THIS Caroline Ryder was a character almost impossible to present so as to enable the reader to recognize her should she cross his path ; so great was the contradiction between what she was and what she seemed, and so perfect was the imitation.
She looked a respectable young spinster, with a grace of manner beyond her station, and a decency and propriety of demeanor that inspired respect.
She was a married woman, separated from her husband by mutual consent; and she had had many lovers, each of whom she had loved ardently — for a little while. She was a woman that brought to bear upon foolish, culpable loves a mental power that would have adorned the woolsack.
The moment prudence or waning inclination made it advisable to break with the reigning favorite, she set to work to cool him down by deliberate coldness, sullenness, insolence ;, and generally succeeded. But if he wars incurable, she never hesitated as to her course ; she smiled again on him, and looked out for another place : being an invaluable servant, she got one directly ; and was off to fresh pastures.
A female rake ; but with the air of a very prude.
A woman, however cunning and resolute, always plays this game at one great disadvantage ; for instance, one day, Caroline Ryder, finding herself unable to shake off a certain boyish lover, whom she had won and got terribly tired of, retired from her place, and went home, and left him blubbering. But by and by, in a retired village, she deposited an angelic babe of the female sex, with fair hair and blue eyes, the very image of her abandoned Cherubin. Let me add, as indicating the strange force of her character, that she concealed this episode from Cherubin and all the rest of the world ; and was soon lady’s maid again in another county, as demure as ever, and ripe for fresh adventures.
But her secret maternity added a fresh trait to her character; she became mercenary.
This wise, silly, prudent, coquettish demon was almost perfect in the family relations : an excellent daughter, a good sister, and a devoted mother. And so are tigresses, and wicked Jewesses.
Item —the decency and propriety of her demeanor were not all hypocrisy, but half hypocrisy, and half inborn and instinctive good taste and good sense.
As dangerous a creature to herself and others as ever tied on a bonnet.
On her arrival at Hernshaw Castle she cast her eyes round to see what there was to fall in love with ; and observed the gamekeeper, Tom Leicester. She gave him a smile or two that won his heart; but there she stopped: for soon the ruddy cheek, brown eyes, manly proportions, and square shoulders of her master attracted this connoisseur in male beauty. And then his manner was so genial and hearty, with a smile for everybody. Mrs. Ryder eyed him demurely day by day, and often opened a window slyly to watch him unseen.
From that she got to throwing herself in his way ; and this with such art that he never discovered it, though he fell in with her about the house six times as often as he met his wife or any other inmate.
She had already studied his character, and, whether she arranged to meet him full or to cross him, it was always with a courtesy and a sunshiny smile ; he smiled on her in his turn, and felt a certain pleasure at sight of her : for he loved to see people bright and cheerful about him.
Then she did, of her own accord, what no other master on earth would have persuaded her to do : looked over his linen ; sewed on buttons for him ; and sometimes the artful jade deliberately cut a button off a clean shirt, and then came to him and sewed it on during wear. This brought about a contact none knew better than she how to manage to a man’s undoing. The seeming timidity that fills the whole eloquent person, and tempts a man to attack by telling him he is powerful, — the drooping lashes that hint, “Ah, do not take advantage of this situation, or the consequences may be terrible, and will certainly be delicious,” — the delicate and shy, yet lingering touch, — the twenty stitches where nine would be plenty, — the one coy, but tender glance at parting,— all this soft witchcraft beset Griffith Gaunt, and told on him; but not as yet in the way his inamorata intended.
“ Kate,” said he one day, “ that girl of yours is worth her weight in gold.”
“ Indeed ! ” said Mrs. Gaunt, frigidly; “ I have not discovered it.”
When Caroline found that her master was single-hearted, and loved his wife too well to look elsewhere, instead of hating him, she began to love him more seriously, and to hate his wife, that haughty beauty, who took such a husband as a matter of course, and held him tight without troubling her head.
It was a coarse age, and in that very county more than one wife had suffered jealous agony from her own domestic. But here the parts were inverted : the lady was at her ease ; the servant paid a bitter penalty for her folly. She was now passionately in love, and had to do menial offices for her rival every hour of the day: she must sit with Mrs. Gaunt, and make her dresses, and consult with her how to set off her hateful beauty to the best advantage. She had to dress her, and look daggers at her satin skin and royal neck, and to sit behind her an hour at a time combing and brushing her long golden hair.
How she longed to tear a handful of it out, and then run away ! Instead of that, her happy rival expected her to be as tender and coaxing with it as Madame de Maintenon was with the Queen’s of France.
Ryder called it “yellow stuff” down in the kitchen ; that was one comfort, but a feeble one ; the sun came in at the lady’s window, and Ryder’s shapely hand was overflowed, and her eyes offended, by waves of burnished gold : and one day Griffith came in and kissed it in her very hand. His lips felt nothing but Ins wife’s glorious hair ; but, by that exquisite sensibility which the heart can convey in a moment to the very finger-nails, Caroline’s hand, beneath, felt the soft touch through her mistress’s hair ; and the enamored hypocrite thrilled, and then sickened.
The other servants knew, as a matter of domestic history, that Griffith and Kate lived together a happy couple ; but this ardent prude was compelled by her position to see it, and realize it, every day. She had to witness little conjugal caresses, and they turned her sick with jealousy. She was Nobody. They took no more account of her than of the furniture. The creature never flinched, but stood at her post and ground her white teeth in silence, and burned, and pined, and raged, and froze, and was a model of propriety.
On the day in question she was thinking of Griffith, as usual, and wondering whether he would always prefer yellow hair to black. This actually put her off her guard for once, and she gave the rival hair a little contemptuous tug : and the reader knows what followed.
Staggered by her mistress’s question, Caroline made no reply, but only panted a little, and proceeded more carefully.
But O the struggle it cost her not to slap both Mrs. Gaunt’s fair cheeks impartially with the backs of the brushes ! And what with this struggle, and the reprimand, and the past agitations, by and by the comb ceased, and the silence was broken by faint sobs.
Mrs. Gaunt turned calmly round and looked full at her hysterical handmaid.
“What is to do?” said she. “Is it because I chid you, child ? Nay, you need not take that to heart; it is just my way : I can bear anything but my hair pulled.” With this she rose and poured some drops of sal-volatile into water, and put it to her secret rival’s lips : it was kindly done, but with that sort of half contemptuous and thoroughly cold pity women are apt to show to women, and especially when one of them is Mistress and the other is Servant.
Still it cooled the extreme hatred Caroline had nursed, and gave her a little twinge, and awakened her intelligence. Now her intelligence was truly remarkable when not blinded by passion. She was a woman with one or two other masculine traits besides her roving heart. For instance, she could sit and think hard and practically for hours together : and on these occasions her thoughts were never dreamy and vague ; it was no brown study, but good hard thinking. She would knit her coal-black brows, like Lord Thurlow himself, and realize the situation, and weigh the pros and cons with a steady judicial power rarely found in her sex ; and, nota bene, when once her mind had gone through this process, then she would act with almost monstrous resolution.
She now shut herself up in her own room for some hours, and weighed the matter carefully.
The conclusion she arrived at was this : that, if she stayed at Hernshaw Castle, there would be mischief; and probably she herself would be the principal sufferer to the end of the chapter, as she was now.
She said to herself: “ I shall go mad, or else expose myself, and be turned away with loss of character ; and then what will become of me, and my child ? Better lose life or reason than character. I know what I have to go through ; I have left a man ere now with my heart tugging at me to stay beside him. It is a terrible wrench ; and then all seems dead for a long while without him. But the world goes on and takes you round with it; and by and by you find there are as good fish left in the sea. I ’ll go, while I ’ve sense enough left to see I must.”
The very next day she came to Mrs. Gaunt and said she wished to leave.
“ Certainly,” said Mrs. Gaunt, coldly. “ May I ask the reason ? ”
“ O, I have no complaint to make, ma’am, none whatever ; but I am not happy here ; and I wish to go when my month ’s up, or sooner, ma’am, if you could suit yourself.
Mrs. Gaunt considered a moment : then she said, “You came all the way from Gloucestershire to me; had you not better give the place a fair trial ? I have had two or three good servants that felt uncomfortable at first ; but they soon found out my ways, and stayed with me till they married. As for leaving me before your month, that is out of the question.”
To this Ryder said not a word, but merely vented a little sigh, half dogged, half submissive ; and went cat - like about, arranging her mistress’s things with admirable precision and neatness. Mrs. Gaunt watched her, without seeming to do so, and observed that her discontent did not in the least affect her punctual discharge of her duties. Said Mrs. Gaunt to herself, “This servant is a treasure ; she shall not go.” And Ryder to herself, “Well, ’t is but for a month ; and then no power shall keep me here.”
NOT long after these events came the county ball. Griffith was there, but no Mrs. Gaunt. This excited surprise, and, among the gentlemen, disappointment. They asked Griffith if she was unwell ; he thanked them dryly, she was very well; and that was all they could get out of him. But to the ladies he let out that she had given up balls, and, indeed, all reasonable pleasures. “She does nothing but fast, and pray, and visit the sick.” He added, with rather a weak smile, “ I see next to nothing of her.” A minx stood by and put in her word. “ You should take to your bed ; then, who knows ? she might look in upon you.”
Griffith laughed, but not heartily. In truth, Mrs. Gaunt’s religious fervor knew no bounds. Absorbed in pious schemes and religious duties, she had little time, and much distaste, for frivolous society ; invited none but the devout, and found polite excuses for not dining abroad. She sent her husband into the world alone, and laden with apologies. “My wife is turned saint. ’T is a sin to dance, a sin to hunt, a sin to enjoy ourselves. We are here to fast, and pray, and build schools, and go to church twice a day.”
And so he went about publishing his household ill; but, to tell the truth, a secret satisfaction peeped through his lugubrious accents. An ugly saint is an unmixed calamity to jolly fellows ; but to be lord and master, and possessor, of a beautiful saint, was not without its piquant charm. His jealousy was dormant, not extinct ; and Kate’s piety tickled that foible, not wounded it. He found himself the rival of heaven,— and the successful rival.; for, let her be ever so strict, ever so devout, she must give her husband many delights she could not give to heaven.
This soft and piquant phase of the passion did not last long. All things are progressive.
Brother Leonard was director now, as well as confessor ; his visits became frequent; and Mrs. Gaunt often quoted his authority for her acts or her sentiments. So Griffith began to suspect that the change in his wife was entirely due to Leonard ; and that, with all her eloquence and fervor, she was but a priest’s echo. This galled him. To be sure Leonard was only an ecclesiastic ; but if he had been a woman, Griffith was the man to wince. His wife to lean so on another ; his wife to withdraw from the social pleasures she had hitherto shared with him ; and all because another human creature disapproved them. He writhed in silence awhile, and then remonstrated.
He was met at first with ridicule: “Are you going to be jealous of my confessor ? ” and, on repeating the offence, with a kind, but grave admonition, that silenced him for the time, but did not cure him, nor even convince him.
The facts were too strong : Kate was no longer to him the genial companion she had been ; gone was the ready sympathy with which she had listened to all his little earthly concerns ; and as for his hay-making, he might as well talk about it to an iceberg as to the partner of his bosom.
He was genial by nature, and could not live without sympathy. He sought it in the parlor of the “ Red Lion.”
Mrs. Gaunt’s high-bred nostrils told her where he haunted, and it caused her dismay. Woman-like, instead of opening her battery at once, she wore a gloomy and displeased air, which a few months ago would have served her turn and brought about an explanation at once ; but Griffith took it for a stronger dose of religious sentiment, and trundled off to the “ Red Lion ” all the more.
So then at last she spoke her mind, and asked him how he could lower himself so, and afflict her.
“ Oh ! ” said he, doggedly, “ this house is too cold for me now. My mate is priest-rid. Plague on the knave that hath put coldness ’twixt thee and me.”
Mrs. Gaunt froze visibly, and said no more at that time.
One bit of sunshine remained in the house, and shone brighter than ever on its chilled master,-—shone through two black, seducing eyes.
Some three months before the date we have now reached, Caroline Ryder’s two boxes were packed and corded ready to go next day. She had quietly persisted in her resolution to leave, and Mrs. Gaunt, though secretly angry, had been just and magnanimous enough to give her a good character.
Now female domestics are like the little birds ; if that great hawk, their mistress, follows them about, it is a deadly grievance ; but if she does not, they follow her about, and pester her with idle questions, and invite the beak and claws of petty tyranny and needless interference.
So, the afternoon before she was to leave, Caroline Ryder came to her mistress's room on some imaginary business. She was not there. Ryder, forgetting that it did not matter a straw, proceeded to hunt her everywhere ; and at last ran out, with only her cap on, to “the Dame’s Haunt,” and there she was; but not alone : she was walking up and down with Brother Leonard. Their backs were turned, and Ryder came up behind them. Leonard was pacing gravely, with his head gently drooping as usual. Mrs. Gaunt was walking elastically, and discoursing with great fire and animation.
Ryder glided after, noiseless as a serpent, more bent on wondering and watching now than on overtaking; for inside the house her mistress showed none of this charming vivacity.
Presently the keen black eyes observed a “trifle light as air” that made them shine again.
She turned and wound herself amongst the trees, and disappeared. Soon after she was in her own room, a changed woman. With glowing cheeks, sparkling eyes, and nimble fingers, she uncorded her boxes, unpacked her things, and placed them neatly in the drawers.
What more had she seen than I have indicated ?
Only this : Mrs. Gaunt, in the warmth of discourse, laid her hand lightly for a moment on the priest’s shoulder. That was nothing, she had laid the same hand on Ryder ; for, in fact, it was a little womanly way she had, and a hand that settled like down. But this time, as she withdrew it again, that delicate hand seemed to speak ; it did not leave Leonard’s shoulder all at once, it glided slowly away, first the palm, then the fingers, and so parted lingeringly.
The other woman saw this subtile touch of womanhood, coupled it with Mrs. Gaunt’s vivacity and tine air of happiness that seemed to inspire her whole eloquent person, and formed an extreme conclusion on the spot, though she could not see the lady’s face.
When Mrs. Gaunt came in she met her, and addressed her thus: “If you please, ma’am, have you any one coming in my place ? ”
Mrs. Gaunt looked her full in the face. “You know I have not,” said she, haughtily.
“Then, if it is agreeable to you, ma’am, I will stay. To be sure the place is dull ; but I have got a good mistress — and — ”
“ That will do, Ryder : a servant has always her own reasons, and never tells them to her mistress. You can stay this time ; but the next, you go ; and once for all. — I am not to be trifled with.”
Ryder called up a look all submission, and retired with an obeisance. But, once out of sight, she threw off the mask and expanded with insolent triumph. “Yes, I have my own reasons,” said she. “ Keep you the priest, and I ’ll take the man.”
From that hour Caroline Ryder watched her mistress like a lynx, and hovered about her master, and poisoned him slowly with vague, insidious hints.
BROTHER LEONARD, like many holy men, was vain. Not vainer than St. Paul, perhaps ; but then he had somewhat less to be vain of. Not but what he had his gusts of humility and diffidence ; only they blew over.
At first, as you may perhaps remember, he doubted his ability to replace Father Francis as Mrs. Gaunt’s director ; but, after a slight disclaimer, he did replace him, and had no more misgivings as to his fitness. But his tolerance and good sense were by no means equal to his devotion and his persuasive powers; and so his advice in matters spiritual and secular somehow sowed the first seeds of conjugal coolness in Hernshaw Castle.
And now Ryder slyly insinuated into Griffith’s ear that the mistress told the priest everything, and did nothing but by Ids advice. Thus the fire already kindled was fanned by an artful woman’s breath.
Griffith began to hate Brother Leonard, and to show it so plainly and rudely that Leonard shrank from the encounter, and came less often, and staved but a few minutes. Then Mrs. Gaunt remonstrated gently with Griffith, but received short, sullen replies. Then, as the servile element of her sex was comparatively small in her, she turned bitter and cold, and avenged Leonard indirectly, but openly, with those terrible pins and needles a beloved woman has ever at command.
Then Griffith became moody, and downright unhappy, and went more and more to the “ Red Lion,” seeking comfort there now as well as company.
Mrs. Gaunt saw, and had fits of irritation, and fits of pity, and sore perplexity. She knew she had a good husband ; and, instead of taking him to heaven with her, she found that each step she made with Leonard’s help towards the angelic life seemed somehow to be bad for Griffith’s soul and for his earthly happiness.
She blamed herself; she blamed Griffith ; she blamed the Protestant heresy; she blamed everybody and everything — except Brother Leonard.
One Sunday afternoon Griffith sat on his own lawn, silently smoking his pipe. Mrs. Gaunt came to him, and saw an air of dejection on his genial face. Her heart yearned. She sat down beside him on the bench, and sighed ; then he sighed too.
“ My dear,” said she, sweetly, “fetch out your viol da gambo, and we will sing a hymn or two together here this fine afternoon. We can praise God together, though we must pray apart; alas that it is so ! ”
“With all my heart,” said Griffith. “ Nay, I forgot; my viol da gumbo is not here. ’T is at the ‘ Red Lion.’ ”
“ At the ‘ Red Lion ’I ” said she, bitterly. “What, do you sing there as well as drink ? O husband, how can you so demean yourself? ”
“What is a poor man to do, whose wife is priest-ridden, and got to be no company — except for angels ? ”
“ I did not come here to quarrel,” said she, coldly and sadly. Then they were both silent a minute. Then she got up and left him.
Brother Leonard, like many earnest men, was rather intolerant. He Urged on Mrs. Gaunt that she had too many Protestants in her household : her cook and her nursemaid ought, at all events, to be Catholics. Mrs. Gaunt on this was quite ready to turn them both off, and that without disguise. But Leonard dissuaded her from so violent a measure. She had better take occasion to part with one of them, and by and by with the other.
The nursemaid was the first to go, and her place was filled by a Roman Catholic. Then the cook received warning. But this did not pass off so quietly. Jane Bannister was a buxom, hearty woman, well liked by her fellowservants. Her parents lived in the village, and she had been six years with the Gaunts, and her honest heart clung to them. She took to crying ; used to burst out in the middle of her work, or while conversing with fitful cheerfulness on ordinary topics.
One day Griffith found her crying, and Ryder consoling her as carelessly and contemptuously as possible.
“Heyday, lasses!” said he; “what is your trouble ? ”
At this Jane’s tears flowed in a stream, and Ryder made no reply, but waited.
At last, and not till the third or fourth time of asking, Jane blurted out that she had got the sack ; such was her homely expression, dignified, however, by honest tears.
“ What for ? ” asked Griffith kindly.
“Nay, sir,” sobbed Jane, “that is what I want to know. Our dame ne'er found a fault in me; and now she does pack me off like a dog. Me that have been here this six years, and got to feel at home. What will father say? He ’ll give me a hiding. For two pins I ’d drown myself in the mere.”
“ Come, you must not blame the mistress,” said the sly Ryder. “ She is a good mistress as ever breathed : ’tis all the priest’s doings. I ’ll tell you the truth, master, if you will pass me your word I sha’ n’t be sent away for it.”
“ I pledge you my word as a gentleman,” said Griffith.
“Well then, sir, Jane’s fault is yours and mine. She is not a Papist ; and that is why she is to go. How I come to know, I listened in the next room, and heard the priest tell our dame she must send away two of us, and have Catholics. The priest's word it is law in this house. ’T was in March he gave the order : Harriet, she went in May, and now poor Jane is to go — for walking to church behind you, sir. But there, jane, I believe he would get our very master out of the house if he could ; and then what would become of us all ? ”
Griffith turned black, and then ashy pale, under this venomous tongue, and went away without a word, looking dangerous.
Ryder looked after him, and her black eve glittered with a kind of fiendish beauty.
Jane, having told her mind, now began to pluck up a little spirit. “ Mrs. Ryder,” said she, “ I never thought to like you so well ” ; — and, with that, gave her a great, hearty, smacking kiss ; which Ryder, to judge by her countenance, relished, as epicures albumen. “ I won’t cry no more. After all, this house is no place for us that be women ; ’t is a fine roost, to be sure! where the hen she crows and the cock do but cluck.”
Town-bred Ryder laughed at the rustic maid’s simile ; and, not to be outdone in metaphor, told her there were dogs that barked, and dogs that bit. “ Our master is one of those that bite. I’ve done the priest’s business. He is as like to get the sack as you are.”
Griffith found his wife seated on the
lawn reading. He gulped down his ire as well as he could ; but nevertheless his voice trembled a little with suppressed passion.
“ So Jane is turned off now,” said he.
“ I don’t know about being turned off,” replied Mrs. Gaunt, calmly; “but she leaves me next month, and Cicely Davis comes back.”
“And Cicely Davis is a useless slut that cannot boil a potato fit to eat; but then she is a Papist, and poor Jenny is a Protestant, and can cook a dinner.”
“My dear,” said Mrs. Gaunt, “do not you trouble about the servants ; leave them to me.”
“And welcome ; but this is not your doing, it is that Leonard’s : and I cannot allow a Popish priest to turn off all my servants that are worth their salt. Come, Kate, you used to be a sensible woman, and a tender wife ; now I ask you, is a young bachelor a fit person to govern a man’s family ? ”
Mrs. Gaunt laughed in his face. “A young bachelor ! ” said she ; “who ever heard of such a term applied to a priest, — and a saint upon earth ? ”
“ Why, he is not married, so he must be a bachelor; and I say again it is monstrous for a young bachelor to come between old married folk, and hear all their secrets, and have a finger in every pie, and set up to be master of my house, and order my wife to turn away my servants for going to church behind me. Why not turn me away too ? Their lault is mine.”
“ Griffith, you are in a passion, and I begin to think you want to put me in one.”
“Well, perhaps I am. Job’s patience went at last, and mine has been sore tried this many a month. ’T was bad enough when the man was only your confessor ; you told him everything, and you don't tell me everything. He knew your very heart, better than I do, and that was a bitter thing for me to bear, that love you and have no secrets from you. But every man who marries a Catholic must endure this ; so I put a good face on it, though my heart was often sore ; ’t was the price i had to pay for my pearl of womankind. But since he set up your governor as well, you are a changed woman ; you slum company abroad, you freeze my friends at home. You have made the house so cold that I am fain to seek the ‘ Red Lion ’ for a smile or a kindly word : and now, to please this fanatical priest, you would turn away the best servants I have, and put useless, dirty slatterns in their place, that happen to be Papists. You did not use to be so uncharitable, nor so unreasonable. ’T is the priest’s doing. He is my secret, underhand enemy; I feel him undermining me, inch by inch, and I can bear it no longer. I must make a stand somewhere, and I may as well make it here ; for Jenny is a good girl, and her folk live in the village, and she helps them. Think better of it, dame, and let the poor wench stay, though she does go to church behind your husband.”
“'Griffith,” said Mrs. Gaunt, “I might retort and say that you are a changed man ; for to be sure you did never use to interfere between me and my maids. Are you sure some mischief-making woman is not advising you ? But there, do not let us chafe one another, for you know we are hot-tempered both of us. Well, leave it for the present, my dear; prithee let me think it over till to-morrow, at all events, and try if I can satisfy you.”
The jealous husband saw through this proposal directly. He turned purple. “ That is to say, you must ask your priest first for leave to show your husband one grain of respect and affection, and not make him quite a cipher in his own house. No, Kate, no man who respects himself will let another man come between himself and the wife of his bosom. This business is between you and me; I will brook no interference in it; and I tell you plainly, if you turn this poor lass off to please this d—d priest, I ’ll turn the priest off to please her and her folk. They are as good as he is, any way.”
The bitter contempt with which he spoke of brother Leonard, and this astounding threat, imported a new and dangerous element into the discussion : it stung Mrs. Gaunt beyond bearing. She turned with flashing eyes upon Griffith.
“As good as he is? The scum of my kitchen ! You will make me hate tire mischief-making hussy. She shall pack out of the house to-morrow morning.”
“Then I say that priest shall never darken my doors again.”
“Then I say they are my doors, not yours ; and that holy man shall brighten them whenever he will.”
If to strike an adversary dumb is the tongue’s triumph, Mrs. Gaunt was victorious ; for Griffith gasped, but did not reply.
They faced each other, pale with fury ; but no more words.
No : an ominous silence succeeded this lamentable answer, like the silence that follows a thunder-clap.
Griffith stood still awhile, benumbed as it were by the cruel stroke ; then cast one speaking look of anguish and reproach upon her, drew himself haughtily up, and stalked away like a wounded lion.
Well said the ancients that anger is a short madness. When we reflect in cold blood on the things we have said in hot, how impossible they seem ! how out of character with our real selves ! And this is one of the recognized symptoms of mania.
There were few persons could compare with Mrs. Gaunt in native magnanimity; yet how ungenerous a stab had she given.
And had he gone on, she would have gone on ; but when he turned silent at her bitter thrust, and stalked away from her, she came to herself almost directly.
She thought, “ Good God ! what have I said to him ? ”
And the flush of shame came to her cheek, and her eyes filled with tears.
He saw them not; he had gone away, wounded to the heart.
You see it was true. The house was hers; tied up as tight as wax. The very money (his own money) that had been spent on the place, had become hers by being expended on real property ; he could not reclaim it; he was her lodger, a dependent on her bounty.
During all the years they had lived together she had never once assumed the proprietor. On the contrary, she put him forward as the Squire, and slipped quietly into the background. Bene latuit. But, lo! let a hand be put out to offend her saintly favorite, and that moment she could waken her husband from his dream, and put him down into his true legal position with a word. The matrimonial throne for him till he resisted her priest; and then, a stool at her feet, and his.
He was enraged as well as hurt; but being a true lover, his fury was levelled, not at the woman who had hurt him, but at the man who stood out of sight and set her on.
By this time the reader knows his good qualities, and his defects ; superior to his wife in one or two things, he was by no means so thorough a gentleman as she was a lady. He had begun to make a party with his own servants against the common enemy ; and, in his wrath, he now took another step, or rather a stride, in the same direction. As he hurried away to the public-house, white with ire, he met his gamekeeper coming in with a bucketful of fish fresh caught. “ What have ye got there ? ” said Griffith, roughly ; not that he was angry with the man, but that his very skin was full of wrath, and it must exude.
Mr. Leicester did not relish the tone, and replied, bluntly and sulkily, “ Pike for our Papists.”
The answer, though rude, did not altogether displease Griffith ; it smacked of odium theologicum, a sentiment he was learning to understand. “ Put ’em down, and listen to me, Thomas Leicester,” said he.
And his manner was now so impressive that Leicester put down the bucket with ludicrous expedition, and gaped at him.
“ Now, my man, why do I keep you here ? ”
“To take care of your game, Squire, I do suppose.”
“ What ? when you are the worst gamekeeper in the county. How many poachers do you catch in the year ? They have only to set one of their gang to treat you at the public-house on a moonshiny night, and the rest can have all my pheasants at roost while you are boosing and singing.”
“ Like my betters in the parlor,” muttered Tom.
“ But that is not all,” continued Gaunt, pretending not to hear him. “ You wire my rabbits, and sell them in the town. Don't go to deny it; for I’ve half a dozen to prove it.” Mr. Leicester looked very uncomfortable. His master continued : “ I have known it this ten months, yet you are none the worse for’t. Now, why do I keep you here, that any other gentleman in my place would send to Carlisle jail on a justice’s warrant?”
Mr. Leicester, who had thought his master blind, and was so suddenly undeceived, hung his head and snivelled out, “ ’T is because you have a good heart, Squire, and would not ruin a poor fellow for an odd rabbit or two.”
“ Stuff and nonsense ! ” cried Gaunt. “ Speak your mind, for once, or else begone for a liar as well as a knave.”
Thus appealed to, Leicester’s gypsy eyes roved to and fro as if he were looking for some loophole to escape by ; but at last be faced the situation. He said, with a touch of genuine feeling, “ D—n the rabbits ! I wish my
hand had withered ere I touched one on them.” But after this preface he sunk his voice to a whisper, and said, “ I see what you are driving at, Squire ; and since there is nobody with us ” (he took off his cap.) “why, sir, ’t is this here mole I am in debt to, no doubt.”
Then the gentleman and his servant looked one another silently in the face, and what with their standing in the same attitude and being both excited and earnest, the truth must be owned, a certain family likeness came out. Certainly their eyes were quite unlike. Leicester had his gypsy mother’s: black, keen, and restless. Gaunt had his mother’s: brown, calm, and steady. But the two men had the same stature, the same manly mould and square shoulders ; and, though Leicester’s cheek was brown as a berry, his forehead was singularly white for a man in his rank of life, and over his left temple, close to the roots of the hair, was an oblong mole as black as ink. that bore a close resemblance in appearance and position to his master’s.
“ Tom Leicester; I have been insulted.”
“ That won’t pass, sir. Who is the man ? ”
“ One that I cannot call out like a gentleman, and yet I must not lay on him with my cane, or I am like to get the sack, as well as my servants. ’T is the Popish priest, lad; Brother Leonard, own brother to Old Nick; he has got our Dame’s ear, she cannot say him ‘nay.’ She is turning away all my people, and filling the house with Papists, to please him. And when I interfered, she as good as told me I should go next; and so I shall, I or else that priest.”
This little piece of exaggeration fired Tom Leicester. “Say ye so, Squire ? then just you whisper a word in my ear, and George and I will lay that priest by the heels, and drag him through the horse-pond. He won’t come here to trouble you after that, I know.”
Gaunt’s eyes flashed triumph. “ A friend in need is a friend indeed,” said he. “ Ay, you are right, lad. There must be no broken bones, and no bloodshed ; the horse-pond is the very tiling: and if she discharges you for it, take no heed of her. You shall never leave Hernshaw Castle for that good deed; or, if you do, I ’ll go with you ; for the world it is wide, and I ’ll never live a servant in the house where I have been a master.”
They then put their heads together and concerted the means by which the priest at his very next visit was to be decoyed into the neighborhood of the horse-pond.
And then they parted, and Griffith went to the “ Red Lion.” And a pair of black eyes that had slyly watched this singular interview from an upper window withdrew quietly; and soon after Tom Leicester found himself face to face with their owner, the sight of whom always made his heart beat a little faster.
Caroline Ryder had been rather cold to him of late ; it was therefore a charming surprise when she met him, all wreathed in smiles, and, drawing him apart, began to treat him like a bosom friend, and tell him what had passed between the master and her and Jane. Confidence begets confidence; and so Tom told her in turn that the Squire and the Dame had come to words over it. “ However,” said he, “’t is all the priest's fault: but bide awhile, all of ye.”
With this mysterious hint he meant to close his revelations. But Ryder intended nothing of the kind. Her keen eye had read the looks and gestures of Gaunt and Leicester, and these had shown her that something very strange and serious was going on. She had come out expressly to learn what it was, and Tom was no match for her arts. She so smiled on him, and agreed with him, and led him, and drew him, and pumped him, that she got it all out of him on a promise of secrecy. She then entered into it with spirit, and, being what they called a scholar, undertook to write a paper for Tom and his helper to pin on the priest’s back. No sooner said than done. She left him, and speedily returned with the following document, written out in large and somewhat straggling letters : —
“ HONEST FOLK, BEHOLD A MISCHIEVIOUS PRIEST, WHICH FOR CAUSING OF STRIFE ’TWIXT MAN AND WYFE HATH MADE ACQUAINTANCE WITH SQUIRE’S HORSE-POND.”
And so a female conspirator was added to the plot.
Mrs. Gaunt co-operated too, but, need I say, unconsciously.
She was unhappy, and full of regret at what she had said. She took herself severely to task, and drew a very unfavorable comparison between herself and Brother Leonard. “ How ill,” she thought, “am I fitted to carry out that meek saint’s view. See what my ungoverned temper has done.” So then, having made so great a mistake, she thought the best thing she could do was to seek advice of Leonard at once. She was not without hopes he would tell her to postpone the projected change in her household, and so soothe her offended husband directly.
She wrote a line requesting Leonard to call on her as soon as possible, and advise her in a great difficulty ; and she gave this note to Ryder, and told her to send the groom off with it at once.
Ryder squeezed the letter, and peered into it, and gathered its nature before she gave it to the groom to take to Leonard.
When he was gone, she went and told Tom Leicester, and he chuckled, and made his preparations accordingly.
Then she retired to her own room, and went through a certain process I have indicated before as one of her habits : knitted her great black brows, and pondered the whole situation with a mental power that was worthy of a nobler sphere and higher materials.
Her practical revery, so to speak, continued until she was rung for to dress her mistress for dinner.
Griffith was so upset, so agitated and restless, he could not stay long in any one place, not even in the “Red Lion.” So he came home to dinner, though he had mighty little appetite for it. And this led to another little conjugal scene.
Mrs. Gaunt mounted the great oak staircase to dress for dinner, languidly, as ladies are apt to do, when reflection and regret come after excitement.
Presently she heard a quick foot behind her : she knew it directly for her husband’s, and her heart yearned. She did not stop nor turn her head : womanly pride withheld her from direct submission ; but womanly tenderness and tact opened a way to reconciliation. She drew softly aside, almost to the wall, and went slower ; and her hand, her sidelong drooping head, and her whole eloquent person, whispered plainly enough, “ If somebody would like to make friends, here is the door open.”
Griffith saw, but was too deeply wounded : he passed her without stopping (the staircase was eight feet broad).
But as he passed he looked at her and sighed, for he saw she was sorry.
She heard, and sighed too. Poor things, they had lived so happy together for years.
He went on.
Her pride bent: “ Griffith ! ” said she, timidly.
He turned and stopped at that.
“Sweetheart,” she murmured, “ I was to blame. I was ungenerous. I forgot myself. Let me recall my words. You know they did not come from my heart.”
“You need not tell me that,” said Griffith, doggedly. “ I have no quarrel with you, and never will. You but do what you are bidden, and say what you are bidden. I take the wound from you as best I may: the man that set you on, ’t is him I ’ll be revenged on.”
“ Alas that you will think so ! ” said she. “ Believe me, dearest, that holy man would be the first to rebuke me for rebelling against my husband and flouting him. O, how could I say such things ? I thank you, and love you dearly for being so blind to my faults ; but I must not abuse your blindness. Father Leonard will put me to penance for the fault you forgive. He will hear no excuses. Prithee, now, be more just to that good man.”
Griffith listened quietly, with a cold sneer upon his lip ; and this was his reply: “Till that mischief-making villain came between you and me, you never gave me a bitter word : we were the happiest pair in Cumberland. But now what are we ? And what shall we be in another year or two ? — REVENGE ! ! ”
He had begun bravely enough, but suddenly burst into an ungovernable rage ; and as he yelled out that furious word his face was convulsed and ugly to look at; very ugly.
Mrs. Gaunt started: she had not seen that vile expression in his face for many a year; but she knew it again.
“ Ay ! ” he cried, “ he has made me drink a bitter cup this many a day. But I ’ll force as bitter a one down his throat, and you shall see it done.”
Mrs. Gaunt turned pale at this violent threat ; but being a high-spirited woman, she stiffened and hid her apprehensions loftily. “ Madman that you are,” said she. “ I throw away excuses on Jealousy, and I waste reason upon frenzy. I ’ll say no more things to provoke you ; but, to be sure, ’t is I that am offended now, and deeply too, as you will find.”
“ So be it,” said Griffith, sullenly ; then, grinding his teeth, “ he shall pay for that too.”
Then he went to his dressing-room, and she to her bedroom. Griffith hating Leonard, and Kate on the verge of hating Griffith.
And, ere her blood could cool, she was subjected to the keen, cold scrutiny of another female, and that female a secret rival.
WOULD you learn what men gain by admitting a member of the fair sex into their conspiracies ? read the tragedy of “ Venice Preserved ” ; and, by way of afterpiece, this little chapter.
Mrs. Gaunt sat pale and very silent, and Caroline Ryder stood behind, doing up her hair into a magnificent structure that added eight inches to the lady’s height: and in this operation her own black hair and keen black eyes came close to the golden hair and deep blue eyes, now troubled, and made a picture striking by contrast.
As she was putting the finishing touches, she said, quietly, “ If you please, Dame, I have somewhat to tell you.”
Mrs. Gaunt sighed wearily, expecting some very minute communication.
“ Well, Dame, I dare say I am risking my place, but I can’t help it.”
“Another time, Ryder,” said Mrs. Gaunt. “ I am in no humor to be worried with my servants’ squabbles.”
“ Nay, madam, ’t is not that at all: ’t is about Father Leonard. Sure you would not like him to be drawn through the horse-pond ; and that is what they mean to do next time he comes here.”
In saying these words, the jade contrived to be adjusting Mrs. Gaunt’s dress. The lady’s heart gave a leap, and the servant’s cunning finger felt it, and then felt a shudder run all over that stately frame. But after that Mrs. Gaunt seemed to turn to steel. She distrusted Ryder, she could not tell why ; distrusted her, and was upon her guard.
“ You must be mistaken,” said she. “ Who would dare to lay hands on a priest in my house ? ”
“ Well, Dame, you see they egg one another on : don’t ask me to betray my fellow-servants ; but let us balk them. I don’t deceive you, Dame : if the good priest shows his face here, he will be thrown into the horse-pond, and sent home with a ticket pinned to his back. Them that is to do it are on the watch now, and have got their orders ; and’t is a burning shame. To be sure I am not a Catholic ; but religion is religion, and a more heavenly face I never saw : and for it to be dragged through a filthy horse-pond! ”
Mrs. Gaunt clutched her inspector’s arm and turned pale. “ The villains ! the fiends ! ” she gasped. “ Go ask. your master to come to me this moment.”
Ryder took a step or two, then stopped. “ Alack, Dame,” said she, “ that is not the way to do. You may be sure the others would not dare, if my master had not shown them his mind.”
Mrs. Gaunt stopped her ears. “Don’t tell me that he has ordered this impious, cruel, cowardly act. He is a lion : and this comes from the heart of cowardly curs. What is to be done, woman ? tell me ; for you are cooler than I am,”
“ Well, Dame, if I were in your place, I ’d just send him a line, and bid him stay away till the storm blows over.”
“ You are right, but who is to carry it ? My own servants are traitors to me.”
“ I ’ll carry it myself.”
“ You shall. Put on your hat, and run through the wood; that is the shortest way.”
She wrote a few lines on a large sheet of paper, for note-paper there was none in those days ; sealed it, and gave it to Ryder.
Ryder retired to put on her hat, and pry into the letter with greedy eyes.
It ran thus : —
“ DEAR FATHER AND FRIEND, - You must come hither no more at present. Ask the bearer why this is, for I am ashamed to put it on paper. Pray for them : for you can, but I cannot. Pray for me, too, bereft for a time of your counsels. I shall come and confess to you in a few days, when we are all cooler; but you shall honor his house no more. Obey me in this one thing, who shall obey you in all things else, and am
“Your indignant and sorrowful daughter,
“ CATHARINE GAUNT.”
“No more than that ?” said Ryder. “ Ay, she guessed as I should look.”
She whipped on her hat and went out.
Who should she meet, or, I might say, run against, at the hall door, but Father Leonard.
He had come at once, in compliance with Mrs. Gaunt’s request.
MRS. RYDER uttered a little scream of dismay. The priest smiled, and said, sweetly, “ Forgive me, mistress, I fear I startled you.”
“ Indeed you did, sir,” said she. She looked furtively round, and saw Leicester and his underling on the watch.
Leicester, unaware of her treachery, made her a signal of intelligence.
She responded to it, to gain time.
It was a ticklish situation. Some would have lost their heads. Ryder was alarmed, but all the more able to defend her plans. Her first move, as usual with such women, was — a lie.
“ Our Dame is in the Grove, sir,” said she. “ I am to bring you to her.”
The priest bowed his head, gravely, and moved towards the Grove with downcast eyes. Ryder kept close to him for a few steps ; then she ran to Leicester, and whispered, hastily, “Go you to the stable-gate ; I ’ll bring him round that way : hide now; he suspects.”
“ Ay, ay,” said Leicester ; and the confiding pair slipped away round a corner to wait for their victim.
Ryder hurried him into the Grove, and, as soon as she had got him out of hearing, told him the truth.
He turned pale ; for these delicate organizations do not generally excel in courage.
Ryder pitied him, and something of womanly feeling began to mingle with her plans. “ They shall not lay a finger on you, sir,” said she. “ I ’ll scratch and scream and bring the whole parish out sooner ; but the best way is not to give them a chance; please you follow me.” And she hurried him through the Grove, and then into an unfrequented path of the great wood.
When they were safe from pursuit she turned and looked at him. He was a good deal agitated ; but the uppermost sentiment was gratitude. It soon found words, and, as usual, happy ones. He thanked her with dignity and tenderness for the service she had done him, and asked her if she was a Catholic.
“ No,” said she.
At that his countenance fell, but only for a moment. “ Ah ! would you were,” he said, earnestly. He then added, sweetly, “ To be sure I have all the more reason to be grateful to you.”
“ You are very welcome, reverend sir,” said Ryder, graciously. “ Religion is religion ; and ’t is a barbarous thing that violence should be done to men of your cloth.”
Having thus won his heart, the artful woman began at one and the same time to please and to probe him. “ Sir,” said she, “be of good heart ; they have done you no harm, and themselves no good ; my mistress will hate them for it, and love you all the more.”
Father Leonard’s pale cheek colored all over at these words, though he said nothing.
“Since they won’t let you come to her, she will come to you.”
“ Do you think so ? ” said he, faintly-
“ Nay, I am sure of it, sir. So would any woman. We still follow our hearts, and get our way by hook or by crook.”
Again the priest colored, either with pleasure or with shame, or with both ; and the keen feminine eye perused him with microscopic power. She waited, to give him an opportunity of talking to her and laying bare his feelings ; but he was either too delicate, too cautious, or too pure.
So then she suddenly affected to remember her mistress’s letter. She produced it with an apology. He took it with unfeigned eagerness, and read it in silence ; and having read it, he stood patient, with the tears in his eyes.
Ryder eyed him with much curiosity and a little pity. “ Don’t you take on for that,” said she. “ Why, she will be more at her ease when she visits you at your place than here ; and she won't give you up, I promise.”
The priest trembled, and Ryder saw it.
“ But, my daughter,” said he, “I am perplexed and grieved. It seems that I make mischief in your house : that is an ill office ; I tear it is my duty to retire from this place altogether, rather than cause dissension between those whom the Church by holy sacrament hath bound together.” So saying, he hung his head and sighed.
Ryder eyed him with a little pity, but more contempt. “ Why take other people’s faults on your back ? ” said she. “ My mistress is tied to a man she does not love ; but that is not your fault: and he is jealous of you, that never gave him cause. If I was a man he should not accuse me — for nothing; nor set his man on to drag me through a horsepond — for nothing. I ‘d have the sweet as well as the bitter. ”
Father Leonard turned and looked at her with a face full of terror. Some beautiful, honeyed fiend seemed to be entering his heart and tempting it. “ O, hush ! my daughter, hush ! ” he said ; “ what words are these for a virtuous woman to speak, and a priest to hear?”
“ There, I have offended you by my blunt way,” said the cajoling hussy, in soft and timid tones.
“ Nay, not so ; but O speak not so lightly of things that peril the immortal soul!”
“Well, I have done,” said Ryder. “ You are out of danger now; so give you good day,”
He stopped her. “What, before I have thanked you for your goodness. Ah, Mistress Ryder, ’t is on these occasions a priest sins by longing for riches to reward his benefactors. I have naught to offer you but this ring ; it was my mother’s, — my dear mother's.” He took it off his finger to give it her.
But the little bit of goodness that cleaves even to the heart of an intrigante revolted against her avarice. “ Nay, poor soul, I ’ll not take it,” said she ; and put her hands before her eyes not to see it, for she knew she could not look at it long and spare it.
With this she left him ; but, ere she had gone far, her cunning and curiosity gained the upper hand again, and she whipped behind a great tree and crouched, invisible all but her nose and one piercing eye.
She saw the priest make a few steps homewards, then look around, then take Mrs. Gaunt's letter out of his pocket, press it passionately to his lips, and hide it tenderly in his bosom.
This done, he went home, with his eves on the ground as usual, and measured steps. And to all who met him he seemed a creature in whom religion had conquered all human frailty.
Caroline Ryder hurried home with cruel exultation in her black eyes. But she soon found that the first thing she had to do was to defend herself. Leicester and his man met her, and the former looked gloomy, and the latter reproached her bitterly, called her a double-faced jade, and said he would tell the Squire of the trick she had played them. But Ryder had a lie ready in a moment. “ ’T is you I have saved, not him,” said she. “He is something more than mortal: why, he told me of his own accord what you were there for ; but that, if you were so unlucky as to lay hands on him, you would rot alive. It seems that has been tried out Stanhope way; a man did but give him a blow, and his arm was stiff next day, and he never used it again ; and next his hair fell oft' his head, and then his eyes they turned to water and ran all out of him, and he died within the twelvemonth.”
Country folk were nearly, though not quite, as superstitious at that time as in the Middle Ages. “ Murrain on him,” said Leicester. “ Catch me laying a finger on him. I’m glad he is gone ; and I hope he won’t never come back no more.”
“Not likely, since he can read all our hearts. Why he told me something about you, Tom Leicester ; he says you are in love.”
“ No ! did he really now ? ” — and Leicester opened his eyes very wide. “ And did he tell you who the lass is ? ”
“ He did so ; and surprised me properly.” This with a haughty glance.
Leicester held his tongue and turned red.
“ Who is it, mistress ? ” asked the helper.
“ He did n’t say I was to tell you, young man.”
And with these two pricks of her needle she left them both more or less discomfited, and went to scrutinize and anatomize her mistress’s heart with plenty of cunning, but no mercy. She related her own part in the affair very briefly, but dwelt with well-feigned sympathy on the priest’s feelings. “He turned as white as a sheet, ma’am, when I told him, and offered me his very ring off* his finger, be was so grateful; poor man ! ”
“You did not take it, I hope ? ” said Mrs. Gaunt, quickly.
“ La, no ma’am ! I had n’t the heart.”
Mrs. Gaunt was silent awhile. When she spoke again it was to inquire whether Ryder had given him the letter.
“That I did : and it brought the tears into his poor eyes ; and such beautiful eyes as he has, to be sure. You would have pitied him if you had seen him read it, and cry over it, and then kiss it and put it in his bosom be did.”
Mrs. Gaunt said nothing, but turned her head away.
The operator shot a sly glance into the looking-glass, and saw a pearly tear trickling down her subject’s fair cheek. So she went on, all sympathy outside, and remorselessness within. “To think of that face, more like an angel's than a man’s, to be dragged through a nasty horse-pond. ’T is a shame of master to set his men on a clergyman.” And so was proceeding, with well-acted and catching warmth, to dig as dangerous a pit for Mrs. Gaunt as ever was dug for any lady ; for whatever Mrs. Gaunt had been betrayed into saying, this Ryder would have used without mercy, and with diabolical skill.
Yes, it was a pit, and the lady’s tender heart pushed her towards it, and her fiery temper drew her towards it.
Yet she escaped it this time. The dignity, delicacy, and pride, that is oftener found in these old families than out of them, saved her from that peril. She did not see the trap ; but she spurned the bait by native instinct.
She threw up her hand in a moment, with a queenly gesture, and stopped the tempter.
“ Not — one — word — from my servant against my husband in my hearing ! ” said she, superbly.
And Ryder shrank back into herself directly.
“ Child,” said Mrs. Gaunt, “ you have done me a great service, and my husband too ; for if this dastardly act had been done in his name, he would soon have been heartily ashamed of it, and deplored it. Such services can never be quite repaid ; but you will find a purse in that drawer with five guineas; it is yours ; and my lavender silk dress, be pleased to wear that about me, to remind me of the good office you have done me. And now, all you can do for me is to leave me; for I am very, very unhappy.”
Ryder retired with the spoil, and Mrs. Gaunt leaned her head over her chair, and cried without stint.
After this, no angry words passed between Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt ; but something worse, a settled coolness, sprung up.
As for Griffith, his cook kept her place, and the priest came no more to the Castle ; so, having outwardly gained the day, he was ready to forget and forgive ; but Kate, though she would not let her servant speak ill of Griffith, was deeply indignant and disgusted with him. She met his advances with such a stern coldness, that he turned sulky and bitter in his turn.
Husband and wife saw little of each other, and hardly spoke.
Both were unhappy ; but Kate was angriest, and Griffith saddest
In an evil hour he let out his grief to Caroline Ryder. She seized the opportunity, and, by a show of affectionate sympathy and zeal, made herself almost necessary to him, and contrived to establish a very perilous relation between him and her. Matters went so far as this, that the poor man’s eye used to brighten when he saw her coming.
Yet this victory cost her a sore heart and all the patient self-denial of her sex. To be welcome to Griffith she had to speak to him of her rival, and to speak well of her. She tried talking of herself and her attachment; he yawned in her face : she tried smooth detraction and innuendo ; he fired up directly, and defended her of whose conduct he had been complaining the very moment before.
Then she saw that there was but one way to the man’s heart. Sore, and sick, and smiling, she took that way: resolving to bide her time ; to worm herself in any how, and wait patiently till she could venture to thrust her mistress out.
It any of my readers need to be told why this she Machiavel threw her fellow-conspirators over, the reason was simply this : on calm reflection she saw it was not her interest to get Father Leonard insulted. She looked on him as her mistress’s lover, and her own best friend. “Was I mad ?” said she to herself. “ My business is to keep him sweet upon her, till they can’t live without one another : and then I ’ll tell him ; and take your place in this house, my lady.”
And now it is time to visit that extraordinary man, who was the cause of all this mischief; whom Gaunt called a villain, and Mrs. Gaunt a saint; and, as usual, he was neither one nor the other.
Father Leonard was a pious, pure, and noble-minded man, who had undertaken to defy nature, with religion's aid ; and, after years of successful warfare, now sustained one of those defeats to which such warriors have been liable in every age. If his heart was pure, it was tender ; and nature never intended him to live all his days alone. After years of prudent coldness to the other sex, he fell in with a creature that put him off his guard at first, she seemed so angelic. “At Wisdom’s gate suspicion slept ”: and, by degrees, which have been already indicated in this narrative, she whom the Church had committed to his spiritual care became his idol. Could he have foreseen this, it would never have happened; he would have steeled himself, or left the country that contained this sweet temptation. But love stole on him, masked with religious zeal, and robed in a garment of light that seemed celestial.
When the mask fell, it was too late : the power to resist the soft and thrilling enchantment was gone. The solitary man was too deep in love.
Yet he clung still to that self-deception, without which he never could have been entrapped into an earthly passion ; he never breathed a word of love to her. It would have alarmed her; it would have alarmed himself. Every syllable that passed between these two might have been published without scandal. But the heart does not speak by words alone: there are looks and there are tones of voice that belong to Love, and are his signs, his weapons ; and it was in these very tones the priest murmured to his gentle listener about “the angelic life ” between spirits still lingering on earth, but purged from earthly dross; and even about other topics less captivating to the religious imagination. He had persuaded her to found a school in this dark parish, and in it he taught the poor with exemplary and touching patience. Well, when he spoke to her about this school, it was in words of practical good sense, but in tones of love ; and she, being one of those feminine women who catch the tone they are addressed in, and instinctively answer in tune, and, moreover, seeing no ill, but good, in the subject of their conversation, replied sometimes, unguardedly enough, in accents almost as tender.
In truth, if Love was really a personage, as the heathens feigned, he must have often perched on a tree in that quiet grove, and chuckled and mocked, when this man and woman sat and murmured together, in the soft seducing twilight, about the love of God.
And now things had come to a crisis. Husband and wife went about the house silent and gloomy, the ghosts of their former selves ; and the priest sat solitary, benighted, bereaved of the one human creature he cared for. Day succeeded to day, and still she never came. Every morning he said, “She will come to-day,” and brightened with the hope. But the leaden hours crept by, and still she came not.
Three sorrowful weeks went by ; and he fell into deep dejection. He used to wander out at night, and come and stand where he could see her windows with the moon shining on them : then go slowly home, cold in body, and with his heart aching, lonely, deserted, and perhaps forgotten. O, never till now had he knowm the utter aching sense of being quite alone in this weary world !
One day, as he sat drooping and listless, there came a light foot along the passage, a light tap at the door, and the next moment she stood before him, a little paler than usual, but lovelier than ever, for celestial joy softened her noble features.
The priest started up with a cry of joy that ought to have warned her; but it only brought a faint blush of pleasure to her cheek and the brimming tears to her eyes.
“ Dear father and friend,” said she. “ What! have you missed me ? Think, then, how I have missed you. But ’t was best for us both to let their vile passions cool first.”
Leonard could not immediately reply. The emotion of seeing her again so suddenly almost choked him.
He needed all the self-possession he had been years acquiring not to throw himself at her knees and declare his passion to her.
Mrs. Gaunt saw his agitation, but did not interpret to his disadvantage.
She came eagerly and sat on a stool beside him. “ Dear father,” she said, “do not let their insolence grieve you. They have smarted for it, and shall smart till they make their submission to you, and beg and entreat you to come to us again. Meantime, since you cannot visit me, I visit you. Confess me, father, and then direct me with your counsels. Ah ! if you could but give me the Christian temper to carry them out firmly but meekly ! ’T is my ungoverned spirit hath wrought all this mischief, — mea culpa / mea culpa ! ”
By this time Leonard had recovered his self-possession, and he spent an hour of strange intoxication, confessing his idol, sentencing his idol to light penances, directing and advising his idol, and all in the soft murmurs of a lover.
She left him, and the room seemed to darken.
Two days only elapsed, and she came again. Visit succeeded to visit: and her affection seemed boundless.
The insult he had received was to be avenged in one place, and healed in another, and, if possible, effaced with tender hand. So she kept all her sweetness for that little cottage, and all her acidity for Hernshaw Castle.
It was an evil hour when Griffith attacked her saint with violence. The woman was too high-spirited, and too sure of her own rectitude, to endure that : so, instead of crushing her, it drove her to retaliation,—and to imprudence.
These visits to console Father Leonard were quietly watched by Ryder, for one thing. But, worse than that, they placed Mrs. Gaunt in a new position with Leonard, and one that melts the female heart. She was now the protectress and the consoler of a man sire admired and revered. I say if anything on earth can breed love in a grand female bosom, this will.
She had put her foot on a sunny slope clad with innocent-looking flowers ; but more and more precipitous at every step, and perdition at the bottom.
FATHER LEONARD, visited, soothed, and petted by his idol, recovered his spirits, and, if he pined during her absence, he was always so joyful in her presence that she thought of course he was permanently happy; so then, being by nature magnanimous and placable, she began to smile on her husband again, and a tacit reconciliation came about by natural degrees.
But this produced a startling result.
Leonard, as her confessor, could learn everything that passed between them ; he had only to follow established precedents, and ask questions his Church has printed for the use of confessors. He was mad enough to put such interrogatories.
The consequence was, that one day, being off his guard, or literally unable to contain his bursting heart any longer, he uttered a cry of jealous agony, and then, in a torrent of burning, melting words, appealed to her pity. He painted her husband’s happiness, and his own misery, and barren desolation, with a fervid, passionate eloquence that paralyzed his hearer, and left her pale and trembling, and the tears of pity trickling down her cheek.
Those silent tears calmed him a little ; and he begged her forgiveness, and awaited his doom.
“ I pity you,” said she, angelically. “ What ? you jealous of my husband ! O, pray to Christ and Our Lady to cure you of this folly.”
She rose, fluttering inwardly, but calm as a statue on the outside, gave him her hand, and went home very slowly ; and the moment she was out of his sight she drooped her head like a crushed flower.
She was sad, ashamed, alarmed.
Her mind was in a whirl; and, were I to imitate those writers who undertake to dissect and analyze the heart at such moments, and put the exact result on paper, I should be apt to sacrifice truth to precision; I must stick to my old plan, and tell you what she did : that will surely be some index to her mind, especially with my female readers.
She went home straight to her husband ; he was smoking his pipe after dinner. She drew her chair close to him, and laid her hand tenderly on his shoulder. “ Griffith,” she said, “ will you grant your wife a favor ? You once promised to take me abroad : I desire to go now ; I long to see foreign countries ; I am tired of this place. I want a change. Prithee, prithee take me hence this very day.”
Griffith looked aghast. “ Why, sweetheart, it takes a deal of money to go abroad ; we must get in our rents first.”
“ Nay, I have a hundred pounds laid by.”
“ Well, but what a fancy to take all of a sudden ! ”
“ O Griffith, don’t deny me what I ask you, with my arm round your neck, dearest. It is no fancy. I want to be aione with you, far from this place where coolness has come between us.” And with this she fell to crying and sobbing, and straining him tight to her bosom, as if she feared to lose him, or be taken from him.
Griffith kissed her, and told her to cheer up, he was not the man to deny her anything. “Just let me get my hay in,” said he, “ and I ’ll take you to Rome, if you like.”
“No, no: to-day, or to-morrow at furthest, or you don’t love me as I deserve to be loved by you this day.”
“ Now Kate, my darling, be reasonable. I must get my hay in ; and then I am your man.”
Mrs. Gaunt had gradually sunk almost to her knees. She now started up with nostrils expanding and her blue eyes glittering. “Your hay!” she cried, with bitter contempt ; “your hay before your wife ? That is how you love me ! ” And, the next moment, she seemed to turn from a fiery woman to a glacier.
Griffith smiled at all this, with that lordly superiority the male sometimes wears when he is behaving like a dull ass ; and smoked his pipe, and resolved to indulge her whim as soon as ever he had got his hay in.
SHOWERY weather set in, and the hay had to be turned twice, and left in cocks instead of carried.
Griffith spoke now and then about the foreign tour ; but Kate deigned no reply whatever ; and the chilled topic died out before the wet hay could be got in : and so much for Procrastination.
Meantime, Betty Gough was sent for to mend the house-linen. She came every other day after dinner, and sat working alone beside Mrs. Gaunt till dark.
Caroline Ryder put her own construction on this, and tried to make friends with Mrs. Gough, intending to pump her. But Mrs. Gough gave her short, dry answers. Ryder then felt sure that Gough was a go-between, and, woman-like, turned up her nose at her with marked contempt. For why ? This office of go-between was one she especially coveted for herself under the circumstances ; and, a little while ago, it had seemed within her grasp.
One fine afternoon the hay was all carried, and Griffith came home in good spirits to tell his wife he was ready to make the grand tour with her.
He was met at the gate by Mrs. Gough, with a face of great concern ; she begged him to come and see the Dame; she had slipped on the oak stairs, poor soul, and hurt her back.
Griffith tore up the stairs, and found Kate in the drawing-room, lying on a sofa, and her doctor by her side. He came in, trembling like a leaf, and clasped her piteously in his arms. At this she uttered a little patient sigh of pain, and the doctor begged him to moderate himself: there was no immediate cause of alarm; but she must be kept quiet; she had strained her back, and her nerves were shaken by the fall.
“ O my poor Kate ! ” cried Griffith ; and would let nobody else touch her. She was no longer a tall girl, but a statuesque woman ; yet he carried her in his herculean arms up to her bed. She turned her head towards him and shed a gentle tear at this proof of his love; but the next moment she was cold again, and seemed weary of her life.
An invalid's bed was sent to her by the doctor at her own request, and placed on a small bedstead. She lay on this at night, and on a sofa by day.
Griffith was now as good as a widower ; and Caroline Ryder improved the opportunity. She threw herself constantly in his way, all smiles, small talk, and geniality.
Like many healthy men, your sickness wearied him if it lasted over two days ; and whenever he came out, chilled and discontented, from his invalid wife, there was a fine, buoyant, healthy young woman, ready to chat with him, and brimming over with undisguised admiration.
True, she was only a servant, —a servant to the core. But she had been always about ladies, and could wear their surface as readily as she could their gowns. Moreover, Griffith himself lacked dignity and reserve ; he would talk to anybody.
The two women began to fill the relative situations of clouds and sunshine.
But, ere this had lasted long, the enticing contact with the object of her lawless fancy inflamed Ryder, and made her so impatient that she struck her long meditated blow a little prematurely.
The passage outside Mrs. Gaunt’s door had a large window ; and one day, while Griffith was with his wife, Ryder composed herself on the window-seat in a forlorn attitude, too striking and unlike her usual gay demeanor to pass unnoticed.
Griffith came out and saw this drooping, disconsolate figure. “ Hallo ! ” said he, “ what is wrong with you ? ” a little fretfully.
A deep sigh was the only response.
“ Had words with your sweetheart ? ”
“ You know I have no sweetheart, sir.”
The good-natured Squire made an attempt or two to console her and find out what was the matter ; but he could get nothing out of her but monosyllables and sighs. At last the crocodile contrived to cry. And having thus secured his pity, she said : “ There, never heed me. I ’m a foolish woman; I can’t bear to see my dear master so abused.”
“ What d’ ye mean ? ” said Griffith, sternly. Her very first shaft wounded his peace of mind.
“ O, no matter! why should I be your friend and my own enemy ? If I tell you, I shall lose my place.”
“ Nonsense, girl, you shall never lose your place while I am here.”
“ Well, I hope not, sir ; for I am very happy here ; too happy methinks, when you speak kindly to me. Take no notice of what I said. ’T is best to be blind at times.”
The simple Squire did not see that this artful woman was playing the stale game of her sex ; stimulating his curiosity under pretence of putting him off. He began to fret with suspicion and curiosity, and insisted on her speaking out.
“ Ah! but I am so afraid you will hate me,” said she ; “ and that will be worse than losing my place.”
Griffith stamped on the ground. “ What is it ? ” said he, fiercely.
Ryder seemed frightened. “It is nothing,” said she. Then she paused, and added, “ but my folly. I can’t bear to see you waste your feelings. She is not so ill as you fancy.”
“ Do you mean to say that my wife is pretending ? ”
“How can I say that? I was n't there : nobody saw her fall ; nor heard her either; and the house full of people. No doubt there is something the matter with her; but I do believe her heart is in more trouble than her back.”
“ And what troubles her heart ? Tell me, and she shall not fret long.”
“ Well, sir ; then just you send for Father Leonard; and she will get up, and walk as she used, and smile on you as she used. That man is the main of her sickness, you take my word.”
Griffith turned sick at heart; and the strong man literally staggered at this envenomed thrust of a weak woman’s tongue. But he struggled with the poison.
“ What d’ ye mean, woman ? ” said he. “ The priest has n’t been near her these two months.”
“ That is it, sir,” replied Ryder quietly; “he is too wise to come here against your will ; and she is bitter against you for frightening him away. Ask yourself, sir, did n’t she change to you the moment that you threatened that Leonard with the horse-pond ? ”
“ That is true ! ” gasped the wretched husband.
Yet he struggled again. “But she made it up with me after that. Why, ’t was but the other day she begged me to go abroad with her, and take her away from this place.”
“Ay? indeed!” said Ryder, bending her black brows, “ did she so ? ”
“That she did,” said Griffith joyfully ; “so you see you are mistaken.”
“ You should have taken her at her word, sir,” was all the woman’s reply.
“Well, you see the hay was out; so I put it off; and then came the cursed rain, day after day; and so she cooled upon it.”
“ Of course she did, sir.” Then, with a solemnity that appalled her miserable listener, “ I’d give all I’m worth if you had taken her at her word that minute. But that is the way with you gentlemen ; you let the occasion slip ; and we that be women never forgive that: she won’t give you the same chance again, I know. Now if I was not afraid to make you unhappy, I’d tell you why she asked you to go abroad. She felt herself weak and saw her danger ; she found she could not resist that Leonard any longer; and she had the sense to see it was n’t worth her while to ruin herself for him ; so she asked you to save her from him : that is the plain English. And you did n’t.”
At this, Griffith’s face wore an expression of agony so horrible that Ryder hesitated in her course. “ There, there,” said she, “ pray don’t look so, dear master ! after all, there’s nothing certain ; and perhaps I am too severe where I see you ill-treated : and to be sure no woman could be cold to you unless she was bewitched out of her seven senses by some other man. I could n’t use you as mistress does ; but then there’s nobody I care a straw for in these parts, except my dear master.”
Griffith took no notice of this overture : the potent poison of jealousy was coursing through all his veins and distorting his ghastly face.
“O God!” he gasped, “can this thing be ? My wife ! the mother of my child ! It is a lie ! I can’t believe it ; I won’t believe it. Have pity on me, woman, and think again, and unsay your words ; for, if ’t is so, there will be murder in this house.”
Ryder was alarmed. “ Don’t talk so,” said she hastily ; “ no woman born is worth that. Besides, as you say, what do we know against her ? She is a gentlewoman, and well brought up. Now, dear master, you have got one friend in this house, and that is me : I know women better than you do. Will you be ruled by me?’’
“ Yes, I will : for I do believe you care a little for me.”
“ Then don’t you believe anything against our Dame. Keep quiet till you know more. Don’t you be so simple as to accuse her to her face, or you 'll never learn the truth. Just you watch her quietly, without seeming ; and I ’ll help you. Be a man, and know the truth.”
“ I will ! ” said Griffith, grinding his teeth. “And I believe she will come out pure as snow.”
“ Well, I hope so too.” said Ryder, dryly. Then she added, “ But don’t you be seen speaking to me too much, sir, or she will suspect me, and then she will be on her guard with me. When I have anything particular to tell you, I ’ll cough, so ; and then I ’ll run out into the Grove : nobody goes there now.”
Griffith did not see the hussy was arranging her own affair as well as his. He fell into the trap bodily.
The life this man led was now infernal.
He watched his wife night and day to detect her heart ; he gave up hunting, he deserted the “ Red Lion ” ; if he went out of doors, it was but a step ; he hovered about the place to see if messages came or went; and he spent hours in his wife’s bedroom, watching her, grim, silent, and sombre, to detect her inmost heart. His flesh wasted visibly, and his ruddy color paled. Hell was in his heart. Ay, two hells: jealousy and suspense.
Mrs. Gaunt saw directly that something was amiss, and erelong she divined what it was.
But, if he was jealous, she was proud as Lucifer. So she met his ever-watchful eye with the face of a marble statue.
Only in secret her heart quaked and yearned, and she shed many a furtive tear, and was sore, sore perplexed.
Meantime Ryder was playing with her husband’s anguish like a cat with a mouse.
Upon the pretence of some petty discovery or other, she got him out day after day into the Grove, and, to make him believe in her candor and impartiality, would give him feeble reasons for thinking his wife loved him still; taking care to overpower these reasons with some little piece of strong goodsense and subtle observation.
It is the fate of moral poisoners to poison themselves as well as their victims. This is a just retribution, and it fell upon this female lago. Her wretched master now loved his wife to distraction, yet hated her to the death : and Ryder loved her master passionately, vet hated him intensely, by fits and starts.
These secret meetings on which she had counted so, what did she gain by them ? She saw that, with all her beauty, intelligence, and zeal for him, she was nothing to him still. He suspected, he sometimes hated his wife, but he was always full of her. There was no getting any other wedge into his heart.
This so embittered Ryder that one day she revenged herselt on him.
He had been saying that no earthly torment could equal his : all his watching had shown him nothing for certain. “ O,” said he, “if I could only get proof of her innocence, or proof of her guilt! Anything better than the misery of doubt. It gnaws my heart, it consumes my flesh. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can't sit down. I envy the dead that lie at peace. O my heart! my heart! ”
“ And all for a woman that is not young, nor half so handsome as yourself. Well, sir, I ’ll try and cure you of your doubt, if that is what torments you. When you threatened that Leonard, he got his orders to come here no more. But she visited him at his place again and again.”
“ ’T is false ! How know you that?”
“ As soon as your back was turned, she used to order her horse and ride to him.”
“ How do you know she went to him ? ”
“ I mounted the tower, and saw the way she took.”
Griffith’s face was a piteous sight. He stammered out, “ Well, he is her confessor. She always visited him at times.”
“ Ay, sir; but in those days her blood was cool, and his too ; but bethink you now, when you threatened the man with the horse-pond, he became your enemy. All revenge is sweet; but what revenge so sweet to any man as that which came to his arms of its own accord ? I do notice that men can’t read men, but any woman can read a woman. Maids they are reserved, because their mothers have told them that is the only way to get married. But what have a wife and a priest to keep them distant ? Can they ever hope to come together lawfully ? That is why a priest’s lighto’-love is always some honest man’s wife. What had those two to keep them from folly ? Old Betty Gough ? Why, the mistress had bought her, body and soul, long ago. No, sir, you had no friend there ; and you had three enemies, — love, revenge, and opportunity. Why, what did the priest say to me ? I met him not ten yards from here. ‘Ware the horse-pond!’ says I. Says he, ‘Since I am to have the bitter, I 'll have the sweet as well.’ ”
These infernal words were not spoken in vain. Griffith's features were horribly distorted, his eyes rolled fearfully, and he fell to the ground, grinding his teeth, and foaming at the mouth. An epileptic fit!
An epileptic fit is a terrible sight: the simple description of one in our medical books is appalling.
And in this case it was all the more fearful, the subject being so strong and active.
Caroline Ryder shrieked with terror, but no one heard her ; at all events, no one came ; to be sure the place had a bad name for ghosts, etc.
She tried to hold his head, but could not, for his body kept bounding from the earth with inconceivable elasticity and fury, and his arms flew in every direction; and presently Ryder received a violent blow that almost stunned her.
She lay groaning and trembling beside the victim of her poisonous tongue and of his own passions.
When she recovered herself he was snorting rather than breathing, but lying still and pale enough, with his eyes set and glassy.
She got up, and went with uneven steps to a little rill hard by, and plunged her face in it: then filled her beaver hat, and came and clashed water repeatedly in his face.
He came to his senses by degrees ; but was weak as an infant. Then Ryder wiped the foam from his lips, and, kneeling on her knees, laid a soft hand upon his heavy head, shedding tears of pity and remorse, and sick at heart herself.
For what had she gained by blackening her rival ? The sight of his bodily agony, and his ineradicable love.
Mrs. Gaunt sat out of shot, cold, calm, superior.
Yet, in the desperation of her passion, it was something to nurse his weak head an instant, and shed hot tears upon his brow ; it was a positive joy, and soon proved a fresh and inevitable temptation.
“ My poor master,” said she, tenderly, “ I never will say a word to you again. It is better to be blind. My God ! how you cling to her that feigns a broken back to be rid of you, when there are others as well to look at, and ever so much younger, that adore every hair on your clear head, and would follow you round the world for one kind look.”
“ Let no one love me like that,” said Griffith feebly, “ to love so is to be miserable.”
“ Pity her then, at least,” murmured Ryder ; and, feeling she had quite committed herself now, her bosom panted under Griffith’s ear, and told him the secret she had kept till now.
My female readers will sneer at this temptation : they cannot put themselves in a man’s place. My male readers know that scarcely one man out of a dozen, sick, sore, and hating her he loved, would have turned away from the illicit consolation thus offered to him in his hour of weakness with soft, seducing tones, warm tears, and heart that panted at his ear.
How did poor, faulty Griffith receive it ?
He raised his head, and turned his brown eye gentle but full upon her. “My poor girl,” said he, “ I see what you are driving at. But that will not do. I have nothing to give you in exchange. I hate my wife that I loved so dear : d—-n her ! d—n her ! But I hate all womankind for her sake. Keep you clear of meI would ruin no poor girl for heartless sport. I shall have blood on my hands erelong, and that is enough.”
And, with these alarming words, he seemed suddenly to recover all his vigor ; for he rose and stalked away at once, and never looked behind him.
Ryder made no further attempt. She sat down and shed bitter tears of sorrow and mortification.
After this cruel rebuff she must hate somebody ; and, with the justice of her sex, she pitched on Mrs. Gaunt, and hated her like a demon, and watched to do her a mischief by hook or by crook.
Griffith’s appearance and manner caused Mrs. Gaunt very serious anxiety. His clothes hung loose on his wasting frame ; his face was of one uniform sallow tint, like a maniac’s ; and he sat silent for hours beside his wife, eying her askant from time to time like a surly mastiff guarding some treasure.
She divined what was passing in his mind, and tried to soothe him ; but almost in vain. He was sometimes softened for the moment ; but hceret lateri lethalis arundo ; he still hovered about, watching her and tormenting himself; gnawed mad by three vultures of the mind, — doubt, jealousy, and suspense.
Mrs. Gaunt wrote letters to Father Leonard: hitherto she had only sent him short messages.
Betty Gough carried these letters, and brought the answers.
Griffith, thanks to the hint Ryder had given him, suspected this, and waylaid the old woman, and roughly demanded to see the letter she was carrying. She stoutly protested she had none. He seized her, turned her pockets inside out, and found a bunch of keys ; item, a printed dialogue between Peter and Herod, omitted in the canonical books, but described by the modern discoverer as an infallible charm for the toothache ; item, a brass thimble ; item, half a nutmeg.
“ Curse your cunning,” said he ; and went off muttering.
The old woman tottered trembling to Mrs. Gaunt, related this outrage with an air of injured innocence, then removed her cap, undid her hair, and took out a letter from Leonard.
“ This must end, and shall,” said Mrs. Gaunt, firmly; “else it will drive him mad and me too.”
Bolton fair-day came. It was a great fair, and had attractions for all classes. There were cattle and horses of all kinds for sale, and also shows, games, wrestling, and dancing till daybreak.
All the servants had a prescriptive right to go to this fair ; and Griffith himself had never missed one. He told Kate over-night he would go, if it were not for leaving her alone.
The words were kinder than their meaning ; but Mrs. Gaunt had the tact, or the candor, to take them in their best sense. “ And I would go with you, my dear,” said she ; “but I should only be a drag. Never heed me ; give yourself a day's pleasure, for indeed you need it. I am in care about you : you are so dull of late.”
“Well, I will,” said Griffith. “I 'll not mope here when all the rest are merry-making.”
Accordingly, next day, about eleven in the morning, he mounted his horse and rode to the fair, leaving the house empty ; for all the servants were gone except the old housekeeper; she was tied to the fireside by rheumatics. Even Ryder started, with a new bonnet and red ribbons ; but that was only a blind. She slipped back and got unperceived into her own bedroom.
Griffith ran through the fair ; but could not enjoy it. Hærebat lateri arundo. He came galloping back to watch his wife, and see whether Betty Gough had come again or not.
As he rode into the stable-yard he caught sight of Ryder’s face at an upper window. She looked pale and agitated, and her black eyes flashed with a strange expression. She made him a signal which he did not understand; but she joined him directly after in the stableyard.
“ Come quietly with me,” said she, Solemnly.
He hooked his horse’s rein to the wall, and followed her, trembling.
She took him up the back stairs, and, when she got to the landing, turned and said, “ Where did you leave her ? ”
“In her own room.”
“ See if she is there now,” said Ryder, pointing to the door.
Griffith tore the door open ; the room was empty.
“ Nor is she to be found in the house,” said Ryder; “for I’ve been in every room.”
Griffith’s face turned livid, and he staggered and leaned against the wall. “Where is she ?” said he, hoarsely.
“ Humph ! ” said Ryder, fiendishly. “Find him, and you ’ll find her.”
“ I ’ll .find them if they are above ground,” cried Griffith, furiously ; and he rushed into his bedroom, and soon came out again, with a fearful purpose written on his ghastly features and in his bloodshot eyes, and a loaded pistol in his hand.
Ryder was terrified ; but instead of succumbing to terror, she flew at him like a cat, and wreathed her arms round him.
“What would you do?” cried she. “ Madman, would you hang for them ? and break my heart, — the only woman in the world that loves you ? Give me the pistol. Nay, I will have it.” And, with that extraordinary power excitement lends her sex, she wrenched it out of his hands.
He gnashed his teeth with fury, and clutched her with a gripe of iron ; she screamed with pain: he relaxed his grasp a little at that; she turned on him and defied him.
“ I won't let you get into trouble for a priest and a wanton,” she cried; you shall kill me first. Leave me the pistol, and pledge me your sacred word to do them no harm, and then I ’ll tell you where they are. Refuse me this, and you shall go to your grave and know nothing more than you know now.”
“No, no; if you are a woman, have pity on me; let me come at them. There, I ’ll use no weapon. I ’ll tear them to atoms with these hands. Where are they ? ”
“ May I put the pistol away then ?”
“ Yes, take it out of my sight; so best. Where are they ? ”
Ryder locked the pistol up in one of Mrs. Gaunt’s boxes. Then she said, in a trembling voice, “ Follow me.”
He followed her in awful silence.
She went rather slowly to the door that opened on the lawn ; and then she hesitated. “ If you are a man, and have any feeling for a poor girl who loves you, — if you are a gentleman, and respect your word, — no violence.”
“ I promise,” said he. “ Where are they ? ”
“ Nay, nay. I fear I shall rue the day I told you. Promise me once more: no bloodshed — upon your soul.”
“ I promise. Where are they ? ”
“God forgive me; they are in the Grove.”
He bounded away from her like some beast of prey ; and she crouched and trembled on the steps of the door : and, now that she realized what she was doing, a sickening sense of dire misgiving came over her, and made her feel quite faint.
And so the weak, but dangerous creature sat crouching and quaking, and launched the strong one.
Griffith was soon in the Grove ; and the first thing he saw was Leonard and his wife walking together in earnest conversation. Their backs were towards him. Mrs. Gaunt, whom he had left lying on a sofa, and who professed herself scarce able to walk half a dozen times across the room, was now springing along, elastic as a young greyhound, and full of fire and animation. The miserable husband saw, and his heart died within him. He leaned against a tree and groaned.
The deadly sickness of his heart soon gave way to sombre fury. He came softly after them, with ghastly cheek, and bloodthirsty eyes, like redhot coals.
They stopped; and he heard his wife say, “’T is a solemn promise, then: this very night.” The priest bowed assent. Then they spoke in so low a voice, he could not hear ; but his wife pressed a purse upon Leonard, and Leonard hesitated, but ended by taking it.
Griffith uttered a yell like a tiger, and rushed between them with savage violence, driving the lady one way with his wrists, and the priest another. She screamed : he trembled in silence.
Griffith stood a moment between these two pale faces, silent and awful.
Then he faced his wife, “You vile wretch ! ” he cried : “ so you buy your own dishonor, and mine.” He raised his hand high over her head ; she never winced. “ O, but for my oath, I ’d lay you dead at my feet! But no ; I ’ll not hang for a priest and a wanton. So, this is the thing you love, and pay it to love you.” And with all the mad inconsistency of rage, which mixes small things and great, he tore the purse out of Leonard's hand: then seized him felly by the throat.
At that the high spirit of Mrs. Gaunt gave way to abject terror. “ O mercy! mercy ! ” she cried ; “ it is all a mistake.” And she clung to his knees.
He spurned her furiously away. “Don't touch me, woman,” he cried, “ or you are dead. Look at this ! ” And in a moment, with gigantic strength and fury, he dashed the priest down at her feet. “ I know ye, ye proud, wanton devil! ” he cried ; “love the thing you have seen me tread upon ! love it—if ye can.” And he literally trampled upon the poor priest with both feet.
Leonard shrieked for mercy.
“None, in this world or the next,” roared Griffith ; but the next moment he took fright at himself. “ God ! ” he cried, “ I must go or kill. Live and be damned forever, the pair of ye.” And with this he fled from them, grinding his teeth and beating the air with his clenched fists.
He darted to the stable-yard, sprang on his horse, and galloped away from Hernshaw Castle, with the face, the eyes, the gestures, the incoherent mutterings of a raving Bedlamite.