh Rhys ap Gryfydd! Thou shalt live on
to see all of thy house, except the weakling in arms, perish by the
sword. Thy race shall be accursed. Each generation shall see their lands
melt away like snow; yea, their wealth shall vanish, though they may
labour night and day to heap up gold. And when nine generations have
passed from the face of the earth, thy blood shall no longer flow in the
veins of any human being. In those days the last male of thy race shall
avenge me. The son shall slay the father.”

Such was the traditionary account of Owain Glendwr’s speech to his
once-trusted friend. And it was declared that the doom had been
fulfilled in all things; that, live in as miserly a manner as they
would, the Griffiths never were wealthy and prosperous--indeed, that
their worldly stock diminished without any visible cause.

But the lapse of many years had almost deadened the wonder-inspiring
power of the whole curse. It was only brought forth from the hoards of
Memory when some untoward event happened to the Griffiths family; and in
the eighth generation the faith in the prophecy was nearly destroyed, by
the marriage of the Griffiths of that day, to a Miss Owen, who,
unexpectedly, by the death of a brother, became an heiress--to no
considerable amount, to be sure, but enough to make the prophecy appear
reversed. The heiress and her husband removed from his small patrimonial
estate in Merionethshire, to her heritage in Caenarvonshire, and for a
time the prophecy lay dormant.

If you go from Tremadoc to Criccaeth you pass by the parochial church of
Ynysynhanarn, situated in a boggy valley running from the mountains,
which shoulder up to the Rivals, down to Cardigan Bay. This tract of
land has every appearance of having been redeemed at no distant period
of time from the sea, and has all the desolate rankness often attendant
upon such marshes. But the valley beyond, similar in character, had yet
more of gloom at the time of which I write. In the higher part there
were large plantations of firs, set too closely to attain to any size,
and remaining stunted in height and scrubby in appearance. Indeed, many
of the smaller and more weakly had died, and the bark had fallen down on
the brown soil neglected and unnoticed. These trees had a ghastly
appearance, with their white trunks, seen by the dim light which
struggled through the thick boughs above. Nearer to the sea, the valley
assumed a more open, though hardly a more cheerful character; it looked
dank and overhung by sea-fog through the greater part of the year, and
even a farm-house, which usually imparts something of cheerfulness to a
landscape, failed to do so here. This valley formed the greater part of
the estate to which Owen Griffiths became entitled by right of his wife.
In the higher part of the valley was situated the family mansion, or
rather dwelling-house, for “mansion,” is too grand a word to apply to
the clumsy, but substantially-built Bodowen. It was square and
heavy-looking, with just that much pretension to ornament necessary to
distinguish it from the mere farm-house.

In this dwelling Mrs. Owen Griffiths bore her husband two
sons--Llewellyn, the future Squire, and Robert, who was early destined
for the Church. The only difference in their situation, up to the time
when Robert was entered at Jesus College, was that the elder was
invariably indulged by all around him, while Robert was thwarted and
indulged by turns; that Llewellyn never learned anything from the poor
Welsh parson who was nominally his private tutor; while occasionally
Squire Griffiths made a great point of enforcing Robert’s diligence,
telling him that, as he had his bread to earn, he must pay attention to
his learning. There is no knowing how far the very irregular education
he had received would have carried Robert through his college
examinations; but, luckily for him in this respect, before such a trial
of his learning came round, he heard of the death of his elder brother,
after a short illness, brought on by a hard-drinking bout. Of course,
Robert was summoned home, and it seemed quite as much of course, now
that there was no necessity for him to “earn his bread by his learning,”
that he should not return to Oxford. So the half-educated, but not
unintelligent, young man continued at home, during the short remainder
of his parent’s life-time.

His was not an uncommon character. In general he was mild, indolent, and
easily managed; but once thoroughly roused, his passions were vehement
and fearful. He seemed, indeed, almost afraid of himself, and in common
hardly dared to give way to justifiable anger--so much did he dread
losing his self-control. Had he been judiciously educated, he would,
probably, have distinguished himself in those branches of literature
which call for taste and imagination, rather than any exertion of
reflection or judgment. As it was, his literary taste showed itself in
making collections of Cambrian antiquities of every description, till
his stock of Welsh MSS. would have excited the envy of Dr. Pugh himself,
had he been alive at the time of which I write.

There is one characteristic of Robert Griffiths which I have omitted to
note, and which was peculiar among his class. He was no hard drinker;
whether it was that his head was very easily affected, or that his
partially-refined taste led him to dislike intoxication and its
attendant circumstances, I cannot say; but at five-and-twenty Robert
Griffiths was habitually sober--a thing so rare in Llyn, that he was
almost shunned as a churlish, unsocial being, and passed much of his
time in solitude.

About this time, he had to appear in some case that was tried at the
Caernarvon assizes; and while there, was a guest at the house of his
agent, a shrewd, sensible Welsh attorney, with one daughter, who had
charms enough to captivate Robert Griffiths. Though he remained only a
few days at her father’s house, they were sufficient to decide his
affections, and short was the period allowed to elapse before he brought
home a mistress to Bodowen. The new Mrs. Griffiths was a gentle,
yielding person, full of love toward her husband, of whom, nevertheless,
she stood something in awe, partly arising from the difference in their
ages, partly from his devoting much time to studies of which she could
understand nothing.

She soon made him the father of a blooming little daughter, called
Augharad after her mother. Then there came several uneventful years in
the household of Bodowen; and when the old women had one and all
declared that the cradle would not rock again, Mrs. Griffiths bore the
son and heir. His birth was soon followed by his mother’s death: she had
been ailing and low-spirited during her pregnancy, and she seemed to
lack the buoyancy of body and mind requisite to bring her round after
her time of trial. Her husband, who loved her all the more from having
few other claims on his affections, was deeply grieved by her early
death, and his only comforter was the sweet little boy whom she had left
behind. That part of the Squire’s character, which was so tender, and
almost feminine, seemed called forth by the helpless situation of the
little infant, who stretched out his arms to his father with the same
earnest cooing that happier children make use of to their mother alone.
Augharad was almost neglected, while the little Owen was king of the
house; still, next to his father, none tended him so lovingly as his
sister. She was so accustomed to give way to him that it was no longer a
hardship. By night and by day Owen was the constant companion of his
father, and increasing years seemed only to confirm the custom. It was
an unnatural life for the child, seeing no bright little faces peering
into his own (for Augharad was, as I said before, five or six years
older, and her face, poor motherless girl, was often anything but
bright), hearing no din of clear ringing voices, but day after day
sharing the otherwise solitary hours of his father, whether in the dim
room, surrounded by wizard-like antiquities, or pattering his little
feet to keep up with his “tada” in his mountain rambles or shooting
excursions. When the pair came to some little foaming brook, where the
stepping-stones were far and wide, the father carried his little boy
across with the tenderest care; when the lad was weary, they rested, he
cradled in his father’s arms, or the Squire would lift him up and carry
him to his home again. The boy was indulged (for his father felt
flattered by the desire) in his wish of sharing his meals and keeping
the same hours. All this indulgence did not render Owen unamiable, but
it made him wilful, and not a happy child. He had a thoughtful look, not
common to the face of a young boy. He knew no games, no merry sports;
his information was of an imaginative and speculative character. His
father delighted to interest him in his own studies, without considering
how far they were healthy for so young a mind.

Of course Squire Griffiths was not unaware of the prophecy which was to
be fulfilled in his generation. He would occasionally refer to it when
among his friends, with sceptical levity; but in truth it lay nearer to
his heart than he chose to acknowledge. His strong imagination rendered
him peculiarly impressible on such subjects; while his judgment, seldom
exercised or fortified by severe thought, could not prevent his
continually recurring to it. He used to gaze on the half-sad countenance
of the child, who sat looking up into his face with his large dark eyes,
so fondly yet so inquiringly, till the old legend swelled around his
heart, and became too painful for him not to require sympathy. Besides,
the overpowering love he bore to the child seemed to demand fuller vent
than tender words; it made him like, yet dread, to upbraid its object
for the fearful contrast foretold. Still Squire Griffiths told the
legend, in a half-jesting manner, to his little son, when they were
roaming over the wild heaths in the autumn days, “the saddest of the
year,” or while they sat in the oak-wainscoted room, surrounded by
mysterious relics that gleamed strangely forth by the flickering
fire-light. The legend was wrought into the boy’s mind, and he would
crave, yet tremble to hear it told over and over again, while the words
were intermingled with caresses and questions as to his love.
Occasionally his loving words and actions were cut short by his
father’s light yet bitter speech--“Get thee away, my lad; thou knowest
what is to come of all this love.”

When Augharad was seventeen, and Owen eleven or twelve, the rector of
the parish in which Bodowen was situated, endeavoured to prevail on
Squire Griffiths to send the boy to school. Now, this rector had many
congenial tastes with his parishioner, and was his only intimate; and,
by repeated arguments, he succeeded in convincing the Squire that the
unnatural life Owen was leading was in every way injurious. Unwillingly
was the father wrought to part from his son; but he did at length send
him to the Grammar School at Bangor, then under the management of an
excellent classic. Here Owen showed that he had more talents than the
rector had given him credit for, when he affirmed that the lad had been
completely stupified by the life he led at Bodowen. He bade fair to do
credit to the school in the peculiar branch of learning for which it was
famous. But he was not popular among his schoolfellows. He was wayward,
though, to a certain degree, generous and unselfish; he was reserved
but gentle, except when the tremendous bursts of passion (similar in
character to those of his father) forced their way.

On his return from school one Christmas time, when he had been a year or
so at Bangor, he was stunned by hearing that the undervalued Augharad
was about to be married to a gentleman of South Wales, residing near
Aberystwith. Boys seldom appreciate their sisters; but Owen thought of
the many slights with which he had requited the patient Augharad, and he
gave way to bitter regrets, which, with a selfish want of control over
his words, he kept expressing to his father, until the Squire was
thoroughly hurt and chagrined at the repeated exclamations of “What
shall we do when Augharad is gone?” “How dull we shall be when Augharad
is married!” Owen’s holidays were prolonged a few weeks, in order that
he might be present at the wedding; and when all the festivities were
over, and the bride and bridegroom had left Bodowen, the boy and his
father really felt how much they missed the quiet, loving Augharad. She
had performed so many thoughtful, noiseless little offices, on which
their daily comfort depended; and now she was gone, the household seemed
to miss the spirit that peacefully kept it in order; the servants roamed
about in search of commands and directions, the rooms had no longer the
unobtrusive ordering of taste to make them cheerful, the very fires
burned dim, and were always sinking down into dull heaps of gray ashes.
Altogether Owen did not regret his return to Bangor, and this also the
mortified parent perceived. Squire Griffiths was a selfish parent.

Letters in those days were a rare occurrence. Owen usually received one
during his half-yearly absences from home, and occasionally his father
paid him a visit. This half-year the boy had no visit, nor even a
letter, till very near the time of his leaving school, and then he was
astounded by the intelligence that his father was married again.

Then came one of his paroxysms of rage; the more disastrous in its
effects upon his character because it could find no vent in action.
Independently of the slight to the memory of the first wife, which
children are so apt to fancy such an action implies, Owen had hitherto
considered himself (and with justice) the first object of his father’s
life. They had been so much to each other; and now a shapeless, but too
real something had come between him and his father there for ever. He
felt as if his permission should have been asked, as if he should have
been consulted. Certainly he ought to have been told of the intended
event. So the Squire felt, and hence his constrained letter, which had
so much increased the bitterness of Owen’s feelings.

With all this anger, when Owen saw his stepmother, he thought he had
never seen so beautiful a woman for her age; for she was no longer in
the bloom of youth, being a widow when his father married her. Her
manners, to the Welsh lad, who had seen little of female grace among the
families of the few antiquarians with whom his father visited, were so
fascinating that he watched her with a sort of breathless admiration.
Her measured grace, her faultless movements, her tones of voice, sweet,
till the ear was sated with their sweetness, made Owen less angry at his
father’s marriage. Yet he felt, more than ever, that the cloud was
between him and his father; that the hasty letter he had sent in answer
to the announcement of his wedding was not forgotten, although no
allusion was ever made to it. He was no longer his father’s
confidant--hardly ever his father’s companion, for the newly-married
wife was all in all to the Squire, and his son felt himself almost a
cipher, where he had so long been everything. The lady herself had ever
the softest consideration for her stepson; almost too obtrusive was the
attention paid to his wishes, but still he fancied that the heart had no
part in the winning advances. There was a watchful glance of the eye
that Owen once or twice caught when she had imagined herself unobserved,
and many other nameless little circumstances, that gave him a strong
feeling of want of sincerity in his stepmother. Mrs. Owen brought with
her into the family her little child by her first husband, a boy nearly
three years old. He was one of those elfish, observant, mocking
children, over whose feelings you seem to have no control: agile and
mischievous, his little practical jokes, at first performed in ignorance
of the pain he gave, but afterward proceeding to a malicious pleasure in
suffering, really seemed to afford some ground to the superstitious
notion of some of the common people that he was a fairy changeling.

Years passed on; and as Owen grew older he became more observant. He
saw, even in his occasional visits at home (for from school he had
passed on to college), that a great change had taken place in the
outward manifestations of his father’s character; and, by degrees, Owen
traced this change to the influence of his stepmother; so slight, so
imperceptible to the common observer, yet so resistless in its effects.
Squire Griffiths caught up his wife’s humbly advanced opinions, and,
unawares to himself, adopted them as his own, defying all argument and
opposition. It was the same with her wishes; they met with their
fulfilment, from the extreme and delicate art with which she insinuated
them into her husband’s mind, as his own. She sacrificed the show of
authority for the power. At last, when Owen perceived some oppressive
act in his father’s conduct toward his dependants, or some
unaccountable thwarting of his own wishes, he fancied he saw his
stepmother’s secret influence thus displayed, however much she might
regret the injustice of his father’s actions in her conversations with
him when they were alone. His father was fast losing his temperate
habits, and frequent intoxication soon took its usual effect upon the
temper. Yet even here was the spell of his wife upon him. Before her he
placed a restraint upon his passion, yet she was perfectly aware of his
irritable disposition, and directed it hither and thither with the same
apparent ignorance of the tendency of her words.

Meanwhile Owen’s situation became peculiarly mortifying to a youth whose
early remembrances afforded such a contrast to his present state. As a
child, he had been elevated to the consequence of a man before his years
gave any mental check to the selfishness which such conduct was likely
to engender; he could remember when his will was law to the servants and
dependants, and his sympathy necessary to his father: now he was as a
cipher in his father’s house; and the Squire, estranged in the first
instance by a feeling of the injury he had done his son in not sooner
acquainting him with his purposed marriage, seemed rather to avoid than
to seek him as a companion, and too frequently showed the most utter
indifference to the feelings and wishes which a young man of a high and
independent spirit might be supposed to indulge.

Perhaps Owen was not fully aware of the force of all these
circumstances; for an actor in a family drama is seldom unimpassioned
enough to be perfectly observant. But he became moody and soured;
brooding over his unloved existence, and craving with a human heart
after sympathy.

This feeling took more full possession of his mind when he had left
college, and returned home to lead an idle and purposeless life. As the
heir, there was no worldly necessity for exertion: his father was too
much of a Welsh squire to dream of the moral necessity, and he himself
had not sufficient strength of mind to decide at once upon abandoning a
place and mode of life which abounded in daily mortifications; yet to
this course his judgment was slowly tending, when some circumstances
occurred to detain him at Bodowen.

It was not to be expected that harmony would long be preserved, even in
appearance, between an unguarded and soured young man, such as Owen, and
his wary stepmother, when he had once left college, and come, not as a
visitor, but as the heir to his father’s house. Some cause of difference
occurred, where the woman subdued her hidden anger sufficiently to
become convinced that Owen was not entirely the dupe she had believed
him to be. Henceforward there was no peace between them. Not in vulgar
altercations did this show itself; but in moody reserve on Owen’s part,
and in undisguised and contemptuous pursuance of her own plans by his
stepmother. Bodowen was no longer a place where, if Owen was not loved
or attended to, he could at least find peace, and care for himself: he
was thwarted at every step, and in every wish, by his father’s desire
apparently, while the wife sat by with a smile of triumph on her
beautiful lips.

So Owen went forth at the early day dawn, sometimes roaming about on
the shore or the upland, shooting or fishing, as the season might be,
but oftener “stretched in indolent repose” on the short, sweet grass,
indulging in gloomy and morbid reveries. He would fancy that this
mortified state of existence was a dream, a horrible dream, from which
he should awake and find himself again the sole object and darling of
his father. And then he would start up and strive to shake off the
incubus. There was the molten sunset of his childish memory; the
gorgeous crimson piles of glory in the west, fading away into the cold,
calm light of the rising moon, while here and there a cloud floated
across the western heaven, like a seraph’s wing, in its flaming beauty;
the earth was the same as in his childhood’s days, full of gentle
evening sounds, and the harmonies of twilight--the breeze came sweeping
low over the heather and blue-bells by his side, and the turf was
sending up its evening incense of perfume. But life, and heart, and hope
were changed for ever since those bygone days!

Or he would seat himself in a favourite niche of the rocks on Moel Gêst,
hidden by a stunted growth of the whitty, or mountain-ash, from general
observation, with a rich-tinted cushion of stone-crop for his feet, and
a straight precipice of rock rising just above. Here would he sit for
hours, gazing idly at the bay below with its back-ground of purple
hills, and the little fishing-sail on its bosom, showing white in the
sunbeam, and gliding on in such harmony with the quiet beauty of the
glassy sea; or he would pull out an old school-volume, his companion for
years, and in morbid accordance with the dark legend that still lurked
in the recesses of his mind--a shape of gloom in those innermost haunts
awaiting its time to come forth in distinct outline--would he turn to
the old Greek dramas which treat of a family foredoomed by an avenging
Fate. The worn page opened of itself at the play of the Œdipus Tyrannus,
and Owen dwelt with the craving of disease upon the prophecy so nearly
resembling that which concerned himself. With his consciousness of
neglect, there was a sort of self-flattery in the consequence which the
legend gave him. He almost wondered how they durst, with slights and
insults, thus provoke the Avenger.

The days drifted onward. Often he would vehemently pursue some sylvan
sport, till thought and feeling were lost in the violence of bodily
exertion. Occasionally his evenings were spent at a small public-house,
such as stood by the unfrequented wayside, where the welcome, hearty
though bought, seemed so strongly to contrast with the gloomy negligence
of home--unsympathizing home.

One evening (Owen might be four or five-and-twenty), wearied with a
day’s shooting on the Clenneny Moors, he passed by the open door of “The
Goat” at Penmorfa. The light and the cheeriness within tempted him, poor
self-exhausted man, as it has done many a one more wretched in worldly
circumstances, to step in, and take his evening meal where at least his
presence was of some consequence. It was a busy day in that little
hostel. A flock of sheep, amounting to some hundreds, had arrived at
Penmorfa, on their road to England, and thronged the space before the
house. Inside was the shrewd, kind-hearted hostess, bustling to and fro,
with merry greetings for every tired drover who was to pass the night in
her house, while the sheep were penned in a field close by. Ever and
anon, she kept attending to the second crowd of guests, who were
celebrating a rural wedding in her house. It was busy work to Martha
Thomas, yet her smile never flagged; and when Owen Griffiths had
finished his evening meal she was there, ready with a hope that it had
done him good, and was to his mind, and a word of intelligence that the
wedding-folk were about to dance in the kitchen, and the harper was the
famous Edward of Corwen.

Owen, partly from good-natured compliance with his hostess’s implied
wish, and partly from curiosity, lounged to the passage which led to the
kitchen--not the every-day, working, cooking kitchen which was beyond,
but a good-sized room where the mistress sat when her work was done, and
where the country people were commonly entertained at such merry-makings
as the present. The lintels of the door formed a frame for the animated
picture which Owen saw within, as he leaned against the wall in the dark
passage. The red light of the fire, with every now and then a falling
piece of turf sending forth a fresh blaze, shone full upon four young
men who were dancing a measure something like a Scotch reel, keeping
admirable time in their rapid movements to the capital tune the harper
was playing. They had their hats on when Owen first took his stand, but
as they grew more and more animated they flung them away, and presently
their shoes were kicked off with like disregard to the spot where they
might happen to alight. Shouts of applause followed any remarkable
exertion of agility, in which each seemed to try to excel his
companions. At length, wearied and exhausted, they sat down, and the
harper gradually changed to one of those wild, inspiring national airs
for which he was so famous. The thronged audience sat earnest and
breathless, and you might have heard a pin drop, except when some maiden
passed hurriedly, with flaring candle and busy look, through to the real
kitchen beyond. When he had finished playing his beautiful theme on “The
march of the men of Harlech,” he changed the measure again to “Tri chant
o’ bunnan” (Three hundred pounds), and immediately a most
unmusical-looking man began chanting “Pennillion,” or a sort of
recitative stanzas, which were soon taken up by another, and this
amusement lasted so long that Owen grew weary, and was thinking of
retreating from his post by the door, when some little bustle was
occasioned, on the opposite side of the room, by the entrance of a
middle-aged man, and a young girl, apparently his daughter. The man
advanced to the bench occupied by the seniors of the party, who welcomed
him with the usual pretty Welsh greeting, “Pa sut mae dy galon?” (“How
is thy heart?”) and drinking his health, passed on to him the cup of
excellent _cwrw_. The girl, evidently a village belle, was as warmly
greeted by the young men, while the girls eyed her rather askance with a
half-jealous look, which Owen set down to the score of her extreme
prettiness. Like most Welsh women, she was of middle size as to height,
but beautifully made, with the most perfect yet delicate roundness in
every limb. Her little mob-cap was carefully adjusted to a face which
was excessively pretty, though it never could be called handsome. It
also was round, with the slightest tendency to the oval shape, richly
coloured, though somewhat olive in complexion, with dimples in cheek and
chin, and the most scarlet lips Owen had ever seen, that were too short
to meet over the small pearly teeth. The nose was the most defective
feature; but the eyes were splendid. They were so long, so lustrous, yet
at times so very soft under their thick fringe of eyelash! The nut-brown
hair was carefully braided beneath the border of delicate lace: it was
evident the little village beauty knew how to make the most of all her
attractions, for the gay colours which were displayed in her neckerchief
were in complete harmony with the complexion.

Owen was much attracted, while yet he was amused, by the evident
coquetry the girl displayed, collecting around her a whole bevy of young
fellows, for each of whom she seemed to have some gay speech, some
attractive look or action. In a few minutes, young Griffiths of Bodowen
was at her side, brought thither by a variety of idle motives, and as
her undivided attention was given to the Welsh heir, her admirers, one
by one, dropped off, to seat themselves by some less fascinating but
more attentive fair one. The more Owen conversed with the girl, the more
he was taken; she had more wit and talent than he had fancied possible;
a self-abandon and thoughtfulness, to boot, that seemed full of charms;
and then her voice was so clear and sweet, and her actions so full of
grace, that Owen was fascinated before he was well aware, and kept
looking into her bright, blushing face, till her uplifted flashing eye
fell beneath his earnest gaze.

While it thus happened that they were silent--she from confusion at the
unexpected warmth of his admiration, he from an unconsciousness of
anything but the beautiful changes in her flexile countenance--the man
whom Owen took for her father came up and addressed some observation to
his daughter, from whence he glided into some common-place yet
respectful remark to Owen, and at length engaging him in some slight,
local conversation, he led the way to the account of a spot on the
peninsula of Penthryn where teal abounded, and concluded with begging
Owen to allow him to show him the exact place, saying that whenever the
young Squire felt so inclined, if he would honour him by a call at his
house, he would take him across in his boat. While Owen listened, his
attention was not so much absorbed as to be unaware that the little
beauty at his side was refusing one or two who endeavoured to draw her
from her place by invitations to dance. Flattered by his own
construction of her refusals, he again directed all his attention to
her, till she was called away by her father, who was leaving the scene
of festivity. Before he left he reminded Owen of his promise, and added,

“Perhaps, Sir, you do not know me. My name is Ellis Pritchard, and I
live at Ty Glas, on this side of Moel Gêst; any one can point it out to
you.”

When the father and daughter had left, Owen slowly prepared for his ride
home; but, encountering the hostess, he could not resist asking a few
questions relative to Ellis Pritchard and his pretty daughter. She
answered shortly but respectfully, and then said rather hesitatingly--

“Master Griffiths, you know the triad, ‘Tri pheth tebyg y naill i’r
llall, ysgnbwr heb yd, mail deg heb ddiawd, a merch deg heb ei geirda’
(Three things are alike: a fine barn without corn, a fine cup without
drink, a fine woman without her reputation.)” She hastily quitted him,
and Owen rode slowly to his unhappy home.

Ellis Pritchard, half farmer and half fisherman, was shrewd, and keen,
and worldly; yet he was good-natured, and sufficiently generous to have
become rather a popular man among his equals. He had been struck with
the young Squire’s attention to his pretty daughter, and was not
insensible to the advantages to be derived from it. Nest would not be
the first peasant girl, by any means, who had been transplanted to a
Welsh manor-house as its mistress; and, accordingly, her father had
shrewdly given the admiring young man some pretext for further
opportunities of seeing her.

As for Nest herself, she had somewhat of her father’s worldliness, and
was fully alive to the superior station of her new admirer, and quite
prepared to slight all her old sweethearts on his account. But then she
had something more of feeling in her reckoning; she had not been
insensible to the earnest yet comparatively refined homage which Owen
paid her; she had noticed his expressive and occasionally handsome
countenance with admiration, and was flattered by his so immediately
singling her out from her companions. As to the hint which Martha
Thomas had thrown out, it is enough to say that Nest was very giddy, and
that she was motherless. She had high spirits and a great love of
admiration, or, to use a softer term, she loved to please; men, women,
children, all, she delighted to gladden with her smile and her voice.
She coquetted, and flirted, and went to the extreme lengths of Welsh
courtship, till the seniors of the village shook their heads, and
cautioned their daughters against her acquaintance. If not absolutely
guilty, she had too frequently been on the verge of guilt.

Even at the time, Martha Thomas’s hint made but little impression on
Owen, for his senses were otherwise occupied; but in a few days the
recollection thereof had wholly died away, and one warm glorious
summer’s day, he bent his steps toward Ellis Pritchard’s with a beating
heart; for, except some very slight flirtations at Oxford, Owen had
never been touched; his thoughts, his fancy had been otherwise engaged.

Ty Glas was built against one of the lower rocks of Moel Gêst, which,
indeed, formed a side to the low, lengthy house. The materials of the
cottage were the shingly stones which had fallen from above, plastered
rudely together, with deep recesses for the small oblong windows.
Altogether, the exterior was much ruder than Owen had expected; but
inside there seemed no lack of comforts. The house was divided into two
apartments, one large, roomy, and dark, into which Owen entered
immediately; and before the blushing Nest came from the inner chamber
(for she had seen the young Squire coming, and hastily gone to make some
alteration in her dress), he had had time to look around him, and note
the various little particulars of the room. Beneath the window (which
commanded a magnificent view) was an oaken dresser, replete with drawers
and cupboards, and brightly polished to a rich dark colour. In the
farther part of the room, Owen could at first distinguish little,
entering as he did from the glaring sunlight, but he soon saw that there
were two oaken beds, closed up after the manner of the Welsh: in fact,
the dormitories of Ellis Pritchard and the man who served under him,
both on sea and on land. There was the large wheel used for spinning
wool, left standing on the middle of the floor, as if in use only a few
minutes before; and around the ample chimney hung flitches of bacon,
dried kids’-flesh, and fish, that was in process of smoking for winter’s
store.

Before Nest had shyly dared to enter, her father, who had been mending
his nets down below, and seen Owen winding up to the house, came in and
gave him a hearty yet respectful welcome; and then Nest, downcast and
blushing, full of the consciousness which her father’s advice and
conversation had not failed to inspire, ventured to join them. To Owen’s
mind this reserve and shyness gave her new charms.

It was too bright, too hot, too anything, to think of going to shoot
teal till later in the day, and Owen was delighted to accept a
hesitating invitation to share the noonday meal. Some ewe-milk cheese,
very hard and dry, oat-cake, slips of the dried kids’-flesh broiled,
after having been previously soaked in water for a few minutes,
delicious butter and fresh buttermilk, with a liquor called “diod
griafol” (made from the berries of the _Sorbus aucuparia_, infused in
water and then fermented), composed the frugal repast; but there was
something so clean and neat, and withal such a true welcome, that Owen
had seldom enjoyed a meal so much. Indeed, at that time of day the Welsh
squires differed from the farmers more in the plenty and rough abundance
of their manner of living than in the refinement of style of their
table.

At the present day, down in Llyn, the Welsh gentry are not a whit behind
their Saxon equals in the expensive elegances of life; but then (when
there was but one pewter-service in all Northumberland) there was
nothing in Ellis Pritchard’s mode of living that grated on the young
Squire’s sense of refinement.

Little was said by that young pair of wooers during the meal: the father
had all the conversation to himself, apparently heedless of the ardent
looks and inattentive mien of his guest. As Owen became more serious in
his feelings, he grew more timid in their expression, and at night, when
they returned from their shooting-excursion, the caress he gave Nest was
almost as bashfully offered as received.

This was but the first of a series of days devoted to Nest in reality,
though at first he thought some little disguise of his object was
necessary. The past, the future, was all forgotten in those happy days
of love.

And every worldly plan, every womanly wile was put in practice by Ellis
Pritchard and his daughter, to render his visits agreeable and alluring.
Indeed, the very circumstance of his being welcome was enough to attract
the poor young man, to whom the feeling so produced was new and full of
charms. He left a home where the certainty of being thwarted made him
chary in expressing his wishes, where no tones of love ever fell on his
ear, save those addressed to others, where his presence or absence was a
matter of utter indifference; and when he entered Ty Glas, all, down to
the little cur which, with clamorous barkings, claimed a part of his
attention, seemed to rejoice. His account of his day’s employment found
a willing listener in Ellis; and when he passed on to Nest, busy at her
wheel or at her churn, the deepened colour, the conscious eye, and the
gradual yielding of herself up to his lover-like caress, had worlds of
charms. Ellis Pritchard was a tenant on the Bodowen estate, and
therefore had reasons in plenty for wishing to keep the young Squire’s
visits secret; and Owen, unwilling to disturb the sunny calm of these
halcyon days by any storm at home, was ready to use all the artifice
which Ellis suggested as to the mode of his calls at Ty Glas. Nor was he
unaware of the probable, nay, the hoped-for termination of these
repeated days of happiness. He was quite conscious that the father
wished for nothing better than the marriage of his daughter to the heir
of Bodowen; and when Nest had hidden her face in his neck, which was
encircled by her clasping arms, and murmured into his ear her
acknowledgment of love, he felt only too desirous of finding some one to
love him for ever. Though not highly principled, he would not have tried
to obtain Nest on other terms save those of marriage: he did so pine
after enduring love, and fancied he should have bound her heart for
evermore to his, when they had taken the solemn oaths of matrimony.

There was no great difficulty attending a secret marriage at such a
place and at such a time. One gusty autumn day, Ellis ferried them round
Penthryn to Llandutrwyn, and there saw his little Nest become future
lady of Bodowen.

How often do we see giddy, coquetting, restless girls become sobered by
marriage! A great object in life is decided; one on which their thoughts
have been running in all their vagaries, and they seem to verify the
beautiful fable of Undine. A new soul beams out in the gentleness and
repose of their future lives. An indescribable softness and tenderness
takes place of the wearying vanity of their former endeavours to attract
admiration. Something of this sort took place in Nest Pritchard. If at
first she had been anxious to attract the young Squire of Bodowen, long
before her marriage this feeling had merged into a truer love than she
had ever felt before; and now that he was her own, her husband, her
whole soul was bent toward making him amends, as far as in her lay, for
the misery which, with a woman’s tact, she saw that he had to endure at
his home. Her greetings were abounding in delicately-expressed love; her
study of his tastes unwearying, in the arrangement of her dress, her
time, her very thoughts.

No wonder that he looked back on his wedding-day with a thankfulness
which is seldom the result of unequal marriages. No wonder that his
heart beat aloud as formerly when he wound up the little path to Ty
Glas, and saw--keen though the winter’s wind might be--that Nest was
standing out at the door to watch for his dimly-seen approach, while
the candle flared in the little window as a beacon to guide him aright.

The angry words and unkind actions of home fell deadened on his heart;
he thought of the love that was surely his, and of the new promise of
love that a short time would bring forth, and he could almost have
smiled at the impotent efforts to disturb his peace.

A few more months, and the young father was greeted by a feeble little
cry, when he hastily entered Ty Glas, one morning early, in consequence
of a summons conveyed mysteriously to Bodowen; and the pale mother,
smiling, and feebly holding up her babe to its father’s kiss, seemed to
him even more lovely than the bright gay Nest who had won his heart at
the little inn of Penmorfa.

But the curse was at work! The fulfilment of the prophecy was nigh at
hand!


CHAPTER II.

It was the autumn after the birth of their boy: it had been a glorious
summer, with bright, hot, sunny weather; and now the year was fading
away as seasonably into mellow days, with mornings of silver mists and
clear frosty nights. The blooming look of the time of flowers was past
and gone; but instead there were even richer tints abroad in the
sun-coloured leaves, the lichens, the golden-blossomed furze: if it was
the time of fading, there was a glory in the decay.

Nest, in her loving anxiety to surround her dwelling with every charm
for her husband’s sake, had turned gardener, and the little corners of
the rude court before the house were filled with many a delicate
mountain-flower, transplanted more for its beauty than its rarity. The
sweetbrier bush may even yet be seen, old and gray, which she and Owen
planted a green slipling beneath the window of her little chamber. In
those moments Owen forgot all besides the present; all the cares and
griefs he had known in the past, and all that might await him of woe and
death in the future. The boy, too, was as lovely a child as the fondest
parent was ever blessed with; and crowed with delight, and clapped his
little hands, as his mother held him in her arms at the cottage-door to
watch his father’s ascent up the rough path that led to Ty Glas, one
bright autumnal morning; and when the three entered the house together,
it was difficult to say which was the happiest. Owen carried his boy,
and tossed and played with him, while Nest sought out some little
article of work, and seated herself on the dresser beneath the window,
where now busily plying the needle, and then again looking at her
husband, she eagerly told him the little pieces of domestic
intelligence, the winning ways of the child, the result of yesterday’s
fishing, and such of the gossip of Penmorfa as came to the ears of the
now retired Nest. She noticed that, when she mentioned any little
circumstance which bore the slightest reference to Bodowen, her husband
appeared chafed and uneasy, and at last avoided anything that might in
the least remind him of home. In truth, he had been suffering much of
late from the irritability of his father, shown in trifles to be sure,
but not the less galling on that account.

While they were thus talking, and caressing each other and the child, a
shadow darkened the room, and before they could catch a glimpse of the
object that had occasioned it, it vanished, and Squire Griffiths lifted
the door-latch and stood before them. He stood and looked--first on his
son, so different, in his buoyant expression of content and enjoyment,
with his noble child in his arms, like a proud and happy father, as he
was, from the depressed, moody young man he too often appeared at
Bodowen; then on Nest--poor, trembling, sickened Nest!--who dropped her
work, but yet durst not stir from her seat on the dresser, while she
looked to her husband as if for protection from his father.

The Squire was silent, as he glared from one to the other, his features
white with restrained passion. When he spoke, his words came most
distinct in their forced composure. It was to his son he addressed
himself:

“That woman! who is she?”

Owen hesitated one moment, and then replied, in a steady, yet quiet
voice:

“Father, that woman is my wife.”

He would have added some apology for the long concealment of his
marriage; have appealed to his father’s forgiveness; but the foam flew
from Squire Owen’s lips as he burst forth with invective against Nest:--

“You have married her! It is as they told me! Married Nest Pritchard yr
buten! And you stand there as if you had not disgraced yourself for ever
and ever with your accursed wiving! And the fair harlot sits there, in
her mocking modesty, practising the mimming airs that will become her
state as future lady of Bodowen. But I will move heaven and earth before
that false woman darken the doors of my father’s house as mistress!”

All this was said with such rapidity that Owen had no time for the words
that thronged to his lips. “Father!” (he burst forth at length) “Father,
whosoever told you that Nest Pritchard was a harlot told you a lie as
false as hell! Ay! a lie as false as hell!” he added, in a voice of
thunder, while he advanced a step or two nearer to the Squire. And then,
in a lower tone, he said:

“She is as pure as your own wife; nay, God help me! as the dear,
precious mother who brought me forth, and then left me--with no refuge
in a mother’s heart--to struggle on through life alone. I tell you Nest
is as pure as that dear, dead mother!”

“Fool--poor fool!”

At this moment the child--the little Owen--who had kept gazing from one
angry countenance to the other, and with earnest look, trying to
understand what had brought the fierce glare into the face where till
now he had read nothing but love, in some way attracted the Squire’s
attention, and increased his wrath.

“Yes!” he continued, “poor, weak fool that you are, hugging the child of
another as if it were your own offspring!” Owen involuntarily caressed
the affrighted child, and half smiled at the implication of his father’s
words. This the Squire perceived, and raising his voice to a scream of
rage, he went on:

“I bid you, if you call yourself my son, to cast away that miserable,
shameless woman’s offspring; cast it away this instant--this instant!”

In his ungovernable rage, seeing that Owen was far from complying with
his command, he snatched the poor infant from the loving arms that held
it, and throwing it to its mother, left the house inarticulate with
fury.

Nest--who had been pale and still as marble during this terrible
dialogue, looking on and listening as if fascinated by the words that
smote her heart--opened her arms to receive and cherish her precious
babe; but the boy was not destined to reach the white refuge of her
breast. The furious action of the Squire had been almost without aim,
and the infant fell against the sharp edge of the dresser down on to the
stone floor.

Owen sprang up to take the child, but he lay so still, so motionless,
that the awe of death came over the father, and he stooped down to gaze
more closely. At that moment, the upturned, filmy eyes rolled
convulsively--a spasm passed along the body--and the lips, yet warm with
kissing, quivered into everlasting rest.

A word from her husband told Nest all. She slid down from her seat, and
lay by her little son as corpse-like as he, unheeding all the agonizing
endearments and passionate adjurations of her husband. And that poor,
desolate husband and father! Scarce one little quarter of an hour, and
he had been so blessed in his consciousness of love! the bright promise
of many years on his infant’s face, and the new, fresh soul beaming
forth in its awakened intelligence. And there it was; the little clay
image, that would never more gladden up at the sight of him, nor stretch
forth to meet his embrace; whose inarticulate, yet most eloquent cooings
might haunt him in his dreams, but would never more be heard in waking
life again! And by the dead babe, almost as utterly insensate, the poor
mother had fallen in a merciful faint--the slandered, heart-pierced
Nest! Owen struggled against the sickness that came over him, and busied
himself in vain attempts at her restoration.

It was now near noon-day, and Ellis Pritchard came home, little dreaming
of the sight that awaited him; but, though stunned, he was able to take
more effectual measures for his poor daughter’s recovery than Owen had
done.

By-and-by she showed symptoms of returning sense, and was placed in her
own little bed in a darkened room, where, without ever waking to
complete consciousness, she fell asleep. Then it was that her husband,
suffocated by pressure of miserable thought, gently drew his hand from
her tightened clasp, and printing one long soft kiss on her white waxen
forehead, hastily stole out of the room, and out of the house.

Near the base of Moel Gêst--it might be a quarter of a mile from Ty
Glas--was a little neglected solitary copse, wild and tangled with the
trailing branches of the dog-rose and the tendrils of the white bryony.
Toward the middle of this thicket lay a deep crystal pool--a clear
mirror for the blue heavens above--and round the margin floated the
broad green leaves of the water-lily, and when the regal sun shone down
in his noonday glory the flowers arose from their cool depths to welcome
and greet him. The copse was musical with many sounds; the warbling of
birds rejoicing in its shades, the ceaseless hum of the insects that
hovered over the pool, the chime of the distant waterfall, the
occasional bleating of the sheep from the mountain-top, were all blended
into the delicious harmony of nature.

It had been one of Owen’s favourite resorts when he had been a lonely
wanderer--a pilgrim in search of love in the years gone by. And thither
he went, as if by instinct, when he left Ty Glas; quelling the uprising
agony till he should reach that little solitary spot.

It was the time of day when a change in the aspect of the weather so
frequently takes place; and the little pool was no longer the reflection
of a blue and sunny sky; it sent back the dark and slaty clouds above,
and, every now and then, a rough gust shook the painted autumn leaves
from their branches, and all other music was lost in the sound of the
wild winds piping down from the moorlands, which lay up and beyond the
clefts in the mountain-side. Presently the rain came on and beat down in
torrents.

But Owen heeded it not. He sat on the dank ground, his face buried in
his hands, and his whole strength, physical and mental, employed in
quelling the rush of blood, which rose and boiled and gurgled in his
brain as if it would madden him.

The phantom of his dead child rose ever before him, and seemed to cry
aloud for vengeance. And when the poor young man thought upon the victim
whom he required in his wild longing for revenge, he shuddered, for it
was his father!

Again and again he tried not to think; but still the circle of thought
came round, eddying through his brain. At length he mastered his
passions, and they were calm; then he forced himself to arrange some
plan for the future.

He had not, in the passionate hurry of the moment, seen that his father
had left the cottage before he was aware of the fatal accident that
befell the child. Owen thought he had seen all; and once he planned to
go to the Squire and tell him of the anguish of heart he had wrought,
and awe him, as it were, by the dignity of grief. But then again he
durst not--he distrusted his self-control--the old prophecy rose up in
its horror--he dreaded his doom.

At last he determined to leave his father for ever; to take Nest to some
distant country where she might forget her first-born, and where he
himself might gain a livelihood by his own exertions.

But when he tried to descend to the various little arrangements which
were involved in the execution of this plan, he remembered that all his
money (and in this respect Squire Griffiths was no niggard) was locked
up in his escritoire at Bodowen. In vain he tried to do away with this
matter-of-fact difficulty; go to Bodowen he must; and his only hope--nay
his determination--was to avoid his father.

He rose and took a by-path to Bodowen. The house looked even more gloomy
and desolate than usual in the heavy down-pouring rain, yet Owen gazed
on it with something of regret--for sorrowful as his days in it had
been, he was about to leave it for many, many years, if not for ever. He
entered by a side-door, opening into a passage that led to his own room,
where he kept his books, his guns, his fishing-tackle, his
writing-materials, etc.

Here he hurriedly began to select the few articles he intended to take;
for, besides the dread of interruption, he was feverishly anxious to
travel far that very night, if only Nest was capable of performing the
journey. As he was thus employed, he tried to conjecture what his
father’s feelings would be on finding that his once-loved son was gone
away for ever. Would he then awaken to regret for the conduct which had
driven him from home, and bitterly think on the loving and caressing boy
who haunted his footsteps in former days? Or, alas! would he only feel
that an obstacle to his daily happiness--to his contentment with his
wife, and his strange, doting affection for her child--was taken away?
Would they make merry over the heir’s departure? Then he thought of
Nest--the young childless mother, whose heart had not yet realized her
fullness of desolation. Poor Nest! so loving as she was, so devoted to
her child--how should he console her? He pictured her away in a strange
land, pining for her native mountains, and refusing to be comforted
because her child was not.

Even this thought of the home-sickness that might possibly beset Nest
hardly made him hesitate in his determination; so strongly had the idea
taken possession of him that only by putting miles and leagues between
him and his father could he avert the doom which seemed blending itself
with the very purposes of his life as long as he stayed in proximity
with the slayer of his child.

He had now nearly completed his hasty work of preparation, and was full
of tender thoughts of his wife, when the door opened, and the elfish
Robert peered in, in search of some of his brother’s possessions. On
seeing Owen he hesitated, but then came boldly forward, and laid his
hand on Owen’s arm, saying,

“Nesta yr buten! How is Nest yr buten?”

He looked maliciously into Owen’s face to mark the effect of his words,
but was terrified at the expression he read there. He started off and
ran to the door, while Owen tried to check himself, saying continually,
“He is but a child. He does not understand the meaning of what he says.
He is but a child!” Still Robert, now in fancied security, kept calling
out his insulting words, and Owen’s hand was on his gun, grasping it as
if to restrain his rising fury.

But when Robert passed on daringly to mocking words relating to the poor
dead child, Owen could bear it no longer; and before the boy was well
aware, Owen was fiercely holding him in an iron clasp with one hand,
while he struck him hard with the other.

In a minute he checked himself. He paused, relaxed his grasp, and, to
his horror, he saw Robert sink to the ground; in fact, the lad was
half-stunned, half-frightened, and thought it best to assume
insensibility.

Owen--miserable Owen--seeing him lie there prostrate, was bitterly
repentant, and would have dragged him to the carved settle, and done all
he could to restore him to his senses, but at this instant the Squire
came in.

Probably, when the household at Bodowen rose that morning, there was but
one among them ignorant of the heir’s relation to Nest Pritchard and her
child; for secret as he had tried to make his visits to Ty Glas, they
had been too frequent not to be noticed, and Nest’s altered conduct--no
longer frequenting dances and merry-makings--was a strongly
corroborative circumstance. But Mrs. Griffiths’ influence reigned
paramount, if unacknowledged, at Bodowen, and till she sanctioned the
disclosure, none would dare to tell the Squire.

Now, however, the time drew near when it suited her to make her husband
aware of the connection his son had formed; so, with many tears, and
much seeming reluctance, she broke the intelligence to him--taking good
care, at the same time, to inform him of the light character Nest had
borne. Nor did she confine this evil reputation to her conduct before
her marriage, but insinuated that even to this day she was a “woman of
the grove and brake”--for centuries the Welsh term of opprobrium for the
loosest female characters.

Squire Griffiths easily tracked Owen to Ty Glas; and without any aim but
the gratification of his furious anger, followed him to upbraid as we
have seen. But he left the cottage even more enraged against his son
than he had entered it, and returned home to hear the evil suggestions
of the stepmother. He had heard a slight scuffle in which he caught the
tones of Robert’s voice, as he passed along the hall, and an instant
afterwards he saw the apparently lifeless body of his little favourite
dragged along by the culprit Owen--the marks of strong passion yet
visible on his face. Not loud, but bitter and deep were the evil words
which the father bestowed on the son; and as Owen stood proudly and
sullenly silent, disdaining all exculpation of himself in the presence
of one who had wrought him so much graver--so fatal an injury--Robert’s
mother entered the room. At sight of her natural emotion the wrath of
the Squire was redoubled, and his wild suspicions that this violence of
Owen’s to Robert was a premeditated act appeared like the proven truth
through the mists of rage. He summoned domestics as if to guard his own
and his wife’s life from the attempts of his son; and the servants stood
wondering around--now gazing at Mrs. Griffiths, alternately scolding and
sobbing, while she tried to restore the lad from his really bruised and
half-unconscious state; now at the fierce and angry Squire; and now at
the sad and silent Owen. And he--he was hardly aware of their looks of
wonder and terror; his father’s words fell on a deadened ear; for before
his eyes there rose a pale dead babe, and in that lady’s violent sounds
of grief he heard the wailing of a more sad, more hopeless mother. For
by this time the lad Robert had opened his eyes, and though evidently
suffering a good deal from the effects of Owen’s blows, was fully
conscious of all that was passing around him.

Had Owen been left to his own nature, his heart would have worked itself
to doubly love the boy whom he had injured; but he was stubborn from
injustice, and hardened by suffering. He refused to vindicate himself;
he made no effort to resist the imprisonment the Squire had decreed,
until a surgeon’s opinion of the real extent of Robert’s injuries was
made known. It was not until the door was locked and barred, as if upon
some wild and furious beast, that the recollection of poor Nest, without
his comforting presence, came into his mind. Oh! thought he, how she
would be wearying, pining for his tender sympathy; if, indeed, she had
recovered the shock of mind sufficiently to be sensible of consolation!
What would she think of his absence? Could she imagine he believed his
father’s words, and had left her, in this her sore trouble and
bereavement? The thought maddened him, and he looked around for some
mode of escape.

He had been confined in a small unfurnished room on the first floor,
wainscoted, and carved all round, with a massy door, calculated to
resist the attempts of a dozen strong men, even had he afterward been
able to escape from the house unseen, unheard. The window was placed (as
is common in old Welsh houses) over the fire-place; with branching
chimneys on either hand, forming a sort of projection on the outside.
By this outlet his escape was easy, even had he been less determined and
desperate than he was. And when he had descended, with a little care, a
little winding, he might elude all observation and pursue his original
intention of going to Ty Glas.

The storm had abated, and watery sunbeams were gilding the bay, as Owen
descended from the window, and, stealing along in the broad afternoon
shadows, made his way to the little plateau of green turf in the garden
at the top of a steep precipitous rock, down the abrupt face of which he
had often dropped, by means of a well-secured rope, into the small
sailing-boat (his father’s present, alas! in days gone by) which lay
moored in the deep sea-water below. He had always kept his boat there,
because it was the nearest available spot to the house; but before he
could reach the place--unless, indeed, he crossed a broad sun-lighted
piece of ground in full view of the windows on that side of the house,
and without the shadow of a single sheltering tree or shrub--he had to
skirt round a rude semicircle of underwood, which would have been
considered as a shrubbery had any one taken pains with it. Step by step
he stealthily moved along--hearing voices now, again seeing his father
and stepmother in no distant walk, the Squire evidently caressing and
consoling his wife, who seemed to be urging some point with great
vehemence, again forced to crouch down to avoid being seen by the cook,
returning from the rude kitchen-garden with a handful of herbs. This was
the way the doomed heir of Bodowen left his ancestral house for ever,
and hoped to leave behind him his doom. At length he reached the
plateau--he breathed more freely. He stooped to discover the hidden coil
of rope, kept safe and dry in a hole under a great round flat piece of
rock: his head was bent down; he did not see his father approach, nor
did he hear his footstep for the rush of blood to his head in the
stooping effort of lifting the stone; the Squire had grappled with him
before he rose up again, before he fully knew whose hands detained him,
now, when his liberty of person and action seemed secure. He made a
vigorous struggle to free himself; he wrestled with his father for a
moment--he pushed him hard, and drove him on to the great displaced
stone, all unsteady in its balance.

Down went the Squire, down into the deep waters below--down after him
went Owen, half consciously, half unconsciously, partly compelled by the
sudden cessation of any opposing body, partly from a vehement
irrepressible impulse to rescue his father. But he had instinctively
chosen a safer place in the deep sea-water pool than that into which his
push had sent his father. The Squire had hit his head with much violence
against the side of the boat, in his fall; it is, indeed, doubtful
whether he was not killed before ever he sank into the sea. But Owen
knew nothing save that the awful doom seemed even now present. He
plunged down, he dived below the water in search of the body which had
none of the elasticity of life to buoy it up; he saw his father in those
depths, he clutched at him, he brought him up and cast him, a dead
weight, into the boat, and, exhausted by the effort, he had begun
himself to sink again before he instinctively strove to rise and climb
into the rocking boat. There lay his father, with a deep dent in the
side of his head where the skull had been fractured by his fall; his
face blackened by the arrested course of the blood. Owen felt his pulse,
his heart--all was still. He called him by his name.

“Father, father!” he cried, “come back! come back! You never knew how I
loved you! how I could love you still--if--oh God!”

And the thought of his little child rose before him. “Yes, father,” he
cried afresh, “you never knew how he fell--how he died! Oh, if I had but
had patience to tell you! If you would but have borne with me and
listened! And now it is over! Oh father! father!”

Whether she had heard this wild wailing voice, or whether it was only
that she missed her husband and wanted him for some little every-day
question, or, as was perhaps more likely, she had discovered Owen’s
escape, and come to inform her husband of it, I do not know, but on the
rock, right above his head, as it seemed, Owen heard his stepmother
calling her husband.

He was silent, and softly pushed the boat right under the rock till the
sides grated against the stones, and the overhanging branches concealed
him and it from all not on a level with the water. Wet as he was, he lay
down by his dead father the better to conceal himself; and, somehow, the
action recalled those early days of childhood--the first in the Squire’s
widowhood--when Owen had shared his father’s bed, and used to waken him
in the morning to hear one of the old Welsh legends. How long he lay
thus--body chilled, and brain hard-working through the heavy pressure of
a reality as terrible as a nightmare--he never knew; but at length he
roused himself up to think of Nest.

Drawing out a great sail, he covered up the body of his father with it
where he lay in the bottom of the boat. Then with his numbed hands he
took the oars, and pulled out into the more open sea toward Criccaeth.
He skirted along the coast till he found a shadowed cleft in the dark
rocks; to that point he rowed, and anchored his boat close in land. Then
he mounted, staggering, half longing to fall into the dark waters and be
at rest--half instinctively finding out the surest foot-rests on that
precipitous face of rock, till he was high up, safe landed on the turfy
summit. He ran off, as if pursued, toward Penmorfa; he ran with maddened
energy. Suddenly he paused, turned, ran again with the same speed, and
threw himself prone on the summit, looking down into his boat with
straining eyes to see if there had been any movement of life--any
displacement of a fold of sail-cloth. It was all quiet deep down below,
but as he gazed the shifting light gave the appearance of a slight
movement. Owen ran to a lower part of the rock, stripped, plunged into
the water, and swam to the boat. When there, all was still--awfully
still! For a minute or two, he dared not lift up the cloth. Then
reflecting that the same terror might beset him again--of leaving his
father unaided while yet a spark of life lingered--he removed the
shrouding cover. The eyes looked into his with a dead stare! He closed
the lids and bound up the jaw. Again he looked. This time he raised
himself out of the water and kissed the brow.

“It was my doom, father! It would have been better if I had died at my
birth!”

Daylight was fading away. Precious daylight! He swam back, dressed, and
set off afresh for Penmorfa. When he opened the door of Ty Glas, Ellis
Pritchard looked at him reproachfully, from his seat in the
darkly-shadowed chimney corner.

“You’re come at last,” said he. “One of our kind (_i. e._, station)
would not have left his wife to mourn by herself over her dead child;
nor would one of our kind have let his father kill his own true son.
I’ve a good mind to take her from you for ever.”

“I did not tell him,” cried Nest, looking piteously at her husband; “he
made me tell him part, and guessed the rest.”

She was nursing her babe on her knee as if it was alive. Owen stood
before Ellis Pritchard.

“Be silent,” said he, quietly. “Neither words nor deeds but what are
decreed can come to pass. I was set to do my work, this hundred years
and more. The time waited for me, and the man waited for me. I have done
what was foretold of me for generations!”

Ellis Pritchard knew the old tale of the prophecy, and believed in it in
a dull, dead kind of way, but somehow never thought it would come to
pass in his time. Now, however, he understood it all in a moment, though
he mistook Owen’s nature so much as to believe that the deed was
intentionally done, out of revenge for the death of his boy; and viewing
it in this light, Ellis thought it little more than a just punishment
for the cause of all the wild despairing sorrow he had seen his only
child suffer during the hours of this long afternoon. But he knew the
law would not so regard it. Even the lax Welsh law of those days could
not fail to examine into the death of a man of Squire Griffiths’
standing. So the acute Ellis thought how he could conceal the culprit
for a time.

“Come,” said he; “don’t look so scared! It was your doom, not your
fault;” and he laid a hand on Owen’s shoulder.

“You’re wet,” said he, suddenly. “Where have you been? Nest, your
husband is dripping, drookit wet. That’s what makes him look so blue and
wan.”

Nest softly laid her baby in its cradle; she was half stupified with
crying, and had not understood to what Owen alluded, when he spoke of
his doom being fulfilled, if indeed she had heard the words.

Her touch thawed Owen’s miserable heart.

“Oh, Nest!” said he, clasping her in his arms; “do you love me
still--can you love me, my own darling?”

“Why not?” asked she, her eyes filling with tears.

“I only love you more than ever, for you were my poor baby’s father!”

“But, Nest--Oh, tell her, Ellis! _you_ know.”

“No need, no need!” said Ellis. “She’s had enough to think on. Bustle,
my girl, and get out my Sunday clothes.”

“I don’t understand,” said Nest, putting her hand up to her head. “What
is to tell? and why are you so wet? God help me for a poor crazed thing,
for I cannot guess at the meaning of your words and your strange looks!
I only know my baby is dead!” and she burst into tears.

“Come, Nest! go and fetch him a change, quick!” and as she meekly
obeyed, too languid to strive further to understand, Ellis said rapidly
to Owen, in a low, hurried voice,

“Are you meaning that the Squire is dead? Speak low, lest she hear!
Well, well, no need to talk about how he died. It was sudden, I see; and
we must all of us die; and he’ll have to be buried. It’s well the night
is near. And I should not wonder now if you’d like to travel for a bit;
it would do Nest a power of good; and then--there’s many a one goes out
of his own house and never comes back again; and--I trust he’s not lying
in his own house--and there’s a stir for a bit, and a search, and a
wonder--and, by-and-by, the heir just steps in, as quiet as can be. And
that’s what you’ll do, and bring Nest to Bodowen after all. Nay, child,
better stockings nor those; find the blue woollens I bought at Llanrwst
fair. Only don’t lose heart. It’s done now and can’t be helped. It was
the piece of work set you to do from the days of the Tudors, they say.
And he deserved it. Look in yon cradle. So tell us where he is, and I’ll
take heart of grace and see what can be done for him.”

But Owen sat wet and haggard, looking into the peat fire as if for
visions of the past, and never heeding a word Ellis said. Nor did he
move when Nest brought the armful of dry clothes.

“Come, rouse up, man!” said Ellis, growing impatient.

But he neither spoke nor moved.

“What is the matter, father?” asked Nest, bewildered.

Ellis kept on watching Owen for a minute or two, till, on his daughter’s
repetition of the question, he said,

“Ask him yourself, Nest.”

“Oh, husband, what is it?” said she, kneeling down and bringing her face
to a level with his.

“Don’t you know?” said he, heavily. “You won’t love me when you do know.
And yet it was not my doing. It was my doom.”

“What does he mean, father?” asked Nest, looking up; but she caught a
gesture from Ellis urging her to go on questioning her husband.

“I will love you, husband, whatever has happened. Only let me know the
worst.”

A pause, during which Nest and Ellis hung breathless.

“My father is dead, Nest.”

Nest caught her breath with a sharp gasp.

“God forgive him!” said she, thinking on her babe.

“God forgive _me_!” said Owen.

“You did not--” Nest stopped.

“Yes, I did. Now you know it. It was my doom. How could I help it? The
devil helped me--he placed the stone so that my father fell. I jumped
into the water to save him. I did, indeed, Nest. I was nearly drowned
myself. But he was dead--dead--killed by the fall!”

“Then he is safe at the bottom of the sea?” said Ellis, with hungry
eagerness.

“No, he is not; he lies in my boat,” said Owen, shivering a little, more
at the thought of his last glimpse at his father’s face than from cold.

“Oh, husband, change your wet clothes!” pleaded Nest, to whom the death
of the old man was simply a horror with which she had nothing to do,
while her husband’s discomfort was a present trouble.

While she helped him to take off the wet garments which he would never
have had energy enough to remove of himself, Ellis was busy preparing
food, and mixing a great tumbler of spirits and hot water. He stood over
the unfortunate young man and compelled him to eat and drink, and made
Nest too taste some mouthfuls--all the while planning in his own mind
how best to conceal what had been done, and who had done it; not
altogether without a certain feeling of vulgar triumph in the reflection
that Nest, as she stood there, carelessly dressed, dishevelled in her
grief, was in reality the mistress of Bodowen, than which Ellis
Pritchard had never seen a grander house, though he believed such might
exist.

By dint of a few dexterous questions he found out all he wanted to know
from Owen, as he ate and drank. In fact, it was almost a relief to Owen
to dilute the horror by talking about it. Before the meal was done, if
meal it could be called, Ellis knew all he cared to know.

“Now, Nest, on with your cloak and haps. Pack up what needs to go with
you, for you and your husband must be half way to Liverpool by
to-morrow’s morn. I’ll take you past Rhyl Sands in my fishing-boat, with
yours in tow; and, once over the dangerous part, I’ll return with my
cargo of fish, and learn how much stir there is at Bodowen. Once safe
hidden in Liverpool, no one will know where you are, and you may stay
quiet till your time comes for returning.”

“I will never come home again,” said Owen, doggedly. “The place is
accursed!”

“Hoot! be guided by me, man. Why, it was but an accident, after all! And
we’ll land at the Holy Island, at the Point of Llyn; there is an old
cousin of mine, the parson, there--for the Pritchards have known better
days, Squire--and we’ll bury him there. It was but an accident, man.
Hold up your head! You and Nest will come home yet and fill Bodowen with
children, and I’ll live to see it.”

“Never!” said Owen. “I am the last male of my race, and the son has
murdered his father!”

Nest came in laden and cloaked. Ellis was for hurrying them off. The
fire was extinguished, the door was locked.

“Here, Nest, my darling, let me take your bundle while I guide you down
the steps.” But her husband bent his head, and spoke never a word. Nest
gave her father the bundle (already loaded with such things as he
himself had seen fit to take), but clasped another softly and tightly.

“No one shall help me with this,” said she, in a low voice.

Her father did not understand her; her husband did, and placed his
strong helping arm round her waist, and blessed her.

“We will all go together, Nest,” said he. “But where?” and he looked up
at the storm-tossed clouds coming up from windward.

“It is a dirty night,” said Ellis, turning his head round to speak to
his companions at last. “But never fear, we’ll weather it!” And he made
for the place where his vessel was moored. Then he stopped and thought a
moment.

“Stay here!” said he, addressing his companions. “I may meet folk, and I
shall, maybe, have to hear and to speak. You wait here till I come back
for you.” So they sat down close together in a corner of the path.

“Let me look at him, Nest!” said Owen.

She took her little dead son out from under her shawl; they looked at
his waxen face long and tenderly; kissed it, and covered it up
reverently and softly.

“Nest,” said Owen, at last, “I feel as though my father’s spirit had
been near us, and as if it had bent over our poor little one. A strange
chilly air met me as I stooped over him. I could fancy the spirit of our
pure, blameless child guiding my father’s safe over the paths of the sky
to the gates of heaven, and escaping those accursed dogs of hell that
were darting up from the north in pursuit of souls not five minutes
since.”

“Don’t talk so, Owen,” said Nest, curling up to him in the darkness of
the copse. “Who knows what may be listening?”

The pair were silent, in a kind of nameless terror, till they heard
Ellis Pritchard’s loud whisper. “Where are ye? Come along, soft and
steady. There were folk about even now, and the Squire is missed, and
madam in a fright.”

They went swiftly down to the little harbour, and embarked on board
Ellis’s boat. The sea heaved and rocked even there; the torn clouds went
hurrying overhead in a wild tumultuous manner.

They put out into the bay; still in silence, except when some word of
command was spoken by Ellis, who took the management of the vessel. They
made for the rocky shore, where Owen’s boat had been moored. It was not
there. It had broken loose and disappeared.

Owen sat down and covered his face. This last event, so simple and
natural in itself, struck on his excited and superstitious mind in an
extraordinary manner. He had hoped for a certain reconciliation, so to
say, by laying his father and his child both in one grave. But now it
appeared to him as if there was to be no forgiveness; as if his father
revolted even in death against any such peaceful union. Ellis took a
practical view of the case. If the Squire’s body was found drifting
about in a boat known to belong to his son, it would create terrible
suspicion as to the manner of his death. At one time in the evening,
Ellis had thought of persuading Owen to let him bury the Squire in a
sailor’s grave; or, in other words, to sew him up in a spare sail, and
weighting it well, sink it for ever. He had not broached the subject,
from a certain fear of Owen’s passionate repugnance to the plan;
otherwise, if he had consented, they might have returned to Penmorfa,
and passively awaited the course of events, secure of Owen’s succession
to Bodowen, sooner or later; or if Owen was too much overwhelmed by what
had happened, Ellis would have advised him to go away for a short time,
and return when the buzz and the talk was over.

Now it was different. It was absolutely necessary that they should leave
the country for a time. Through those stormy waters they must plough
their way that very night. Ellis had no fear--would have had no fear, at
any rate, with Owen as he had been a week, a day ago; but with Owen
wild, despairing, helpless, fate-pursued, what could he do?

They sailed into the tossing darkness, and were never more seen of men.

The house of Bodowen has sunk into damp, dark ruins; and a Saxon
stranger holds the lands of the Griffiths.

       *       *       *       *       *

You cannot think how kindly Mrs. Dawson thanked Miss Duncan for writing
and reading this story. She shook my poor, pale governess so tenderly by
the hand that the tears came into her eyes, and the colour into her
cheeks.

“I thought you had been so kind; I liked hearing about Lady Ludlow; I
fancied perhaps I could do something to give a little pleasure,” were
the half-finished sentences Miss Duncan stammered out. I am sure it was
the wish to earn similar kind words from Mrs. Dawson, that made Mrs.
Preston try and rummage through her memory to see if she could not
recollect some fact, or event, or history, which might interest Mrs.
Dawson and the little party that gathered round her sofa. Mrs. Preston
it was who told us the following tale:

                        “HALF A LIFE-TIME AGO.”



HALF A LIFE-TIME AGO.


CHAPTER I.

Half a life-time ago, there lived in one of the Westmoreland dales a
single woman, of the name of Susan Dixon. She was owner of the small
farm-house where she resided, and of some thirty or forty acres of land
by which it was surrounded. She had also an hereditary right to a
sheep-walk, extending to the wild fells that overhang Blea Tarn. In the
language of the country, she was a Stateswoman. Her house is yet to be
seen on the Oxenfell road, between Skelwith and Coniston. You go along a
moorland track, made by the carts that occasionally came for turf from
the Oxenfell. A brook babbles and brattles by the wayside, giving you a
sense of companionship, which relieves the deep solitude in which this
way is usually traversed. Some miles on this side of Coniston there is a
farmstead--a gray stone house, and a square of farm-buildings
surrounding a green space of rough turf, in the midst of which stands a
mighty, funereal umbrageous yew, making a solemn shadow, as of death,
in the very heart and centre of the light and heat of the brightest
summer day. On the side away from the house, this yard slopes down to a
dark-brown pool, which is supplied with fresh water from the
overflowings of a stone cistern, into which some rivulet of the brook
before mentioned continually and melodiously falls bubbling. The cattle
drink out of this cistern. The household bring their pitchers and fill
them with drinking-water by a dilatory, yet pretty, process. The
water-carrier brings with her a leaf of the hound’s-tongue fern, and,
inserting it in the crevice of the gray rock, makes a cool, green spout
for the sparkling stream.

The house is no specimen, at the present day, of what it was in the
life-time of Susan Dixon. Then, every small diamond-pane in the windows
glittered with cleanliness. You might have eaten off the floor; you
could see yourself in the pewter plates and the polished oaken awmry, or
dresser, of the state kitchen into which you entered. Few strangers
penetrated further than this room. Once or twice, wandering tourists,
attracted by the lonely picturesqueness of the situation, and the
exquisite cleanliness of the house itself, made their way into this
house-place, and offered money enough (as they thought) to tempt the
hostess to receive them as lodgers. They would give no trouble, they
said; they would be out rambling or sketching all day long; would be
perfectly content with a share of the food which she provided for
herself; or would procure what they required from the Waterhead Inn at
Coniston. But no liberal sum--no fair words--moved her from her stony
manner, or her monotonous tone of indifferent refusal. No persuasion
could induce her to show any more of the house than that first room; no
appearance of fatigue procured for the weary an invitation to sit down
and rest; and if one more bold and less delicate did so without being
asked, Susan stood by, cold and apparently deaf, or only replying by the
briefest monosyllables, till the unwelcome visitor had departed. Yet
those with whom she had dealings, in the way of selling her cattle or
her farm produce, spoke of her as keen after a bargain--a hard one to
have to do with; and she never spared herself exertion or fatigue, at
market or in the field, to make the most of her produce. She led the
haymakers with her swift, steady rake, and her noiseless evenness of
motion. She was about among the earliest in the market, examining
samples of oats, pricing them, and then turning with grim satisfaction
to her own cleaner corn.

She was served faithfully and long by those who were rather her
fellow-labourers than her servants. She was even and just in her
dealings with them. If she was peculiar and silent, they knew her, and
knew that she might be relied on. Some of them had known her from her
childhood; and deep in their hearts was an unspoken--almost
unconscious--pity for her; for they knew her story, though they never
spoke of it.

Yes; the time had been when that tall, gaunt, hard-featured, angular
woman--who never smiled, and hardly ever spoke an unnecessary word--had
been a fine-looking girl, bright-spirited and rosy; and when the hearth
at the Yew Nook had been as bright as she, with family love and youthful
hope and mirth. Fifty or fifty-one years ago, William Dixon and his wife
Margaret were alive; and Susan, their daughter, was about eighteen years
old--ten years older than the only other child, a boy named after his
father. William and Margaret Dixon were rather superior people, of a
character belonging--as far as I have seen--exclusively to the class of
Westmoreland and Cumberland statesmen--just, independent, upright; not
given to much speaking; kind-hearted, but not demonstrative; disliking
change, and new ways, and new people; sensible and shrewd; each
household self-contained, and its members having little curiosity as to
their neighbours, with whom they rarely met for any social intercourse,
save at the stated times of sheep-shearing and Christmas; having a
certain kind of sober pleasure in amassing money, which occasionally
made them miserable (as they call miserly people up in the north) in
their old age; reading no light or ephemeral literature; but the grave,
solid books brought round by the pedlars (such as the “Paradise Lost”
and “Regained,” “The Death of Abel,” “The Spiritual Quixote,” and “The
Pilgrim’s Progress”) were to be found in nearly every house: the men
occasionally going off laking, _i.e._ playing, _i.e._ drinking for days
together, and having to be hunted up by anxious wives, who dared not
leave their husbands to the chances of the wild precipitous roads, but
walked miles and miles, lantern in hand, in the dead of night, to
discover and guide the solemnly-drunken husband home; who had a dreadful
headache the next day, and the day after that came forth as grave, and
sober, and virtuous-looking as if there were no such things as malt and
spirituous liquors in the world; and who were seldom reminded of their
misdoings by their wives, to whom such occasional outbreaks were as
things of course, when once the immediate anxiety produced by them was
over. Such were--such are--the characteristics of a class now passing
away from the face of the land, as their compeers, the yeomen, have done
before them. Of such was William Dixon. He was a shrewd, clever farmer,
in his day and generation, when shrewdness was rather shown in the
breeding and rearing of sheep and cattle than in the cultivation of
land. Owing to this character of his, statesmen from a distance, from
beyond Kendal, or from Borrowdale, of greater wealth than he, would send
their sons to be farm-servants for a year or two with him, in order to
learn some of his methods before setting up on land of their own. When
Susan, his daughter, was about seventeen, one Michael Hurst was
farm-servant at Yew Nook. He worked with the master, and lived with the
family, and was in all respects treated as an equal, except in the
field. His father was a wealthy statesman at Wythburne, up beyond
Grasmere; and through Michael’s servitude the families had become
acquainted, and the Dixons went over to the High Beck sheep-shearing,
and the Hursts came down by Red Bank and Loughrig Tarn and across the
Oxenfell when there was the Christmas-tide feasting at Yew Nook. The
fathers strolled round the fields together, examined cattle and sheep,
and looked knowing over each other’s horses. The mothers inspected the
dairies and household arrangements, each openly admiring the plans of
the other, but secretly preferring their own. Both fathers and mothers
cast a glance from time to time at Michael and Susan, who were thinking
of nothing less than farm or dairy, but whose unspoken attachment was,
in all ways, so suitable and natural a thing that each parent rejoiced
over it, although with characteristic reserve it was never spoken
about--not even between husband and wife.

Susan had been a strong, independent, healthy girl; a clever help to her
mother, and a spirited companion to her father; more of a man in her (as
he often said) than her delicate little brother ever would have. He was
his mother’s darling, although she loved Susan well. There was no
positive engagement between Michael and Susan--I doubt whether even
plain words of love had been spoken; when one winter-time Margaret Dixon
was seized with inflammation consequent upon a neglected cold. She had
always been strong and notable, and had been too busy to attend to the
earliest symptoms of illness. It would go off, she said to the woman
who helped in the kitchen; or if she did not feel better when they had
got the hams and bacon out of hand, she would take some herb-tea and
nurse up a bit. But Death could not wait till the hams and bacon were
cured: he came on with rapid strides, and shooting arrows of portentous
agony. Susan had never seen illness--never knew how much she loved her
mother till now, when she felt a dreadful, instinctive certainty that
she was losing her. Her mind was thronged with recollections of the many
times she had slighted her mother’s wishes; her heart was full of the
echoes of careless and angry replies that she had spoken. What would she
not now give to have opportunities of service and obedience, and trials
of her patience and love, for that dear mother who lay gasping in
torture! And yet Susan had been a good girl and an affectionate
daughter.

The sharp pain went off, and delicious ease came on; yet still her
mother sunk. In the midst of this languid peace she was dying. She
motioned Susan to her bedside, for she could only whisper; and then,
while the father was out of the room, she spoke as much to the eager,
hungering eyes of her daughter by the motion of her lips, as by the
slow, feeble sounds of her voice.

“Susan, lass, thou must not fret. It is God’s will, and thou wilt have a
deal to do. Keep father straight if thou canst; and if he goes out
Ulverstone ways, see that thou meet him before he gets to the Old
Quarry. It’s a dree bit for a man who has had a drop. As for lile
Will”--here the poor woman’s face began to work and her fingers to move
nervously as they lay on the bed-quilt--“lile Will will miss me most of
all. Father’s often vexed with him because he’s not a quick, strong lad;
he is not, my poor lile chap. And father thinks he’s saucy, because he
cannot always stomach oat-cake and porridge. There’s better than three
pound in th’ old black teapot on the top shelf of the cupboard. Just
keep a piece of loaf-bread by you, Susan dear, for Will to come to when
he’s not taken his breakfast. I have, may be, spoilt him; but there’ll
be no one to spoil him now.”

She began to cry a low, feeble cry, and covered up her face that Susan
might not see her. That dear face! those precious moments while yet the
eyes could look out with love and intelligence. Susan laid her head down
close by her mother’s ear.

“Mother, I’ll take tent of Will. Mother, do you hear? He shall not want
ought I can give or get for him, least of all the kind words which you
had ever ready for us both. Bless you! bless you! my own mother.”

“Thou’lt promise me that, Susan, wilt thou? I can die easy if thou’lt
take charge of him. But he’s hardly like other folk; he tries father at
times, though I think father’ll be tender of him when I’m gone, for my
sake. And, Susan, there’s one thing more. I never spoke on it for fear
of the bairn being called a tell-tale, but I just comforted him up. He
vexes Michael at times, and Michael has struck him before now. I did not
want to make a stir; but he’s not strong, and a word from thee, Susan,
will go a long way with Michael.”

Susan was as red now as she had been pale before; it was the first time
that her influence over Michael had been openly acknowledged by a third
person, and a flash of joy came athwart the solemn sadness of the
moment. Her mother had spoken too much, and now came on the miserable
faintness. She never spoke again coherently; but when her children and
her husband stood by her bedside, she took lile Will’s hand and put it
into Susan’s, and looked at her with imploring eyes. Susan clasped her
arms round Will, and leaned her head upon his curly little one, and
vowed within herself to be as a mother to him.

Henceforward she was all in all to her brother. She was a more spirited
and amusing companion to him than his mother had been, from her greater
activity, and perhaps, also, from her originality of character, which
often prompted her to perform her habitual actions in some new and racy
manner. She was tender to lile Will when she was prompt and sharp with
everybody else--with Michael most of all; for somehow the girl felt
that, unprotected by her mother, she must keep up her own dignity, and
not allow her lover to see how strong a hold he had upon her heart. He
called her hard and cruel, and left her so; and she smiled softly to
herself, when his back was turned, to think how little he guessed how
deeply he was loved. For Susan was merely comely and fine-looking;
Michael was strikingly handsome, admired by all the girls for miles
round, and quite enough of a country coxcomb to know it and plume
himself accordingly. He was the second son of his father; the eldest
would have High Beck farm, of course, but there was a good penny in the
Kendal bank in store for Michael. When harvest was over, he went to
Chapel Langdale to learn to dance; and at night, in his merry moods, he
would do his steps on the flag-floor of the Yew Nook kitchen, to the
secret admiration of Susan, who had never learned dancing, but who
flouted him perpetually, even while she admired, in accordance with the
rule she seemed to have made for herself about keeping him at a distance
so long as he lived under the same roof with her. One evening he sulked
at some saucy remark of hers; he sitting in the chimney-corner with his
arms on his knees, and his head bent forwards, lazily gazing into the
wood-fire on the hearth, and luxuriating in rest after a hard day’s
labour; she sitting among the geraniums on the long, low window-seat,
trying to catch the last slanting rays of the autumnal light to enable
her to finish stitching a shirt-collar for Will, who lounged full length
on the flags at the other side of the hearth to Michael, poking the
burning wood from time to time with a long hazel-stick to bring out the
leap of glittering sparks.

“And if you can dance a threesome reel, what good does it do ye?” asked
Susan, looking askance at Michael, who had just been vaunting his
proficiency. “Does it help you plough, or reap, or even climb the rocks
to take a raven’s nest? If I were a man, I’d be ashamed to give in to
such softness.”

“If you were a man, you’d be glad to do anything which made the pretty
girls stand round and admire.”

“As they do to you, eh! Ho, Michael, that would not be my way o’ being a
man!”

“What would then?” asked he, after a pause, during which he had expected
in vain that she would go on with her sentence. No answer.

“I should not like you as a man, Susy; you’d be too hard and
headstrong.”

“Am I hard and headstrong?” asked she, with as indifferent a tone as she
could assume, but which yet had a touch of pique in it. His quick ear
detected the inflexion.

“No, Susy! You’re wilful at times, and that’s right enough. I don’t like
a girl without spirit. There’s a mighty pretty girl comes to the
dancing-class; but she is all milk and water. Her eyes never flash like
yours when you’re put out; why, I can see them flame across the kitchen
like a cat’s in the dark. Now, if you were a man, I should feel queer
before those looks of yours; as it is, I rather like them, because--”

“Because what?” asked she, looking up and perceiving that he had stolen
close up to her.

“Because I can make all right in this way,” said he, kissing her
suddenly.

“Can you?” said she, wrenching herself out of his grasp and panting,
half with rage. “Take that, by way of proof that making right is none so
easy.” And she boxed his ears pretty sharply. He went back to his seat
discomfited and out of temper. She could no longer see to look, even if
her face had not burnt and her eyes dazzled, but she did not choose to
move her seat, so she still preserved her stooping attitude and
pretended to go on sewing.

“Eleanor Hebthwaite may be milk-and-water,” muttered he, “but--Confound
thee, lad! what art doing?” exclaimed Michael, as a great piece of
burning wood was cast into his face by an unlucky poke of Will’s. “Thou
great lounging, clumsy chap, I’ll teach thee better!” and with one or
two good, round kicks he sent the lad whimpering away into the
back-kitchen. When he had a little recovered himself from his passion,
he saw Susan standing before him, her face looking strange and almost
ghastly by the reversed position of the shadows, arising from the
fire-light shining upwards right under it.

“I tell thee what, Michael,” said she, “that lad’s motherless, but not
friendless.”

“His own father leathers him, and why should not I, when he’s given me
such a burn on my face?” said Michael, putting up his hand to his cheek
as if in pain.

“His father’s his father, and there is nought more to be said. But if he
did burn thee, it was by accident, and not o’ purpose, as thou kicked
him; it’s a mercy if his ribs are not broken.”

“He howls loud enough, I’m sure. I might ha’ kicked many a lad twice as
hard and they’d ne’er ha’ said ought but ‘damn ye;’ but yon lad must
needs cry out like a stuck pig if one touches him,” replied Michael,
sullenly.

Susan went back to the window-seat, and looked absently out of the
window at the drifting clouds for a minute or two, while her eyes filled
with tears. Then she got up and made for the outer door which led into
the back-kitchen. Before she reached it, however, she heard a low voice,
whose music made her thrill, say--

“Susan, Susan!”

Her heart melted within her, but it seemed like treachery to her poor
boy, like faithlessness to her dead mother, to turn to her lover while
the tears which he had caused to flow were yet unwiped on Will’s cheeks.
So she seemed to take no heed, but passed into the darkness, and, guided
by the sobs, she found her way to where Willie sat crouched among
disused tubs and churns.

“Come out wi’ me, lad;” and they went into the orchard, where the
fruit-trees were bare of leaves, but ghastly in their tattered covering
of gray moss: and the soughing November wind came with long sweeps over
the fells till it rattled among the crackling boughs, underneath which
the brother and sister sat in the dark; he in her lap, and she hushing
his head against her shoulder.

“Thou should’st na’ play wi’ fire. It’s a naughty trick. Thoul’t suffer
for it in worse ways nor this before thou’st done, I’m afeared. I should
ha’ hit thee twice as lungeous kicks as Mike, if I’d been in his place.
He did na’ hurt thee, I am sure,” she assumed, half as a question.

“Yes! but he did. He turned me quite sick.” And lie let his head fall
languidly down on his sister’s breast.

“Come lad! come lad!” said she, anxiously. “Be a man. It was not much
that I saw. Why, when first the red cow came, she kicked me far harder
for offering to milk her before her legs were tied. See thee! here’s a
peppermint-drop, and I’ll make thee a pasty to-night; only don’t give
way so, for it hurts me sore to think that Michael has done thee any
harm, my pretty.”

Willie roused himself up, and put back the wet and ruffled hair from
his heated face; and he and Susan rose up, and hand-in-hand went towards
the house, walking slowly and quietly except for a kind of sob which
Willie could not repress. Susan took him to the pump and washed his
tear-stained face, till she thought she had obliterated all traces of
the recent disturbance, arranging his curls for him, and then she kissed
him tenderly, and led him in, hoping to find Michael in the kitchen, and
make all straight between them. But the blaze had dropped down into
darkness; the wood was a heap of gray ashes in which the sparks ran
hither and thither; but, even in the groping darkness, Susan knew by the
sinking at her heart that Michael was not there. She threw another brand
on the hearth and lighted the candle, and sat down to her work in
silence. Willie cowered on his stool by the side of the fire, eyeing his
sister from time to time, and sorry and oppressed, he knew not why, by
the sight of her grave, almost stern face. No one came. They two were in
the house alone. The old woman who helped Susan with the household work
had gone out for the night to some friend’s dwelling. William Dixon, the
father, was up on the fells seeing after his sheep. Susan had no heart
to prepare the evening meal.

“Susy, darling, are you angry with me?” said Willie, in his little
piping, gentle voice. He had stolen up to his sister’s side. “I won’t
never play with fire again; and I’ll not cry if Michael does kick me.
Only don’t look so like dead mother--don’t--don’t--please don’t!” he
exclaimed, hiding his face on her shoulder.

“I’m not angry, Willie,” said she. “Don’t be feared on me. You want your
supper, and you shall have it; and don’t you be feared on Michael. He
shall give reason for every hair of your head that he touches--he
shall.”

When William Dixon came home, he found Susan and Willie sitting
together, hand-in-hand, and apparently pretty cheerful. He bade them go
to bed, for that he would sit up for Michael; and the next morning, when
Susan came down, she found that Michael had started an hour before with
the cart for lime. It was a long day’s work; Susan knew it would be
late, perhaps later than on the preceding night, before he returned--at
any rate, past her usual bed-time; and on no account would she stop up a
minute beyond that hour in the kitchen, whatever she might do in her
bedroom. Here she sat and watched till past midnight; and when she saw
him coming up the brow with the carts, she knew full well, even in that
faint moonlight, that his gait was the gait of a man in liquor. But
though she was annoyed and mortified to find in what way he had chosen
to forget her, the fact did not disgust or shock her as it would have
done many a girl, even at that day, who had not been brought up as Susan
had, among a class who considered it no crime, but rather a mark of
spirit, in a man to get drunk occasionally. Nevertheless, she chose to
hold herself very high all the next day when Michael was, perforce,
obliged to give up any attempt to do heavy work, and hung about the
out-buildings and farm in a very disconsolate and sickly state. Willie
had far more pity on him than Susan. Before evening, Willie and he were
fast, and on his side, ostentatious friends. Willie rode the horses down
to water; Willie helped him to chop wood. Susan sat gloomily at her
work, hearing an indistinct but cheerful conversation going on in the
shippon, while the cows were being milked. She almost felt irritated
with her little brother, as if he were a traitor, and had gone over to
the enemy in the very battle that she was fighting in his cause. She was
alone with no one to speak to, while they prattled on, regardless if she
were glad or sorry.

Soon Willie burst in. “Susan! Susan! come with me; I’ve something so
pretty to show you. Round the corner of the barn--run! run!” (He was
dragging her along, half reluctant, half desirous of some change in that
weary day.) Round the corner of the barn; and caught hold of by Michael,
who stood there awaiting her.

“O Willie!” cried she, “you naughty boy. There is nothing pretty--what
have you brought me here for? Let me go; I won’t be held.”

“Only one word. Nay, if you wish it so much, you may go,” said Michael,
suddenly loosing his hold as she struggled. But now she was free, she
only drew off a step or two, murmuring something about Willie.

“You are going, then?” said Michael, with seeming sadness. “You won’t
hear me say a word of what is in my heart.”

“How can I tell whether it is what I should like to hear?” replied she,
still drawing back.

“That is just what I want you to tell me; I want you to hear it, and
then to tell me whether you like it or not.”

“Well, you may speak,” replied she, turning her back, and beginning to
plait the hem of her apron.

He came close to her ear.

“I’m sorry I hurt Willie the other night. He has forgiven me. Can you?”

“You hurt him very badly,” she replied. “But you are right to be sorry.
I forgive you.”

“Stop, stop!” said he, laying his hand upon her arm. “There is something
more I’ve got to say. I want you to be my ---- what is it they call it,
Susan?”

“I don’t know,” said she, half-laughing, but trying to get away with all
her might now; and she was a strong girl, but she could not manage it.

“You do. My ---- what is it I want you to be?”

“I tell you I don’t know, and you had best be quiet, and just let me go
in, or I shall think you’re as bad now as you were last night.”

“And how did you know what I was last night? It was past twelve when I
came home. Were you watching? Ah, Susan! be my wife, and you shall never
have to watch for a drunken husband. If I were your husband, I would
come straight home, and count every minute an hour till I saw your bonny
face. Now you know what I want you to be. I ask you to be my wife. Will
you, my own dear Susan?”

She did not speak for some time. Then she only said, “Ask father.” And
now she was really off like a lapwing round the corner of the barn, and
up in her own little room, crying with all her might, before the
triumphant smile had left Michael’s face where he stood.

The “Ask father” was a mere form to be gone through. Old Daniel Hurst
and William Dixon had talked over what they could respectively give
their children long before this; and that was the parental way of
arranging such matters. When the probable amount of worldly gear that he
could give his child had been named by each father, the young folk, as
they said, might take their own time in coming to the point which the
old men, with the prescience of experience, saw that they were drifting
to; no need to hurry them, for they were both young, and Michael, though
active enough, was too thoughtless, old Daniel said, to be trusted with
the entire management of a farm. Meanwhile, his father would look about
him, and see after all the farms that were to be let.

Michael had a shrewd notion of this preliminary understanding between
the fathers, and so felt less daunted than he might otherwise have done
at making the application for Susan’s hand. It was all right, there was
not an obstacle; only a deal of good advice, which the lover thought
might have as well been spared, and which it must be confessed he did
not much attend to, although he assented to every part of it. Then Susan
was called down stairs, and slowly came dropping into view down the
steps which led from the two family apartments into the house-place. She
tried to look composed and quiet, but it could not be done. She stood
side by side with her lover, with her head drooping, her cheeks burning,
not daring to look up or move, while her father made the newly-betrothed
a somewhat formal address in which he gave his consent, and many a piece
of worldly wisdom beside. Susan listened as well as she could for the
beating of her heart; but when her father solemnly and sadly referred to
his own lost wife, she could keep from sobbing no longer; but throwing
her apron over her face, she sat down on the bench by the dresser, and
fairly gave way to pent-up tears. Oh, how strangely sweet to be
comforted as she was comforted, by tender caress, and many a
low-whispered promise of love! Her father sat by the fire, thinking of
the days that were gone; Willie was still out of doors; but Susan and
Michael felt no one’s presence or absence--they only knew they were
together as betrothed husband and wife.

In a week, or two, they were formally told of the arrangements to be
made in their favour. A small farm in the neighbourhood happened to fall
vacant; and Michael’s father offered to take it for him, and be
responsible for the rent for the first year, while William Dixon was to
contribute a certain amount of stock, and both fathers were to help
towards the furnishing of the house. Susan received all this information
in a quiet, indifferent way; she did not care much for any of these
preparations, which were to hurry her through the happy hours; she cared
least of all for the money amount of dowry and of substance. It jarred
on her to be made the confidant of occasional slight repinings of
Michael’s, as one by one his future father-in-law set aside a beast or a
pig for Susan’s portion, which were not always the best animals of their
kind upon the farm. But he also complained of his own father’s
stinginess, which somewhat, though not much, alleviated Susan’s dislike
to being awakened out of her pure dream of love to the consideration of
worldly wealth.

But in the midst of all this bustle, Willie moped and pined. He had the
same chord of delicacy running through his mind that made his body
feeble and weak. He kept out of the way, and was apparently occupied in
whittling and carving uncouth heads on hazel-sticks in an out-house. But
he positively avoided Michael, and shrunk away even from Susan. She was
too much occupied to notice this at first. Michael pointed it out to
her, saying, with a laugh,--

“Look at Willie! he might be a cast-off lover and jealous of me, he
looks so dark and downcast at me.” Michael spoke this jest out loud,
and Willie burst into tears, and ran out of the house.

“Let me go. Let me go!” said Susan (for her lover’s arm was round her
waist). “I must go to him if he’s fretting. I promised mother I would!”
She pulled herself away, and went in search of the boy. She sought in
byre and barn, through the orchard, where indeed in this leafless
winter-time there was no great concealment, up into the room where the
wool was usually stored in the later summer, and at last she found him,
sitting at bay, like some hunted creature, up behind the wood-stack.

“What are ye gone for, lad, and me seeking you everywhere?” asked she,
breathless.

“I did not know you would seek me. I’ve been away many a time, and no
one has cared to seek me,” said he, crying afresh.

“Nonsense,” replied Susan, “don’t be so foolish, ye little
good-for-nought.” But she crept up to him in the hole he had made
underneath the great, brown sheafs of wood, and squeezed herself down by
him. “What for should folk seek after you, when you get away from them
whenever you can?” asked she.

“They don’t want me to stay. Nobody wants me. If I go with father, he
says I hinder more than I help. You used to like to have me with you.
But now, you’ve taken up with Michael, and you’d rather I was away; and
I can just bide away; but I cannot stand Michael jeering at me. He’s got
you to love him and that might serve him.”

“But I love you, too, dearly, lad!” said she, putting her arm round his
neck.

“Which on us do you like best?” said he, wistfully, after a little
pause, putting her arm away, so that he might look in her face, and see
if she spoke truth.

She went very red.

“You should not ask such questions. They are not fit for you to ask,
nor for me to answer.”

“But mother bade you love me!” said he, plaintively.

“And so I do. And so I ever will do. Lover nor husband shall come
betwixt thee and me, lad--ne’er a one of them. That I promise thee (as I
promised mother before), in the sight of God and with her hearkening
now, if ever she can hearken to earthly word again. Only I cannot abide
to have thee fretting, just because my heart is large enough for two.”

“And thou’lt love me always?”

“Always, and ever. And the more--the more thou’lt love Michael,” said
she, dropping her voice.

“I’ll try,” said the boy, sighing, for he remembered many a harsh word
and blow of which his sister knew nothing. She would have risen up to go
away, but he held her tight, for here and now she was all his own, and
he did not know when such a time might come again. So the two sat
crouched up and silent, till they heard the horn blowing at the
field-gate, which was the summons home to any wanderers belonging to the
farm, and at this hour of the evening, signified that supper was ready.
Then the two went in.


CHAPTER II.

Susan and Michael were to be married in April. He had already gone to
take possession of his new farm, three or four miles away from Yew
Nook--but that is neighbouring, according to the acceptation of the word
in that thinly-populated district,--when William Dixon fell ill. He came
home one evening, complaining of head-ache and pains in his limbs, but
seemed to loathe the posset which Susan prepared for him; the
treacle-posset which was the homely country remedy against an incipient
cold. He took to his bed with a sensation of exceeding weariness, and an
odd, unusual looking-back to the days of his youth, when he was a lad
living with his parents, in this very house.

The next morning he had forgotten all his life since then, and did not
know his own children; crying, like a newly-weaned baby, for his mother
to come and soothe away his terrible pain. The doctor from Coniston said
it was the typhus-fever, and warned Susan of its infectious character,
and shook his head over his patient. There were no friends near to come
and share her anxiety; only good, kind old Peggy, who was faithfulness
itself, and one or two labourers’ wives, who would fain have helped her,
had not their hands been tied by their responsibility to their own
families. But, somehow, Susan neither feared nor flagged. As for fear,
indeed, she had no time to give way to it, for every energy of both
body and mind was required. Besides, the young have had too little
experience of the danger of infection to dread it much. She did indeed
wish, from time to time, that Michael had been at home to have taken
Willie over to his father’s at High Beck; but then, again, the lad was
docile and useful to her, and his fecklessness in many things might make
him be harshly treated by strangers; so, perhaps, it was as well that
Michael was away at Appleby fair, or even beyond that--gone into
Yorkshire after horses.

Her father grew worse; and the doctor insisted on sending over a nurse
from Coniston. Not a professed nurse--Coniston could not have supported
such a one; but a widow who was ready to go where the doctor sent her
for the sake of the payment. When she came, Susan suddenly gave way; she
was felled by the fever herself, and lay unconscious for long weeks. Her
consciousness returned to her one spring afternoon; early spring;
April,--her wedding-month. There was a little fire burning in the small
corner-grate, and the flickering of the blaze was enough for her to
notice in her weak state. She felt that there was some one sitting on
the window-side of her bed, behind the curtain, but she did not care to
know who it was; it was even too great a trouble for her languid mind to
consider who it was likely to be. She would rather shut her eyes, and
melt off again into the gentle luxury of sleep. The next time she
wakened, the Coniston nurse perceived her movement, and made her a cup
of tea, which she drank with eager relish; but still they did not speak,
and once more Susan lay motionless--not asleep, but strangely,
pleasantly conscious of all the small chamber and household sounds; the
fall of a cinder on the hearth, the fitful singing of the half-empty
kettle, the cattle tramping out to field again after they had been
milked, the aged step on the creaking stair--old Peggy’s, as she knew.
It came to her door; it stopped; the person outside listened for a
moment, and then lifted the wooden latch, and looked in. The watcher by
the bedside arose, and went to her. Susan would have been glad to see
Peggy’s face once more, but was far too weak to turn, so she lay and
listened.

“How is she?” whispered one trembling, aged voice.

“Better,” replied the other. “She’s been awake, and had a cup of tea.
She’ll do now.”

“Has she asked after him?”

“Hush! No; she has not spoken a word.”

“Poor lass! poor lass!”

The door was shut. A weak feeling of sorrow and self-pity came over
Susan. What was wrong? Whom had she loved? And dawning, dawning, slowly
rose the sun of her former life, and all particulars were made distinct
to her. She felt that some sorrow was coming to her, and cried over it
before she knew what it was, or had strength enough to ask. In the dead
of night,--and she had never slept again,--she softly called to the
watcher, and asked,

“Who?”

“Who what?” replied the woman, with a conscious affright, ill-veiled by
a poor assumption of ease. “Lie still, there’s a darling, and go to
sleep. Sleep’s better for you than all the doctor’s stuff.”

“Who?” repeated Susan. “Something is wrong. Who?”

“Oh, dear!” said the woman. “There’s nothing wrong. Willie has taken the
turn, and is doing nicely.”

“Father?”

“Well! he’s all right now,” she answered, looking another way, as if
seeking for something.

“Then it’s Michael! Oh, me! oh, me!” She set up a succession of weak,
plaintive, hysterical cries before the nurse could pacify her, by
declaring that Michael had been at the house not three hours before to
ask after her, and looked as well and as hearty as ever man did.

“And you heard of no harm to him since?” inquired Susan.

“Bless the lass, no, for sure! I’ve ne’er heard his name named since I
saw him go out of the yard as stout a man as ever trod shoe-leather.”

It was well, as the nurse said afterwards to Peggy, that Susan had been
so easily pacified by the equivocating answer in respect to her father.
If she had pressed the questions home in his case as she did in
Michael’s, she would have learnt that he was dead and buried more than a
month before. It was well, too, that in her weak state of convalescence
(which lasted long after this first day of consciousness) her
perceptions were not sharp enough to observe the sad change that had
taken place in Willie. His bodily strength returned, his appetite was
something enormous, but his eyes wandered continually; his regard could
not be arrested; his speech became slow, impeded, and incoherent. People
began to say, that the fever had taken away the little wit Willie Dixon
had ever possessed, and that they feared that he would end in being a
“natural,” as they call an idiot in the Dales.

The habitual affection and obedience to Susan lasted longer than any
other feeling that the boy had had previous to his illness; and,
perhaps, this made her be the last to perceive what every one else had
long anticipated. She felt the awakening rude when it did come. It was
in this wise:--

One June evening, she sat out of doors under the yew-tree, knitting. She
was pale still from her recent illness; and her languor, joined to the
fact of her black dress, made her look more than usually interesting.
She was no longer the buoyant self-sufficient Susan, equal to every
occasion. The men were bringing in the cows to be milked, and Michael
was about in the yard giving orders and directions with somewhat the air
of a master, for the farm belonged of right to Willie, and Susan had
succeeded to the guardianship of her brother. Michael and she were to be
married as soon as she was strong enough--so, perhaps, his authoritative
manner was justified; but the labourers did not like it, although they
said little. They remembered him a stripling on the farm, knowing far
less than they did, and often glad to shelter his ignorance of all
agricultural matters behind their superior knowledge. They would have
taken orders from Susan with far more willingness; nay! Willie himself
might have commanded them; and from the old hereditary feeling toward
the owners of land, they would have obeyed him with far greater
cordiality then they now showed to Michael. But Susan was tired with
even three rounds of knitting, and seemed not to notice, or to care, how
things went on around her; and Willie--poor Willie!--there he stood
lounging against the door-sill, enormously grown and developed, to be
sure, but with restless eyes and ever-open mouth, and every now and then
setting up a strange kind of howling cry, and then smiling vacantly to
himself at the sound he had made. As the two old labourers passed him,
they looked at each other ominously, and shook their heads.

“Willie, darling,” said Susan, “don’t make that noise--it makes my head
ache.”

She spoke feebly, and Willie did not seem to hear; at any rate, he
continued his howl from time to time.

“Hold thy noise, wilt ’a?” said Michael, roughly, as he passed near
him, and threatening him with his fist. Susan’s back was turned to the
pair. The expression of Willie’s face changed from vacancy to fear, and
he came shambling up to Susan, and put her arm round him, and, as if
protected by that shelter, he began making faces at Michael. Susan saw
what was going on, and, as if now first struck by the strangeness of her
brother’s manner, she looked anxiously at Michael for an explanation.
Michael was irritated at Willie’s defiance of him, and did not mince the
matter.

“It’s just that the fever has left him silly--he never was as wise as
other folk, and now I doubt if he will ever get right.”

Susan did not speak, but she went very pale, and her lip quivered. She
looked long and wistfully at Willie’s face, as he watched the motion of
the ducks in the great stable-pool. He laughed softly to himself every
now and then.

“Willie likes to see the ducks go overhead,” said Susan, instinctively
adopting the form of speech she would have used to a young child.

“Willie, boo! Willie, boo!” he replied, clapping his hands, and avoiding
her eye.

“Speak properly, Willie,” said Susan, making a strong effort at
self-control, and trying to arrest his attention.

“You know who I am--tell me my name!” She grasped his arm almost
painfully tight to make him attend. Now he looked at her, and, for an
instant, a gleam of recognition quivered over his face; but the exertion
was evidently painful, and he began to cry at the vainness of the effort
to recall her name. He hid his face upon her shoulder with the old
affectionate trick of manner. She put him gently away, and went into the
house into her own little bedroom. She locked the door, and did not
reply at all to Michael’s calls for her, hardly spoke to old Peggy, who
tried to tempt her out to receive some homely sympathy, and through the
open casement there still came the idiotic sound of “Willie, boo!
Willie, boo!”


CHAPTER III.

After the stun of the blow came the realisation of the consequences.
Susan would sit for hours trying patiently to recall and piece together
fragments of recollection and consciousness in her brother’s mind. She
would let him go and pursue some senseless bit of play, and wait until
she could catch his eye or his attention again, when she would resume
her self-imposed task. Michael complained that she never had a word for
him, or a minute of time to spend with him now; but she only said she
must try, while there was yet a chance, to bring back her brother’s lost
wits. As for marriage in this state of uncertainty, she had no heart to
think of it. Then Michael stormed, and absented himself for two or three
days; but it was of no use. When he came back, he saw that she had been
crying till her eyes were all swollen up, and he gathered from Peggy’s
scoldings (which she did not spare him) that Susan had eaten nothing
since he went away. But she was as inflexible as ever.

“Not just yet. Only not just yet. And don’t say again that I do not love
you,” said she, suddenly hiding herself in his arms.

And so matters went on through August. The crop of oats was gathered in;
the wheat-field was not ready as yet, when one fine day Michael drove up
in a borrowed shandry, and offered to take Willie a ride. His manner,
when Susan asked him where he was going to, was rather confused; but the
answer was straight and clear enough.

“He had business in Ambleside. He would never lose sight of the lad, and
have him back safe and sound before dark.” So Susan let him go.

Before night they were at home again: Willie in high delight at a little
rattling, paper windmill that Michael had bought for him in the street,
and striving to imitate this new sound with perpetual buzzings. Michael,
too, looked pleased. Susan knew the look, although afterwards she
remembered that he had tried to veil it from her, and had assumed a
grave appearance of sorrow whenever he caught her eye. He put up his
horse; for, although he had three miles further to go, the moon was
up--the bonny harvest-moon--and he did not care how late he had to drive
on such a road by such a light. After the supper which Susan had
prepared for the travellers was over, Peggy went up-stairs to see Willie
safe in bed; for he had to have the same care taken of him that a little
child of four years old requires.

Michael drew near to Susan.

“Susan,” said he, “I took Will to see Dr. Preston, at Kendal. He’s the
first doctor in the county. I thought it were better for us--for you--to
know at once what chance there were for him.”

“Well!” said Susan, looking eagerly up. She saw the same strange glance
of satisfaction, the same instant change to apparent regret and pain.
“What did he say?” said she. “Speak! can’t you?”

“He said he would never get better of his weakness.”

“Never!”

“No; never. It’s a long word, and hard to bear. And there’s worse to
come, dearest. The doctor thinks he will get badder from year to year.
And he said, if he was us--you--he would send him off in time to
Lancaster Asylum. They’ve ways there both of keeping such people in
order and making them happy. I only tell you what he said,” continued
he, seeing the gathering storm in her face.

“There was no harm in his saying it,” she replied, with great
self-constraint, forcing herself to speak coldly instead of angrily.
“Folk is welcome to their opinions.”

They sat silent for a minute or two, her breast heaving with suppressed
feeling.

“He’s counted a very clever man,” said Michael, at length.

“He may be. He’s none of my clever men, nor am I going to be guided by
him, whatever he may think. And I don’t thank them that went and took my
poor lad to have such harsh notions formed about him. If I’d been there,
I could have called out the sense that is in him.”

“Well! I’ll not say more to-night, Susan. You’re not taking it rightly,
and I’d best be gone, and leave you to think it over. I’ll not deny they
are hard words to hear, but there’s sense in them, as I take it; and I
reckon you’ll have to come to ’em. Anyhow, it’s a bad way of thanking me
for my pains, and I don’t take it well in you, Susan,” said he, getting
up, as if offended.

“Michael, I’m beside myself with sorrow. Don’t blame me, if I speak
sharp. He and me is the only ones, you see. And mother did so charge me
to have a care of him! And this is what he’s come to, poor lile chap!”
She began to cry, and Michael to comfort her with caresses.

“Don’t,” said she. “It’s no use trying to make me forget poor Willie is
a natural. I could hate myself for being happy with you, even for just a
little minute. Go away, and leave me to face it out.”

“And you’ll think it over, Susan, and remember what the doctor says?”

“I can’t forget it,” said she. She meant she could not forget what the
doctor had said about the hopelessness of her brother’s case; Michael
had referred to the plan of sending Willie away to an asylum, or
madhouse, as they were called in that day and place. The idea had been
gathering force in Michael’s mind for some time; he had talked it over
with his father, and secretly rejoiced over the possession of the farm
and land which would then be his in fact, if not in law, by right of his
wife. He had always considered the good penny her father could give her
in his catalogue of Susan’s charms and attractions. But of late he had
grown to esteem her as the heiress of Yew Nook. He, too, should have
land like his brother--land to possess, to cultivate, to make profit
from, to bequeath. For some time he had wondered that Susan had been so
much absorbed in Willie’s present, that she had never seemed to look
forward to his future state. Michael had long felt the boy to be a
trouble; but of late he had absolutely loathed him. His gibbering, his
uncouth gestures, his loose, shambling gait, all irritated Michael
inexpressibly. He did not come near the Yew Nook for a couple of days.
He thought that he would leave her time to become anxious to see him and
reconciled to his plan. They were strange, lonely days to Susan. They
were the first she had spent face to face with the sorrows that had
turned her from a girl into a woman; for hitherto Michael had never let
twenty-four hours pass by without coming to see her since she had had
the fever. Now that he was absent, it seemed as though some cause of
irritation was removed from Will, who was much more gentle and tractable
than he had been for many weeks. Susan thought that she observed him
making efforts at her bidding, and there was something piteous in the
way in which he crept up to her, and looked wistfully in her face, as if
asking her to restore him the faculties that he felt to be wanting.

“I never will let thee go, lad. Never! There’s no knowing where they
would take thee to, or what they would do with thee. As it says in the
Bible, ‘Nought but death shall part thee and me!’”

The country-side was full, in those days, of stories of the brutal
treatment offered to the insane; stories that were, in fact, but too
well founded, and the truth of one of which only would have been a
sufficient reason for the strong prejudice existing against all such
places. Each succeeding hour that Susan passed, alone, or with the poor
affectionate lad for her sole companion, served to deepen her solemn
resolution never to part with him. So, when Michael came, he was annoyed
and surprised by the calm way in which she spoke, as if following Dr.
Preston’s advice was utterly and entirely out of the question. He had
expected nothing less than a consent, reluctant it might be, but still a
consent; and he was extremely irritated. He could have repressed his
anger, but he chose rather to give way to it; thinking that he could
thus best work upon Susan’s affection, so as to gain his point. But,
somehow, he over-reached himself; and now he was astonished in his turn
at the passion of indignation that she burst into.

“Thou wilt not bide in the same house with him, say’st thou? There’s no
need for thy biding, as far as I can tell. There’s solemn reason why I
should bide with my own flesh and blood, and keep to the word I pledged
my mother on her death-bed; but, as for thee, there’s no tie that I know
on to keep thee fro’ going to America or Botany Bay this very night, if
that were thy inclination. I will have no more of your threats to make
me send my bairn away. If thou marry me, thou’lt help me to take charge
of Willie. If thou doesn’t choose to marry me on those terms--why! I can
snap my fingers at thee, never fear. I’m not so far gone in love as
that. But I will not have thee, if thou say’st in such a hectoring way
that Willie must go out of the house--and the house his own too--before
thou’lt set foot in it. Willie bides here, and I bide with him.”

“Thou hast may-be spoken a word too much,” said Michael, pale with rage.
“If I am free, as thou say’st, to go to Canada or Botany Bay, I reckon
I’m free to live where I like, and that will not be with a natural who
may turn into a madman some day, for aught I know. Choose between him
and me, Susy, for I swear to thee, thou shan’t have both.”

“I have chosen,” said Susan, now perfectly composed and still. “Whatever
comes of it, I bide with Willie.”

“Very well,” replied Michael, trying to assume an equal composure of
manner. “Then I’ll wish you a very good night.” He went out of the
house-door, half-expecting to be called back again; but, instead, he
heard a hasty step inside, and a bolt drawn.

“Whew!” said he to himself, “I think I must leave my lady alone for a
week or two, and give her time to come to her senses. She’ll not find it
so easy as she thinks to let me go.”

So he went past the kitchen-window in nonchalant style, and was not seen
again at Yew Nook for some weeks. How did he pass the time? For the
first day or two, he was unusually cross with all things and people that
came athwart him. Then wheat-harvest began, and he was busy, and
exultant about his heavy crop. Then a man came from a distance to bid
for the lease of his farm, which, by his father’s advice, had been
offered for sale, as he himself was so soon likely to remove to the Yew
Nook. He had so little idea that Susan really would remain firm to her
determination, that he at once began to haggle with the man who came
after his farm, showed him the crop just got in, and managed skilfully
enough to make a good bargain for himself. Of course, the bargain had to
be sealed at the public-house; and the companions he met with there soon
became friends enough to tempt him into Langdale, where again he met
with Eleanor Hebthwaite.

How did Susan pass the time? For the first day or so, she was too angry
and offended to cry. She went about her household duties in a quick,
sharp, jerking, yet absent way; shrinking one moment from Will,
overwhelming him with remorseful caresses the next. The third day of
Michael’s absence, she had the relief of a good fit of crying; and after
that, she grew softer and more tender; she felt how harshly she had
spoken to him, and remembered how angry she had been. She made excuses
for him. “It was no wonder,” she said to herself, “that he had been
vexed with her; and no wonder he would not give in, when she had never
tried to speak gently or to reason with him. She was to blame, and she
would tell him so, and tell him once again all that her mother had bade
her be to Willie, and all the horrible stories she had heard about
madhouses, and he would be on her side at once.”

And so she watched for his coming, intending to apologise as soon as
ever she saw him. She hurried over her household work, in order to sit
quietly at her sewing, and hear the first distant sound of his
well-known step or whistle. But even the sound of her flying needle
seemed too loud--perhaps she was losing an exquisite instant of
anticipation; so she stopped sewing, and looked longingly out through
the geranium leaves, in order that her eye might catch the first stir of
the branches in the wood-path by which he generally came. Now and then a
bird might spring out of the covert; otherwise the leaves were heavily
still in the sultry weather of early autumn. Then she would take up her
sewing, and, with a spasm of resolution, she would determine that a
certain task should be fulfilled before she would again allow herself
the poignant luxury of expectation. Sick at heart was she when the
evening closed in, and the chances of that day diminished. Yet she
stayed up longer than usual, thinking that if he were coming--if he were
only passing along the distant road--the sight of a light in the window
might encourage him to make his appearance even at that late hour, while
seeing the house all darkened and shut up might quench any such
intention.

Very sick and weary at heart, she went to bed; too desolate and
despairing to cry, or make any moan. But in the morning hope came
afresh. Another day--another chance! And so it went on for weeks. Peggy
understood her young mistress’s sorrow full well, and respected it by
her silence on the subject. Willie seemed happier now that the
irritation of Michael’s presence was removed; for the poor idiot had a
sort of antipathy to Michael, which was a kind of heart’s echo to the
repugnance in which the latter held him. Altogether, just at this time,
Willie was the happiest of the three.

As Susan went into Coniston, to sell her butter, one Saturday, some
inconsiderate person told her that she had seen Michael Hurst the night
before. I said inconsiderate, but I might rather have said unobservant;
for any one who had spent half-an-hour in Susan Dixon’s company might
have seen that she disliked having any reference made to the subjects
nearest her heart, were they joyous or grievous. Now she went a little
paler than usual (and she had never recovered her colour since she had
had the fever), and tried to keep silence. But an irrepressible pang
forced out the question--

“Where?”

“At Thomas Applethwaite’s, in Langdale. They had a kind of
harvest-home, and he were there among the young folk, and very thick wi’
Nelly Hebthwaite, old Thomas’s niece. Thou’lt have to look after him a
bit, Susan!”

She neither smiled nor sighed. The neighbour who had been speaking to
her was struck with the gray stillness of her face. Susan herself felt
how well her self-command was obeyed by every little muscle, and said to
herself in her Spartan manner, “I can bear it without either wincing or
blenching.” She went home early, at a tearing, passionate pace,
trampling and breaking through all obstacles of briar or bush. Willie
was moping in her absence--hanging listlessly on the farm-yard gate to
watch for her. When he saw her, he set up one of his strange,
inarticulate cries, of which she was now learning the meaning, and came
towards her with his loose, galloping run, head and limbs all shaking
and wagging with pleasant excitement. Suddenly she turned from him, and
burst into tears. She sat down on a stone by the wayside, not a hundred
yards from home, and buried her face in her hands, and gave way to a
passion of pent-up sorrow; so terrible and full of agony were her low
cries, that the idiot stood by her, aghast and silent. All his joy gone
for the time, but not, like her joy, turned into ashes. Some thought
struck him. Yes! the sight of her woe made him think, great as the
exertion was. He ran, and stumbled, and shambled home, buzzing with his
lips all the time. She never missed him. He came back in a trice,
bringing with him his cherished paper windmill, bought on that fatal day
when Michael had taken him into Kendal to have his doom of perpetual
idiotcy pronounced. He thrust it into Susan’s face, her hands, her lap,
regardless of the injury his frail plaything thereby received. He leapt
before her to think how he had cured all heart-sorrow, buzzing louder
than ever. Susan looked up at him, and that glance of her sad eyes
sobered him. He began to whimper, he knew not why: and she now,
comforter in her turn, tried to soothe him by twirling his windmill. But
it was broken; it made no noise; it would not go round. This seemed to
afflict Susan more than him. She tried to make it right, although she
saw the task was hopeless; and while she did so, the tears rained down
unheeded from her bent head on the paper toy.

“It won’t do,” said she, at last. “It will never do again.” And,
somehow, she took the accident and her words as omens of the love that
was broken, and that she feared could never be pieced together more. She
rose up and took Willie’s hand, and the two went slowly in to the house.

To her surprise, Michael Hurst sat in the house-place. House-place is a
sort of better kitchen, where no cookery is done, but which is reserved
for state occasions. Michael had gone in there because he was
accompanied by his only sister, a woman older than himself, who was well
married beyond Keswick, and who now came for the first time to make
acquaintance with Susan. Michael had primed his sister with his wishes
regarding Will, and the position in which he stood with Susan; and
arriving at Yew Nook in the absence of the latter, he had not scrupled
to conduct his sister into the guest-room, as he held Mrs. Gale’s
worldly position in respect and admiration, and therefore wished her to
be favourably impressed with all the signs of property which he was
beginning to consider as Susan’s greatest charms. He had secretly said
to himself, that if Eleanor Hebthwaite and Susan Dixon were equal in
point of riches, he would sooner have Eleanor by far. He had begun to
consider Susan as a termagant; and when he thought of his intercourse
with her, recollections of her somewhat warm and hasty temper came far
more readily to his mind than any remembrance of her generous, loving
nature.

And now she stood face to face with him; her eyes tear-swollen, her
garments dusty, and here and there torn in consequence of her rapid
progress through the bushy by-paths. She did not make a favourable
impression on the well-clad Mrs. Gale, dressed in her best silk gown,
and therefore unusually susceptible to the appearance of another. Nor
were Susan’s manners gracious or cordial. How could they be, when she
remembered what had passed between Michael and herself the last time
they met? For her penitence had faded away under the daily
disappointment of these last weary weeks.

But she was hospitable in substance. She bade Peggy hurry on the kettle,
and busied herself among the tea-cups, thankful that the presence of
Mrs. Gale, as a stranger, would prevent the immediate recurrence to the
one subject which she felt must be present in Michael’s mind as well as
in her own. But Mrs. Gale was withheld by no such feelings of delicacy.
She had come ready-primed with the case, and had undertaken to bring the
girl to reason. There was no time to be lost. It had been prearranged
between the brother and sister that he was to stroll out into the
farm-yard before his sister introduced the subject; but she was so
confident in the success of her arguments, that she must needs have the
triumph of a victory as soon as possible; and, accordingly, she brought
a hail-storm of good reasons to bear upon Susan. Susan did not reply for
a long time; she was so indignant at this intermeddling of a stranger in
the deep family sorrow and shame. Mrs. Gale thought she was gaining the
day, and urged her arguments more pitilessly. Even Michael winced for
Susan, and wondered at her silence. He shrunk out of sight, and into the
shadow, hoping that his sister might prevail, but annoyed at the hard
way in which she kept putting the case.

Suddenly Susan turned round from the occupation she had pretended to be
engaged in, and said to him in a low voice, which yet not only vibrated
itself, but made its hearers thrill through all their obtuseness:

“Michael Hurst! does your sister speak truth, think you?”

Both women looked at him for his answer; Mrs. Gale without anxiety, for
had she not said the very words they had spoken together before; had she
not used the very arguments that he himself had suggested? Susan, on the
contrary, looked to his answer as settling her doom for life; and in the
gloom of her eyes you might have read more despair than hope.

He shuffled his position. He shuffled in his words.

“What is it you ask? My sister has said many things.”

“I ask you,” said Susan, trying to give a crystal clearness both to her
expressions and her pronunciation, “if, knowing as you do how Will is
afflicted, you will help me to take that charge of him which I promised
my mother on her death-bed that I would do; and which means, that I
shall keep him always with me, and do all in my power to make his life
happy. If you will do this, I will be your wife; if not, I remain
unwed.”

“But he may get dangerous; he can be but a trouble; his being here is a
pain to you, Susan, not a pleasure.”

“I ask you for either yes or no,” said she, a little contempt at his
evading her question mingling with her tone. He perceived it, and it
nettled him.

“And I have told you. I answered your question the last time I was here.
I said I would ne’er keep house with an idiot; no more I will. So now
you’ve gotten your answer.”

“I have,” said Susan. And she sighed deeply.

“Come, now,” said Mrs. Gale, encouraged by the sigh; “one would think
you don’t love Michael, Susan, to be so stubborn in yielding to what
I’m sure would be best for the lad.”

“Oh! she does not care for me,” said Michael. “I don’t believe she ever
did.”

“Don’t I? Haven’t I?” asked Susan, her eyes blazing out fire. She left
the room directly, and sent Peggy in to make the tea; and catching at
Will, who was lounging about in the kitchen, she went up-stairs with him
and bolted herself in, straining the boy to her heart, and keeping
almost breathless, lest any noise she made might cause him to break out
into the howls and sounds which she could not bear that those below
should hear.

A knock at the door. It was Peggy.

“He wants for to see you, to wish you good-bye.”

“I cannot come. Oh, Peggy, send them away.”

It was her only cry for sympathy; and the old servant understood it. She
sent them away, somehow; not politely, as I have been given to
understand.

“Good go with them,” said Peggy, as she grimly watched their retreating
figures. “We’re rid of bad rubbish, anyhow.” And she turned into the
house, with the intention of making ready some refreshment for Susan,
after her hard day at the market, and her harder evening. But in the
kitchen, to which she passed through the empty house-place, making a
face of contemptuous dislike at the used tea-cups and fragments of a
meal yet standing there, she found Susan, with her sleeves tucked up and
her working apron on, busied in preparing to make clap-bread, one of the
hardest and hottest domestic tasks of a Daleswoman. She looked up, and
first met and then avoided Peggy’s eye; it was too full of sympathy. Her
own cheeks were flushed, and her own eyes were dry and burning.

“Where’s the board, Peggy? We need clap-bread; and, I reckon, I’ve time
to get through with it to-night.” Her voice had a sharp, dry tone in
it, and her motions a jerking angularity about them.

Peggy said nothing, but fetched her all that she needed. Susan beat her
cakes thin with vehement force. As she stooped over them, regardless
even of the task in which she seemed so much occupied, she was surprised
by a touch on her mouth of something--what she did not see at first. It
was a cup of tea, delicately sweetened and cooled, and held to her lips,
when exactly ready, by the faithful old woman. Susan held it off a
hand’s breath, and looked into Peggy’s eyes, while her own filled with
the strange relief of tears.

“Lass!” said Peggy, solemnly, “thou hast done well. It is not long to
bide, and then the end will come.”

“But you are very old, Peggy,” said Susan, quivering.

“It is but a day sin’ I were young,” replied Peggy; but she stopped the
conversation by again pushing the cup with gentle force to Susan’s dry
and thirsty lips. When she had drunken she fell again to her labour,
Peggy heating the hearth, and doing all that she knew would be required,
but never speaking another word. Willie basked close to the fire,
enjoying the animal luxury of warmth, for the autumn evenings were
beginning to be chilly. It was one o’clock before they thought of going
to bed on that memorable night.


CHAPTER IV.

The vehemence with which Susan Dixon threw herself into occupation could
not last for ever. Times of languor and remembrance would come--times
when she recurred with a passionate yearning to bygone days, the
recollection of which was so vivid and delicious, that it seemed as
though it were the reality, and the present bleak bareness the dream.
She smiled anew at the magical sweetness of some touch or tone which in
memory she felt and heard, and drank the delicious cup of poison,
although at the very time she knew what the consequences of racking pain
would be.

“This time, last year,” thought she, “we went nutting together--this
very day last year; just such a day as to-day. Purple and gold were the
lights on the hills; the leaves were just turning brown; here and there
on the sunny slopes the stubble-fields looked tawny; down in a cleft of
yon purple slate-rock the beck fell like a silver glancing thread; all
just as it is to-day. And he climbed the slender, swaying nut-trees, and
bent the branches for me to gather; or made a passage through the hazel
copses, from time to time claiming a toll. Who could have thought he
loved me so little?--who?--who?”

Or, as the evening closed in, she would allow herself to imagine that
she heard his coming step, just that she might recall the feeling of
exquisite delight which had passed by without the due and passionate
relish at the time. Then she would wonder how she could have had
strength, the cruel, self-piercing strength, to say what she had done;
to stab herself with that stern resolution, of which the scar would
remain till her dying day. It might have been right; but, as she
sickened, she wished she had not instinctively chosen the right. How
luxurious a life haunted by no stern sense of duty must be! And many led
this kind of life; why could not she? O, for one hour again of his sweet
company! If he came now, she would agree to whatever he proposed.

It was a fever of the mind. She passed through it, and came out healthy,
if weak. She was capable once more of taking pleasure in following an
unseen guide through briar and brake. She returned with tenfold
affection to her protecting care of Willie. She acknowledged to herself
that he was to be her all-in-all in life. She made him her constant
companion. For his sake, as the real owner of Yew Nook, and she as his
steward and guardian, she began that course of careful saving, and that
love of acquisition, which afterwards gained for her the reputation of
being miserly. She still thought that he might regain a scanty portion
of sense--enough to require some simple pleasures and excitement, which
would cost money. And money should not be wanting. Peggy rather assisted
her in the formation of her parsimonious habits than otherwise; economy
was the order of the district, and a certain degree of respectable
avarice the characteristic of her age. Only Willie was never stinted nor
hindered of anything that the two women thought could give him pleasure,
for want of money.

There was one gratification which Susan felt was needed for the
restoration of her mind to its more healthy state, after she had passed
through the whirling fever, when duty was as nothing, and anarchy
reigned; a gratification--that, somehow, was to be her last burst of
unreasonableness; of which she knew and recognised pain as the sure
consequence. She must see him once more,--herself unseen.

The week before the Christmas of this memorable year, she went out in
the dusk of the early winter evening, wrapped close in shawl and cloak.
She wore her dark shawl under her cloak, putting it over her head in
lieu of a bonnet; for she knew that she might have to wait long in
concealment. Then she tramped over the wet fell-path, shut in by misty
rain for miles and miles, till she came to the place where he was
lodging; a farm-house in Langdale, with a steep, stony lane leading up
to it: this lane was entered by a gate out of the main road, and by the
gate were a few bushes--thorns; but of them the leaves had fallen, and
they offered no concealment: an old wreck of a yew-tree grew among them,
however, and underneath that Susan cowered down, shrouding her face, of
which the colour might betray her, with a corner of her shawl. Long did
she wait; cold and cramped she became, too damp and stiff to change her
posture readily. And after all, he might never come! But, she would wait
till daylight, if need were; and she pulled out a crust, with which she
had providently supplied herself. The rain had ceased,--a dull, still,
brooding weather had succeeded; it was a night to hear distant sounds.
She heard horses’ hoofs striking and plashing in the stones, and in the
pools of the road at her back. Two horses; not well-ridden, or evenly
guided, as she could tell.

Michael Hurst and a companion drew near; not tipsy, but not sober. They
stopped at the gate to bid each other a maudlin farewell. Michael
stooped forward to catch the latch with the hook of the stick which he
carried; he dropped the stick, and it fell with one end close to
Susan,--indeed, with the slightest change of posture she could have
opened the gate for him. He swore a great oath, and struck his horse
with his closed fist, as if that animal had been to blame; then he
dismounted, opened the gate, and fumbled about for his stick. When he
had found it (Susan had touched the other end) his first use of it was
to flog his horse well, and she had much ado to avoid its kicks and
plunges. Then, still swearing, he staggered up the lane, for it was
evident he was not sober enough to remount.

By daylight Susan was back and at her daily labours at Yew Nook. When
the spring came, Michael Hurst was married to Eleanor Hebthwaite.
Others, too, were married, and christenings made their firesides merry
and glad; or they travelled, and came back after long years with many
wondrous tales. More rarely, perhaps, a Dalesman changed his dwelling.
But to all households more change came than to Yew Nook. There the
seasons came round with monotonous sameness; or, if they brought
mutation, it was of a slow, and decaying, and depressing kind. Old Peggy
died. Her silent sympathy, concealed under much roughness, was a loss to
Susan Dixon. Susan was not yet thirty when this happened, but she looked
a middle-aged, not to say an elderly woman. People affirmed that she had
never recovered her complexion since that fever, a dozen years ago,
which killed her father, and left Will Dixon an idiot. But besides her
gray sallowness, the lines in her face were strong, and deep, and hard.
The movements of her eyeballs were slow and heavy; the wrinkles at the
corners of her mouth and eyes were planted firm and sure; not an ounce
of unnecessary flesh was there on her bones--every muscle started strong
and ready for use. She needed all this bodily strength, to a degree that
no human creature, now Peggy was dead, knew of: for Willie had grown up
large and strong in body, and, in general, docile enough in mind; but,
every now and then, he became first moody, and then violent. These
paroxysms lasted but a day or two; and it was Susan’s anxious care to
keep their very existence hidden and unknown. It is true, that
occasional passers-by on that lonely road heard sounds at night of
knocking about of furniture, blows, and cries, as of some tearing demon
within the solitary farm-house; but these fits of violence usually
occurred in the night; and whatever had been their consequence, Susan
had tidied and redded up all signs of aught unusual before the morning.
For, above all, she dreaded lest some one might find out in what danger
and peril she occasionally was, and might assume a right to take away
her brother from her care. The one idea of taking charge of him had
deepened and deepened with years. It was graven into her mind as the
object for which she lived. The sacrifice she had made for this object
only made it more precious to her. Besides, she separated the idea of
the docile, affectionate, loutish, indolent Will, and kept it distinct
from the terror which the demon that occasionally possessed him inspired
her with. The one was her flesh and her blood,--the child of her dead
mother; the other was some fiend who came to torture and convulse the
creature she so loved. She believed that she fought her brother’s battle
in holding down those tearing hands, in binding whenever she could those
uplifted restless arms prompt and prone to do mischief. All the time she
subdued him with her cunning or her strength, she spoke to him in
pitying murmurs, or abused the third person, the fiendish enemy, in no
unmeasured tones. Towards morning the paroxysm was exhausted, and he
would fall asleep, perhaps only to waken with evil and renewed vigour.
But when he was laid down, she would sally out to taste the fresh air,
and to work off her wild sorrow in cries and mutterings to herself. The
early labourers saw her gestures at a distance, and thought her as
crazed as the idiot-brother who made the neighbourhood a haunted place.
But did any chance person call at Yew Nook later on in the day, he would
find Susan Dixon cold, calm, collected; her manner curt, her wits keen.

Once this fit of violence lasted longer than usual. Susan’s strength
both of mind and body was nearly worn out; she wrestled in prayer that
somehow it might end before she, too, was driven mad; or, worse, might
be obliged to give up life’s aim, and consign Willie to a madhouse. From
that moment of prayer (as she afterwards superstitiously thought) Willie
calmed--and then he drooped--and then he sank--and, last of all, he died
in reality from physical exhaustion.

But he was so gentle and tender as he lay on his dying bed; such
strange, child-like gleams of returning intelligence came over his face,
long after the power to make his dull, inarticulate sounds had departed,
that Susan was attracted to him by a stronger tie than she had ever felt
before. It was something to have even an idiot loving her with dumb,
wistful, animal affection; something to have any creature looking at her
with such beseeching eyes, imploring protection from the insidious enemy
stealing on. And yet she knew that to him death was no enemy, but a true
friend, restoring light and health to his poor clouded mind. It was to
her that death was an enemy; to her, the survivor, when Willie died;
there was no one to love her. Worse doom still, there was no one left on
earth for her to love.

You now know why no wandering tourist could persuade her to receive him
as a lodger; why no tired traveller could melt her heart to afford him
rest and refreshment; why long habits of seclusion had given her a
moroseness of manner, and how care for the interests of another had
rendered her keen and miserly.

But there was a third act in the drama of her life.


CHAPTER V.

In spite of Peggy’s prophecy that Susan’s life should not seem long, it
did seem wearisome and endless, as the years slowly uncoiled their
monotonous circles. To be sure, she might have made change for herself,
but she did not care to do it. It was, indeed, more than “not caring,”
which merely implies a certain degree of _vis inertiæ_ to be subdued
before an object can be attained, and that the object itself does not
seem to be of sufficient importance to call out the requisite energy. On
the contrary, Susan exerted herself to avoid change and variety. She had
a morbid dread of new faces, which originated in her desire to keep poor
dead Willie’s state a profound secret. She had a contempt for new
customs; and, indeed, her old ways prospered so well under her active
hand and vigilant eye, that it was difficult to know how they could be
improved upon. She was regularly present in Coniston market with the
best butter and the earliest chickens of the season. Those were the
common farm produce that every farmer’s wife about had to sell; but
Susan, after she had disposed of the more feminine articles, turned to
on the man’s side. A better judge of a horse or cow there was not in all
the country round. Yorkshire itself might have attempted to jockey her,
and would have failed. Her corn was sound and clean; her potatoes well
preserved to the latest spring. People began to talk of the hoards of
money Susan Dixon must have laid up somewhere; and one young
ne’er-do-weel of a farmer’s son undertook to make love to the woman of
forty, who looked fifty-five, if a day. He made up to her by opening a
gate on the road-path home, as she was riding on a bare-backed horse,
her purchase not an hour ago. She was off before him, refusing his
civility; but the remounting was not so easy, and rather than fail she
did not choose to attempt it. She walked, and he walked alongside,
improving his opportunity, which, as he vainly thought, had been
consciously granted to him. As they drew near Yew Nook, he ventured on
some expression of a wish to keep company with her. His words were vague
and clumsily arranged. Susan turned round and coolly asked him to
explain himself. He took courage, as he thought of her reputed wealth,
and expressed his wishes this second time pretty plainly. To his
surprise, the reply she made was in a series of smart strokes across his
shoulders, administered through the medium of a supple hazel-switch.

“Take that!” said she, almost breathless, “to teach thee how thou darest
make a fool of an honest woman old enough to be thy mother. If thou
com’st a step nearer the house, there’s a good horse-pool, and there’s
two stout fellows who’ll like no better fun than ducking thee. Be off
wi’ thee.”

And she strode into her own premises, never looking round to see whether
he obeyed her injunction or not.

Sometimes three or four years would pass over without her hearing
Michael Hurst’s name mentioned. She used to wonder at such times whether
he were dead or alive. She would sit for hours by the dying embers of
her fire on a winter’s evening, trying to recall the scenes of her
youth; trying to bring up living pictures of the faces she had then
known--Michael’s most especially. She thought it was possible, so long
had been the lapse of years, that she might now pass by him in the
street unknowing and unknown. His outward form she might not recognise,
but himself she should feel in the thrill of her whole being. He could
not pass her unawares.

What little she did hear about him, all testified a downward tendency.
He drank--not at stated times when there was no other work to be done,
but continually, whether it was seed-time or harvest. His children were
all ill at the same time; then one died, while the others recovered, but
were poor sickly things. No one dared to give Susan any direct
intelligence of her former lover; many avoided all mention of his name
in her presence; but a few spoke out either in indifference to, or
ignorance of, those bygone days. Susan heard every word, every whisper,
every sound that related to him. But her eye never changed, nor did a
muscle of her face move.

Late one November night she sat over her fire; not a human being besides
herself in the house; none but she had ever slept there since Willie’s
death. The farm-labourers had foddered the cattle and gone home hours
before. There were crickets chirping all round the warm hearth-stones;
there was the clock ticking with the peculiar beat Susan had known from
her childhood, and which then and ever since she had oddly associated
with the idea of a mother and child talking together, one loud tick, and
quick--a feeble, sharp one following.

The day had been keen, and piercingly cold. The whole lift of heaven
seemed a dome of iron. Black and frost-bound was the earth under the
cruel east wind. Now the wind had dropped, and as the darkness had
gathered in, the weather-wise old labourers prophesied snow. The sounds
in the air arose again, as Susan sat still and silent. They were of a
different character to what they had been during the prevalence of the
east wind. Then they had been shrill and piping; now they were like low
distant growling; not unmusical, but strangely threatening. Susan went
to the window, and drew aside the little curtain. The whole world was
white--the air was blinded with the swift and heavy fall of snow. At
present it came down straight, but Susan knew those distant sounds in
the hollows and gulleys of the hills portended a driving wind and a more
cruel storm. She thought of her sheep; were they all folded? the
new-born calf, was it bedded well? Before the drifts were formed too
deep for her to pass in and out--and by the morning she judged that they
would be six or seven feet deep--she would go out and see after the
comfort of her beasts. She took a lantern, and tied a shawl over her
head, and went out into the open air. She had tenderly provided for all
her animals, and was returning, when, borne on the blast as if some
spirit-cry--for it seemed to come rather down from the skies than from
any creature standing on earth’s level--she heard a voice of agony; she
could not distinguish words; it seemed rather as if some bird of prey
was being caught in the whirl of the icy wind, and torn and tortured by
its violence. Again! up high above! Susan put down her lantern, and
shouted loud in return; it was an instinct, for if the creature were not
human, which she had doubted but a moment before, what good could her
responding cry do? And her cry was seized on by the tyrannous wind, and
borne farther away in the opposite direction to that from which the call
of agony had proceeded. Again she listened; no sound: then again it rang
through space; and this time she was sure it was human. She turned into
the house, and heaped turf and wood on the fire, which, careless of her
own sensations, she had allowed to fade and almost die out. She put a
new candle in her lantern; she changed her shawl for a maud, and
leaving the door on latch, she sallied out. Just at the moment when her
ear first encountered the weird noises of the storm, on issuing forth
into the open air, she thought she heard the words, “O God! O help!”
They were a guide to her, if words they were, for they came straight
from a rock not a quarter of a mile from Yew Nook, but only to be
reached, on account of its precipitous character, by a round-about path.
Thither she steered, defying wind and snow; guided by here a thorn-tree,
there an old, doddered oak, which had not quite lost their identity
under the whelming mask of snow. Now and then she stopped to listen; but
never a word or sound heard she, till right from where the copse-wood
grew thick and tangled at the base of the rock, round which
she was winding, she heard a moan. Into the brake--all snow in
appearance--almost a plain of snow looked on from the little eminence
where she stood--she plunged, breaking down the bush, stumbling,
bruising herself, fighting her way; her lantern held between her teeth,
and she herself using head as well as hands to butt away a passage, at
whatever cost of bodily injury. As she climbed or staggered, owing to
the unevenness of the snow-covered ground, where the briars and weeds of
years were tangled and matted together, her foot felt something
strangely soft and yielding. She lowered her lantern; there lay a man,
prone on his face, nearly covered by the fast-falling flakes; he must
have fallen from the rock above, as, not knowing of the circuitous path,
he had tried to descend its steep, slippery face. Who could tell? it was
no time for thinking. Susan lifted him up with her wiry strength; he
gave no help--no sign of life; but for all that he might be alive: he
was still warm; she tied her maud round him; she fastened the lantern to
her apron-string; she held him tight: half-carrying, half-dragging--what
did a few bruises signify to him, compared to dear life, to precious
life! She got him through the brake, and down the path. There, for an
instant, she stopped to take breath; but, as if stung by the Furies, she
pushed on again with almost superhuman strength. Clasping him round the
waist, and leaning his dead weight against the lintel of the door, she
tried to undo the latch; but now, just at this moment, a trembling
faintness came over her, and a fearful dread took possession of
her--that here, on the very threshold of her home, she might be found
dead, and buried under the snow, when the farm-servants came in the
morning. This terror stirred her up to one more effort. Then she and her
companion were in the warmth of the quiet haven of that kitchen; she
laid him on the settle, and sank on the floor by his side. How long she
remained in this swoon she could not tell; not very long she judged by
the fire, which was still red and sullenly glowing when she came to
herself. She lighted the candle, and bent over her late burden to
ascertain if indeed he were dead. She stood long gazing. The man lay
dead. There could be no doubt about it. His filmy eyes glared at her,
unshut. But Susan was not one to be affrighted by the stony aspect of
death. It was not that; it was the bitter, woeful recognition of Michael
Hurst!

She was convinced he was dead; but after a while she refused to believe
in her conviction. She stripped off his wet outer-garments with
trembling, hurried hands. She brought a blanket down from her own bed;
she made up the fire. She swathed him in fresh, warm wrappings, and laid
him on the flags before the fire, sitting herself at his head, and
holding it in her lap, while she tenderly wiped his loose, wet hair,
curly still, although its colour had changed from nut-brown to iron-gray
since she had seen it last. From time to time she bent over the face
afresh, sick, and fain to believe that the flicker of the fire-light was
some slight convulsive motion. But the dim, staring eyes struck chill to
her heart. At last she ceased her delicate, busy cares; but she still
held the head softly, as if caressing it. She thought over all the
possibilities and chances in the mingled yarn of their lives that might,
by so slight a turn, have ended far otherwise. If her mother’s cold had
been early tended, so that the responsibility as to her brother’s weal
or woe had not fallen upon her; if the fever had not taken such rough,
cruel hold on Will; nay, if Mrs. Gale, that hard, worldly sister, had
not accompanied him on his last visit to Yew Nook--his very last before
this fatal, stormy night; if she had heard his cry,--cry uttered by
those pale, dead lips with such wild, despairing agony, not yet three
hours ago!--O! if she had but heard it sooner, he might have been saved
before that blind, false step had precipitated him down the rock! In
going over this weary chain of unrealised possibilities, Susan learnt
the force of Peggy’s words. Life was short, looking back upon it. It
seemed but yesterday since all the love of her being had been poured
out, and run to waste. The intervening years--the long monotonous years
that had turned her into an old woman before her time--were but a dream.

The labourers coming in the dawn of the winter’s day were surprised to
see the fire-light through the low kitchen-window. They knocked, and
hearing a moaning answer, they entered, fearing that something had
befallen their mistress. For all explanation they got these words:

“It is Michael Hurst. He was belated, and fell down the Raven’s Crag.
Where does Eleanor, his wife, live?”

How Michael Hurst got to Yew Nook no one but Susan ever knew. They
thought he had dragged himself there, with some sore, internal bruise
sapping away his minuted life. They could not have believed the
superhuman exertion which had first sought him out, and then dragged
him hither. Only Susan knew of that.

She gave him into the charge of her servants, and went out and saddled
her horse. Where the wind had drifted the snow on one side, and the road
was clear and bare, she rode, and rode fast; where the soft, deceitful
heaps were massed up, she dismounted and led her steed, plunging in
deep, with fierce energy, the pain at her heart urging her onwards with
a sharp, digging spur.

The gray, solemn, winter’s noon was more night-like than the depth of
summer’s night; dim-purple brooded the low skies over the white earth,
as Susan rode up to what had been Michael Hurst’s abode while living. It
was a small farm-house, carelessly kept outside, slatternly tended
within. The pretty Nelly Hebthwaite was pretty still; her delicate face
had never suffered from any long-enduring feeling. If anything, its
expression was that of plaintive sorrow; but the soft, light hair had
scarcely a tinge of gray; the wood-rose tint of complexion yet remained,
if not so brilliant as in youth; the straight nose, the small mouth
were untouched by time. Susan felt the contrast even at that moment.
She knew that her own skin was weather-beaten, furrowed, brown,--that
her teeth were gone, and her hair gray and ragged. And yet she was not
two years older than Nelly,--she had not been, in youth, when she took
account of these things. Nelly stood wondering at the strange-enough
horsewoman, who stopped and panted at the door, holding her horse’s
bridle, and refusing to enter.

“Where is Michael Hurst?” asked Susan, at last.

“Well, I can’t rightly say. He should have been at home last night, but
he was off, seeing after a public-house to be let at Ulverstone, for our
farm does not answer, and we were thinking----”

“He did not come home last night?” said Susan, cutting short the story,
and half-affirming, half-questioning, by way of letting in a ray of the
awful light before she let it full in, in its consuming wrath.

“No! he’ll be stopping somewhere out Ulverstone ways. I’m sure we’ve
need of him at home, for I’ve no one but lile Tommy to help me tend the
beasts. Things have not gone well with us, and we don’t keep a servant
now. But you’re trembling all over, ma’am. You’d better come in, and
take something warm, while your horse rests. That’s the stable-door, to
your left.”

Susan took her horse there; loosened his girths, and rubbed him down
with a wisp of straw. Then she looked about her for hay; but the place
was bare of food, and smelt damp and unused. She went to the house,
thankful for the respite, and got some clap-bread, which she mashed up
in a pailful of luke-warm water. Every moment was a respite, and yet
every moment made her dread the more the task that lay before her. It
would be longer than she thought at first. She took the saddle off, and
hung about her horse, which seemed, somehow, more like a friend than
anything else in the world. She laid her cheek against its neck, and
rested there, before returning to the house for the last time.

Eleanor had brought down one of her own gowns, which hung on a chair
against the fire, and had made her unknown visitor a cup of hot tea.
Susan could hardly bear all these little attentions: they choked her,
and yet she was so wet, so weak with fatigue and excitement, that she
could neither resist by voice or by action. Two children stood awkwardly
about, puzzled at the scene, and even Eleanor began to wish for some
explanation of who her strange visitor was.

“You’ve, may-be, heard him speaking of me? I’m called Susan Dixon.”

Nelly coloured, and avoided meeting Susan’s eye.

“I’ve heard other folk speak of you. He never named your name.”

This respect of silence came like balm to Susan: balm not felt or heeded
at the time it was applied, but very grateful in its effects for all
that.

“He is at my house,” continued Susan, determined not to stop or quaver
in the operation--the pain which must be inflicted.

“At your house? Yew Nook?” questioned Eleanor, surprised. “How came he
there?”--half jealously. “Did he take shelter from the coming storm?
Tell me,--there is something--tell me, woman!”

“He took no shelter. Would to God he had!”

“O! would to God! would to God!” shrieked out Eleanor, learning all from
the woful import of those dreary eyes. Her cries thrilled through the
house; the children’s piping wailings and passionate cries on “Daddy!
Daddy!” pierced into Susan’s very marrow. But she remained as still and
tearless as the great round face upon the clock.

At last, in a lull of crying, she said,--not exactly questioning--but as
if partly to herself--

“You loved him, then?”

“Loved him! he was my husband! He was the father of three bonny bairns
that lie dead in Grasmere Churchyard. I wish you’d go, Susan Dixon, and
let me weep without your watching me! I wish you’d never come near the
place.”

“Alas! alas! it would not have brought him to life. I would have laid
down my own to save his. My life has been so very sad! No one would have
cared if I had died. Alas! alas!”

The tone in which she said this was so utterly mournful and despairing
that it awed Nelly into quiet for a time. But by-and-by she said, “I
would not turn a dog out to do it harm; but the night is clear, and
Tommy shall guide you to the Red Cow. But, O! I want to be alone. If
you’ll come back to-morrow, I’ll be better, and I’ll hear all, and thank
you for every kindness you have shown him,--and I do believe you’ve
showed him kindness,--though I don’t know why.”

Susan moved heavily and strangely.

She said something--her words came thick and unintelligible. She had had
a paralytic stroke since she had last spoken. She could not go, even if
she would. Nor did Eleanor, when she became aware of the state of the
case, wish her to leave. She had her laid on her own bed, and weeping
silently all the while for her lost husband, she nursed Susan like a
sister. She did not know what her guest’s worldly position might be; and
she might never be repaid. But she sold many a little trifle to purchase
such small comforts as Susan needed. Susan, lying still and motionless,
learnt much. It was not a severe stroke; it might be the forerunner of
others yet to come, but at some distance of time. But for the present
she recovered, and regained much of her former health. On her sick-bed
she matured her plans. When she returned to Yew Nook, she took Michael
Hurst’s widow and children with her to live there, and fill up the
haunted hearth with living forms that should banish the ghosts.

And so it fell out that the latter days of Susan Dixon’s life were
better than the former.

       *       *       *       *       *

When this narrative was finished, Mrs. Dawson called on our two
gentlemen, Signor Sperano and Mr. Preston, and told them that they had
hitherto been amused or interested, but that it was now their turn to
amuse or interest. They looked at each other as if this application of
hers took them by surprise, and seemed altogether as much abashed as
well-grown men can ever be. Signor Sperano was the first to recover
himself: after thinking a little, he said:--

“Your will, dear Lady, is law. Next Monday evening, I will bring you an
old, old story, which I found among the papers of the good old Priest
who first welcomed me to England. It was but a poor return for his
generous kindness; but I had the opportunity of nursing him through the
cholera, of which he died. He left me all that he had--no money--but his
scanty furniture, his book of prayers, his crucifix and rosary, and his
papers. How some of those papers came into his hands I know not. They
had evidently been written many years before the venerable man was born;
and I doubt whether he had ever examined the bundles, which had come
down to him from some old ancestor, or in some strange bequest. His life
was too busy to leave any time for the gratification of mere curiosity;
I, alas! have only had too much leisure.”

Next Monday, Signor Sperano read to us the story which I will call

                           “THE POOR CLARE.”



THE POOR CLARE.


CHAPTER I.

December 12th, 1747.--My life has been strangely bound up with
extraordinary incidents, some of which occurred before I had any
connection with the principal actors in them, or, indeed, before I even
knew of their existence. I suppose, most old men are, like me, more
given to looking back upon their own career with a kind of fond interest
and affectionate remembrance, than to watching the events--though these
may have far more interest for the multitude--immediately passing before
their eyes. If this should be the case with the generality of old
people, how much more so with me!... If I am to enter upon that strange
story connected with poor Lucy, I must begin a long way back. I myself
only came to the knowledge of her family history after I knew her; but,
to make the tale clear to any one else, I must arrange events in the
order in which they occurred--not that in which I became acquainted with
them.

There is a great old hall in the north-east of Lancashire, in a part
they call the Trough of Bolland, adjoining that other district named
Craven. Starkey Manor-House is rather like a number of rooms clustered
round a gray, massive, old keep than a regularly-built hall. Indeed, I
suppose that the house only consisted of the great tower in the centre,
in the days when the Scots made their raids terrible as far south as
this; and that after the Stuarts came in, and there was a little more
security of property in those parts, the Starkeys of that time added the
lower building, which runs, two stories high, all round the base of the
keep. There has been a grand garden laid out in my days, on the southern
slope near the house; but when I first knew the place, the
kitchen-garden at the farm was the only piece of cultivated ground
belonging to it. The deer used to come within sight of the drawing-room
windows, and might have browsed quite close up to the house if they had
not been too wild and shy. Starkey Manor-House itself stood on a
projection or peninsula of high land, jutting out from the abrupt hills
that form the sides of the Trough of Bolland. These hills were rocky and
bleak enough towards their summit; lower down they were clothed with
tangled copsewood and green depths of fern, out of which a gray giant of
an ancient forest-tree would tower here and there, throwing up its
ghastly white branches, as if in imprecation, to the sky. These trees,
they told me, were the remnants of that forest which existed in the days
of the Heptarchy, and were even then noted as landmarks. No wonder that
their upper and more exposed branches were leafless, and that the dead
bark had peeled away, from sapless old age.

Not far from the house there were a few cottages, apparently of the same
date as the keep; probably built for some retainers of the family, who
sought shelter--they and their families and their small flocks and
herds--at the hands of their feudal lord. Some of them had pretty much
fallen to decay. They were built in a strange fashion. Strong beams had
been sunk firm in the ground at the requisite distance, and their other
ends had been fastened together, two and two, so as to form the shape
of one of those rounded waggon-headed gipsy-tents, only very much
larger. The spaces between were filled with mud, stones, osiers,
rubbish, mortar--anything to keep out the weather. The fires were made
in the centre of these rude dwellings, a hole in the roof forming the
only chimney. No Highland hut or Irish cabin could be of rougher
construction.

The owner of this property, at the beginning of the present century, was
a Mr. Patrick Byrne Starkey. His family had kept to the old faith, and
were staunch Roman Catholics, esteeming it even a sin to marry any one
of Protestant descent, however willing he or she might have been to
embrace the Romish religion. Mr. Patrick Starkey’s father had been a
follower of James the Second; and, during the disastrous Irish campaign
of that monarch, he had fallen in love with an Irish beauty, a Miss
Byrne, as zealous for her religion and for the Stuarts as himself. He
had returned to Ireland after his escape to France, and married her,
bearing her back to the court at St. Germains. But some licence on the
part of the disorderly gentlemen who surrounded King James in his
exile, had insulted his beautiful wife, and disgusted him; so he removed
from St. Germains to Antwerp, whence, in a few years’ time, he quietly
returned to Starkey Manor-House--some of his Lancashire neighbours
having lent their good offices to reconcile him to the powers that were.
He was as firm a Roman Catholic as ever, and as staunch an advocate for
the Stuarts and the divine right of kings; but his religion almost
amounted to asceticism, and the conduct of those with whom he had been
brought in such close contact at St. Germains would little bear the
inspection of a stern moralist. So he gave his allegiance where he could
not give his esteem, and learned to respect sincerely the upright and
moral character of one whom he yet regarded as an usurper. King
William’s government had little need to fear such a one. So he returned,
as I have said, with a sobered heart and impoverished fortunes, to his
ancestral house, which had fallen sadly to ruin while the owner had been
a courtier, a soldier, and an exile. The roads into the Trough of
Bolland were little more than cart-ruts; indeed, the way up to the house
lay along a ploughed field before you came to the deer-park. Madam, as
the country-folk used to call Mrs. Starkey, rode on a pillion behind
her husband, holding on to him with a light hand by his leather
riding-belt. Little master (he that was afterwards Squire Patrick Byrne
Starkey) was held on to his pony by a serving-man. A woman past middle
age walked, with a firm and strong step, by the cart that held much of
the baggage; and, high up on the mails and boxes, sat a girl of dazzling
beauty, perched lightly on the topmost trunk, and swaying herself
fearlessly to and fro, as the cart rocked and shook in the heavy roads
of late autumn. The girl wore the Antwerp faille, or black Spanish
mantle over her head, and altogether her appearance was such that the
old cottager, who described the procession to me many years after, said
that all the country-folk took her for a foreigner. Some dogs, and the
boy who held them in charge, made up the company. They rode silently
along, looking with grave, serious eyes at the people, who came out of
the scattered cottages to bow or curtsy to the real Squire, “come back
at last,” and gazed after the little procession with gaping wonder, not
deadened by the sound of the foreign language in which the few necessary
words that passed among them were spoken. One lad, called from his
staring by the Squire to come and help about the cart, accompanied them
to the Manor-House. He said that when the lady had descended from her
pillion, the middle-aged woman whom I have described as walking while
the others rode, stepped quickly forward, and taking Madam Starkey (who
was of a slight and delicate figure) in her arms, she lifted her over
the threshold, and set her down in her husband’s house, at the same time
uttering a passionate and outlandish blessing. The Squire stood by,
smiling gravely at first; but when the words of blessing were
pronounced, he took off his fine feathered hat, and bent his head. The
girl with the black mantle stepped onward into the shadow of the dark
hall, and kissed the lady’s hand; and that was all the lad could tell to
the group that gathered round him on his return, eager to hear
everything, and to know how much the Squire had given him for his
services.

From all I could gather, the Manor-House, at the time of the Squire’s
return, was in the most dilapidated state. The stout gray walls remained
firm and entire; but the inner chambers had been used for all kinds of
purposes. The great withdrawing-room had been a barn; the state
tapestry-chamber had held wool, and so on. But, by-and-by, they were
cleared out; and if the Squire had no money to spend on new furniture,
he and his wife had the knack of making the best of the old. He was no
despicable joiner; she had a kind of grace in whatever she did, and
imparted an air of elegant picturesqueness to whatever she touched.
Besides, they had brought many rare things from the Continent; perhaps I
should rather say, things that were rare in that part of
England--carvings, and crosses, and beautiful pictures. And then, again,
wood was plentiful in the Trough of Bolland, and great log-fires danced
and glittered in all the dark, old rooms, and gave a look of home and
comfort to everything.

Why do I tell you all this? I have little to do with the Squire and
Madam Starkey; and yet I dwell upon them, as if I were unwilling to come
to the real people with whom my life was so strangely mixed up. Madam
had been nursed in Ireland by the very woman who lifted her in her arms,
and welcomed her to her husband’s home in Lancashire. Excepting for the
short period of her own married life, Bridget Fitzgerald had never left
her nursling. Her marriage--to one above her in rank--had been unhappy.
Her husband had died, and left her in even greater poverty than that in
which she was when he had first met with her. She had one child, the
beautiful daughter who came riding on the waggon-load of furniture that
was brought to the Manor-House. Madam Starkey had taken her again into
her service when she became a widow. She and her daughter had followed
“the mistress” in all her fortunes; they had lived at St. Germains and
at Antwerp, and were now come to her home in Lancashire. As soon as
Bridget had arrived there, the Squire gave her a cottage of her own, and
took more pains in furnishing it for her than he did in anything else
out of his own house. It was only nominally her residence. She was
constantly up at the great house; indeed, it was but a short cut across
the woods from her own home to the home of her nursling. Her daughter
Mary, in like manner, moved from one house to the other at her own will.
Madam loved both mother and child dearly. They had great influence over
her, and, through her, over her husband. Whatever Bridget or Mary willed
was sure to come to pass. They were not disliked; for, though wild and
passionate, they were also generous by nature. But the other servants
were afraid of them, as being in secret the ruling spirits of the
household. The Squire had lost his interest in all secular things; Madam
was gentle, affectionate, and yielding. Both husband and wife were
tenderly attached to each other and to their boy; but they grew more
and more to shun the trouble of decision on any point; and hence it was
that Bridget could exert such despotic power. But if every one else
yielded to her “magic of a superior mind,” her daughter not unfrequently
rebelled. She and her mother were too much alike to agree. There were
wild quarrels between them, and wilder reconciliations. There were times
when, in the heat of passion, they could have stabbed each other. At all
other times they both--Bridget especially--would have willingly laid
down their lives for one another. Bridget’s love for her child lay very
deep--deeper than that daughter ever knew; or I should think she would
never have wearied of home as she did, and prayed her mistress to obtain
for her some situation--as waiting-maid--beyond the seas, in that more
cheerful continental life, among the scenes of which so many of her
happiest years had been spent. She thought, as youth thinks, that life
would last for ever, and that two or three years were but a small
portion of it to pass away from her mother, whose only child she was.
Bridget thought differently, but was too proud ever to show what she
felt. If her child wished to leave her, why--she should go. But people
said Bridget became ten years older in the course of two months at this
time. She took it that Mary wanted to leave her. The truth was, that
Mary wanted for a time to leave the place, and to seek some change, and
would thankfully have taken her mother with her. Indeed, when Madam
Starkey had gotten her a situation with some grand lady abroad, and the
time drew near for her to go, it was Mary who clung to her mother with
passionate embrace, and, with floods of tears, declared that she would
never leave her; and it was Bridget, who at last loosened her arms, and,
grave and tearless herself, bade her keep her word, and go forth into
the wide world. Sobbing aloud, and looking back continually, Mary went
away. Bridget was still as death, scarcely drawing her breath, or
closing her stony eyes; till at last she turned back into her cottage,
and heaved a ponderous old settle against the door. There she sat,
motionless, over the gray ashes of her extinguished fire, deaf to
Madam’s sweet voice, as she begged leave to enter and comfort her nurse.
Deaf, stony, and motionless, she sat for more than twenty hours; till,
for the third time, Madam came across the snowy path from the great
house, carrying with her a young spaniel, which had been Mary’s pet up
at the hall, and which had not ceased all night long to seek for its
absent mistress, and to whine and moan after her. With tears Madam told
this story, through the closed door--tears excited by the terrible look
of anguish, so steady, so immovable--so the same to-day as it was
yesterday--on her nurse’s face. The little creature in her arms began to
utter its piteous cry, as it shivered with the cold. Bridget stirred;
she moved--she listened. Again that long whine; she thought it was for
her daughter; and what she had denied to her nursling and mistress she
granted to the dumb creature that Mary had cherished. She opened the
door, and took the dog from Madam’s arms. Then Madam came in, and
kissed and comforted the old woman, who took but little notice of her or
anything. And sending up Master Patrick to the hall for fire and food,
the sweet young lady never left her nurse all that night. Next day, the
Squire himself came down, carrying a beautiful foreign picture: Our Lady
of the Holy Heart, the Papists call it. It is a picture of the Virgin,
her heart pierced with arrows, each arrow representing one of her great
woes. That picture hung in Bridget’s cottage when I first saw her; I
have that picture now.

Years went on. Mary was still abroad. Bridget was still and stern,
instead of active and passionate. The little dog, Mignon, was indeed her
darling. I have heard that she talked to it continually; although, to
most people, she was so silent. The Squire and Madam treated her with
the greatest consideration, and well they might; for to them she was as
devoted and faithful as ever. Mary wrote pretty often, and seemed
satisfied with her life. But at length the letters ceased--I hardly know
whether before or after a great and terrible sorrow came upon the house
of the Starkeys. The Squire sickened of a putrid fever; and Madam
caught it in nursing him, and died. You may be sure, Bridget let no
other woman tend her but herself; and in the very arms that had received
her at her birth, that sweet young woman laid her head down, and gave up
her breath. The Squire recovered, in a fashion. He was never strong--he
had never the heart to smile again. He fasted and prayed more than ever;
and people did say that he tried to cut off the entail, and leave all
the property away to found a monastery abroad, of which he prayed that
some day little Squire Patrick might be the reverend father. But he
could not do this, for the strictness of the entail and the laws against
the Papists. So he could only appoint gentlemen of his own faith as
guardians to his son, with many charges about the lad’s soul, and a few
about the land, and the way it was to be held while he was a minor. Of
course, Bridget was not forgotten. He sent for her as he lay on his
death-bed, and asked her if she would rather have a sum down, or have a
small annuity settled upon her. She said at once she would have a sum
down; for she thought of her daughter, and how she could bequeath the
money to her, whereas an annuity would have died with her. So the Squire
left her her cottage for life, and a fair sum of money. And then he
died, with as ready and willing a heart as, I suppose, ever any
gentleman took out of this world with him. The young Squire was carried
off by his guardians, and Bridget was left alone.

I have said that she had not heard from Mary for some time. In her last
letter, she had told of travelling about with her mistress, who was the
English wife of some great foreign officer, and had spoken of her
chances of making a good marriage, without naming the gentleman’s name,
keeping it rather back as a pleasant surprise to her mother; his station
and fortune being, as I had afterwards reason to know, far superior to
anything she had a right to expect. Then came a long silence; and Madam
was dead, and the Squire was dead; and Bridget’s heart was gnawed by
anxiety, and she knew not whom to ask for news of her child. She could
not write, and the Squire had managed her communication with her
daughter. She walked off to Hurst; and got a good priest there--one whom
she had known at Antwerp--to write for her. But no answer came. It was
like crying into the awful stillness of night.

One day, Bridget was missed by those neighbours who had been accustomed
to mark her goings-out and comings-in. She had never been sociable with
any of them; but the sight of her had become a part of their daily
lives, and slow wonder arose in their minds, as morning after morning
came, and her house-door remained closed, her window dead from any
glitter, or light of fire within. At length, some one tried the door; it
was locked. Two or three laid their heads together, before daring to
look in through the blank, unshuttered window. But, at last, they
summoned up courage; and then saw that Bridget’s absence from their
little world was not the result of accident or death, but of
premeditation. Such small articles of furniture as could be secured from
the effects of time and damp by being packed up, were stowed away in
boxes. The picture of the Madonna was taken down, and gone. In a word,
Bridget had stolen away from her home, and left no trace whither she was
departed. I knew afterwards, that she and her little dog had wandered
off on the long search for her lost daughter. She was too illiterate to
have faith in letters, even had she had the means of writing and sending
many. But she had faith in her own strong love, and believed that her
passionate instinct would guide her to her child. Besides, foreign
travel was no new thing to her, and she could speak enough of French to
explain the object of her journey, and had, moreover, the advantage of
being, from her faith, a welcome object of charitable hospitality at
many a distant convent. But the country people round Starkey Manor-House
knew nothing of all this. They wondered what had become of her, in a
torpid, lazy fashion, and then left off thinking of her altogether.
Several years passed. Both Manor-House and cottage were deserted. The
young Squire lived far away under the direction of his guardians. There
were inroads of wool and corn into the sitting-rooms of the Hall; and
there was some low talk, from time to time, among the hinds and country
people, whether it would not be as well to break into old Bridget’s
cottage, and save such of her goods as were left from the moth and rust
which must be making sad havoc. But this idea was always quenched by the
recollection of her strong character and passionate anger; and tales of
her masterful spirit, and vehement force of will, were whispered about,
till the very thought of offending her, by touching any article of hers,
became invested with a kind of horror: it was believed that, dead or
alive, she would not fail to avenge it.

Suddenly she came home; with as little noise or note of preparation as
she had departed. One day, some one noticed a thin, blue curl of smoke,
ascending from her chimney. Her door stood open to the noon-day sun;
and, ere many hours had elapsed, some one had seen an old
travel-and-sorrow-stained woman dipping her pitcher in the well; and
said, that the dark, solemn eyes that looked up at him were more like
Bridget Fitzgerald’s than any one else’s in this world; and yet, if it
were she, she looked as if she had been scorched in the flames of hell,
so brown, and scared, and fierce a creature did she seem. By-and-by many
saw her; and those who met her eye once cared not to be caught looking
at her again. She had got into the habit of perpetually talking to
herself; nay, more, answering herself, and varying her tones according
to the side she took at the moment. It was no wonder that those who
dared to listen outside her door at night, believed that she held
converse with some spirit; in short, she was unconsciously earning for
herself the dreadful reputation of a witch.

Her little dog, which had wandered half over the Continent with her, was
her only companion; a dumb remembrancer of happier days. Once he was
ill; and she carried him more than three miles, to ask about his
management from one who had been groom to the last Squire, and had then
been noted for his skill in all diseases of animals. Whatever this man
did, the dog recovered; and they who heard her thanks, intermingled with
blessings (that were rather promises of good fortune than prayers),
looked grave at his good luck when, next year, his ewes twinned, and his
meadow-grass was heavy and thick.

Now it so happened that, about the year seventeen hundred and eleven,
one of the guardians of the young Squire, a certain Sir Philip Tempest,
bethought him of the good shooting there must be on his ward’s property;
and, in consequence, he brought down four or five gentlemen, of his
friends, to stay for a week or two at the Hall. From all accounts, they
roystered and spent pretty freely. I never heard any of their names but
one, and that was Squire Gisborne’s. He was hardly a middle-aged man
then; he had been much abroad, and there, I believe, he had known Sir
Philip Tempest, and done him some service. He was a daring and dissolute
fellow in those days: careless and fearless, and one who would rather be
in a quarrel than out of it. He had his fits of ill-temper beside, when
he would spare neither man nor beast. Otherwise, those who knew him
well, used to say he had a good heart, when he was neither drunk, nor
angry, nor in any way vexed. He had altered much when I came to know
him.

One day, the gentlemen had all been out shooting, and with but little
success, I believe; anyhow, Mr. Gisborne had had none, and was in a
black humour accordingly. He was coming home, having his gun loaded,
sportsman-like, when little Mignon crossed his path, just as he turned
out of the wood by Bridget’s cottage. Partly for wantonness, partly to
vent his spleen upon some living creature, Mr. Gisborne took his gun,
and fired--he had better have never fired gun again, than aimed that
unlucky shot. He hit Mignon; and at the creature’s sudden cry, Bridget
came out, and saw at a glance what had been done. She took Mignon up in
her arms, and looked hard at the wound; the poor dog looked at her with
his glazing eyes, and tried to wag his tail and lick her hand, all
covered with blood. Mr. Gisborne spoke in a kind of sullen penitence:

“You should have kept the dog out of my way--a little poaching varmint.”

At this very moment, Mignon stretched out his legs, and stiffened in her
arms--her lost Mary’s dog, who had wandered and sorrowed with her for
years. She walked right into Mr. Gisborne’s path, and fixed his
unwilling, sullen look with her dark and terrible eye.

“Those never throve that did me harm,” said she. “I’m alone in the
world, and helpless; the more do the Saints in Heaven hear my prayers.
Hear me, ye blessed ones! hear me while I ask for sorrow on this bad,
cruel man. He has killed the only creature that loved me--the dumb beast
that I loved. Bring down heavy sorrow on his head for it, O ye Saints!
He thought that I was helpless, because he saw me lonely and poor; but
are not the armies of Heaven for the like of me?”

“Come, come,” said he, half-remorseful, but not one whit afraid. “Here’s
a crown to buy thee another dog. Take it, and leave off cursing! I care
none for thy threats.”

“Don’t you?” said she, coming a step closer, and changing her
imprecatory cry for a whisper which made the gamekeeper’s lad, following
Mr. Gisborne, creep all over. “You shall live to see the creature you
love best, and who alone loves you--ay, a human creature, but as
innocent and fond as my poor, dead darling--you shall see this creature,
for whom death would be too happy, become a terror and a loathing to
all, for this blood’s sake. Hear me, O holy Saints, who never fail them
that have no other help!”

She threw up her right hand, filled with poor Mignon’s life-drops; they
spirted, one or two of them, on his shooting-dress,--an ominous sight to
the follower. But the master only laughed a little, forced, scornful
laugh, and went on to the Hall. Before he got there, however, he took
out a gold piece, and bade the boy carry it to the old woman on his
return to the village. The lad was “afeared,” as he told me in after
years; he came to the cottage, and hovered about, not daring to enter.
He peeped through the window at last; and by the flickering wood-flame,
he saw Bridget kneeling before the picture of our Lady of the Holy
Heart, with dead Mignon lying between her and the Madonna. She was
praying wildly, as her outstretched arms betokened. The lad shrank away
in redoubled terror; and contented himself with slipping the gold-piece
under the ill-fitting door. The next day it was thrown out upon the
midden; and there it lay, no one daring to touch it.

Meanwhile Mr. Gisborne, half curious, half uneasy, thought to lessen his
uncomfortable feelings by asking Sir Philip who Bridget was? He could
only describe her--he did not know her name. Sir Philip was equally at a
loss. But an old servant of the Starkeys, who had resumed his livery at
the Hall on this occasion--a scoundrel whom Bridget had saved from
dismissal more than once during her palmy days--said:--

“It will be the old witch, that his worship means. She needs a ducking,
if ever woman did, does that Bridget Fitzgerald.”

“Fitzgerald!” said both the gentlemen at once. But Sir Philip was the
first to continue:--

“I must have no talk of ducking her, Dickon. Why, she must be the very
woman poor Starkey bade me have a care of; but when I came here last she
was gone, no one knew where. I’ll go and see her to-morrow. But mind
you, sirrah, if any harm comes to her, or any more talk of her being a
witch--I’ve a pack of hounds at home, who can follow the scent of a
lying knave as well as ever they followed a dog-fox; so take care how
you talk about ducking a faithful old servant of your dead master’s.”

“Had she ever a daughter?” asked Mr. Gisborne, after a while.

“I don’t know--yes! I’ve a notion she had; a kind of waiting-woman to
Madam Starkey.”

“Please your worship,” said humbled Dickon, “Mistress Bridget had a
daughter--one Mistress Mary--who went abroad, and has never been heard
on since; and folk do say that has crazed her mother.”

Mr. Gisborne shaded his eyes with his hand.

“I could wish she had not cursed me,” he muttered. “She may have
power--no one else could.” After a while, he said aloud, no one
understanding rightly what he meant, “Tush! it’s impossible!”--and
called for claret; and he and the other gentlemen set-to to a
drinking-bout.


CHAPTER II.

I now come to the time in which I myself was mixed up with the people
that I have been writing about. And to make you understand how I became
connected with them, I must give you some little account of myself. My
father was the younger son of a Devonshire gentleman of moderate
property; my eldest uncle succeeded to the estate of his forefathers, my
second became an eminent attorney in London, and my father took orders.
Like most poor clergymen, he had a large family; and I have no doubt was
glad enough when my London uncle, who was a bachelor, offered to take
charge of me, and bring me up to be his successor in business.

In this way I came to live in London, in my uncle’s house, not far from
Gray’s Inn, and to be treated and esteemed as his son, and to labour
with him in his office. I was very fond of the old gentleman. He was the
confidential agent of many country squires, and had attained to his
present position as much by knowledge of human nature as by knowledge of
law; though he was learned enough in the latter. He used to say his
business was law, his pleasure heraldry. From his intimate acquaintance
with family history, and all the tragic courses of life therein
involved, to hear him talk, at leisure times, about any coat of arms
that came across his path was as good as a play or a romance. Many cases
of disputed property, dependent on a love of genealogy, were brought to
him, as to a great authority on such points. If the lawyer who came to
consult him was young, he would take no fee, only give him a long
lecture on the importance of attending to heraldry; if the lawyer was of
mature age and good standing, he would mulct him pretty well, and abuse
him to me afterwards as negligent of one great branch of the profession.
His house was in a stately new street called Ormond Street, and in it he
had a handsome library; but all the books treated of things that were
past; none of them planned or looked forward into the future. I worked
away--partly for the sake of my family at home, partly because my uncle
had really taught me to enjoy the kind of practice in which he himself
took such delight. I suspect I worked too hard; at any rate, in
seventeen hundred and eighteen I was far from well, and my good uncle
was disturbed by my ill looks.

One day, he rang the bell twice into the clerk’s room at the dingy
office in Gray’s Inn Lane. It was the summons for me, and I went into
his private room just as a gentleman--whom I knew well enough by sight
as an Irish lawyer of more reputation than he deserved--was leaving.

My uncle was slowly rubbing his hands together and considering. I was
there two or three minutes before he spoke. Then he told me that I must
pack up my portmanteau that very afternoon, and start that night by
post-horse for West Chester. I should get there, if all went well, at
the end of five days’ time, and must then wait for a packet to cross
over to Dublin; from thence I must proceed to a certain town named
Kildoon, and in that neighbourhood I was to remain, making certain
inquiries as to the existence of any descendants of the younger branch
of a family to whom some valuable estates had descended in the female
line. The Irish lawyer whom I had seen was weary of the case, and would
willingly have given up the property, without further ado, to a man who
appeared to claim them; but on laying his tables and trees before my
uncle, the latter had foreseen so many possible prior claimants, that
the lawyer had begged him to undertake the management of the whole
business. In his youth, my uncle would have liked nothing better than
going over to Ireland himself, and ferreting out every scrap of paper or
parchment, and every word of tradition respecting the family. As it was,
old and gouty, he deputed me.

Accordingly, I went to Kildoon. I suspect I had something of my uncle’s
delight in following up a genealogical scent, for I very soon found
out, when on the spot, that Mr. Rooney, the Irish lawyer, would have got
both himself and the first claimant into a terrible scrape, if he had
pronounced his opinion that the estates ought to be given up to him.
There were three poor Irish fellows, each nearer of kin to the last
possessor; but, a generation before, there was a still nearer relation,
who had never been accounted for, nor his existence ever discovered by
the lawyers, I venture to think, till I routed him out from the memory
of some of the old dependants of the family. What had become of him? I
travelled backwards and forwards; I crossed over to France, and came
back again with a slight clue, which ended in my discovering that, wild
and dissipated himself, he had left one child, a son, of yet worse
character than his father; that this same Hugh Fitzgerald had married a
very beautiful serving-woman of the Byrnes--a person below him in
hereditary rank, but above him in character; that he had died soon after
his marriage, leaving one child, whether a boy or a girl I could not
learn, and that the mother had returned to live in the family of the
Byrnes. Now, the chief of this latter family was serving in the Duke of
Berwick’s regiment, and it was long before I could hear from him; it was
more than a year before I got a short, haughty letter--I fancy he had a
soldier’s contempt for a civilian, an Irishman’s hatred for an
Englishman, an exiled Jacobite’s jealousy of one who prospered and lived
tranquilly under the government he looked upon as an usurpation.
“Bridget Fitzgerald,” he said, “had been faithful to the fortunes of his
sister--had followed her abroad, and to England when Mrs. Starkey had
thought fit to return. Both her sister and her husband were dead; he
knew nothing of Bridget Fitzgerald at the present time: probably Sir
Philip Tempest, his nephew’s guardian, might be able to give me some
information.” I have not given the little contemptuous terms; the way in
which faithful service was meant to imply more than it said--all that
has nothing to do with my story. Sir Philip, when applied to, told me
that he paid an annuity regularly to an old woman named Fitzgerald,
living at Coldholme (the village near Starkey Manor-House). Whether she
had any descendants he could not say.

One bleak March evening, I came in sight of the places described at the
beginning of my story. I could hardly understand the rude dialect in
which the direction to old Bridget’s house was given.

“Yo’ see yon furleets,” all run together, gave me no idea that I was to
guide myself by the distant lights that shone in the windows of the
Hall, occupied for the time by a farmer who held the post of steward,
while the Squire, now four or five and twenty, was making the grand
tour. However, at last, I reached Bridget’s cottage--a low, moss-grown
place; the palings that had once surrounded it were broken and gone; and
the underwood of the forest came up to the walls, and must have darkened
the windows. It was about seven o’clock--not late to my London
notions--but, after knocking for some time at the door and receiving no
reply, I was driven to conjecture that the occupant of the house was
gone to bed. So I betook myself to the nearest church I had seen, three
miles back on the road I had come, sure that close to that I should find
an inn of some kind; and early the next morning I set off back to
Coldholme, by a field-path which my host assured me I should find a
shorter cut than the road I had taken the night before. It was a cold,
sharp morning; my feet left prints in the sprinkling of hoar-frost that
covered the ground; nevertheless, I saw an old woman, whom I
instinctively suspected to be the object of my search, in a sheltered
covert on one side of my path. I lingered and watched her. She must have
been considerably above the middle size in her prime, for when she
raised herself from the stooping position in which I first saw her,
there was something fine and commanding in the erectness of her figure.
She drooped again in a minute or two, and seemed looking for something
on the ground, as, with bent head, she turned off from the spot where I
gazed upon her, and was lost to my sight. I fancy I missed my way, and
made a round in spite of the landlord’s directions; for by the time I
had reached Bridget’s cottage she was there, with no semblance of
hurried walk or discomposure of any kind. The door was slightly ajar. I
knocked, and the majestic figure stood before me, silently awaiting the
explanation of my errand. Her teeth were all gone, so the nose and chin
were brought near together; the gray eyebrows were straight, and almost
hung over her deep, cavernous eyes, and the thick white hair lay in
silvery masses over the low, wide, wrinkled forehead. For a moment, I
stood uncertain how to shape my answer to the solemn questioning of her
silence.

“Your name is Bridget Fitzgerald, I believe?”

She bowed her head in assent.

“I have something to say to you. May I come in? I am unwilling to keep
you standing.”

“You cannot tire me,” she said, and at first she seemed inclined to deny
me the shelter of her roof. But the next moment--she had searched the
very soul in me with her eyes during that instant--she led me in, and
dropped the shadowing hood of her gray, draping cloak, which had
previously hid part of the character of her countenance. The cottage was
rude and bare enough. But before that picture of the Virgin, of which I
have made mention, there stood a little cup filled with fresh primroses.
While she paid her reverence to the Madonna, I understood why she had
been out seeking through the clumps of green in the sheltered copse.
Then she turned round, and bade me be seated. The expression of her
face, which all this time I was studying, was not bad, as the stories of
my last night’s landlord had led me to expect; it was a wild, stern,
fierce, indomitable countenance, seamed and scarred by agonies of
solitary weeping; but it was neither cunning nor malignant.

“My name is Bridget Fitzgerald,” said she, by way of opening our
conversation.

“And your husband was Hugh Fitzgerald, of Knock-Mahon, near Kildoon, in
Ireland?”

A faint light came into the dark gloom of her eyes.

“He was.”

“May I ask if you had any children by him?”

The light in her eyes grew quick and red. She tried to speak, I could
see; but something rose in her throat, and choked her, and until she
could speak calmly, she would fain not speak at all before a stranger.
In a minute or so she said:

“I had a daughter--one Mary Fitzgerald,”--then her strong nature
mastered her strong will, and she cried out, with a trembling, wailing
cry: “Oh, man! what of her?--what of her?”

She rose from her seat, and came and clutched at my arm, and looked in
my eyes. There she read, as I suppose, my utter ignorance of what had
become of her child; for she went blindly back to her chair, and sat
rocking herself and softly moaning, as if I were not there; I not daring
to speak to the lone and awful woman. After a little pause, she knelt
down before the picture of our Lady of the Holy Heart, and spoke to her
by all the fanciful and poetic names of the Litany.

“O Rose of Sharon! O Tower of David! O Star of the Sea! have you no
comfort for my sore heart? Am I for ever to hope? Grant me at least
despair!”--and so on she went, heedless of my presence. Her prayers grew
wilder and wilder, till they seemed to me to touch on the borders of
madness and blasphemy. Almost involuntarily, I spoke as if to stop her.

“Have you any reason to think that your daughter is dead?”

She rose from her knees, and came and stood before me.

“Mary Fitzgerald is dead,” said she. “I shall never see her again in the
flesh. No tongue ever told me. But I know she is dead. I have yearned so
to see her, and my heart’s will is fearful and strong: it would have
drawn her to me before now, if she had been a wanderer on the other side
of the world. I wonder often it has not drawn her out of the grave to
come and stand before me, and hear me tell her how I loved her. For,
sir, we parted unfriends.”

I knew nothing but the dry particulars needed for my lawyer’s quest, but
I could not help feeling for the desolate woman; and she must have read
the unusual sympathy with her wistful eyes.

“Yes, sir, we did. She never knew how I loved her; and we parted
unfriends; and I fear me that I wished her voyage might not turn out
well, only meaning,--O, blessed Virgin! you know I only meant that she
should come home to her mother’s arms as to the happiest place on earth;
but my wishes are terrible--their power goes beyond my thought--and
there is no hope for me, if my words brought Mary harm.”

“But,” I said, “you do not know that she is dead. Even now, you hoped
she might be alive. Listen to me,” and I told her the tale I have
already told you, giving it all in the driest manner, for I wanted to
recall the clear sense that I felt almost sure she had possessed in her
younger days, and by keeping up her attention to details, restrain the
vague wildness of her grief.

She listened with deep attention, putting from time to time such
questions as convinced me I had to do with no common intelligence,
however dimmed and shorn by solitude and mysterious sorrow. Then she
took up her tale; and in few brief words, told me of her wanderings
abroad in vain search after her daughter; sometimes in the wake of
armies, sometimes in camp, sometimes in city. The lady, whose
waiting-woman Mary had gone to be, had died soon after the date of her
last letter home; her husband, the foreign officer, had been serving in
Hungary, whither Bridget had followed him, but too late to find him.
Vague rumours reached her that Mary had made a great marriage; and this
sting of doubt was added,--whether the mother might not be close to her
child under her new name, and even hearing of her every day, and yet
never recognising the lost one under the appellation she then bore. At
length the thought took possession of her, that it was possible that all
this time Mary might be at home at Coldholme, in the Trough of Bolland,
in Lancashire, in England; and home came Bridget, in that vain hope, to
her desolate hearth, and empty cottage. Here she had thought it safest
to remain; if Mary was in life, it was here she would seek for her
mother.

I noted down one or two particulars out of Bridget’s narrative that I
thought might be of use to me; for I was stimulated to further search in
a strange and extraordinary manner. It seemed as if it were impressed
upon me, that I must take up the quest where Bridget had laid it down;
and this for no reason that had previously influenced me (such as my
uncle’s anxiety on the subject, my own reputation as a lawyer, and so
on), but from some strange power which had taken possession of my will
only that very morning, and which forced it in the direction it chose.

“I will go,” said I. “I will spare nothing in the search. Trust to me. I
will learn all that can be learnt. You shall know all that money, or
pains, or wit can discover. It is true she may be long dead: but she may
have left a child.”

“A child!” she cried, as if for the first time this idea had struck her
mind. “Hear him, Blessed Virgin! he says she may have left a child. And
you have never told me, though I have prayed so for a sign, waking or
sleeping!”

“Nay,” said I, “I know nothing but what you tell me. You say you heard
of her marriage.”

But she caught nothing of what I said. She was praying to the Virgin in
a kind of ecstacy, which seemed to render her unconscious of my very
presence.

From Coldholme I went to Sir Philip Tempest’s. The wife of the foreign
officer had been a cousin of his father’s, and from him I thought I
might gain some particulars as to the existence of the Count de la Tour
d’Auvergne, and where I could find him; for I knew questions _de vive
voix_ aid the flagging recollection, and I was determined to lose no
chance for want of trouble. But Sir Philip had gone abroad, and it would
be some time before I could receive an answer. So I followed my uncle’s
advice, to whom I had mentioned how wearied I felt, both in body and
mind, by my will-o’-the-wisp search. He immediately told me to go to
Harrogate, there to await Sir Philip’s reply. I should be near to one of
the places connected with my search, Coldholme; not far from Sir Philip
Tempest, in case he returned, and I wished to ask him any further
questions; and, in conclusion, my uncle bade me try to forget all about
my business for a time.

This was far easier said than done. I have seen a child on a common
blown along by a high wind, without power of standing still and
resisting the tempestuous force. I was somewhat in the same predicament
as regarded my mental state. Something resistless seemed to urge my
thoughts on, through every possible course by which there was a chance
of attaining to my object. I did not see the sweeping moors when I
walked out: when I held a book in my hand, and read the words, their
sense did not penetrate to my brain. If I slept, I went on with the same
ideas, always flowing in the same direction. This could not last long
without having a bad effect on the body. I had an illness, which,
although I was racked with pain, was a positive relief to me, as it
compelled me to live in the present suffering, and not in the visionary
researches I had been continually making before. My kind uncle came to
nurse me; and after the immediate danger was over, my life seemed to
slip away in delicious languor for two or three months. I did not
ask--so much did I dread falling into the old channel of
thought--whether any reply had been received to my letter to Sir Philip.
I turned my whole imagination right away from all that subject. My uncle
remained with me until nigh summer, and then returned to his business in
London; leaving me perfectly well, although not completely strong. I was
to follow him in a fortnight; when, as he said, “we would look over
letters, and talk about several things.” I knew what this little speech
alluded to, and shrank from the train of thought it suggested, which was
so intimately connected with my first feelings of illness. However, I
had a fortnight more to roam on those invigorating Yorkshire moors.

In those days, there was one large, rambling inn at Harrogate, close to
the Medicinal Spring; but it was already becoming too small for the
accommodation of the influx of visitors, and many lodged round about, in
the farm-houses of the district. It was so early in the season, that I
had the inn pretty much to myself; and, indeed, felt rather like a
visitor in a private house, so intimate had the landlord and landlady
become with me during my long illness. She would chide me for being out
so late on the moors, or for having been too long without food, quite in
a motherly way; while he consulted me about vintages and wines, and
taught me many a Yorkshire wrinkle about horses. In my walks I met other
strangers from time to time. Even before my uncle had left me, I had
noticed, with half-torpid curiosity, a young lady of very striking
appearance, who went about always accompanied by an elderly
companion,--hardly a gentlewoman, but with something in her look that
prepossessed me in her favour. The younger lady always put her veil down
when any one approached; so it had been only once or twice, when I had
come upon her at a sudden turn in the path, that I had even had a
glimpse of her face. I am not sure if it was beautiful, though in
after-life I grew to think it so. But it was at this time over-shadowed
by a sadness that never varied: a pale, quiet, resigned look of intense
suffering, that irresistibly attracted me,--not with love, but with a
sense of infinite compassion for one so young yet so hopelessly
unhappy. The companion wore something of the same look: quiet,
melancholy, hopeless, yet resigned. I asked my landlord who they were.
He said they were called Clarke, and wished to be considered as mother
and daughter; but that, for his part, he did not believe that to be
their right name, or that there was any such relationship between them.
They had been in the neighbourhood of Harrogate for some time, lodging
in a remote farm-house. The people there would tell nothing about them;
saying that they paid handsomely, and never did any harm; so why should
they be speaking of any strange things that might happen? That, as the
landlord shrewdly observed, showed there was something out of the common
way: he had heard that the elderly woman was a cousin of the farmer’s
where they lodged, and so the regard existing between relations might
help to keep them quiet.

“What did he think, then, was the reason for their extreme seclusion?”
asked I.

“Nay, he could not tell, not he. He had heard that the young lady, for
all as quiet as she seemed, played strange pranks at times.” He shook
his head when I asked him for more particulars, and refused to give
them, which made me doubt if he knew any, for he was in general a
talkative and communicative man. In default of other interests, after my
uncle left, I set myself to watch these two people. I hovered about
their walks, drawn towards them with a strange fascination, which was
not diminished by their evident annoyance at so frequently meeting me.
One day, I had the sudden good fortune to be at hand when they were
alarmed by the attack of a bull, which, in those unenclosed grazing
districts, was a particularly dangerous occurrence. I have other and
more important things to relate, than to tell of the accident which gave
me an opportunity of rescuing them; it is enough to say, that this event
was the beginning of an acquaintance, reluctantly acquiesced in by them,
but eagerly prosecuted by me. I can hardly tell when intense curiosity
became merged in love, but in less than ten days after my uncle’s
departure I was passionately enamoured of Mrs. Lucy, as her attendant
called her; carefully--for this I noted well--avoiding any address which
appeared as if there was an equality of station between them. I noticed
also that Mrs. Clarke, the elderly woman, after her first reluctance to
allow me to pay them any attentions had been overcome, was cheered by my
evident attachment to the young girl; it seemed to lighten her heavy
burden of care, and she evidently favoured my visits to the farm-house
where they lodged. It was not so with Lucy. A more attractive person I
never saw, in spite of her depression of manner, and shrinking avoidance
of me. I felt sure at once, that whatever was the source of her grief,
it rose from no fault of her own. It was difficult to draw her into
conversation; but when at times, for a moment or two, I beguiled her
into talk, I could see a rare intelligence in her face, and a grave,
trusting look in the soft, gray eyes that were raised for a minute to
mine. I made every excuse I possibly could for going there. I sought
wild flowers for Lucy’s sake; I planned walks for Lucy’s sake; I watched
the heavens by night, in hopes that some unusual beauty of sky would
justify me in tempting Mrs. Clarke and Lucy forth upon the moors, to
gaze at the great purple dome above.

It seemed to me that Lucy was aware of my love; but that, for some
motive which I could not guess, she would fain have repelled me; but
then again I saw, or fancied I saw, that her heart spoke in my favour,
and that there was a struggle going on in her mind, which at times (I
loved so dearly) I could have begged her to spare herself, even though
the happiness of my whole life should have been the sacrifice; for her
complexion grew paler, her aspect of sorrow more hopeless, her delicate
frame yet slighter. During this period I had written, I should say, to
my uncle, to beg to be allowed to prolong my stay at Harrogate, not
giving any reason; but such was his tenderness towards me, that in a few
days I heard from him, giving me a willing permission, and only charging
me to take care of myself, and not use too much exertion during the hot
weather.

One sultry evening I drew near the farm. The windows of their parlour
were open, and I heard voices when I turned the corner of the house, as
I passed the first window (there were two windows in their little
ground-floor room). I saw Lucy distinctly; but when I had knocked at
their door--the house-door stood always ajar--she was gone, and I saw
only Mrs. Clarke, turning over the work-things lying on the table, in a
nervous and purposeless manner. I felt by instinct that a conversation
of some importance was coming on, in which I should be expected to say
what was my object in paying these frequent visits. I was glad of the
opportunity. My uncle had several times alluded to the pleasant
possibility of my bringing home a young wife, to cheer and adorn the old
house in Ormond Street. He was rich, and I was to succeed him, and had,
as I knew, a fair reputation for so young a lawyer. So on my side I saw
no obstacle. It was true that Lucy was shrouded in mystery; her name (I
was convinced it was not Clarke), birth, parentage, and previous life
were unknown to me. But I was sure of her goodness and sweet innocence,
and although I knew that there must be something painful to be told, to
account for her mournful sadness, yet I was willing to bear my share in
her grief, whatever it might be.

Mrs. Clarke began, as if it was a relief to her to plunge into the
subject.

“We have thought, sir--at least I have thought--that you know very
little of us, nor we of you, indeed; not enough to warrant the intimate
acquaintance we have fallen into. I beg your pardon, sir,” she went on,
nervously; “I am but a plain kind of woman, and I mean to use no
rudeness; but I must say straight out that I--we--think it would be
better for you not to come so often to see us. She is very unprotected,
and----”

“Why should I not come to see you, dear madam?” asked I, eagerly, glad
of the opportunity of explaining myself. “I come, I own, because I have
learnt to love Mistress Lucy, and wish to teach her to love me.”

Mistress Clarke shook her head, and sighed.

“Don’t, sir--neither love her, nor, for the sake of all you hold sacred,
teach her to love you! If I am too late, and you love her already,
forget her,--forget these last few weeks. O! I should never have allowed
you to come!” she went on, passionately; “but what am I to do? We are
forsaken by all, except the great God, and even He permits a strange and
evil power to afflict us--what am I to do? Where is it to end?” She
wrung her hands in her distress; then she turned to me: “Go away, sir;
go away, before you learn to care any more for her. I ask it for your
own sake--I implore. You have been good and kind to us, and we shall
always recollect you with gratitude; but go away now, and never come
back to cross our fatal path!”

“Indeed, madam,” said I, “I shall do no such thing. You urge it for my
own sake. I have no fear, so urged--nor wish, except to hear more--all.
I cannot have seen Mistress Lucy in all the intimacy of this last
fortnight, without acknowledging her goodness and innocence; and without
seeing--pardon me, madam--that for some reason you are two very lonely
women, in some mysterious sorrow and distress. Now, though I am not
powerful myself, yet I have friends who are so wise and kind, that they
may be said to possess power. Tell me some particulars. Why are you in
grief--what is your secret--why are you here? I declare solemnly that
nothing you have said has daunted me in my wish to become Lucy’s
husband; nor will I shrink from any difficulty that, as such an
aspirant, I may have to encounter. You say you are friendless--why cast
away an honest friend? I will tell you of people to whom you may write,
and who will answer any questions as to my character and prospects. I do
not shun inquiry.”

She shook her head again. “You had better go away, sir. You know nothing
about us.”

“I know your names,” said I, “and I have heard you allude to the part of
the country from which you came, which I happen to know as a wild and
lonely place. There are so few people living in it that, if I chose to
go there, I could easily ascertain all about you; but I would rather
hear it from yourself.” You see I wanted to pique her into telling me
something definite.

“You do not know our true names, sir,” said she, hastily.

“Well, I may have conjectured as much. But tell me, then, I conjure you.
Give me your reasons for distrusting my willingness to stand by what I
have said with regard to Mistress Lucy.”

“Oh, what can I do?” exclaimed she. “If I am turning away a true friend
as he says?--Stay!” coming to a sudden decision--“I will tell you
something--I cannot tell you all--you would not believe it. But,
perhaps, I can tell you enough to prevent your going on in your hopeless
attachment. I am not Lucy’s mother.”

“So I conjectured,” I said. “Go on.”

“I do not even know whether she is the legitimate or illegitimate child
of her father. But he is cruelly turned against her; and her mother is
long dead; and, for a terrible reason, she has no other creature to keep
constant to her but me. She--only two years ago--such a darling and such
a pride in her father’s house! Why, sir, there is a mystery that might
happen in connection with her any moment; and then you would go away
like all the rest; and, when you next heard her name, you would loathe
her. Others, who have loved her longer, have done so before now. My
poor child, whom neither God nor man has mercy upon--or, surely, she
would die!”

The good woman was stopped by her crying. I confess, I was a little
stunned by her last words; but only for a moment. At any rate, till I
knew definitely what was this mysterious stain upon one so simple and
pure, as Lucy seemed, I would not desert her, and so I said; and she
made answer:--

“If you are daring in your heart to think harm of my child, sir, after
knowing her as you have done, you are no good man yourself; but I am so
foolish and helpless in my great sorrow, that I would fain hope to find
a friend in you. I cannot help trusting that, although you may no longer
feel towards her as a lover, you will have pity upon us; and perhaps, by
your learning, you can tell us where to go for aid.”

“I implore you to tell me what this mystery is,” I cried, almost
maddened by this suspense.

“I cannot,” said she, solemnly. “I am under a deep vow of secrecy. If
you are to be told, it must be by her.” She left the room, and I
remained to ponder over this strange interview. I mechanically turned
over the few books, and with eyes that saw nothing at the time, examined
the tokens of Lucy’s frequent presence in that room.

When I got home at night, I remembered how all these trifles spoke of a
pure and tender heart and innocent life. Mistress Clarke returned; she
had been crying sadly.

“Yes,” said she, “it is as I feared: she loves you so much that she is
willing to run the fearful risk of telling you all herself--she
acknowledges it is but a poor chance; but your sympathy will be a balm,
if you give it. To-morrow, come here at ten in the morning; and, as you
hope for pity in your hour of agony, repress all show of fear or
repugnance you may feel towards one so grievously afflicted.”

I half smiled. “Have no fear,” I said. It seemed too absurd to imagine
my feeling dislike to Lucy.

“Her father loved her well,” said she, gravely, “yet he drove her out
like some monstrous thing.”

Just at this moment came a peal of ringing laughter from the garden. It
was Lucy’s voice; it sounded as if she were standing just on one side of
the open casement--and as though she were suddenly stirred to
merriment--merriment verging on boisterousness, by the doings or sayings
of some other person. I can scarcely say why, but the sound jarred on me
inexpressibly. She knew the subject of our conversation, and must have
been at least aware of the state of agitation her friend was in: she
herself usually so gentle and quiet. I half rose to go to the window,
and satisfy my instinctive curiosity as to what had provoked this burst
of ill-timed laughter; but Mrs. Clarke threw her whole weight and power
upon the hand with which she pressed and kept me down.

“For God’s sake!” she said, white and trembling all over, “sit still; be
quiet. Oh! be patient. To-morrow you will know all. Leave us, for we are
all sorely afflicted. Do not seek to know more about us.”

Again that laugh--so musical in sound, yet so discordant to my heart.
She held me tight--tighter; without positive violence I could not have
risen. I was sitting with my back to the window, but I felt a shadow
pass between the sun’s warmth and me, and a strange shudder ran through
my frame. In a minute or two she released me.

“Go,” repeated she. “Be warned, I ask you once more. I do not think you
can stand this knowledge that you seek. If I had had my own way, Lucy
should never have yielded, and promised to tell you all. Who knows what
may come of it?”

“I am firm in my wish to know all. I return at ten to-morrow morning,
and then expect to see Mistress Lucy herself.”

I turned away; having my own suspicions, I confess, as to Mistress
Clarke’s sanity.

Conjectures as to the meaning of her hints, and uncomfortable thoughts
connected with that strange laughter, filled my mind. I could hardly
sleep. I rose early; and long before the hour I had appointed, I was on
the path over the common that led to the old farm-house where they
lodged. I suppose that Lucy had passed no better a night than I; for
there she was also, slowly pacing with her even step, her eyes bent
down, her whole look most saintly and pure. She started when I came
close to her, and grew paler as I reminded her of my appointment, and
spoke with something of the impatience of obstacles that, seeing her
once more, had called up afresh in my mind. All strange and terrible
hints, and giddy merriment were forgotten. My heart gave forth words of
fire, and my tongue uttered them. Her colour went and came, as she
listened; but, when I had ended my passionate speeches, she lifted her
soft eyes to me, and said--

“But you know that you have something to learn about me yet. I only want
to say this: I shall not think less of you--less well of you, I mean--if
you, too, fall away from me when you know all. Stop!” said she, as if
fearing another burst of mad words. “Listen to me. My father is a man of
great wealth. I never knew my mother; she must have died when I was very
young. When first I remember anything, I was living in a great, lonely
house, with my dear and faithful Mistress Clarke. My father, even, was
not there; he was--he is--a soldier, and his duties lie abroad. But he
came, from time to time, and every time I think he loved me more and
more. He brought me rarities from foreign lands, which prove to me now
how much he must have thought of me during his absences. I can sit down
and measure the depth of his lost love now, by such standards as these.
I never thought whether he loved me or not, then; it was so natural,
that it was like the air I breathed. Yet he was an angry man at times,
even then; but never with me. He was very reckless, too; and, once or
twice, I heard a whisper among the servants that a doom was over him,
and that he knew it, and tried to drown his knowledge in wild activity,
and even sometimes, sir, in wine. So I grew up in this grand mansion, in
that lonely place. Everything around me seemed at my disposal, and I
think every one loved me; I am sure I loved them. Till about two years
ago--I remember it well--my father had come to England, to us; and he
seemed so proud and so pleased with me and all I had done. And one day
his tongue seemed loosened with wine, and he told me much that I had not
known till then,--how dearly he had loved my mother, yet how his wilful
usage had caused her death; and then he went on to say how he loved me
better than any creature on earth, and how, some day, he hoped to take
me to foreign places, for that he could hardly bear these long
abscences from his only child. Then he seemed to change suddenly, and
said, in a strange, wild way, that I was not to believe what he said;
that there was many a thing he loved better--his horse--his dog--I know
not what.

“And ’twas only the next morning that, when I came into his room to ask
his blessing as was my wont, he received me with fierce and angry words.
‘Why had I,’ so he asked, ‘been delighting myself in such wanton
mischief--dancing over the tender plants in the flower-beds, all set
with the famous Dutch bulbs he had brought from Holland?’ I had never
been out of doors that morning, sir, and I could not conceive what he
meant, and so I said; and then he swore at me for a liar, and said I was
of no true blood, for he had seen me doing all that mischief
himself--with his own eyes. What could I say? He would not listen to me,
and even my tears seemed only to irritate him. That day was the
beginning of my great sorrows. Not long after, he reproached me for my
undue familiarity--all unbecoming a gentlewoman--with his grooms. I had
been in the stable-yard, laughing and talking, he said. Now, sir, I am
something of a coward by nature, and I had always dreaded horses;
besides that, my father’s servants--those whom he brought with him from
foreign parts--were wild fellows, whom I had always avoided, and to whom
I had never spoken, except as a lady must needs from time to time speak
to her father’s people. Yet my father called me by names of which I
hardly know the meaning, but my heart told me they were such as shame
any modest woman; and from that day he turned quite against me;--nay,
sir, not many weeks after that, he came in with a riding-whip in his
hand; and, accusing me harshly of evil doings, of which I knew no more
than you, sir, he was about to strike me, and I, all in bewildering
tears, was ready to take his stripes as great kindness compared to his
harder words, when suddenly he stopped his arm mid-way, gasped and
staggered, crying out, ‘The curse--the curse!’ I looked up in terror. In
the great mirror opposite I saw myself, and, right behind, another
wicked, fearful self, so like me that my soul seemed to quiver within
me, as though not knowing to which similitude of body it belonged. My
father saw my double at the same moment, either in its dreadful reality,
whatever that might be, or in the scarcely less terrible reflection in
the mirror; but what came of it at that moment I cannot say, for I
suddenly swooned away; and when I came to myself I was lying in my bed,
and my faithful Clarke sitting by me. I was in my bed for days; and even
while I lay there my double was seen by all, flitting about the house
and gardens, always about some mischievous or detestable work. What
wonder that every one shrank from me in dread--that my father drove me
forth at length, when the disgrace of which I was the cause was past his
patience to bear. Mistress Clarke came with me; and here we try to live
such a life of piety and prayer as may in time set me free from the
curse.”

All the time she had been speaking, I had been weighing her story in my
mind. I had hitherto put cases of witchcraft on one side, as mere
superstitions; and my uncle and I had had many an argument, he
supporting himself by the opinion of his good friend Sir Matthew Hale.
Yet this sounded like the tale of one bewitched; or was it merely the
effect of a life of extreme seclusion telling on the nerves of a
sensitive girl? My scepticism inclined me to the latter belief, and when
she paused I said:

“I fancy that some physician could have disabused your father of his
belief in visions----”

Just at that instant, standing as I was opposite to her in the full and
perfect morning light, I saw behind her another figure--a ghastly
resemblance, complete in likeness, so far as form and feature and
minutest touch of dress could go, but with a loathsome demon soul
looking out of the gray eyes, that were in turns mocking and voluptuous.
My heart stood still within me; every hair rose up erect; my flesh crept
with horror. I could not see the grave and tender Lucy--my eyes were
fascinated by the creature beyond. I know not why, but I put out my hand
to clutch it; I grasped nothing but empty air, and my whole blood
curdled to ice. For a moment I could not see; then my sight came back,
and I saw Lucy standing before me, alone, deathly pale, and, I could
have fancied, almost, shrunk in size.

“It has been near me?” she said, as if asking a question.

The sound seemed taken out of her voice; it was husky as the notes on an
old harpsichord when the strings have ceased to vibrate. She read her
answer in my face, I suppose, for I could not speak. Her look was one of
intense fear, but that died away into an aspect of most humble patience.
At length she seemed to force herself to face behind and around her:
she saw the purple moors, the blue distant hills, quivering in the
sunlight, but nothing else.

“Will you take me home?” she said, meekly.

I took her by the hand, and led her silently through the budding
heather--we dared not speak; for we could not tell but that the dread
creature was listening, although unseen,--but that IT might appear and
push us asunder. I never loved her more fondly than now when--and that
was the unspeakable misery--the idea of her was becoming so inextricably
blended with the shuddering thought of IT. She seemed to understand what
I must be feeling. She let go my hand, which she had kept clasped until
then, when we reached the garden gate, and went forwards to meet her
anxious friend, who was standing by the window looking for her. I could
not enter the house: I needed silence, society, leisure, change--I knew
not what--to shake off the sensation of that creature’s presence. Yet I
lingered about the garden--I hardly know why; I partly suppose, because
I feared to encounter the resemblance again on the solitary common,
where it had vanished, and partly from a feeling of inexpressible
compassion for Lucy. In a few minutes Mistress Clarke came forth and
joined me. We walked some paces in silence.

“You know all now,” said she, solemnly.

“I saw IT,” said I, below my breath.

“And you shrink from us, now,” she said, with a hopelessness which
stirred up all that was brave or good in me.

“Not a whit,” said I. “Human flesh shrinks from encounter with the
powers of darkness: and, for some reason unknown to me, the pure and
holy Lucy is their victim.”

“The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children,” she said.

“Who is her father?” asked I. “Knowing as much as I do, I may surely
know more--know all. Tell me, I entreat you, madam, all that you can
conjecture respecting this demoniac persecution of one so good.”

“I will; but not now. I must go to Lucy now. Come this afternoon, I will
see you alone; and oh, sir! I will trust that you may yet find some way
to help us in our sore trouble!”

I was miserably exhausted by the swooning affright which had taken
possession of me. When I reached the inn, I staggered in like one
overcome by wine. I went to my own private room. It was some time before
I saw that the weekly post had come in, and brought me my letters. There
was one from my uncle, one from my home in Devonshire, and one,
re-directed over the first address, sealed with a great coat of arms. It
was from Sir Philip Tempest: my letter of inquiry respecting Mary
Fitzgerald had reached him at Liège, where it so happened that the Count
de la Tour d’Auvergne was quartered at the very time. He remembered his
wife’s beautiful attendant; she had had high words with the deceased
countess, respecting her intercourse with an English gentleman of good
standing, who was also in the foreign service. The countess augured evil
of his intentions; while Mary, proud and vehement, asserted that he
would soon marry her, and resented her mistress’s warnings as an insult.
The consequence was, that she had left Madame de la Tour d’Auvergne’s
service, and, as the Count believed, had gone to live with the
Englishman; whether he had married her, or not, he could not say. “But,”
added Sir Philip Tempest, “you may easily hear what particulars you wish
to know respecting Mary Fitzgerald from the Englishman himself, if, as I
suspect, he is no other than my neighbour and former acquaintance, Mr.
Gisborne, of Skipford Hall, in the West Riding. I am led to the belief
that he is no other by several small particulars, none of which are in
themselves conclusive, but which, taken together, make a mass of
presumptive evidence. As far as I could make out from the Count’s
foreign pronunciation, Gisborne was the name of the Englishman: I know
that Gisborne of Skipford was abroad and in the foreign service at that
time--he was a likely fellow enough for such an exploit, and, above all,
certain expressions recur to my mind which he used in reference to old
Bridget Fitzgerald, of Coldholme, whom he once encountered while staying
with me at Starkey Manor-House. I remember that the meeting seemed to
have produced some extraordinary effect upon his mind, as though he had
suddenly discovered some connection which she might have had with his
previous life. I beg you to let me know if I can be of any further
service to you. Your uncle once rendered me a good turn, and I will
gladly repay it, so far as in me lies, to his nephew.”

I was now apparently close on the discovery which I had striven so many
months to attain. But success had lost its zest. I put my letters down,
and seemed to forget them all in thinking of the morning I had passed
that very day. Nothing was real but the unreal presence, which had come
like an evil blast across my bodily eyes, and burnt itself down upon my
brain. Dinner came, and went away untouched. Early in the afternoon I
walked to the farm-house. I found Mistress Clarke alone, and I was glad
and relieved. She was evidently prepared to tell me all I might wish to
hear.

“You asked me for Mistress Lucy’s true name; it is Gisborne,” she began.

“Not Gisborne of Skipford?” I exclaimed, breathless with anticipation.

“The same,” said she, quietly, not regarding my manner. “Her father is
a man of note; although, being a Roman Catholic, he cannot take that
rank in this country to which his station entitles him. The consequence
is that he lives much abroad--has been a soldier, I am told.”

“And Lucy’s mother?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I never knew her,” said she. “Lucy was about three
years old when I was engaged to take charge of her. Her mother was
dead.”

“But you know her name?--you can tell if it was Mary Fitzgerald?”

She looked astonished. “That was her name. But, sir, how came you to be
so well acquainted with it? It was a mystery to the whole household at
Skipford Court. She was some beautiful young woman whom he lured away
from her protectors while he was abroad. I have heard said he practised
some terrible deceit upon her, and when she came to know it, she was
neither to have nor to hold, but rushed off from his very arms, and
threw herself into a rapid stream and was drowned. It stung him deep
with remorse, but I used to think the remembrance of the mother’s cruel
death made him love the child yet dearer.”

I told her, as briefly as might be, of my researches after the
descendant and heir of the Fitzgeralds of Kildoon, and added--something
of my old lawyer spirit returning into me for the moment--that I had no
doubt but that we should prove Lucy to be by right possessed of large
estates in Ireland.

No flush came over her gray face; no light into her eyes. “And what is
all the wealth in the whole world to that poor girl?” she said. “It will
not free her from the ghastly bewitchment which persecutes her. As for
money, what a pitiful thing it is; it cannot touch her.”

“No more can the Evil Creature harm her,” I said. “Her holy nature
dwells apart, and cannot be defiled or stained by all the devilish arts
in the whole world.”

“True! but it is a cruel fate to know that all shrink from her, sooner
or later, as from one possessed--accursed.”

“How came it to pass?” I asked.

“Nay, I know not. Old rumours there are, that were bruited through the
household at Skipford.”

“Tell me,” I demanded.

“They came from servants, who would fain account for everything. They
say that, many years ago, Mr. Gisborne killed a dog belonging to an old
witch at Coldholme; that she cursed, with a dreadful and mysterious
curse, the creature, whatever it might be, that he should love best; and
that it struck so deeply into his heart that for years he kept himself
aloof from any temptation to love aught. But who could help loving
Lucy?”

“You never heard the witch’s name?” I gasped.

“Yes--they called her Bridget; they said he would never go near the spot
again for terror of her. Yet he was a brave man!”

“Listen,” said I, taking hold of her arm, the better to arrest her full
attention; “if what I suspect holds true, that man stole Bridget’s only
child--the very Mary Fitzgerald who was Lucy’s mother; if so, Bridget
cursed him in ignorance of the deeper wrong he had done her. To this
hour she yearns after her lost child, and questions the saints whether
she be living or not. The roots of that curse lie deeper than she knows:
she unwittingly banned him for a deeper guilt than that of killing a
dumb beast. The sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the
children.”

“But,” said Mistress Clarke, eagerly, “she would never let evil rest on
her own grandchild? Surely, sir, if what you say be true, there are
hopes for Lucy. Let us go--go at once, and tell this fearful woman all
that you suspect, and beseech her to take off the spell she has put upon
her innocent grandchild.”

It seemed to me, indeed, that something like this was the best course we
could pursue. But first it was necessary to ascertain more than what
mere rumour or careless hearsay could tell. My thoughts turned to my
uncle--he could advise me wisely--he ought to know all. I resolved to go
to him without delay; but I did not choose to tell Mistress Clarke of
all the visionary plans that flitted through my mind. I simply declared
my intention of proceeding straight to London on Lucy’s affairs. I bade
her believe that my interest on the young lady’s behalf was greater than
ever, and that my whole time should be given up to her cause. I saw that
Mistress Clarke distrusted me, because my mind was too full of thoughts
for my words to flow freely. She sighed and shook her head, and said,
“Well, it is all right!” in such a tone that it was an implied reproach.
But I was firm and constant in my heart, and I took confidence from
that.

I rode to London. I rode long days drawn out into the lovely summer
nights: I could not rest. I reached London. I told my uncle all, though
in the stir of the great city the horror had faded away, and I could
hardly imagine that he would believe the account I gave him of the
fearful double of Lucy which I had seen on the lonely moor-side. But my
uncle had lived many years, and learnt many things; and, in the deep
secrets of family history that had been confided to him, he had heard of
cases of innocent people bewitched and taken possession of by evil
spirits yet more fearful than Lucy’s. For, as he said, to judge from all
I told him, that resemblance had no power over her--she was too pure and
good to be tainted by its evil, haunting presence. It had, in all
probability, so my uncle conceived, tried to suggest wicked thoughts and
to tempt to wicked actions; but she, in her saintly maidenhood, had
passed on undefiled by evil thought or deed. It could not touch her
soul: but true, it set her apart from all sweet love or common human
intercourse. My uncle threw himself with an energy more like
six-and-twenty than sixty into the consideration of the whole case. He
undertook the proving Lucy’s descent, and volunteered to go and find out
Mr. Gisborne, and obtain, firstly, the legal proofs of her descent from
the Fitzgeralds of Kildoon, and, secondly, to try and hear all that he
could respecting the working of the curse, and whether any and what
means had been taken to exorcise that terrible appearance. For he told
me of instances where, by prayers and long fasting, the evil possessor
had been driven forth with howling and many cries from the body which it
had come to inhabit; he spoke of those strange New England cases which
had happened not so long before; of Mr. Defoe, who had written a book,
wherein he had named many modes of subduing apparitions, and sending
them back whence they came; and, lastly, he spoke low of dreadful ways
of compelling witches to undo their witchcraft. But I could not endure
to hear of those tortures and burnings. I said that Bridget was rather a
wild and savage woman than a malignant witch; and, above all, that Lucy
was of her kith and kin; and that, in putting her to the trial, by water
or by fire, we should be torturing--it might be to the death--the
ancestress of her we sought to redeem.

My uncle thought awhile, and then said, that in this last matter I was
right--at any rate, it should not be tried, with his consent, till all
other modes of remedy had failed; and he assented to my proposal that I
should go myself and see Bridget, and tell her all.

In accordance with this, I went down once more to the wayside inn near
Coldholme. It was late at night when I arrived there; and, while I
supped, I inquired of the landlord more particulars as to Bridget’s
ways. Solitary and savage had been her life for many years. Wild and
despotic were her words and manner to those few people who came across
her path. The country-folk did her imperious bidding, because they
feared to disobey. If they pleased her, they prospered; if, on the
contrary, they neglected or traversed her behests, misfortune, small or
great, fell on them and theirs. It was not detestation so much as an
indefinable terror that she excited.

In the morning I went to see her. She was standing on the green outside
her cottage, and received me with the sullen grandeur of a throneless
queen. I read in her face that she recognised me, and that I was not
unwelcome; but she stood silent till I had opened my errand.

“I have news of your daughter,” said I, resolved to speak straight to
all that I knew she felt of love, and not to spare her. “She is dead!”

The stern figure scarcely trembled, but her hand sought the support of
the door-post.

“I knew that she was dead,” said she, deep and low, and then was silent
for an instant. “My tears that should have flowed for her were burnt up
long years ago. Young man, tell me about her.”

“Not yet,” said I, having a strange power given me of confronting one,
whom, nevertheless, in my secret soul I dreaded.

“You had once a little dog,” I continued. The words called out in her
more show of emotion than the intelligence of her daughter’s death. She
broke in upon my speech:--

“I had! It was hers--the last thing I had of hers--and it was shot for
wantonness! It died in my arms. The man who killed that dog rues it to
this day. For that dumb beast’s blood, his best-beloved stands
accursed.”

Her eyes distended, as if she were in a trance and saw the working of
her curse. Again I spoke:

“O, woman!” I said, “that best-beloved, standing accursed before men, is
your dead daughter’s child.”

The life, the energy, the passion came back to the eyes with which she
pierced through me, to see if I spoke truth; then, without another
question or word, she threw herself on the ground with fearful
vehemence, and clutched at the innocent daisies with convulsed hands.

“Bone of my bone! flesh of my flesh! have I cursed thee--and art thou
accursed?”

So she moaned, as she lay prostrate in her great agony. I stood aghast
at my own work. She did not hear my broken sentences; she asked no more,
but the dumb confirmation which my sad looks had given that one fact,
that her curse rested on her own daughter’s child. The fear grew on me
lest she should die in her strife of body and soul; and then might not
Lucy remain under the spell as long as she lived?

Even at this moment, I saw Lucy coming through the woodland path that
led to Bridget’s cottage; Mistress Clarke was with her: I felt at my
heart that it was she, by the balmy peace which the look of her sent
over me, as she slowly advanced, a glad surprise shining out of her soft
quiet eyes. That was as her gaze met mine. As her looks fell on the
woman lying stiff, convulsed on the earth, they became full of tender
pity; and she came forward to try and lift her up. Seating herself on
the turf, she took Bridget’s head into her lap; and, with gentle
touches, she arranged the dishevelled gray hair streaming thick and wild
from beneath her mutch.

“God help her!” murmured Lucy. “How she suffers!”

At her desire we sought for water; but when we returned, Bridget had
recovered her wandering senses, and was kneeling with clasped hands
before Lucy, gazing at that sweet sad face as though her troubled nature
drank in health and peace from every moment’s contemplation. A faint
tinge on Lucy’s pale cheeks showed me that she was aware of our return;
otherwise it appeared as if she was conscious of her influence for good
over the passionate and troubled woman kneeling before her, and would
not willingly avert her grave and loving eyes from that wrinkled and
careworn countenance.

Suddenly--in the twinkling of an eye--the creature appeared, there,
behind Lucy; fearfully the same as to outward semblance, but kneeling
exactly as Bridget knelt, and clasping her hands in jesting mimicry as
Bridget clasped hers in her ecstasy that was deepening into a prayer.
Mistress Clarke cried out--Bridget arose slowly, her gaze fixed on the
creature beyond: drawing her breath with a hissing sound, never moving
her terrible eyes, that were steady as stone, she made a dart at the
phantom, and caught, as I had done, a mere handful of empty air. We saw
no more of the creature--it vanished as suddenly as it came, but Bridget
looked slowly on, as if watching some receding form. Lucy sat still,
white, trembling, drooping--I think she would have swooned if I had not
been there to uphold her. While I was attending to her, Bridget passed
us, without a word to any one, and, entering her cottage, she barred
herself in, and left us without.

All our endeavours were now directed to get Lucy back to the house where
she had tarried the night before. Mistress Clarke told me that, not
hearing from me (some letter must have miscarried), she had grown
impatient and despairing, and had urged Lucy to the enterprise of coming
to seek her grandmother; not telling her, indeed, of the dread
reputation she possessed, or how we suspected her of having so fearfully
blighted that innocent girl; but, at the same time, hoping much from the
mysterious stirring of blood, which Mistress Clarke trusted in for the
removal of the curse. They had come, by a different route from that
which I had taken, to a village inn not far from Coldholme, only the
night before. This was the first interview between ancestress and
descendant.

All through the sultry noon I wandered along the tangled wood-paths of
the old neglected forest, thinking where to turn for remedy in a matter
so complicated and mysterious. Meeting a countryman, I asked my way to
the nearest clergyman, and went, hoping to obtain some counsel from him.
But he proved to be a coarse and common-minded man, giving no time or
attention to the intricacies of a case, but dashing out a strong opinion
involving immediate action. For instance, as soon as I named Bridget
Fitzgerald, he exclaimed:--

“The Coldholme witch! the Irish papist! I’d have had her ducked long
since but for that other papist, Sir Philip Tempest. He has had to
threaten honest folk about here over and over again, or they’d have had
her up before the justices for her black doings. And it’s the law of the
land that witches should be burnt! Ay, and of Scripture, too, sir! Yet
you see a papist, if he’s a rich squire, can overrule both law and
Scripture. I’d carry a faggot myself to rid the country of her!”

Such a one could give me no help. I rather drew back what I had already
said; and tried to make the parson forget it, by treating him to several
pots of beer, in the village inn, to which we had adjourned for our
conference at his suggestion. I left him as soon as I could, and
returned to Coldholme, shaping my way past deserted Starkey Manor-House,
and coming upon it by the back. At that side were the oblong remains of
the old moat, the waters of which lay placid and motionless under the
crimson rays of the setting sun; with the forest-trees lying straight
along each side, and their deep-green foliage mirrored to blackness in
the burnished surface of the moat below--and the broken sun-dial at the
end nearest the hall--and the heron, standing on one leg at the water’s
edge, lazily looking down for fish--the lonely and desolate house scarce
needed the broken windows, the weeds on the door-sill, the broken
shutter softly flapping to and fro in the twilight breeze, to fill up
the picture of desertion and decay. I lingered about the place until the
growing darkness warned me on. And then I passed along the path, cut by
the orders of the last lady of Starkey Manor-House, that led me to
Bridget’s cottage. I resolved at once to see her; and, in spite of
closed doors--it might be of resolved will--she should see me. So I
knocked at her door, gently, loudly, fiercely. I shook it so vehemently
that at length the old hinges gave way, and with a crash it fell
inwards, leaving me suddenly face to face with Bridget--I, red, heated,
agitated with my so long-baffled efforts--she, stiff as any stone,
standing right facing me, her eyes dilated with terror, her ashen lips
trembling, but her body motionless. In her hands she held her crucifix,
as if by that holy symbol she sought to oppose my entrance. At sight of
me, her whole frame relaxed, and she sank back upon a chair. Some mighty
tension had given way. Still her eyes looked fearfully into the gloom of
the outer air, made more opaque by the glimmer of the lamp inside, which
she had placed before the picture of the Virgin.

“Is she there?” asked Bridget, hoarsely.

“No! Who? I am alone. You remember me.”

“Yes,” replied she, still terror-stricken. “But she--that creature--has
been looking in upon me through that window all day long. I closed it up
with my shawl; and then I saw her feet below the door, as long as it was
light, and I knew she heard my very breathing--nay, worse, my very
prayers; and I could not pray, for her listening choked the words ere
they rose to my lips. Tell me, who is she?--what means that double girl
I saw this morning? One had a look of my dead Mary; but the other
curdled my blood, and yet it was the same!”

She had taken hold of my arm, as if to secure herself some human
companionship. She shook all over with the slight, never-ceasing tremor
of intense terror. I told her my tale, as I have told it you, sparing
none of the details.

How Mistress Clarke had informed me that the resemblance had driven Lucy
forth from her father’s house--how I had disbelieved, until, with mine
own eyes, I had seen another Lucy standing behind my Lucy, the same in
form and feature, but with the demon-soul looking out of the eyes. I
told her all, I say, believing that she--whose curse was working so upon
the life of her innocent grandchild--was the only person who could find
the remedy and the redemption. When I had done, she sat silent for many
minutes.

“You love Mary’s child?” she asked.

“I do, in spite of the fearful working of the curse--I love her. Yet I
shrink from her ever since that day on the moor-side. And men must
shrink from one so accompanied; friends and lovers must stand afar off.
Oh, Bridget Fitzgerald! loosen the curse! Set her free!”

“Where is she?”

I eagerly caught at the idea that her presence was needed, in order
that, by some strange prayer or exorcism, the spell might be reversed.

“I will go and bring her to you,” I exclaimed. But Bridget tightened her
hold upon my arm.

“Not so,” said she, in a low, hoarse voice. “It would kill me to see her
again as I saw her this morning. And I must live till I have worked my
work. Leave me!” said she, suddenly, and again taking up the cross. “I
defy the demon I have called up. Leave me to wrestle with it!”

She stood up, as if in an ecstasy of inspiration, from which all fear
was banished. I lingered--why, I can hardly tell--until once more she
bade me begone. As I went along the forest way, I looked back, and saw
her planting the cross in the empty threshold, where the door had been.

The next morning Lucy and I went to seek her, to bid her join her
prayers with ours. The cottage stood open and wide to our gaze. No human
being was there: the cross remained on the threshold, but Bridget was
gone.


CHAPTER III.

What was to be done next? was the question that I asked myself. As for
Lucy, she would fain have submitted to the doom that lay upon her. Her
gentleness and piety, under the pressure of so horrible a life, seemed
over-passive to me. She never complained. Mrs. Clarke complained more
than ever. As for me, I was more in love with the real Lucy than ever;
but I shrunk from the false similitude with an intensity proportioned to
my love. I found out by instinct that Mrs. Clarke had occasional
temptations to leave Lucy. The good lady’s nerves were shaken, and, from
what she said, I could almost have concluded that the object of the
Double was to drive away from Lucy this last and almost earliest friend.
At times, I could scarcely bear to own it, but I myself felt inclined to
turn recreant; and I would accuse Lucy of being too patient--too
resigned. One after another, she won the little children of Coldholme.
(Mrs. Clarke and she had resolved to stay there, for was it not as good
a place as any other to such as they? and did not all our faint hopes
rest on Bridget--never seen or heard of now, but still we trusted to
come back, or give some token?) So, as I say, one after another, the
little children came about my Lucy, won by her soft tones, and her
gentle smiles, and kind actions. Alas! one after another they fell away,
and shrunk from her path with blanching terror; and we too surely
guessed the reason why. It was the last drop. I could bear it no longer.
I resolved no more to linger around the spot, but to go back to my
uncle, and among the learned divines of the city of London, seek for
some power whereby to annul the curse.

My uncle, meanwhile, had obtained all the requisite testimonials
relating to Lucy’s descent and birth, from the Irish lawyers, and from
Mr. Gisborne. The latter gentleman had written from abroad (he was again
serving in the Austrian army), a letter alternately passionately
self-reproachful and stoically repellent. It was evident that when he
thought of Mary--her short life--how he had wronged her, and of her
violent death, he could hardly find words severe enough for his own
conduct; and from this point of view, the curse that Bridget had laid
upon him and his was regarded by him as a prophetic doom, to the
utterance of which she was moved by a Higher Power, working for the
fulfilment of a deeper vengeance than for the death of the poor dog. But
then, again, when he came to speak of his daughter, the repugnance which
the conduct of the demoniac creature had produced in his mind, was but
ill disguised under a show of profound indifference as to Lucy’s fate.
One almost felt as if he would have been as content to put her out of
existence, as he would have been to destroy some disgusting reptile that
had invaded his chamber or his couch.

The great Fitzgerald property was Lucy’s; and that was all--was nothing.

My uncle and I sat in the gloom of a London November evening, in our
house in Ormond Street. I was out of health, and felt as if I were in an
inextricable coil of misery. Lucy and I wrote to each other, but that
was little; and we dared not see each other for dread of the fearful
Third, who had more than once taken her place at our meetings. My uncle
had, on the day I speak of, bidden prayers to be put up, on the ensuing
Sabbath, in many a church and meeting-house in London, for one
grievously tormented by an evil spirit. He had faith in prayers--I had
none; I was fast losing faith in all things. So we sat--he trying to
interest me in the old talk of other days, I oppressed by one
thought--when our old servant, Anthony, opened the door, and, without
speaking, showed in a very gentlemanly and prepossessing man, who had
something remarkable about his dress, betraying his profession to be
that of the Roman Catholic priesthood. He glanced at my uncle first,
then at me. It was to me he bowed.

“I did not give my name,” said he, “because you would hardly have
recognised it; unless, sir, when in the north, you heard of Father
Bernard, the chaplain at Stoney Hurst?”

I remembered afterwards that I had heard of him, but at the time I had
utterly forgotten it; so I professed myself a complete stranger to him;
while my ever-hospitable uncle, although hating a papist as much as it
was in his nature to hate anything, placed a chair for the visitor, and
bade Anthony bring glasses and a fresh jug of claret.

Father Bernard received this courtesy with the graceful ease and
pleasant acknowledgment which belongs to the man of the world. Then he
turned to scan me with his keen glance. After some slight conversation,
entered into on his part, I am certain, with an intention of discovering
on what terms of confidence I stood with my uncle, he paused, and said
gravely--

“I am sent here with a message to you, sir, from a woman to whom you
have shown kindness, and who is one of my penitents, in Antwerp--one
Bridget Fitzgerald.”

“Bridget Fitzgerald!” exclaimed I. “In Antwerp? Tell me, sir, all that
you can about her.”

“There is much to be said,” he replied. “But may I inquire if this
gentleman--if your uncle is acquainted with the particulars of which you
and I stand informed?”

“All that I know, he knows,” said I, eagerly laying my hand on my
uncle’s arm, as he made a motion as if to quit the room.

“Then I have to speak before two gentlemen who, however they may differ
from me in faith, are yet fully impressed with the fact, that there are
evil powers going about continually to take cognizance of our evil
thoughts; and, if their Master gives them power, to bring them into
overt action. Such is my theory of the nature of that sin, of which I
dare not disbelieve--as some sceptics would have us do--the sin of
witchcraft. Of this deadly sin, you and I are aware Bridget Fitzgerald
has been guilty. Since you saw her last, many prayers have been offered
in our churches, many masses sung, many penances undergone, in order
that, if God and the Holy Saints so willed it, her sin might be blotted
out. But it has not been so willed.”

“Explain to me,” said I, “who you are, and how you come connected with
Bridget. Why is she at Antwerp? I pray you, sir, tell me more. If I am
impatient, excuse me; I am ill and feverish, and in consequence
bewildered.”

There was something to me inexpressibly soothing in the tone of voice
with which he began to narrate, as it were from the beginning, his
acquaintance with Bridget.

“I had known Mr. and Mrs. Starkey during their residence abroad, and so
it fell out naturally that, when I came as chaplain to the Sherburnes at
Stoney Hurst, our acquaintance was renewed; and thus I became the
confessor of the whole family, isolated as they were from the offices of
the Church, Sherburne being their nearest neighbour who professed the
true faith. Of course, you are aware that facts revealed in confession
are sealed as in the grave; but I learnt enough of Bridget’s character
to be convinced that I had to do with no common woman; one powerful for
good as for evil. I believe that I was able to give her spiritual
assistance from time to time, and that she looked upon me as a servant
of that Holy Church, which has such wonderful power of moving men’s
hearts, and relieving them of the burden of their sins. I have known her
cross the moors on the wildest nights of storm, to confess and be
absolved; and then she would return, calmed and subdued, to her daily
work about her mistress, no one witting where she had been during the
hours that most passed in sleep upon their beds. After her daughter’s
departure--after Mary’s mysterious disappearance--I had to impose many a
long penance, in order to wash away the sin of impatient repining that
was fast leading her into the deeper guilt of blasphemy. She set out on
that long journey of which you have possibly heard--that fruitless
journey in search of Mary--and during her absence, my superiors ordered
my return to my former duties at Antwerp, and for many years I heard no
more of Bridget.

“Not many months ago, as I was passing homewards in the evening, along
one of the streets near St. Jacques, leading into the Meer Straet, I saw
a woman sitting crouched up under the shrine of the Holy Mother of
Sorrows. Her hood was drawn over her head, so that the shadow caused by
the light of the lamp above fell deep over her face; her hands were
clasped round her knees. It was evident that she was some one in
hopeless trouble, and as such it was my duty to stop and speak. I
naturally addressed her first in Flemish, believing her to be one of the
lower class of inhabitants. She shook her head, but did not look up.
Then I tried French, and she replied in that language, but speaking it
so indifferently, that I was sure she was either English or Irish, and
consequently spoke to her in my own native tongue. She recognised my
voice; and, starting up, caught at my robes, dragging me before the
blessed shrine, and throwing herself down, and forcing me, as much by
her evident desire as by her action, to kneel beside her, she exclaimed:

“‘O Holy Virgin! you will never hearken to me again, but hear him; for
you know him of old, that he does your bidding, and strives to heal
broken hearts. Hear him!’

“She turned to me.

“‘She will hear you, if you will only pray. She never hears me: she and
all the saints in Heaven cannot hear my prayers, for the Evil One
carries them off, as he carried that first away. O, Father Bernard, pray
for me!’

“I prayed for one in sore distress, of what nature I could not say; but
the Holy Virgin would know. Bridget held me fast, gasping with eagerness
at the sound of my words. When I had ended, I rose, and, making the sign
of the Cross over her, I was going to bless her in the name of the Holy
Church, when she shrank away like some terrified creature, and said:

“‘I am guilty of deadly sin, and am not shriven.’

“‘Arise, my daughter,’ said I, ‘and come with me.’ And I led the way
into one of the confessionals of St. Jacques.

“She knelt; I listened. No words came. The evil powers had stricken her
dumb, as I heard afterwards they had many a time before, when she
approached confession.

“She was too poor to pay for the necessary forms of exorcism; and
hitherto those priests to whom she had addressed herself were either so
ignorant of the meaning of her broken French, or her Irish-English, or
else esteemed her to be one crazed--as, indeed, her wild and excited
manner might easily have led any one to think--that they had neglected
the sole means of loosening her tongue, so that she might confess her
deadly sin, and after due penance, obtain absolution. But I knew Bridget
of old, and felt that she was a penitent sent to me. I went through
those holy offices appointed by our church for the relief of such a
case. I was the more bound to do this, as I found that she had come to
Antwerp for the sole purpose of discovering me, and making confession to
me. Of the nature of that fearful confession I am forbidden to speak.
Much of it you know; possibly all.

“It now remains for her to free herself from mortal guilt, and to set
others free from the consequences thereof. No prayers, no masses, will
ever do it, although they may strengthen her with that strength by which
alone acts of deepest love and purest self-devotion may be performed.
Her words of passion, and cries for revenge--her unholy prayers could
never reach the ears of the Holy Saints! Other powers intercepted them,
and wrought so that the curses thrown up to Heaven have fallen on her
own flesh and blood; and so, through her very strength of love, have
bruised and crushed her heart. Henceforward her former self must be
buried,--yea, buried quick, if need be,--but never more to make sign, or
utter cry on earth! She has become a Poor Clare, in order that, by
perpetual penance and constant service of others, she may at length so
act as to obtain final absolution and rest for her soul. Until then, the
innocent must suffer. It is to plead for the innocent that I come to
you; not in the name of the witch, Bridget Fitzgerald, but of the
penitent and servant of all men, the Poor Clare, Sister Magdalen.”

“Sir,” said I, “I listen to your request with respect; only I may tell
you it is not needed to urge me to do all that I can on behalf of one,
love for whom is part of my very life. If for a time I have absented
myself from her, it is to think and work for her redemption. I, a member
of the English Church--my uncle, a Puritan--pray morning and night for
her by name: the congregations of London, on the next Sabbath, will pray
for one unknown, that she may be set free from the Powers of Darkness.
Moreover, I must tell you, sir, that those evil ones touch not the great
calm of her soul. She lives her own pure and loving life, unharmed and
untainted, though all men fall off from her. I would I could have her
faith!”

My uncle now spoke.

“Nephew,” said he, “it seems to me that this gentleman, although
professing what I consider an erroneous creed, has touched upon the
right point in exhorting Bridget to acts of love and mercy, whereby to
wipe out her sin of hate and vengeance. Let us strive after our fashion,
by almsgiving and visiting of the needy and fatherless, to make our
prayers acceptable. Meanwhile, I myself will go down into the north, and
take charge of the maiden. I am too old to be daunted by man or demon. I
will bring her to this house as to a home; and let the Double come if it
will! A company of godly divines shall give it the meeting, and we will
try issue.”

The kindly, brave old man! But Father Bernard sat on musing.

“All hate,” said he, “cannot be quenched in her heart; all Christian
forgiveness cannot have entered into her soul, or the demon would have
lost its power. You said, I think, that her grandchild was still
tormented?”

“Still tormented!” I replied, sadly, thinking of Mistress Clarke’s last
letter.

He rose to go. We afterwards heard that the occasion of his coming to
London was a secret political mission on behalf of the Jacobites.
Nevertheless, he was a good and a wise man.

Months and months passed away without any change. Lucy entreated my
uncle to leave her where she was,--dreading, as I learnt, lest if she
came, with her fearful companion, to dwell in the same house with me,
that my love could not stand the repeated shocks to which I should be
doomed. And this she thought from no distrust of the strength of my
affection, but from a kind of pitying sympathy for the terror to the
nerves which she observed that the demoniac visitation caused in all.

I was restless and miserable. I devoted myself to good works; but I
performed them from no spirit of love, but solely from the hope of
reward and payment, and so the reward was never granted. At length, I
asked my uncle’s leave to travel; and I went forth, a wanderer, with no
distincter end than that of many another wanderer--to get away from
myself. A strange impulse led me to Antwerp, in spite of the wars and
commotions then raging in the Low Countries--or rather, perhaps, the
very craving to become interested in something external, led me into the
thick of the struggle then going on with the Austrians. The cities of
Flanders were all full at that time of civil disturbances and
rebellions, only kept down by force, and the presence of an Austrian
garrison in every place.

I arrived in Antwerp, and made inquiry for Father Bernard. He was away
in the country for a day or two. Then I asked my way to the Convent of
Poor Clares; but, being healthy and prosperous, I could only see the
dim, pent-up, gray walls, shut closely in by narrow streets, in the
lowest part of the town. My landlord told me, that had I been stricken
by some loathsome disease, or in desperate case of any kind, the Poor
Clares would have taken me, and tended me. He spoke of them as an order
of mercy of the strictest kind, dressing scantily in the coarsest
materials, going barefoot, living on what the inhabitants of Antwerp
chose to bestow, and sharing even those fragments and crumbs with the
poor and helpless that swarmed all around; receiving no letters or
communication with the outer world; utterly dead to everything but the
alleviation of suffering. He smiled at my inquiring whether I could get
speech of one of them; and told me that they were even forbidden to
speak for the purposes of begging their daily food; while yet they
lived, and fed others upon what was given in charity.

“But,” exclaimed I, “supposing all men forgot them! Would they quietly
lie down and die, without making sign of their extremity?”

“If such were their rule, the Poor Clares would willingly do it; but
their founder appointed a remedy for such extreme case as you suggest.
They have a bell--’tis but a small one, as I have heard, and has yet
never been rung in the memory of man: when the Poor Clares have been
without food for twenty-four hours, they may ring this bell, and then
trust to our good people of Antwerp for rushing to the rescue of the
Poor Clares, who have taken such blessed care of us in all our straits.”

It seemed to me that such rescue would be late in the day; but I did not
say what I thought. I rather turned the conversation, by asking my
landlord if he knew, or had ever heard, anything of a certain Sister
Magdalen.

“Yes,” said he, rather under his breath; “news will creep out, even from
a convent of Poor Clares. Sister Magdalen is either a great sinner or a
great saint. She does more, as I have heard, than all the other nuns put
together; yet, when last month they would fain have made her
mother-superior, she begged rather that they would place her below all
the rest, and make her the meanest servant of all.”

“You never saw her?” asked I.

“Never,” he replied.

I was weary of waiting for Father Bernard, and yet I lingered in
Antwerp. The political state of things became worse than ever, increased
to its height by the scarcity of food consequent on many deficient
harvests. I saw groups of fierce, squalid men, at every corner of the
street, glaring out with wolfish eyes at my sleek skin and handsome
clothes.

At last Father Bernard returned. We had a long conversation, in which he
told me that, curiously enough, Mr. Gisborne, Lucy’s father, was serving
in one of the Austrian regiments, then in garrison at Antwerp. I asked
Father Bernard if he would make us acquainted; which he consented to do.
But, a day or two afterwards, he told me that, on hearing my name, Mr.
Gisborne had declined responding to any advances on my part, saying he
had abjured his country, and hated his countrymen.

Probably he recollected my name in connection with that of his daughter
Lucy. Anyhow, it was clear enough that I had no chance of making his
acquaintance. Father Bernard confirmed me in my suspicions of the hidden
fermentation, for some coming evil, working among the “blouses” of
Antwerp, and he would fain have had me depart from out the city; but I
rather craved the excitement of danger, and stubbornly refused to leave.

One day, when I was walking with him in the Place Verte, he bowed to an
Austrian officer, who was crossing towards the cathedral.

“That is Mr. Gisborne,” said he, as soon as the gentleman was past.

I turned to look at the tall, slight figure of the officer. He carried
himself in a stately manner, although he was past middle age, and from
his years, might have had some excuse for a slight stoop. As I looked at
the man, he turned round, his eyes met mine, and I saw his face. Deeply
lined, sallow, and scathed was that countenance; scarred by passion as
well as by the fortunes of war. ’Twas but a moment our eyes met. We each
turned round, and went on our separate way.

But his whole appearance was not one to be easily forgotten; the
thorough appointment of the dress, and evident thought bestowed on it,
made but an incongruous whole with the dark, gloomy expression of his
countenance. Because he was Lucy’s father, I sought instinctively to
meet him everywhere. At last he must have become aware of my
pertinacity, for he gave me a haughty scowl whenever I passed him. In
one of these encounters, however, I chanced to be of some service to
him. He was turning the corner of a street, and came suddenly on one of
the groups of discontented Flemings of whom I have spoken. Some words
were exchanged, when my gentleman out with his sword, and with a slight
but skilful cut drew blood from one of those who had insulted him, as he
fancied, though I was too far off to hear the words. They would all have
fallen upon him had I not rushed forwards and raised the cry, then well
known in Antwerp, of rally, to the Austrian soldiers who were
perpetually patrolling the streets, and who came in numbers to the
rescue. I think that neither Mr. Gisborne nor the mutinous group of
plebeians owed me much gratitude for my interference. He had planted
himself against a wall, in a skilful attitude of fence, ready with his
bright glancing rapier to do battle with all the heavy, fierce, unarmed
men, some six or seven in number. But when his own soldiers came up, he
sheathed his sword; and, giving some careless word of command, sent them
away again, and continued his saunter all alone down the street, the
workmen snarling in his rear, and more than half-inclined to fall on me
for my cry for rescue. I cared not if they did, my life seemed so
dreary a burden just then; and, perhaps, it was this daring loitering
among them that prevented their attacking me. Instead, they suffered me
to fall into conversation with them; and I heard some of their
grievances. Sore and heavy to be borne were they, and no wonder the
sufferers were savage and desperate.

The man whom Gisborne had wounded across his face would fain have got
out of me the name of his aggressor, but I refused to tell it. Another
of the group heard his inquiry, and made answer:

“I know the man. He is one Gisborne, aide-de-camp to the
General-Commandant. I know him well.”

He began to tell some story in connection with Gisborne in a low and
muttering voice; and while he was relating a tale, which I saw excited
their evil blood, and which they evidently wished me not to hear, I
sauntered away and back to my lodgings.

That night Antwerp was in open revolt. The inhabitants rose in rebellion
against their Austrian masters. The Austrians, holding the gates of the
city, remained at first pretty quiet in the citadel; only, from time to
time, the boom of a great cannon swept sullenly over the town. But, if
they expected the disturbance to die away, and spend itself in a few
hours’ fury, they were mistaken. In a day or two, the rioters held
possession of the principal municipal buildings. Then the Austrians
poured forth in bright flaming array, calm and smiling, as they marched
to the posts assigned, as if the fierce mob were no more to them than
the swarms of buzzing summer flies. Their practised manœuvres, their
well-aimed shot, told with terrible effect; but in the place of one
slain rioter, three sprang up of his blood to avenge his loss. But a
deadly foe, a ghastly ally of the Austrians, was at work. Food, scarce
and dear for months, was now hardly to be obtained at any price.
Desperate efforts were being made to bring provisions into the city, for
the rioters had friends without. Close to the city port nearest to the
Scheldt, a great struggle took place. I was there, helping the rioters,
whose cause I had adopted. We had a savage encounter with the Austrians.
Numbers fell on both sides; I saw them lie bleeding for a moment; then a
volley of smoke obscured them; and when it cleared away, they were
dead--trampled upon or smothered, pressed down and hidden by the
freshly-wounded whom those last guns had brought low. And then a
gray-robed and gray-veiled figure came right across the flashing guns,
and stooped over some one, whose life-blood was ebbing away; sometimes
it was to give him drink from cans which they carried slung at their
sides, sometimes I saw the cross held above a dying man, and rapid
prayers were being uttered, unheard by men in that hellish din and
clangour, but listened to by One above. I saw all this as in a dream:
the reality of that stern time was battle and carnage. But I knew that
these gray figures, their bare feet all wet with blood, and their faces
hidden by their veils, were the Poor Clares--sent forth now because dire
agony was abroad and imminent danger at hand. Therefore, they left
their cloistered shelter, and came into that thick and evil mêlée.

Close to me--driven past me by the struggle of many fighters--came the
Antwerp burgess with the scarce-healed scar upon his face; and in an
instant more, he was thrown by the press upon the Austrian officer
Gisborne, and ere either had recovered the shock, the burgess had
recognised his opponent.

“Ha! the Englishman Gisborne!” he cried, and threw himself upon him with
redoubled fury. He had struck him hard--the Englishman was down; when
out of the smoke came a dark-gray figure, and threw herself right under
the uplifted flashing sword. The burgess’s arm stood arrested. Neither
Austrians nor Anversois willingly harmed the Poor Clares.

“Leave him to me!” said a low stern voice. “He is mine enemy--mine for
many years.”

Those words were the last I heard. I myself was struck down by a bullet.
I remember nothing more for days. When I came to myself, I was at the
extremity of weakness, and was craving for food to recruit my strength.
My landlord sat watching me. He, too, looked pinched and shrunken; he
had heard of my wounded state, and sought me out. Yes! the struggle
still continued, but the famine was sore; and some, he had heard, had
died for lack of food. The tears stood in his eyes as he spoke. But soon
he shook off his weakness, and his natural cheerfulness returned. Father
Bernard had been to see me--no one else. (Who should, indeed?) Father
Bernard would come back that afternoon--he had promised. But Father
Bernard never came, although I was up and dressed, and looking eagerly
for him.

My landlord brought me a meal which he had cooked himself: of what it
was composed he would not say, but it was most excellent, and with every
mouthful I seemed to gain strength. The good man sat looking at my
evident enjoyment with a happy smile of sympathy; but, as my appetite
became satisfied, I began to detect a certain wistfulness in his eyes,
as if craving for the food I had so nearly devoured--for, indeed, at
that time I was hardly aware of the extent of the famine. Suddenly,
there was a sound of many rushing feet past our window. My landlord
opened one of the sides of it, the better to learn what was going on.
Then we heard a faint, cracked, tinkling bell, coming shrill upon the
air, clear and distinct from all other sounds. “Holy Mother!” exclaimed
my landlord, “the Poor Clares!”

He snatched up the fragments of my meal, and crammed them into my hands,
bidding me follow. Down-stairs he ran, clutching at more food, as the
women of his house eagerly held it out to him; and in a moment we were
in the street, moving along with the great current, all tending towards
the Convent of the Poor Clares. And still, as if piercing our ears with
its inarticulate cry, came the shrill tinkle of the bell. In that
strange crowd were old men trembling and sobbing, as they carried their
little pittance of food; women with the tears running down their cheeks,
who had snatched up what provisions they had in the vessels in which
they stood, so that the burden of these was in many cases much greater
than that which they contained; children, with flushed faces, grasping
tight the morsel of bitten cake or bread, in their eagerness to carry it
safe to the help of the Poor Clares; strong men--yea, both Anversois and
Austrians--pressing onwards with set teeth, and no word spoken; and over
all, and through all, came that sharp tinkle--that cry for help in
extremity.

We met the first torrent of people returning with blanched and piteous
faces: they were issuing out of the convent to make way for the
offerings of others. “Haste, haste!” said they. “A Poor Clare is dying!
A Poor Clare is dead for hunger! God forgive us, and our city!”

We pressed on. The stream bore us along where it would. We were carried
through refectories, bare and crumbless; into cells over whose doors the
conventual name of the occupant was written. Thus it was that I, with
others, was forced into Sister Magdalen’s cell. On her couch lay
Gisborne, pale unto death, but not dead. By his side was a cup of water,
and a small morsel of mouldy bread, which he had pushed out of his
reach, and could not move to obtain. Over against his bed were these
words, copied in the English version: “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger,
feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.”

Some of us gave him of our food, and left him eating greedily, like some
famished wild animal. For now it was no longer the sharp tinkle, but
that one solemn toll, which in all Christian countries tells of the
passing of the spirit out of earthly life into eternity; and again a
murmur gathered and grew, as of many people speaking with awed breath,
“A Poor Clare is dying! a Poor Clare is dead!”

Borne along once more by the motion of the crowd, we were carried into
the chapel belonging to the Poor Clares. On a bier before the high
altar, lay a woman--lay sister Magdalen--lay Bridget Fitzgerald. By her
side stood Father Bernard, in his robes of office, and holding the
crucifix on high while he pronounced the solemn absolution of the
Church, as to one who had newly confessed herself of deadly sin. I
pushed on with passionate force, till I stood close to the dying woman,
as she received extreme unction amid the breathless and awed hush of the
multitude around. Her eyes were glazing, her limbs were stiffening; but
when the rite was over and finished, she raised her gaunt figure slowly
up, and her eyes brightened to a strange intensity of joy, as, with the
gesture of her finger and the trance-like gleam of her eye, she seemed
like one who watched the disappearance of some loathed and fearful
creature.

“She is freed from the curse!” said she, as she fell back dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, of all our party who had first listened to my Lady Ludlow, Mr.
Preston was the only one who had not told us something, either of
information, tradition, history, or legend. We naturally turned to him;
but we did not like asking him directly for his contribution, for he was
a grave, reserved, and silent man.

He understood us, however, and, rousing himself as it were, he said:

“I know you wish me to tell you, in my turn, of something which I have
learnt or heard during my life. I could tell you something of my own
life, and of a life dearer still to my memory; but I have shrunk from
narrating anything so purely personal. Yet, shrink as I will, no other
but those sad recollections will present themselves to my mind. I call
them sad when I think of the end of it all. However, I am not going to
moralize. If my dear brother’s life and death does not speak for itself,
no words of mine will teach you what may be learnt from it.”



THE HALF-BROTHERS.


My mother was twice married. She never spoke of her first husband, and
it is only from other people that I have learnt what little I know about
him. I believe, she was scarcely seventeen when she was married to him:
and he was barely one-and-twenty. He rented a small farm up in
Cumberland, somewhere towards the sea-coast; but he was perhaps too
young and inexperienced to have the charge of land and cattle: anyhow,
his affairs did not prosper, and he fell into ill health, and died of
consumption before they had been three years man and wife, leaving my
mother a young widow of twenty, with a little child only just able to
walk, and the farm on her hands for four years more by the lease, with
half the stock on it dead, or sold off one by one to pay the more
pressing debts, and with no money to purchase more, or even to buy the
provisions needed for the small consumption of every day. There was
another child coming, too; and sad and sorry, I believe, she was to
think of it. A dreary winter she must have had in her lonesome dwelling,
with never another near it for miles around; her sister came to bear her
company, and they two planned and plotted how to make every penny they
could raise go as far as possible. I can’t tell you how it happened that
my little sister, whom I never saw, came to sicken and die; but, as if
my poor mother’s cup was not full enough, only a fortnight before
Gregory was born the little girl took ill of scarlet fever, and in a
week she lay dead. My mother was, I believe, just stunned with this last
blow. My aunt has told me that she did not cry; aunt Fanny would have
been thankful if she had; but she sat holding the poor wee lassie’s
hand, and looking in her pretty, pale, dead face, without so much as
shedding a tear. And it was all the same, when they had to take her away
to be buried. She just kissed the child, and sat her down in the
window-seat to watch the little black train of people (neighbours--my
aunt, and one far-off cousin, who were all the friends they could
muster) go winding away amongst the snow, which had fallen thinly over
the country the night before. When my aunt came back from the funeral,
she found my mother in the same place, and as dry-eyed as ever. So she
continued until after Gregory was born; and, somehow, his coming seemed
to loosen the tears, and she cried day and night, day and night, till my
aunt and the other watcher looked at each other in dismay, and would
fain have stopped her if they had but known how. But she bade them let
her alone, and not be over-anxious, for every drop she shed eased her
brain, which had been in a terrible state before for want of the power
to cry. She seemed after that to think of nothing but her new little
baby; she hardly appeared to remember either her husband or her little
daughter that lay dead in Brigham churchyard--at least so aunt Fanny
said; but she was a great talker, and my mother was very silent by
nature, and I think aunt Fanny may have been mistaken in believing that
my mother never thought of her husband and child just because she never
spoke about them. Aunt Fanny was older than my mother, and had a way of
treating her like a child; but, for all that, she was a kind,
warm-hearted creature, who thought more of her sister’s welfare than she
did of her own; and it was on her bit of money that they principally
lived, and on what the two could earn by working for the great Glasgow
sewing-merchants. But by-and-by my mother’s eye-sight began to fail. It
was not that she was exactly blind, for she could see well enough to
guide herself about the house, and to do a good deal of domestic work;
but she could no longer do fine sewing and earn money. It must have been
with the heavy crying she had had in her day, for she was but a young
creature at this time, and as pretty a young woman, I have heard people
say, as any on the country side. She took it sadly to heart that she
could no longer gain anything towards the keep of herself and her child.
My aunt Fanny would fain have persuaded her that she had enough to do in
managing their cottage and minding Gregory; but my mother knew that they
were pinched, and that aunt Fanny herself had not as much to eat, even
of the commonest kind of food, as she could have done with; and as for
Gregory, he was not a strong lad, and needed, not more food--for he
always had enough, whoever went short--but better nourishment, and more
flesh-meat. One day--it was aunt Fanny who told me all this about my
poor mother, long after her death--as the sisters were sitting together,
aunt Fanny working, and my mother hushing Gregory to sleep, William
Preston, who was afterwards my father, came in. He was reckoned an old
bachelor; I suppose he was long past forty, and he was one of the
wealthiest farmers thereabouts, and had known my grandfather well, and
my mother and my aunt in their more prosperous days. He sat down, and
began to twirl his hat by way of being agreeable; my aunt Fanny talked,
and he listened and looked at my mother. But he said very little, either
on that visit, or on many another that he paid before he spoke out what
had been the real purpose of his calling so often all along, and from
the very first time he came to their house. One Sunday, however, my aunt
Fanny stayed away from church, and took care of the child, and my mother
went alone. When she came back, she ran straight up-stairs, without
going into the kitchen to look at Gregory or speak any word to her
sister, and aunt Fanny heard her cry as if her heart was breaking; so
she went up and scolded her right well through the bolted door, till at
last she got her to open it. And then she threw herself on my aunt’s
neck, and told her that William Preston had asked her to marry him, and
had promised to take good charge of her boy, and to let him want for
nothing, neither in the way of keep nor of education, and that she had
consented. Aunt Fanny was a good deal shocked at this; for, as I have
said, she had often thought that my mother had forgotten her first
husband very quickly, and now here was proof positive of it, if she
could so soon think of marrying again. Besides, as aunt Fanny used to
say, she herself would have been a far more suitable match for a man of
William Preston’s age than Helen, who, though she was a widow, had not
seen her four-and-twentieth summer. However, as aunt Fanny said, they
had not asked her advice; and there was much to be said on the other
side of the question. Helen’s eye-sight would never be good for much
again, and as William Preston’s wife she would never need to do
anything, if she chose to sit with her hands before her; and a boy was a
great charge to a widowed mother; and now there would be a decent,
steady man to see after him. So, by-and-by, aunt Fanny seemed to take a
brighter view of the marriage than did my mother herself, who hardly
ever looked up, and never smiled after the day when she promised William
Preston to be his wife. But much as she had loved Gregory before, she
seemed to love him more now. She was continually talking to him when
they were alone, though he was far too young to understand her moaning
words, or give her any comfort, except by his caresses.

At last William Preston and she were wed; and she went to be mistress of
a well-stocked house, not above half-an-hour’s walk from where aunt
Fanny lived. I believe she did all that she could to please my father;
and a more dutiful wife, I have heard him himself say, could never have
been. But she did not love him, and he soon found it out. She loved
Gregory, and she did not love him. Perhaps, love would have come in
time, if he had been patient enough to wait; but it just turned him sour
to see how her eye brightened and her colour came at the sight of that
little child, while for him who had given her so much, she had only
gentle words as cold as ice. He got to taunt her with the difference in
her manner, as if that would bring love: and he took a positive dislike
to Gregory,--he was so jealous of the ready love that always gushed out
like a spring of fresh water when he came near. He wanted her to love
him more, and perhaps that was all well and good; but he wanted her to
love her child less, and that was an evil wish. One day, he gave way to
his temper, and cursed and swore at Gregory, who had got into some
mischief, as children will; my mother made some excuse for him; my
father said it was hard enough to have to keep another man’s child,
without having it perpetually held up in its naughtiness by his wife,
who ought to be always in the same mind that he was; and so from little
they got to more; and the end of it was, that my mother took to her bed
before her time, and I was born that very day. My father was glad, and
proud, and sorry, all in a breath; glad and proud that a son was born to
him; and sorry for his poor wife’s state, and to think how his angry
words had brought it on. But he was a man who liked better to be angry
than sorry, so he soon found out that it was all Gregory’s fault, and
owed him an additional grudge for having hastened my birth. He had
another grudge against him before long. My mother began to sink the day
after I was born. My father sent to Carlisle for doctors, and would have
coined his heart’s blood into gold to save her, if that could have been;
but it could not. My aunt Fanny used to say sometimes, that she thought
that Helen did not wish to live, and so just let herself die away
without trying to take hold on life; but when I questioned her, she
owned that my mother did all the doctors bade her do, with the same sort
of uncomplaining patience with which she had acted through life. One of
her last requests was to have Gregory laid in her bed by my side, and
then she made him take hold of my little hand. Her husband came in while
she was looking at us so, and when he bent tenderly over her to ask her
how she felt now, and seemed to gaze on us two little half-brothers,
with a grave sort of kindliness, she looked up in his face and smiled,
almost her first smile at him; and such a sweet smile! as more besides
aunt Fanny have said. In an hour she was dead. Aunt Fanny came to live
with us. It was the best thing that could be done. My father would have
been glad to return to his old mode of bachelor life, but what could he
do with two little children? He needed a woman to take care of him, and
who so fitting as his wife’s elder sister? So she had the charge of me
from my birth; and for a time I was weakly, as was but natural, and she
was always beside me, night and day watching over me, and my father
nearly as anxious as she. For his land had come down from father to son
for more than three hundred years, and he would have cared for me merely
as his flesh and blood that was to inherit the land after him. But he
needed something to love, for all that, to most people, he was a stern,
hard man, and he took to me as, I fancy, he had taken to no human being
before--as he might have taken to my mother, if she had had no former
life for him to be jealous of. I loved him back again right heartily. I
loved all around me, I believe, for everybody was kind to me. After a
time, I overcame my original weakliness of constitution, and was just a
bonny, strong-looking lad whom every passer-by noticed, when my father
took me with him to the nearest town.

At home I was the darling of my aunt, the tenderly-beloved of my father,
the pet and plaything of the old domestic, the “young master” of the
farm-labourers, before whom I played many a lordly antic, assuming a
sort of authority which sat oddly enough, I doubt not, on such a baby as
I was.

Gregory was three years older than I. Aunt Fanny was always kind to him
in deed and in action, but she did not often think about him, she had
fallen so completely into the habit of being engrossed by me, from the
fact of my having come into her charge as a delicate baby. My father
never got over his grudging dislike to his stepson, who had so
innocently wrestled with him for the possession of my mother’s heart. I
mistrust me, too, that my father always considered him as the cause of
my mother’s death and my early delicacy; and utterly unreasonable as
this may seem, I believe my father rather cherished his feeling of
alienation to my brother as a duty, than strove to repress it. Yet not
for the world would my father have grudged him anything that money could
purchase. That was, as it were, in the bond when he had wedded my
mother. Gregory was lumpish and loutish, awkward and ungainly, marring
whatever he meddled in, and many a hard word and sharp scolding did he
get from the people about the farm, who hardly waited till my father’s
back was turned before they rated the stepson. I am ashamed--my heart is
sore to think how I fell into the fashion of the family, and slighted my
poor orphan step-brother. I don’t think I ever scouted him, or was
wilfully ill-natured to him; but the habit of being considered in all
things, and being treated as something uncommon and superior, made me
insolent in my prosperity, and I exacted more than Gregory was always
willing to grant, and then, irritated, I sometimes repeated the
disparaging words I had heard others use with regard to him, without
fully understanding their meaning. Whether he did or not I cannot tell.
I am afraid he did. He used to turn silent and quiet--sullen and sulky
my father thought it; stupid, aunt Fanny used to call it. But every one
said he was stupid and dull, and this stupidity and dullness grew upon
him. He would sit without speaking a word, sometimes, for hours; then my
father would bid him rise and do some piece of work, maybe, about the
farm. And he would take three or four tellings before he would go. When
we were sent to school, it was all the same. He could never be made to
remember his lessons; the schoolmaster grew weary of scolding and
flogging, and at last advised my father just to take him away, and set
him to some farm-work that might not be above his comprehension. I think
he was more gloomy and stupid than ever after this, yet he was not a
cross lad; he was patient and good-natured, and would try to do a kind
turn for any one, even if they had been scolding or cuffing him not a
minute before. But very often his attempts at kindness ended in some
mischief to the very people he was trying to serve, owing to his
awkward, ungainly ways. I suppose I was a clever lad; at any rate, I
always got plenty of praise; and was, as we called it, the cock of the
school. The schoolmaster said I could learn anything I chose, but my
father, who had no great learning himself, saw little use in much for
me, and took me away betimes, and kept me with him about the farm.
Gregory was made into a kind of shepherd, receiving his training under
old Adam, who was nearly past his work. I think old Adam was almost the
first person who had a good opinion of Gregory. He stood to it that my
brother had good parts, though he did not rightly know how to bring them
out; and, for knowing the bearings of the Fells, he said he had never
seen a lad like him. My father would try to bring Adam round to speak of
Gregory’s faults and shortcomings; but, instead of that, he would praise
him twice as much as soon as he found out what my father’s object was.

One winter-time, when I was about sixteen, and Gregory nineteen, I was
sent by my father on an errand to a place about seven miles distant by
the road, but only about four by the Fells. He bade me return by the
road, whichever way I took in going, for the evenings closed in early,
and were often thick and misty; besides which, old Adam, now paralytic
and bedridden, foretold a downfall of snow before long. I soon got to my
journey’s end, and soon had done my business; earlier by an hour, I
thought, than my father had expected, so I took the decision of the way
by which I would return into my own hands, and set off back again over
the Fells, just as the first shades of evening began to fall. It looked
dark and gloomy enough; but everything was so still that I thought I
should have plenty of time to get home before the snow came down. Off I
set at a pretty quick pace. But night came on quicker. The right path
was clear enough in the day-time, although at several points two or
three exactly similar diverged from the same place; but when there was a
good light, the traveller was guided by the sight of distant objects,--a
piece of rock,--a fall in the ground--which were quite invisible to me
now. I plucked up a brave heart, however, and took what seemed to me the
right road. It was wrong, however, and led me whither I knew not, but to
some wild boggy moor where the solitude seemed painful, intense, as if
never footfall of man had come thither to break the silence. I tried to
shout,--with the dimmest possible hope of being heard--rather to
reassure myself by the sound of my own voice; but my voice came husky
and short, and yet it dismayed me; it seemed so weird and strange in
that noiseless expanse of black darkness. Suddenly the air was filled
thick with dusky flakes, my face and hands were wet with snow. It cut me
off from the slightest knowledge of where I was, for I lost every idea
of the direction from which I had come, so that I could not even retrace
my steps; it hemmed me in, thicker, thicker, with a darkness that might
be felt. The boggy soil on which I stood quaked under me if I remained
long in one place, and yet I dared not move far. All my youthful
hardiness seemed to leave me at once. I was on the point of crying, and
only very shame seemed to keep it down. To save myself from shedding
tears, I shouted--terrible, wild shouts for bare life they were. I
turned sick as I paused to listen; no answering sound came but the
unfeeling echoes. Only the noiseless, pitiless snow kept falling
thicker, thicker--faster, faster! I was growing numb and sleepy. I tried
to move about, but I dared not go far, for fear of the precipices which,
I knew, abounded in certain places on the Fells. Now and then, I stood
still and shouted again; but my voice was getting choked with tears, as
I thought of the desolate, helpless death I was to die, and how little
they at home, sitting round the warm, red, bright fire, wotted what was
become of me,--and how my poor father would grieve for me--it would
surely kill him--it would break his heart, poor old man! Aunt Fanny
too--was this to be the end of all her cares for me? I began to review
my life in a strange kind of vivid dream, in which the various scenes of
my few boyish years passed before me like visions. In a pang of agony,
caused by such remembrance of my short life, I gathered up my strength
and called out once more, a long, despairing, wailing cry, to which I
had no hope of obtaining any answer, save from the echoes around, dulled
as the sound might be by the thickened air. To my surprise, I heard a
cry--almost as long, as wild as mine--so wild that it seemed unearthly,
and I almost thought it must be the voice of some of the mocking spirits
of the Fells, about whom I had heard so many tales. My heart suddenly
began to beat fast and loud. I could not reply for a minute or two. I
nearly fancied I had lost the power of utterance. Just at this moment a
dog barked. Was it Lassie’s bark--my brother’s collie?--an ugly enough
brute, with a white, ill-looking face, that my father always kicked
whenever he saw it, partly for its own demerits, partly because it
belonged to my brother. On such occasions, Gregory would whistle Lassie
away, and go off and sit with her in some out-house. My father had once
or twice been ashamed of himself, when the poor collie had yowled out
with the suddenness of the pain, and had relieved himself of his
self-reproach by blaming my brother, who, he said, had no notion of
training a dog, and was enough to ruin any collie in Christendom with
his stupid way of allowing them to lie by the kitchen fire. To all which
Gregory would answer nothing, nor even seem to hear, but go on looking
absent and moody.

Yes! there again! It was Lassie’s bark! Now or never! I lifted up my
voice and shouted “Lassie! Lassie! For God’s sake, Lassie!” Another
moment, and the great white-faced Lassie was curving and gambolling with
delight round my feet and legs, looking, however, up in my face with her
intelligent, apprehensive eyes, as if fearing lest I might greet her
with a blow, as I had done oftentimes before. But I cried with gladness,
as I stooped down and patted her. My mind was sharing in my body’s
weakness, and I could not reason, but I knew that help was at hand. A
gray figure came more and more distinctly out of the thick,
close-pressing darkness. It was Gregory wrapped in his maud.

“Oh, Gregory!” said I, and I fell upon his neck, unable to speak another
word. He never spoke much, and made me no answer for some little time.
Then he told me we must move, we must walk for the dear life--we must
find our road home, if possible; but we must move or we should be frozen
to death.

“Don’t you know the way home?” asked I.

“I thought I did when I set out, but I am doubtful now. The snow blinds
me, and I am feared that in moving about just now, I have lost the right
gait homewards.”

He had his shepherd’s staff with him, and by dint of plunging it before
us at every step we took--clinging close to each other, we went on
safely enough, as far as not falling down any of the steep rocks, but it
was slow, dreary work. My brother, I saw, was more guided by Lassie and
the way she took than anything else, trusting to her instinct. It was
too dark to see far before us; but he called her back continually, and
noted from what quarter she returned, and shaped our slow steps
accordingly. But the tedious motion scarcely kept my very blood from
freezing. Every bone, every fibre in my body seemed first to ache, and
then to swell, and then to turn numb with the intense cold. My brother
bore it better than I, from having been more out upon the hills. He did
not speak, except to call Lassie. I strove to be brave, and not
complain; but now I felt the deadly fatal sleep stealing over me.

“I can go no farther,” I said, in a drowsy tone. I remember, I suddenly
became dogged and resolved. Sleep I would, were it only for five
minutes. If death were to be the consequence, sleep I would. Gregory
stood still. I suppose, he recognised the peculiar phase of suffering to
which I had been brought by the cold.

“It is of no use,” said he, as if to himself. “We are no nearer home
than we were when we started, as far as I can tell. Our only chance is
in Lassie. Here! roll thee in my maud, lad, and lay thee down on this
sheltered side of this bit of rock. Creep close under it, lad, and I’ll
lie by thee, and strive to keep the warmth in us. Stay! hast gotten
aught about thee they’ll know at home?”

I felt him unkind thus to keep me from slumber, but on his repeating the
question, I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief, of some showy pattern,
which Aunt Fanny had hemmed for me--Gregory took it, and tied it round
Lassie’s neck.

“Hie thee, Lassie, hie thee home!” And the white-faced, ill-favoured
brute was off like a shot in the darkness. Now I might lie down--now I
might sleep. In my drowsy stupor I felt that I was being tenderly
covered up by my brother; but what with I neither knew nor cared--I was
too dull, too selfish, too numb to think and reason, or I might have
known that in that bleak bare place there was nought to wrap me in, save
what was taken off another. I was glad enough when he ceased his cares
and lay down by me. I took his hand.

“Thou canst not remember, lad, how we lay together thus by our dying
mother. She put thy small, wee hand in mine--I reckon, she sees us now;
and belike we shall soon be with her. Anyhow, God’s will be done.”

“Dear Gregory,” I muttered, and crept nearer to him for warmth. He was
talking still, and again about our mother, when I fell asleep. In an
instant--or so it seemed--there were many voices about me--many faces
hovering round me--the sweet luxury of warmth was stealing into every
part of me. I was in my own little bed at home. I am thankful to say, my
first word was “Gregory?”

A look passed from one to another--my father’s stern old face strove in
vain to keep its sternness; his mouth quivered, his eyes filled slowly
with unwonted tears.

“I would have given him half my land--I would have blessed him as my
son,--oh God! I would have knelt at his feet, and asked him to forgive
my hardness of heart.”

I heard no more. A whirl came through my brain, catching me back to
death.

I came slowly to my consciousness, weeks afterwards. My father’s hair
was white when I recovered, and his hands shook as he looked into my
face.

We spoke no more of Gregory. We could not speak of him; but he was
strangely in our thoughts. Lassie came and went with never a word of
blame; nay, my father would try to stroke her, but she shrank away; and
he, as if reproved by the poor dumb beast, would sigh, and be silent and
abstracted for a time.

Aunt Fanny--always a talker--told me all. How, on that fatal night, my
father, irritated by my prolonged absence, and probably more anxious
than he cared to show, had been fierce and imperious, even beyond his
wont, to Gregory: had upbraided him with his father’s poverty, his own
stupidity which made his services good for nothing--for so, in spite of
the old shepherd, my father always chose to consider them. At last,
Gregory had risen up, and whistled Lassie out with him--poor Lassie,
crouching underneath his chair for fear of a kick or a blow. Some time
before, there had been some talk between my father and my aunt
respecting my return; and when Aunt Fanny told me all this, she said she
fancied that Gregory might have noticed the coming storm, and gone out
silently to meet me. Three hours afterwards, when all were running about
in wild alarm, not knowing whither to go in search of me--not even
missing Gregory, or heeding his absence, poor fellow--poor, poor
fellow!--Lassie came home, with my handkerchief tied round her neck.
They knew and understood, and the whole strength of the farm was turned
out to follow her, with wraps, and blankets, and brandy, and everything
that could be thought of. I lay in chilly sleep, but still alive,
beneath the rock that Lassie guided them to. I was covered over with my
brother’s plaid, and his thick shepherd’s coat was carefully wrapped
round my feet. He was in his shirt-sleeves--his arm thrown over me--a
quiet smile (he had hardly ever smiled in life) upon his still, cold
face.

My father’s last words were, “God forgive me my hardness of heart
towards the fatherless child!”

And what marked the depth of his feeling of repentance, perhaps more
than all, considering the passionate love he bore my mother, was this:
we found a paper of directions after his death, in which he desired that
he might lie at the foot of the grave, in which, by his desire, poor
Gregory had been laid with OUR MOTHER.


                               THE END.

                                LONDON:

PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.

                   *       *       *       *       *

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