Part 1 out of 4
A GROUP OF NOBLE DAMES
Part I--Before Dinner
The First Countess of Wessex
Barbara of the House of Grebe
The Marchioness of Stonehenge
Part II--After Dinner
The Lady Icenway
Squire Petrick's Lady
Anna, Lady Baxby
The Lady Penelope
The Duchess Of Hamptonshire
The Honourable Laura
The pedigrees of our county families, arranged in diagrams on the
pages of county histories, mostly appear at first sight to be as
barren of any touch of nature as a table of logarithms. But given a
clue--the faintest tradition of what went on behind the scenes, and
this dryness as of dust may be transformed into a palpitating drama.
More, the careful comparison of dates alone--that of birth with
marriage, of marriage with death, of one marriage, birth, or death
with a kindred marriage, birth, or death--will often effect the same
transformation, and anybody practised in raising images from such
genealogies finds himself unconsciously filling into the framework
the motives, passions, and personal qualities which would appear to
be the single explanation possible of some extraordinary conjunction
in times, events, and personages that occasionally marks these
reticent family records.
Out of such pedigrees and supplementary material most of the
following stories have arisen and taken shape.
I would make this preface an opportunity of expressing my sense of
the courtesy and kindness of several bright-eyed Noble Dames yet in
the flesh, who, since the first publication of these tales in
periodicals, six or seven years ago, have given me interesting
comments and conjectures on such of the narratives as they have
recognized to be connected with their own families, residences, or
traditions; in which they have shown a truly philosophic absence of
prejudice in their regard of those incidents whose relation has
tended more distinctly to dramatize than to eulogize their
ancestors. The outlines they have also given of other singular
events in their family histories for use in a second "Group of Noble
Dames," will, I fear, never reach the printing-press through me; but
I shall store them up in memory of my informants' good nature.
DAME THE FIRST--THE FIRST COUNTESS OF WESSEX
By the Local Historian
King's-Hintock Court (said the narrator, turning over his memoranda
for reference)--King's-Hintock Court is, as we know, one of the most
imposing of the mansions that overlook our beautiful Blackmoor or
Blakemore Vale. On the particular occasion of which I have to speak
this building stood, as it had often stood before, in the perfect
silence of a calm clear night, lighted only by the cold shine of the
stars. The season was winter, in days long ago, the last century
having run but little more than a third of its length. North,
south, and west, not a casement was unfastened, not a curtain
undrawn; eastward, one window on the upper floor was open, and a
girl of twelve or thirteen was leaning over the sill. That she had
not taken up the position for purposes of observation was apparent
at a glance, for she kept her eyes covered with her hands.
The room occupied by the girl was an inner one of a suite, to be
reached only by passing through a large bedchamber adjoining. From
this apartment voices in altercation were audible, everything else
in the building being so still. It was to avoid listening to these
voices that the girl had left her little cot, thrown a cloak round
her head and shoulders, and stretched into the night air.
But she could not escape the conversation, try as she would. The
words reached her in all their painfulness, one sentence in
masculine tones, those of her father, being repeated many times.
'I tell 'ee there shall be no such betrothal! I tell 'ee there
sha'n't! A child like her!'
She knew the subject of dispute to be herself. A cool feminine
voice, her mother's, replied:
'Have done with you, and be wise. He is willing to wait a good five
or six years before the marriage takes place, and there's not a man
in the county to compare with him.'
'It shall not be! He is over thirty. It is wickedness.'
'He is just thirty, and the best and finest man alive--a perfect
match for her.'
'He is poor!'
'But his father and elder brothers are made much of at Court--none
so constantly at the palace as they; and with her fortune, who
knows? He may be able to get a barony.'
'I believe you are in love with en yourself!'
'How can you insult me so, Thomas! And is it not monstrous for you
to talk of my wickedness when you have a like scheme in your own
head? You know you have. Some bumpkin of your own choosing--some
petty gentleman who lives down at that outlandish place of yours,
Falls-Park--one of your pot-companions' sons--'
There was an outburst of imprecation on the part of her husband in
lieu of further argument. As soon as he could utter a connected
sentence he said: 'You crow and you domineer, mistress, because you
are heiress-general here. You are in your own house; you are on
your own land. But let me tell 'ee that if I did come here to you
instead of taking you to me, it was done at the dictates of
convenience merely. H-! I'm no beggar! Ha'n't I a place of my
own? Ha'n't I an avenue as long as thine? Ha'n't I beeches that
will more than match thy oaks? I should have lived in my own quiet
house and land, contented, if you had not called me off with your
airs and graces. Faith, I'll go back there; I'll not stay with thee
longer! If it had not been for our Betty I should have gone long
After this there were no more words; but presently, hearing the
sound of a door opening and shutting below, the girl again looked
from the window. Footsteps crunched on the gravel-walk, and a shape
in a drab greatcoat, easily distinguishable as her father, withdrew
from the house. He moved to the left, and she watched him diminish
down the long east front till he had turned the corner and vanished.
He must have gone round to the stables.
She closed the window and shrank into bed, where she cried herself
to sleep. This child, their only one, Betty, beloved ambitiously by
her mother, and with uncalculating passionateness by her father, was
frequently made wretched by such episodes as this; though she was
too young to care very deeply, for her own sake, whether her mother
betrothed her to the gentleman discussed or not.
The Squire had often gone out of the house in this manner, declaring
that he would never return, but he had always reappeared in the
morning. The present occasion, however, was different in the issue:
next day she was told that her father had ridden to his estate at
Falls-Park early in the morning on business with his agent, and
might not come back for some days.
Falls-Park was over twenty miles from King's-Hintock Court, and was
altogether a more modest centre-piece to a more modest possession
than the latter. But as Squire Dornell came in view of it that
February morning, he thought that he had been a fool ever to leave
it, though it was for the sake of the greatest heiress in Wessex.
Its classic front, of the period of the second Charles, derived from
its regular features a dignity which the great, battlemented,
heterogeneous mansion of his wife could not eclipse. Altogether he
was sick at heart, and the gloom which the densely-timbered park
threw over the scene did not tend to remove the depression of this
rubicund man of eight-and-forty, who sat so heavily upon his
gelding. The child, his darling Betty: there lay the root of his
trouble. He was unhappy when near his wife, he was unhappy when
away from his little girl; and from this dilemma there was no
practicable escape. As a consequence he indulged rather freely in
the pleasures of the table, became what was called a three bottle
man, and, in his wife's estimation, less and less presentable to her
polite friends from town.
He was received by the two or three old servants who were in charge
of the lonely place, where a few rooms only were kept habitable for
his use or that of his friends when hunting; and during the morning
he was made more comfortable by the arrival of his faithful servant
Tupcombe from King's-Hintock. But after a day or two spent here in
solitude he began to feel that he had made a mistake in coming. By
leaving King's-Hintock in his anger he had thrown away his best
opportunity of counteracting his wife's preposterous notion of
promising his poor little Betty's hand to a man she had hardly seen.
To protect her from such a repugnant bargain he should have remained
on the spot. He felt it almost as a misfortune that the child would
inherit so much wealth. She would be a mark for all the adventurers
in the kingdom. Had she been only the heiress to his own unassuming
little place at Falls, how much better would have been her chances
His wife had divined truly when she insinuated that he himself had a
lover in view for this pet child. The son of a dear deceased friend
of his, who lived not two miles from where the Squire now was, a lad
a couple of years his daughter's senior, seemed in her father's
opinion the one person in the world likely to make her happy. But
as to breathing such a scheme to either of the young people with the
indecent haste that his wife had shown, he would not dream of it;
years hence would be soon enough for that. They had already seen
each other, and the Squire fancied that he noticed a tenderness on
the youth's part which promised well. He was strongly tempted to
profit by his wife's example, and forestall her match-making by
throwing the two young people together there at Falls. The girl,
though marriageable in the views of those days, was too young to be
in love, but the lad was fifteen, and already felt an interest in
Still better than keeping watch over her at King's Hintock, where
she was necessarily much under her mother's influence, would it be
to get the child to stay with him at Falls for a time, under his
exclusive control. But how accomplish this without using main
force? The only possible chance was that his wife might, for
appearance' sake, as she had done before, consent to Betty paying
him a day's visit, when he might find means of detaining her till
Reynard, the suitor whom his wife favoured, had gone abroad, which
he was expected to do the following week. Squire Dornell determined
to return to King's-Hintock and attempt the enterprise. If he were
refused, it was almost in him to pick up Betty bodily and carry her
The journey back, vague and Quixotic as were his intentions, was
performed with a far lighter heart than his setting forth. He would
see Betty, and talk to her, come what might of his plan.
So he rode along the dead level which stretches between the hills
skirting Falls-Park and those bounding the town of Ivell, trotted
through that borough, and out by the King's-Hintock highway, till,
passing the villages he entered the mile-long drive through the park
to the Court. The drive being open, without an avenue, the Squire
could discern the north front and door of the Court a long way off,
and was himself visible from the windows on that side; for which
reason he hoped that Betty might perceive him coming, as she
sometimes did on his return from an outing, and run to the door or
wave her handkerchief.
But there was no sign. He inquired for his wife as soon as he set
foot to earth.
'Mistress is away. She was called to London, sir.'
'And Mistress Betty?' said the Squire blankly.
'Gone likewise, sir, for a little change. Mistress has left a
letter for you.'
The note explained nothing, merely stating that she had posted to
London on her own affairs, and had taken the child to give her a
holiday. On the fly-leaf were some words from Betty herself to the
same effect, evidently written in a state of high jubilation at the
idea of her jaunt. Squire Dornell murmured a few expletives, and
submitted to his disappointment. How long his wife meant to stay in
town she did not say; but on investigation he found that the
carriage had been packed with sufficient luggage for a sojourn of
two or three weeks.
King's-Hintock Court was in consequence as gloomy as Falls-Park had
been. He had lost all zest for hunting of late, and had hardly
attended a meet that season. Dornell read and re-read Betty's
scrawl, and hunted up some other such notes of hers to look over,
this seeming to be the only pleasure there was left for him. That
they were really in London he learnt in a few days by another letter
from Mrs. Dornell, in which she explained that they hoped to be home
in about a week, and that she had had no idea he was coming back to
King's-Hintock so soon, or she would not have gone away without
Squire Dornell wondered if, in going or returning, it had been her
plan to call at the Reynards' place near Melchester, through which
city their journey lay. It was possible that she might do this in
furtherance of her project, and the sense that his own might become
the losing game was harassing.
He did not know how to dispose of himself, till it occurred to him
that, to get rid of his intolerable heaviness, he would invite some
friends to dinner and drown his cares in grog and wine. No sooner
was the carouse decided upon than he put it in hand; those invited
being mostly neighbouring landholders, all smaller men than himself,
members of the hunt; also the doctor from Evershead, and the like--
some of them rollicking blades whose presence his wife would not
have countenanced had she been at home. 'When the cat's away--!'
said the Squire.
They arrived, and there were indications in their manner that they
meant to make a night of it. Baxby of Sherton Castle was late, and
they waited a quarter of an hour for him, he being one of the
liveliest of Dornell's friends; without whose presence no such
dinner as this would be considered complete, and, it may be added,
with whose presence no dinner which included both sexes could be
conducted with strict propriety. He had just returned from London,
and the Squire was anxious to talk to him--for no definite reason;
but he had lately breathed the atmosphere in which Betty was.
At length they heard Baxby driving up to the door, whereupon the
host and the rest of his guests crossed over to the dining-room. In
a moment Baxby came hastily in at their heels, apologizing for his
'I only came back last night, you know,' he said; 'and the truth o't
is, I had as much as I could carry.' He turned to the Squire.
'Well, Dornell--so cunning Reynard has stolen your little ewe lamb?
'What?' said Squire Dornell vacantly, across the dining-table, round
which they were all standing, the cold March sunlight streaming in
upon his full-clean shaven face.
'Surely th'st know what all the town knows?--you've had a letter by
this time?--that Stephen Reynard has married your Betty? Yes, as
I'm a living man. It was a carefully-arranged thing: they parted
at once, and are not to meet for five or six years. But, Lord, you
A thud on the floor was the only reply of the Squire. They quickly
turned. He had fallen down like a log behind the table, and lay
motionless on the oak boards.
Those at hand hastily bent over him, and the whole group were in
confusion. They found him to be quite unconscious, though puffing
and panting like a blacksmith's bellows. His face was livid, his
veins swollen, and beads of perspiration stood upon his brow.
'What's happened to him?' said several.
'An apoplectic fit,' said the doctor from Evershead, gravely.
He was only called in at the Court for small ailments, as a rule,
and felt the importance of the situation. He lifted the Squire's
head, loosened his cravat and clothing, and rang for the servants,
who took the Squire upstairs.
There he lay as if in a drugged sleep. The surgeon drew a basin-
full of blood from him, but it was nearly six o'clock before he came
to himself. The dinner was completely disorganized, and some had
gone home long ago; but two or three remained.
'Bless my soul,' Baxby kept repeating, 'I didn't know things had
come to this pass between Dornell and his lady! I thought the feast
he was spreading to-day was in honour of the event, though privately
kept for the present! His little maid married without his
As soon as the Squire recovered consciousness he gasped: ''Tis
abduction! 'Tis a capital felony! He can be hung! Where is Baxby?
I am very well now. What items have ye heard, Baxby?'
The bearer of the untoward news was extremely unwilling to agitate
Dornell further, and would say little more at first. But an hour
after, when the Squire had partially recovered and was sitting up,
Baxby told as much as he knew, the most important particular being
that Betty's mother was present at the marriage, and showed every
mark of approval. 'Everything appeared to have been done so
regularly that I, of course, thought you knew all about it,' he
'I knew no more than the underground dead that such a step was in
the wind! A child not yet thirteen! How Sue hath outwitted me!
Did Reynard go up to Lon'on with 'em, d'ye know?'
'I can't say. All I know is that your lady and daughter were
walking along the street, with the footman behind 'em; that they
entered a jeweller's shop, where Reynard was standing; and that
there, in the presence o' the shopkeeper and your man, who was
called in on purpose, your Betty said to Reynard--so the story goes:
'pon my soul I don't vouch for the truth of it--she said, "Will you
marry me?" or, "I want to marry you: will you have me--now or
never?" she said.'
'What she said means nothing,' murmured the Squire, with wet eyes.
'Her mother put the words into her mouth to avoid the serious
consequences that would attach to any suspicion of force. The words
be not the child's: she didn't dream of marriage--how should she,
poor little maid! Go on.'
'Well, be that as it will, they were all agreed apparently. They
bought the ring on the spot, and the marriage took place at the
nearest church within half-an-hour.'
A day or two later there came a letter from Mrs. Dornell to her
husband, written before she knew of his stroke. She related the
circumstances of the marriage in the gentlest manner, and gave
cogent reasons and excuses for consenting to the premature union,
which was now an accomplished fact indeed. She had no idea, till
sudden pressure was put upon her, that the contract was expected to
be carried out so soon, but being taken half unawares, she had
consented, having learned that Stephen Reynard, now their son-in-
law, was becoming a great favourite at Court, and that he would in
all likelihood have a title granted him before long. No harm could
come to their dear daughter by this early marriage-contract, seeing
that her life would be continued under their own eyes, exactly as
before, for some years. In fine, she had felt that no other such
fair opportunity for a good marriage with a shrewd courtier and wise
man of the world, who was at the same time noted for his excellent
personal qualities, was within the range of probability, owing to
the rusticated lives they led at King's-Hintock. Hence she had
yielded to Stephen's solicitation, and hoped her husband would
forgive her. She wrote, in short, like a woman who, having had her
way as to the deed, is prepared to make any concession as to words
and subsequent behaviour.
All this Dornell took at its true value, or rather, perhaps, at less
than its true value. As his life depended upon his not getting into
a passion, he controlled his perturbed emotions as well as he was
able, going about the house sadly and utterly unlike his former
self. He took every precaution to prevent his wife knowing of the
incidents of his sudden illness, from a sense of shame at having a
heart so tender; a ridiculous quality, no doubt, in her eyes, now
that she had become so imbued with town ideas. But rumours of his
seizure somehow reached her, and she let him know that she was about
to return to nurse him. He thereupon packed up and went off to his
own place at Falls-Park.
Here he lived the life of a recluse for some time. He was still too
unwell to entertain company, or to ride to hounds or elsewhither;
but more than this, his aversion to the faces of strangers and
acquaintances, who knew by that time of the trick his wife had
played him, operated to hold him aloof.
Nothing could influence him to censure Betty for her share in the
exploit. He never once believed that she had acted voluntarily.
Anxious to know how she was getting on, he despatched the trusty
servant Tupcombe to Evershead village, close to King's-Hintock,
timing his journey so that he should reach the place under cover of
dark. The emissary arrived without notice, being out of livery, and
took a seat in the chimney-corner of the Sow-and-Acorn.
The conversation of the droppers-in was always of the nine days'
wonder--the recent marriage. The smoking listener learnt that Mrs.
Dornell and the girl had returned to King's-Hintock for a day or
two, that Reynard had set out for the Continent, and that Betty had
since been packed off to school. She did not realize her position
as Reynard's child-wife--so the story went--and though somewhat awe-
stricken at first by the ceremony, she had soon recovered her
spirits on finding that her freedom was in no way to be interfered
After that, formal messages began to pass between Dornell and his
wife, the latter being now as persistently conciliating as she was
formerly masterful. But her rustic, simple, blustering husband
still held personally aloof. Her wish to be reconciled--to win his
forgiveness for her stratagem--moreover, a genuine tenderness and
desire to soothe his sorrow, which welled up in her at times,
brought her at last to his door at Falls-Park one day.
They had not met since that night of altercation, before her
departure for London and his subsequent illness. She was shocked at
the change in him. His face had become expressionless, as blank as
that of a puppet, and what troubled her still more was that she
found him living in one room, and indulging freely in stimulants, in
absolute disobedience to the physician's order. The fact was
obvious that he could no longer be allowed to live thus uncouthly.
So she sympathized, and begged his pardon, and coaxed. But though
after this date there was no longer such a complete estrangement as
before, they only occasionally saw each other, Dornell for the most
part making Falls his headquarters still.
Three or four years passed thus. Then she came one day, with more
animation in her manner, and at once moved him by the simple
statement that Betty's schooling had ended; she had returned, and
was grieved because he was away. She had sent a message to him in
these words: 'Ask father to come home to his dear Betty.'
'Ah! Then she is very unhappy!' said Squire Dornell.
His wife was silent.
''Tis that accursed marriage!' continued the Squire.
Still his wife would not dispute with him. 'She is outside in the
carriage,' said Mrs. Dornell gently.
'Why didn't you tell me?' Dornell rushed out, and there was the
girl awaiting his forgiveness, for she supposed herself, no less
than her mother, to be under his displeasure.
Yes, Betty had left school, and had returned to King's-Hintock. She
was nearly seventeen, and had developed to quite a young woman. She
looked not less a member of the household for her early marriage-
contract, which she seemed, indeed, to have almost forgotten. It
was like a dream to her; that clear cold March day, the London
church, with its gorgeous pews, and green-baize linings, and the
great organ in the west gallery--so different from their own little
church in the shrubbery of King's-Hintock Court--the man of thirty,
to whose face she had looked up with so much awe, and with a sense
that he was rather ugly and formidable; the man whom, though they
corresponded politely, she had never seen since; one to whose
existence she was now so indifferent that if informed of his death,
and that she would never see him more, she would merely have
replied, 'Indeed!' Betty's passions as yet still slept.
'Hast heard from thy husband lately?' said Squire Dornell, when they
were indoors, with an ironical laugh of fondness which demanded no
The girl winced, and he noticed that his wife looked appealingly at
him. As the conversation went on, and there were signs that Dornell
would express sentiments that might do harm to a position which they
could not alter, Mrs. Dornell suggested that Betty should leave the
room till her father and herself had finished their private
conversation; and this Betty obediently did.
Dornell renewed his animadversions freely. 'Did you see how the
sound of his name frightened her?' he presently added. 'If you
didn't, I did. Zounds! what a future is in store for that poor
little unfortunate wench o' mine! I tell 'ee, Sue, 'twas not a
marriage at all, in morality, and if I were a woman in such a
position, I shouldn't feel it as one. She might, without a sign of
sin, love a man of her choice as well now as if she were chained up
to no other at all. There, that's my mind, and I can't help it.
Ah, Sue, my man was best! He'd ha' suited her.'
'I don't believe it,' she replied incredulously.
'You should see him; then you would. He's growing up a fine fellow,
I can tell 'ee.'
'Hush! not so loud!' she answered, rising from her seat and going to
the door of the next room, whither her daughter had betaken herself.
To Mrs. Dornell's alarm, there sat Betty in a reverie, her round
eyes fixed on vacancy, musing so deeply that she did not perceive
her mother's entrance. She had heard every word, and was digesting
the new knowledge.
Her mother felt that Falls-Park was dangerous ground for a young
girl of the susceptible age, and in Betty's peculiar position, while
Dornell talked and reasoned thus. She called Betty to her, and they
took leave. The Squire would not clearly promise to return and make
King's-Hintock Court his permanent abode; but Betty's presence
there, as at former times, was sufficient to make him agree to pay
them a visit soon.
All the way home Betty remained preoccupied and silent. It was too
plain to her anxious mother that Squire Dornell's free views had
been a sort of awakening to the girl.
The interval before Dornell redeemed his pledge to come and see them
was unexpectedly short. He arrived one morning about twelve
o'clock, driving his own pair of black-bays in the curricle-phaeton
with yellow panels and red wheels, just as he had used to do, and
his faithful old Tupcombe on horseback behind. A young man sat
beside the Squire in the carriage, and Mrs. Dornell's consternation
could scarcely be concealed when, abruptly entering with his
companion, the Squire announced him as his friend Phelipson of Elm-
Dornell passed on to Betty in the background and tenderly kissed
her. 'Sting your mother's conscience, my maid!' he whispered.
'Sting her conscience by pretending you are struck with Phelipson,
and would ha' loved him, as your old father's choice, much more than
him she has forced upon 'ee.'
The simple-souled speaker fondly imagined that it as entirely in
obedience to this direction that Betty's eyes stole interested
glances at the frank and impulsive Phelipson that day at dinner, and
he laughed grimly within himself to see how this joke of his, as he
imagined it to be, was disturbing the peace of mind of the lady of
the house. 'Now Sue sees what a mistake she has made!' said he.
Mrs. Dornell was verily greatly alarmed, and as soon as she could
speak a word with him alone she upbraided him. 'You ought not to
have brought him here. Oh Thomas, how could you be so thoughtless!
Lord, don't you see, dear, that what is done cannot be undone, and
how all this foolery jeopardizes her happiness with her husband?
Until you interfered, and spoke in her hearing about this Phelipson,
she was as patient and as willing as a lamb, and looked forward to
Mr. Reynard's return with real pleasure. Since her visit to Falls-
Park she has been monstrous close-mouthed and busy with her own
thoughts. What mischief will you do? How will it end?'
'Own, then, that my man was best suited to her. I only brought him
to convince you.'
'Yes, yes; I do admit it. But oh! do take him back again at once!
Don't keep him here! I fear she is even attracted by him already.'
'Nonsense, Sue. 'Tis only a little trick to tease 'ee!'
Nevertheless her motherly eye was not so likely to be deceived as
his, and if Betty were really only playing at being love-struck that
day, she played at it with the perfection of a Rosalind, and would
have deceived the best professors into a belief that it was no
counterfeit. The Squire, having obtained his victory, was quite
ready to take back the too attractive youth, and early in the
afternoon they set out on their return journey.
A silent figure who rode behind them was as interested as Dornell in
that day's experiment. It was the staunch Tupcombe, who, with his
eyes on the Squire's and young Phelipson's backs, thought how well
the latter would have suited Betty, and how greatly the former had
changed for the worse during these last two or three years. He
cursed his mistress as the cause of the change.
After this memorable visit to prove his point, the lives of the
Dornell couple flowed on quietly enough for the space of a
twelvemonth, the Squire for the most part remaining at Falls, and
Betty passing and repassing between them now and then, once or twice
alarming her mother by not driving home from her father's house till
The repose of King's-Hintock was broken by the arrival of a special
messenger. Squire Dornell had had an access of gout so violent as
to be serious. He wished to see Betty again: why had she not come
for so long?
Mrs. Dornell was extremely reluctant to take Betty in that direction
too frequently; but the girl was so anxious to go, her interests
latterly seeming to be so entirely bound up in Falls-Park and its
neighbourhood, that there was nothing to be done but to let her set
out and accompany her.
Squire Dornell had been impatiently awaiting her arrival. They
found him very ill and irritable. It had been his habit to take
powerful medicines to drive away his enemy, and they had failed in
their effect on this occasion.
The presence of his daughter, as usual, calmed him much, even while,
as usual too, it saddened him; for he could never forget that she
had disposed of herself for life in opposition to his wishes, though
she had secretly assured him that she would never have consented had
she been as old as she was now.
As on a former occasion, his wife wished to speak to him alone about
the girl's future, the time now drawing nigh at which Reynard was
expected to come and claim her. He would have done so already, but
he had been put off by the earnest request of the young woman
herself, which accorded with that of her parents, on the score of
her youth. Reynard had deferentially submitted to their wishes in
this respect, the understanding between them having been that he
would not visit her before she was eighteen, except by the mutual
consent of all parties. But this could not go on much longer, and
there was no doubt, from the tenor of his last letter, that he would
soon take possession of her whether or no.
To be out of the sound of this delicate discussion Betty was
accordingly sent downstairs, and they soon saw her walking away into
the shrubberies, looking very pretty in her sweeping green gown, and
flapping broad-brimmed hat overhung with a feather.
On returning to the subject, Mrs. Dornell found her husband's
reluctance to reply in the affirmative to Reynard's letter to be as
great as ever.
'She is three months short of eighteen!' he exclaimed. ''Tis too
soon. I won't hear of it! If I have to keep him off sword in hand,
he shall not have her yet.'
'But, my dear Thomas,' she expostulated, 'consider if anything
should happen to you or to me, how much better it would be that she
should be settled in her home with him!'
'I say it is too soon!' he argued, the veins of his forehead
beginning to swell. 'If he gets her this side o' Candlemas I'll
challenge en--I'll take my oath on't! I'll be back to King's-
Hintock in two or three days, and I'll not lose sight of her day or
She feared to agitate him further, and gave way, assuring him, in
obedience to his demand, that if Reynard should write again before
he got back, to fix a time for joining Betty, she would put the
letter in her husband's hands, and he should do as he chose. This
was all that required discussion privately, and Mrs. Dornell went to
call in Betty, hoping that she had not heard her father's loud
She had certainly not done so this time. Mrs. Dornell followed the
path along which she had seen Betty wandering, but went a
considerable distance without perceiving anything of her. The
Squire's wife then turned round to proceed to the other side of the
house by a short cut across the grass, when, to her surprise and
consternation, she beheld the object of her search sitting on the
horizontal bough of a cedar, beside her being a young man, whose arm
was round her waist. He moved a little, and she recognized him as
Alas, then, she was right. The so-called counterfeit love was real.
What Mrs. Dornell called her husband at that moment, for his folly
in originally throwing the young people together, it is not
necessary to mention. She decided in a moment not to let the lovers
know that she had seen them. She accordingly retreated, reached the
front of the house by another route, and called at the top of her
voice from a window, 'Betty!'
For the first time since her strategic marriage of the child, Susan
Dornell doubted the wisdom of that step.
Her husband had, as it were, been assisted by destiny to make his
objection, originally trivial, a valid one. She saw the outlines of
trouble in the future. Why had Dornell interfered? Why had he
insisted upon producing his man? This, then, accounted for Betty's
pleading for postponement whenever the subject of her husband's
return was broached; this accounted for her attachment to Falls-
Park. Possibly this very meeting that she had witnessed had been
arranged by letter.
Perhaps the girl's thoughts would never have strayed for a moment if
her father had not filled her head with ideas of repugnance to her
early union, on the ground that she had been coerced into it before
she knew her own mind; and she might have rushed to meet her husband
with open arms on the appointed day.
Betty at length appeared in the distance in answer to the call, and
came up pale, but looking innocent of having seen a living soul.
Mrs. Dornell groaned in spirit at such duplicity in the child of her
bosom. This was the simple creature for whose development into
womanhood they had all been so tenderly waiting--a forward minx, old
enough not only to have a lover, but to conceal his existence as
adroitly as any woman of the world! Bitterly did the Squire's lady
regret that Stephen Reynard had not been allowed to come to claim
her at the time he first proposed.
The two sat beside each other almost in silence on their journey
back to King's-Hintock. Such words as were spoken came mainly from
Betty, and their formality indicated how much her mind and heart
were occupied with other things.
Mrs. Dornell was far too astute a mother to openly attack Betty on
the matter. That would be only fanning flame. The indispensable
course seemed to her to be that of keeping the treacherous girl
under lock and key till her husband came to take her off her
mother's hands. That he would disregard Dornell's opposition, and
come soon, was her devout wish.
It seemed, therefore, a fortunate coincidence that on her arrival at
King's-Hintock a letter from Reynard was put into Mrs. Dornell's
hands. It was addressed to both her and her husband, and
courteously informed them that the writer had landed at Bristol, and
proposed to come on to King's-Hintock in a few days, at last to meet
and carry off his darling Betty, if she and her parents saw no
Betty had also received a letter of the same tenor. Her mother had
only to look at her face to see how the girl received the
information. She was as pale as a sheet.
'You must do your best to welcome him this time, my dear Betty,' her
mother said gently.
'You are a woman now,' added her mother severely, 'and these
postponements must come to an end.'
'But my father--oh, I am sure he will not allow this! I am not
ready. If he could only wait a year longer--if he could only wait a
few months longer! Oh, I wish--I wish my dear father were here! I
will send to him instantly.' She broke off abruptly, and falling
upon her mother's neck, burst into tears, saying, 'O my mother, have
mercy upon me--I do not love this man, my husband!'
The agonized appeal went too straight to Mrs. Dornell's heart for
her to hear it unmoved. Yet, things having come to this pass, what
could she do? She was distracted, and for a moment was on Betty's
side. Her original thought had been to write an affirmative reply
to Reynard, allow him to come on to King's-Hintock, and keep her
husband in ignorance of the whole proceeding till he should arrive
from Falls on some fine day after his recovery, and find everything
settled, and Reynard and Betty living together in harmony. But the
events of the day, and her daughter's sudden outburst of feeling,
had overthrown this intention. Betty was sure to do as she had
threatened, and communicate instantly with her father, possibly
attempt to fly to him. Moreover, Reynard's letter was addressed to
Mr. Dornell and herself conjointly, and she could not in conscience
keep it from her husband.
'I will send the letter on to your father instantly,' she replied
soothingly. 'He shall act entirely as he chooses, and you know that
will not be in opposition to your wishes. He would ruin you rather
than thwart you. I only hope he may be well enough to bear the
agitation of this news. Do you agree to this?'
Poor Betty agreed, on condition that she should actually witness the
despatch of the letter. Her mother had no objection to offer to
this; but as soon as the horseman had cantered down the drive toward
the highway, Mrs. Dornell's sympathy with Betty's recalcitration
began to die out. The girl's secret affection for young Phelipson
could not possibly be condoned. Betty might communicate with him,
might even try to reach him. Ruin lay that way. Stephen Reynard
must be speedily installed in his proper place by Betty's side.
She sat down and penned a private letter to Reynard, which threw
light upon her plan.
'It is Necessary that I should now tell you,' she said, 'what I have
never Mentioned before--indeed I may have signified the Contrary--
that her Father's Objection to your joining her has not as yet been
overcome. As I personally Wish to delay you no longer--am indeed as
anxious for your Arrival as you can be yourself, having the good of
my Daughter at Heart--no course is left open to me but to assist
your Cause without my Husband's Knowledge. He, I am sorry to say,
is at present ill at Falls-Park, but I felt it my Duty to forward
him your Letter. He will therefore be like to reply with a
peremptory Command to you to go back again, for some Months, whence
you came, till the Time he originally stipulated has expir'd. My
Advice is, if you get such a Letter, to take no Notice of it, but to
come on hither as you had proposed, letting me know the Day and Hour
(after dark, if possible) at which we may expect you. Dear Betty is
with me, and I warrant ye that she shall be in the House when you
Mrs. Dornell, having sent away this epistle unsuspected of anybody,
next took steps to prevent her daughter leaving the Court, avoiding
if possible to excite the girl's suspicions that she was under
restraint. But, as if by divination, Betty had seemed to read the
husband's approach in the aspect of her mother's face.
'He is coming!' exclaimed the maiden.
'Not for a week,' her mother assured her.
'He is then--for certain?'
Betty hastily retired to her room, and would not be seen.
To lock her up, and hand over the key to Reynard when he should
appear in the hall, was a plan charming in its simplicity, till her
mother found, on trying the door of the girl's chamber softly, that
Betty had already locked and bolted it on the inside, and had given
directions to have her meals served where she was, by leaving them
on a dumb-waiter outside the door.
Thereupon Mrs. Dornell noiselessly sat down in her boudoir, which,
as well as her bed-chamber, was a passage-room to the girl's
apartment, and she resolved not to vacate her post night or day till
her daughter's husband should appear, to which end she too arranged
to breakfast, dine, and sup on the spot. It was impossible now that
Betty should escape without her knowledge, even if she had wished,
there being no other door to the chamber, except one admitting to a
small inner dressing-room inaccessible by any second way.
But it was plain that the young girl had no thought of escape. Her
ideas ran rather in the direction of intrenchment: she was prepared
to stand a siege, but scorned flight. This, at any rate, rendered
her secure. As to how Reynard would contrive a meeting with her coy
daughter while in such a defensive humour, that, thought her mother,
must be left to his own ingenuity to discover.
Betty had looked so wild and pale at the announcement of her
husband's approaching visit, that Mrs. Dornell, somewhat uneasy,
could not leave her to herself. She peeped through the keyhole an
hour later. Betty lay on the sofa, staring listlessly at the
'You are looking ill, child,' cried her mother. 'You've not taken
the air lately. Come with me for a drive.'
Betty made no objection. Soon they drove through the park towards
the village, the daughter still in the strained, strung-up silence
that had fallen upon her. They left the park to return by another
route, and on the open road passed a cottage.
Betty's eye fell upon the cottage-window. Within it she saw a young
girl about her own age, whom she knew by sight, sitting in a chair
and propped by a pillow. The girl's face was covered with scales,
which glistened in the sun. She was a convalescent from smallpox--a
disease whose prevalence at that period was a terror of which we at
present can hardly form a conception.
An idea suddenly energized Betty's apathetic features. She glanced
at her mother; Mrs. Dornell had been looking in the opposite
direction. Betty said that she wished to go back to the cottage for
a moment to speak to a girl in whom she took an interest. Mrs.
Dornell appeared suspicious, but observing that the cottage had no
back-door, and that Betty could not escape without being seen, she
allowed the carriage to be stopped. Betty ran back and entered the
cottage, emerging again in about a minute, and resuming her seat in
the carriage. As they drove on she fixed her eyes upon her mother
and said, 'There, I have done it now!' Her pale face was stormy,
and her eyes full of waiting tears.
'What have you done?' said Mrs. Dornell.
'Nanny Priddle is sick of the smallpox, and I saw her at the window,
and I went in and kissed her, so that I might take it; and now I
shall have it, and he won't be able to come near me!'
'Wicked girl!' cries her mother. 'Oh, what am I to do! What--bring
a distemper on yourself, and usurp the sacred prerogative of God,
because you can't palate the man you've wedded!'
The alarmed woman gave orders to drive home as rapidly as possible,
and on arriving, Betty, who was by this time also somewhat
frightened at her own enormity, was put into a bath, and fumigated,
and treated in every way that could be thought of to ward off the
dreadful malady that in a rash moment she had tried to acquire.
There was now a double reason for isolating the rebellious daughter
and wife in her own chamber, and there she accordingly remained for
the rest of the day and the days that followed; till no ill results
seemed likely to arise from her wilfulness.
Meanwhile the first letter from Reynard, announcing to Mrs. Dornell
and her husband jointly that he was coming in a few days, had sped
on its way to Falls-Park. It was directed under cover to Tupcombe,
the confidential servant, with instructions not to put it into his
master's hands till he had been refreshed by a good long sleep.
Tupcombe much regretted his commission, letters sent in this way
always disturbing the Squire; but guessing that it would be
infinitely worse in the end to withhold the news than to reveal it,
he chose his time, which was early the next morning, and delivered
The utmost effect that Mrs. Dornell had anticipated from the message
was a peremptory order from her husband to Reynard to hold aloof a
few months longer. What the Squire really did was to declare that
he would go himself and confront Reynard at Bristol, and have it out
with him there by word of mouth.
'But, master,' said Tupcombe, 'you can't. You cannot get out of
'You leave the room, Tupcombe, and don't say "can't" before me!
Have Jerry saddled in an hour.'
The long-tried Tupcombe thought his employer demented, so utterly
helpless was his appearance just then, and he went out reluctantly.
No sooner was he gone than the Squire, with great difficulty,
stretched himself over to a cabinet by the bedside, unlocked it, and
took out a small bottle. It contained a gout specific, against
whose use he had been repeatedly warned by his regular physician,
but whose warning he now cast to the winds.
He took a double dose, and waited half an hour. It seemed to
produce no effect. He then poured out a treble dose, swallowed it,
leant back upon his pillow, and waited. The miracle he anticipated
had been worked at last. It seemed as though the second draught had
not only operated with its own strength, but had kindled into power
the latent forces of the first. He put away the bottle, and rang up
Less than an hour later one of the housemaids, who of course was
quite aware that the Squire's illness was serious, was surprised to
hear a bold and decided step descending the stairs from the
direction of Mr. Dornell's room, accompanied by the humming of a
tune. She knew that the doctor had not paid a visit that morning,
and that it was too heavy to be the valet or any other man-servant.
Looking up, she saw Squire Dornell fully dressed, descending toward
her in his drab caped riding-coat and boots, with the swinging easy
movement of his prime. Her face expressed her amazement.
'What the devil beest looking at?' said the Squire. 'Did you never
see a man walk out of his house before, wench?'
Resuming his humming--which was of a defiant sort--he proceeded to
the library, rang the bell, asked if the horses were ready, and
directed them to be brought round. Ten minutes later he rode away
in the direction of Bristol, Tupcombe behind him, trembling at what
these movements might portend.
They rode on through the pleasant woodlands and the monotonous
straight lanes at an equal pace. The distance traversed might have
been about fifteen miles when Tupcombe could perceive that the
Squire was getting tired--as weary as he would have been after
riding three times the distance ten years before. However, they
reached Bristol without any mishap, and put up at the Squire's
accustomed inn. Dornell almost immediately proceeded on foot to the
inn which Reynard had given as his address, it being now about four
Reynard had already dined--for people dined early then--and he was
staying indoors. He had already received Mrs. Dornell's reply to
his letter; but before acting upon her advice and starting for
King's-Hintock he made up his mind to wait another day, that Betty's
father might at least have time to write to him if so minded. The
returned traveller much desired to obtain the Squire's assent, as
well as his wife's, to the proposed visit to his bride, that nothing
might seem harsh or forced in his method of taking his position as
one of the family. But though he anticipated some sort of objection
from his father-in-law, in consequence of Mrs. Dornell's warning, he
was surprised at the announcement of the Squire in person.
Stephen Reynard formed the completest of possible contrasts to
Dornell as they stood confronting each other in the best parlour of
the Bristol tavern. The Squire, hot-tempered, gouty, impulsive,
generous, reckless; the younger man, pale, tall, sedate, self-
possessed--a man of the world, fully bearing out at least one
couplet in his epitaph, still extant in King's-Hintock church, which
places in the inventory of his good qualities
'Engaging Manners, cultivated Mind,
Adorn'd by Letters, and in Courts refin'd.'
He was at this time about five-and-thirty, though careful living and
an even, unemotional temperament caused him to look much younger
than his years.
Squire Dornell plunged into his errand without much ceremony or
'I am your humble servant, sir,' he said. 'I have read your letter
writ to my wife and myself, and considered that the best way to
answer it would be to do so in person.'
'I am vastly honoured by your visit, sir,' said Mr. Stephen Reynard,
'Well, what's done can't be undone,' said Dornell, 'though it was
mighty early, and was no doing of mine. She's your wife; and
there's an end on't. But in brief, sir, she's too young for you to
claim yet; we mustn't reckon by years; we must reckon by nature.
She's still a girl; 'tis onpolite of 'ee to come yet; next year will
be full soon enough for you to take her to you.'
Now, courteous as Reynard could be, he was a little obstinate when
his resolution had once been formed. She had been promised him by
her eighteenth birthday at latest--sooner if she were in robust
health. Her mother had fixed the time on her own judgment, without
a word of interference on his part. He had been hanging about
foreign courts till he was weary. Betty was now as woman, if she
would ever be one, and there was not, in his mind, the shadow of an
excuse for putting him off longer. Therefore, fortified as he was
by the support of her mother, he blandly but firmly told the Squire
that he had been willing to waive his rights, out of deference to
her parents, to any reasonable extent, but must now, in justice to
himself and her insist on maintaining them. He therefore, since she
had not come to meet him, should proceed to King's-Hintock in a few
days to fetch her.
This announcement, in spite of the urbanity with which it was
delivered, set Dornell in a passion.
'Oh dammy, sir; you talk about rights, you do, after stealing her
away, a mere child, against my will and knowledge! If we'd begged
and prayed 'ee to take her, you could say no more.'
'Upon my honour, your charge is quite baseless, sir,' said his son-
in-law. 'You must know by this time--or if you do not, it has been
a monstrous cruel injustice to me that I should have been allowed to
remain in your mind with such a stain upon my character--you must
know that I used no seductiveness or temptation of any kind. Her
mother assented; she assented. I took them at their word. That you
was really opposed to the marriage was not known to me till
Dornell professed to believe not a word of it. 'You sha'n't have
her till she's dree sixes full--no maid ought to be married till
she's dree sixes!--and my daughter sha'n't be treated out of nater!'
So he stormed on till Tupcombe, who had been alarmedly listening in
the next room, entered suddenly, declaring to Reynard that his
master's life was in danger if the interview were prolonged, he
being subject to apoplectic strokes at these crises. Reynard
immediately said that he would be the last to wish to injure Squire
Dornell, and left the room, and as soon as the Squire had recovered
breath and equanimity, he went out of the inn, leaning on the arm of
Tupcombe was for sleeping in Bristol that night, but Dornell, whose
energy seemed as invincible as it was sudden, insisted upon mounting
and getting back as far as Falls-Park, to continue the journey to
King's-Hintock on the following day. At five they started, and took
the southern road toward the Mendip Hills. The evening was dry and
windy, and, excepting that the sun did not shine, strongly reminded
Tupcombe of the evening of that March month, nearly five years
earlier, when news had been brought to King's-Hintock Court of the
child Betty's marriage in London--news which had produced upon
Dornell such a marked effect for the worse ever since, and
indirectly upon the household of which he was the head. Before that
time the winters were lively at Falls-Park, as well as at King's-
Hintock, although the Squire had ceased to make it his regular
residence. Hunting-guests and shooting-guests came and went, and
open house was kept. Tupcombe disliked the clever courtier who had
put a stop to this by taking away from the Squire the only treasure
It grew darker with their progress along the lanes, and Tupcombe
discovered from Mr. Dornell's manner of riding that his strength was
giving way; and spurring his own horse close alongside, he asked him
how he felt.
'Oh, bad; damn bad, Tupcombe! I can hardly keep my seat. I shall
never be any better, I fear! Have we passed Three-Man-Gibbet yet?'
'Not yet by a long ways, sir.'
'I wish we had. I can hardly hold on.' The Squire could not
repress a groan now and then, and Tupcombe knew he was in great
pain. 'I wish I was underground--that's the place for such fools as
I! I'd gladly be there if it were not for Mistress Betty. He's
coming on to King's-Hintock to-morrow--he won't put it off any
longer; he'll set out and reach there to-morrow night, without
stopping at Falls; and he'll take her unawares, and I want to be
there before him.'
'I hope you may be well enough to do it, sir. But really--'
'I MUST, Tupcombe! You don't know what my trouble is; it is not so
much that she is married to this man without my agreeing--for, after
all, there's nothing to say against him, so far as I know; but that
she don't take to him at all, seems to fear him--in fact, cares
nothing about him; and if he comes forcing himself into the house
upon her, why, 'twill be rank cruelty. Would to the Lord something
would happen to prevent him!'
How they reached home that night Tupcombe hardly knew. The Squire
was in such pain that he was obliged to recline upon his horse, and
Tupcombe was afraid every moment lest he would fall into the road.
But they did reach home at last, and Mr. Dornell was instantly
assisted to bed.
Next morning it was obvious that he could not possibly go to King's-
Hintock for several days at least, and there on the bed he lay,
cursing his inability to proceed on an errand so personal and so
delicate that no emissary could perform it. What he wished to do
was to ascertain from Betty's own lips if her aversion to Reynard
was so strong that his presence would be positively distasteful to
her. Were that the case, he would have borne her away bodily on the
saddle behind him.
But all that was hindered now, and he repeated a hundred times in
Tupcombe's hearing, and in that of the nurse and other servants, 'I
wish to God something would happen to him!'
This sentiment, reiterated by the Squire as he tossed in the agony
induced by the powerful drugs of the day before, entered sharply
into the soul of Tupcombe and of all who were attached to the house
of Dornell, as distinct from the house of his wife at King's-
Hintock. Tupcombe, who was an excitable man, was hardly less
disquieted by the thought of Reynard's return than the Squire
himself was. As the week drew on, and the afternoon advanced at
which Reynard would in all probability be passing near Falls on his
way to the Court, the Squire's feelings became acuter, and the
responsive Tupcombe could hardly bear to come near him. Having left
him in the hands of the doctor, the former went out upon the lawn,
for he could hardly breathe in the contagion of excitement caught
from the employer who had virtually made him his confidant. He had
lived with the Dornells from his boyhood, had been born under the
shadow of their walls; his whole life was annexed and welded to the
life of the family in a degree which has no counterpart in these
He was summoned indoors, and learnt that it had been decided to send
for Mrs. Dornell: her husband was in great danger. There were two
or three who could have acted as messenger, but Dornell wished
Tupcombe to go, the reason showing itself when, Tupcombe being ready
to start, Squire Dornell summoned him to his chamber and leaned down
so that he could whisper in his ear:
'Put Peggy along smart, Tupcombe, and get there before him, you
know--before him. This is the day he fixed. He has not passed
Falls cross-roads yet. If you can do that you will be able to get
Betty to come--d'ye see?--after her mother has started; she'll have
a reason for not waiting for him. Bring her by the lower road--
he'll go by the upper. Your business is to make 'em miss each
other--d'ye see?--but that's a thing I couldn't write down.'
Five minutes after, Tupcombe was astride the horse and on his way--
the way he had followed so many times since his master, a florid
young countryman, had first gone wooing to King's-Hintock Court. As
soon as he had crossed the hills in the immediate neighbourhood of
the manor, the road lay over a plain, where it ran in long straight
stretches for several miles. In the best of times, when all had
been gay in the united houses, that part of the road had seemed
tedious. It was gloomy in the extreme now that he pursued it, at
night and alone, on such an errand.
He rode and brooded. If the Squire were to die, he, Tupcombe, would
be alone in the world and friendless, for he was no favourite with
Mrs. Dornell; and to find himself baffled, after all, in what he had
set his mind on, would probably kill the Squire. Thinking thus,
Tupcombe stopped his horse every now and then, and listened for the
coming husband. The time was drawing on to the moment when Reynard
might be expected to pass along this very route. He had watched the
road well during the afternoon, and had inquired of the tavern-
keepers as he came up to each, and he was convinced that the
premature descent of the stranger-husband upon his young mistress
had not been made by this highway as yet.
Besides the girl's mother, Tupcombe was the only member of the
household who suspected Betty's tender feelings towards young
Phelipson, so unhappily generated on her return from school; and he
could therefore imagine, even better than her fond father, what
would be her emotions on the sudden announcement of Reynard's advent
that evening at King's-Hintock Court.
So he rode and rode, desponding and hopeful by turns. He felt
assured that, unless in the unfortunate event of the almost
immediate arrival of her son-in law at his own heels, Mrs. Dornell
would not be able to hinder Betty's departure for her father's
It was about nine o'clock that, having put twenty miles of country
behind him, he turned in at the lodge-gate nearest to Ivell and
King's-Hintock village, and pursued the long north drive--itself
much like a turnpike road--which led thence through the park to the
Court. Though there were so many trees in King's-Hintock park, few
bordered the carriage roadway; he could see it stretching ahead in
the pale night light like an unrolled deal shaving. Presently the
irregular frontage of the house came in view, of great extent, but
low, except where it rose into the outlines of a broad square tower.
As Tupcombe approached he rode aside upon the grass, to make sure,
if possible, that he was the first comer, before letting his
presence be known. The Court was dark and sleepy, in no respect as
if a bridegroom were about to arrive.
While pausing he distinctly heard the tread of a horse upon the
track behind him, and for a moment despaired of arriving in time:
here, surely, was Reynard! Pulling up closer to the densest tree at
hand he waited, and found he had retreated nothing too soon, for the
second rider avoided the gravel also, and passed quite close to him.
In the profile he recognized young Phelipson.
Before Tupcombe could think what to do, Phelipson had gone on; but
not to the door of the house. Swerving to the left, he passed round
to the east angle, where, as Tupcombe knew, were situated Betty's
apartments. Dismounting, he left the horse tethered to a hanging
bough, and walked on to the house.
Suddenly his eye caught sight of an object which explained the
position immediately. It was a ladder stretching from beneath the
trees, which there came pretty close to the house, up to a first-
floor window--one which lighted Miss Betty's rooms. Yes, it was
Betty's chamber; he knew every room in the house well.
The young horseman who had passed him, having evidently left his
steed somewhere under the trees also, was perceptible at the top of
the ladder, immediately outside Betty's window. While Tupcombe
watched, a cloaked female figure stepped timidly over the sill, and
the two cautiously descended, one before the other, the young man's
arms enclosing the young woman between his grasp of the ladder, so
that she could not fall. As soon as they reached the bottom, young
Phelipson quickly removed the ladder and hid it under the bushes.
The pair disappeared; till, in a few minutes, Tupcombe could discern
a horse emerging from a remoter part of the umbrage. The horse
carried double, the girl being on a pillion behind her lover.
Tupcombe hardly knew what to do or think; yet, though this was not
exactly the kind of flight that had been intended, she had certainly
escaped. He went back to his own animal, and rode round to the
servants' door, where he delivered the letter for Mrs. Dornell. To
leave a verbal message for Betty was now impossible.
The Court servants desired him to stay over the night, but he would
not do so, desiring to get back to the Squire as soon as possible
and tell what he had seen. Whether he ought not to have intercepted
the young people, and carried off Betty himself to her father, he
did not know. However, it was too late to think of that now, and
without wetting his lips or swallowing a crumb, Tupcombe turned his
back upon King's-Hintock Court.
It was not till he had advanced a considerable distance on his way
homeward that, halting under the lantern of a roadside-inn while the
horse was watered, there came a traveller from the opposite
direction in a hired coach; the lantern lit the stranger's face as
he passed along and dropped into the shade. Tupcombe exulted for
the moment, though he could hardly have justified his exultation.
The belated traveller was Reynard; and another had stepped in before
You may now be willing to know of the fortunes of Miss Betty. Left
much to herself through the intervening days, she had ample time to
brood over her desperate attempt at the stratagem of infection--
thwarted, apparently, by her mother's promptitude. In what other
way to gain time she could not think. Thus drew on the day and the
hour of the evening on which her husband was expected to announce
At some period after dark, when she could not tell, a tap at the
window, twice and thrice repeated, became audible. It caused her to
start up, for the only visitant in her mind was the one whose
advances she had so feared as to risk health and life to repel them.
She crept to the window, and heard a whisper without.
'It is I--Charley,' said the voice.
Betty's face fired with excitement. She had latterly begun to doubt
her admirer's staunchness, fancying his love to be going off in mere
attentions which neither committed him nor herself very deeply. She
opened the window, saying in a joyous whisper, 'Oh Charley; I
thought you had deserted me quite!'
He assured her he had not done that, and that he had a horse in
waiting, if she would ride off with him. 'You must come quickly,'
he said; 'for Reynard's on the way!'
To throw a cloak round herself was the work of a moment, and
assuring herself that her door was locked against a surprise, she
climbed over the window-sill and descended with him as we have seen.
Her mother meanwhile, having received Tupcombe's note, found the
news of her husband's illness so serious, as to displace her
thoughts of the coming son-in-law, and she hastened to tell her
daughter of the Squire's dangerous condition, thinking it might be
desirable to take her to her father's bedside. On trying the door
of the girl's room, she found it still locked. Mrs. Dornell called,
but there was no answer. Full of misgivings, she privately fetched
the old house-steward and bade him burst open the door--an order by
no means easy to execute, the joinery of the Court being massively
constructed. However, the lock sprang open at last, and she entered
Betty's chamber only to find the window unfastened and the bird
For a moment Mrs. Dornell was staggered. Then it occurred to her
that Betty might have privately obtained from Tupcombe the news of
her father's serious illness, and, fearing she might be kept back to
meet her husband, have gone off with that obstinate and biassed
servitor to Falls-Park. The more she thought it over the more
probable did the supposition appear; and binding her own head-man to
secrecy as to Betty's movements, whether as she conjectured, or
otherwise, Mrs. Dornell herself prepared to set out.
She had no suspicion how seriously her husband's malady had been
aggravated by his ride to Bristol, and thought more of Betty's
affairs than of her own. That Betty's husband should arrive by some
other road to-night, and find neither wife nor mother-in-law to
receive him, and no explanation of their absence, was possible; but
never forgetting chances, Mrs. Dornell as she journeyed kept her
eyes fixed upon the highway on the off-side, where, before she had
reached the town of Ivell, the hired coach containing Stephen
Reynard flashed into the lamplight of her own carriage.
Mrs. Dornell's coachman pulled up, in obedience to a direction she
had given him at starting; the other coach was hailed, a few words
passed, and Reynard alighted and came to Mrs. Dornell's carriage-
'Come inside,' says she. 'I want to speak privately to you. Why
are you so late?'
'One hindrance and another,' says he. 'I meant to be at the Court
by eight at latest. My gratitude for your letter. I hope--'
'You must not try to see Betty yet,' said she. 'There be far other
and newer reasons against your seeing her now than there were when I
The circumstances were such that Mrs. Dornell could not possibly
conceal them entirely; nothing short of knowing some of the facts
would prevent his blindly acting in a manner which might be fatal to
the future. Moreover, there are times when deeper intriguers than
Mrs. Dornell feel that they must let out a few truths, if only in
self-indulgence. So she told so much of recent surprises as that
Betty's heart had been attracted by another image than his, and that
his insisting on visiting her now might drive the girl to
desperation. 'Betty has, in fact, rushed off to her father to avoid
you,' she said. 'But if you wait she will soon forget this young
man, and you will have nothing to fear.'
As a woman and a mother she could go no further, and Betty's
desperate attempt to infect herself the week before as a means of
repelling him, together with the alarming possibility that, after
all, she had not gone to her father but to her lover, was not
'Well,' sighed the diplomatist, in a tone unexpectedly quiet, 'such
things have been known before. After all, she may prefer me to him
some day, when she reflects how very differently I might have acted
than I am going to act towards her. But I'll say no more about that
now. I can have a bed at your house for to-night?'
'To-night, certainly. And you leave to-morrow morning early?' She
spoke anxiously, for on no account did she wish him to make further
discoveries. 'My husband is so seriously ill,' she continued, 'that
my absence and Betty's on your arrival is naturally accounted for.'
He promised to leave early, and to write to her soon. 'And when I
think the time is ripe,' he said, 'I'll write to her. I may have
something to tell her that will bring her to graciousness.'
It was about one o'clock in the morning when Mrs. Dornell reached
Falls-Park. A double blow awaited her there. Betty had not
arrived; her flight had been elsewhither; and her stricken mother
divined with whom. She ascended to the bedside of her husband,
where to her concern she found that the physician had given up all
hope. The Squire was sinking, and his extreme weakness had almost
changed his character, except in the particular that his old
obstinacy sustained him in a refusal to see a clergyman. He shed
tears at the least word, and sobbed at the sight of his wife. He
asked for Betty, and it was with a heavy heart that Mrs. Dornell
told him that the girl had not accompanied her.
'He is not keeping her away?'
'No, no. He is going back--he is not coming to her for some time.'
'Then what is detaining her--cruel, neglectful maid!'
'No, no, Thomas; she is-- She could not come.'
Somehow the solemnity of these last moments of his gave him
inquisitorial power, and the too cold wife could not conceal from
him the flight which had taken place from King's-Hintock that night.
To her amazement, the effect upon him was electrical.
'What--Betty--a trump after all? Hurrah! She's her father's own
maid! She's game! She knew he was her father's own choice! She
vowed that my man should win! Well done, Bet!--haw! haw! Hurrah!'
He had raised himself in bed by starts as he spoke, and now fell
back exhausted. He never uttered another word, and died before the
dawn. People said there had not been such an ungenteel death in a
good county family for years.
Now I will go back to the time of Betty's riding off on the pillion
behind her lover. They left the park by an obscure gate to the
east, and presently found themselves in the lonely and solitary
length of the old Roman road now called Long-Ash Lane.
By this time they were rather alarmed at their own performance, for
they were both young and inexperienced. Hence they proceeded almost
in silence till they came to a mean roadside inn which was not yet
closed; when Betty, who had held on to him with much misgiving all
this while, felt dreadfully unwell, and said she thought she would
like to get down.
They accordingly dismounted from the jaded animal that had brought
them, and were shown into a small dark parlour, where they stood
side by side awkwardly, like the fugitives they were. A light was
brought, and when they were left alone Betty threw off the cloak
which had enveloped her. No sooner did young Phelipson see her face
than he uttered an alarmed exclamation.
'Why, Lord, Lord, you are sickening for the small-pox!' he cried.
'Oh--I forgot!' faltered Betty. And then she informed him that, on
hearing of her husband's approach the week before, in a desperate
attempt to keep him from her side, she had tried to imbibe the
infection--an act which till this moment she had supposed to have
been ineffectual, imagining her feverishness to be the result of her
The effect of this discovery upon young Phelipson was overwhelming.
Better-seasoned men than he would not have been proof against it,
and he was only a little over her own age. 'And you've been holding
on to me!' he said. 'And suppose you get worse, and we both have
it, what shall we do? Won't you be a fright in a month or two,
poor, poor Betty!'
In his horror he attempted to laugh, but the laugh ended in a weakly
giggle. She was more woman than girl by this time, and realized his
'What--in trying to keep off him, I keep off you?' she said
miserably. 'Do you hate me because I am going to be ugly and ill?'
'Oh--no, no!' he said soothingly. 'But I--I am thinking if it is
quite right for us to do this. You see, dear Betty, if you was not
married it would be different. You are not in honour married to him
we've often said; still you are his by law, and you can't be mine
whilst he's alive. And with this terrible sickness coming on,
perhaps you had better let me take you back, and--climb in at the
'Is THIS your love?' said Betty reproachfully. 'Oh, if you was
sickening for the plague itself, and going to be as ugly as the
Ooser in the church-vestry, I wouldn't--'
'No, no, you mistake, upon my soul!'
But Betty with a swollen heart had rewrapped herself and gone out of
the door. The horse was still standing there. She mounted by the
help of the upping-stock, and when he had followed her she said, 'Do
not come near me, Charley; but please lead the horse, so that if
you've not caught anything already you'll not catch it going back.
After all, what keeps off you may keep off him. Now onward.'
He did not resist her command, and back they went by the way they
had come, Betty shedding bitter tears at the retribution she had
already brought upon herself; for though she had reproached
Phelipson, she was staunch enough not to blame him in her secret
heart for showing that his love was only skin-deep. The horse was
stopped in the plantation, and they walked silently to the lawn,
reaching the bushes wherein the ladder still lay.
'Will you put it up for me?' she asked mournfully.
He re-erected the ladder without a word; but when she approached to
ascend he said, 'Good-bye, Betty!'
'Good-bye!' said she; and involuntarily turned her face towards his.
He hung back from imprinting the expected kiss: at which Betty
started as if she had received a poignant wound. She moved away so
suddenly that he hardly had time to follow her up the ladder to
prevent her falling.
'Tell your mother to get the doctor at once!' he said anxiously.
She stepped in without looking behind; he descended, withdrew the
ladder, and went away.
Alone in her chamber, Betty flung herself upon her face on the bed,
and burst into shaking sobs. Yet she would not admit to herself
that her lover's conduct was unreasonable; only that her rash act of
the previous week had been wrong. No one had heard her enter, and
she was too worn out, in body and mind, to think or care about
medical aid. In an hour or so she felt yet more unwell, positively
ill; and nobody coming to her at the usual bedtime, she looked
towards the door. Marks of the lock having been forced were
visible, and this made her chary of summoning a servant. She opened
the door cautiously and sallied forth downstairs.
In the dining-parlour, as it was called, the now sick and sorry
Betty was startled to see at that late hour not her mother, but a
man sitting, calmly finishing his supper. There was no servant in
the room. He turned, and she recognized her husband.
'Where's my mamma?' she demanded without preface.
'Gone to your father's. Is that--' He stopped, aghast.
'Yes, sir. This spotted object is your wife! I've done it because
I don't want you to come near me!'
He was sixteen years her senior; old enough to be compassionate.
'My poor child, you must get to bed directly! Don't be afraid of
me--I'll carry you upstairs, and send for a doctor instantly.'
'Ah, you don't know what I am!' she cried. 'I had a lover once; but
now he's gone! 'Twasn't I who deserted him. He has deserted me;
because I am ill he wouldn't kiss me, though I wanted him to!'
'Wouldn't he? Then he was a very poor slack-twisted sort of fellow.
Betty, I'VE never kissed you since you stood beside me as my little
wife, twelve years and a half old! May I kiss you now?'
Though Betty by no means desired his kisses, she had enough of the
spirit of Cunigonde in Schiller's ballad to test his daring. 'If
you have courage to venture, yes sir!' said she. 'But you may die
for it, mind!'
He came up to her and imprinted a deliberate kiss full upon her
mouth, saying, 'May many others follow!'
She shook her head, and hastily withdrew, though secretly pleased at
his hardihood. The excitement had supported her for the few minutes
she had passed in his presence, and she could hardly drag herself
back to her room. Her husband summoned the servants, and, sending
them to her assistance, went off himself for a doctor.
The next morning Reynard waited at the Court till he had learnt from
the medical man that Betty's attack promised to be a very light one-
-or, as it was expressed, 'very fine'; and in taking his leave sent
up a note to her:
'Now I must be Gone. I promised your Mother I would not see You
yet, and she may be anger'd if she finds me here. Promise to see me
as Soon as you are well?'
He was of all men then living one of the best able to cope with such
an untimely situation as this. A contriving, sagacious, gentle-
mannered man, a philosopher who saw that the only constant attribute
of life is change, he held that, as long as she lives, there is
nothing finite in the most impassioned attitude a woman may take up.
In twelve months his girl-wife's recent infatuation might be as
distasteful to her mind as it was now to his own. In a few years
her very flesh would change--so said the scientific;--her spirit, so
much more ephemeral, was capable of changing in one. Betty was his,
and it became a mere question of means how to effect that change.
During the day Mrs. Dornell, having closed her husband's eyes,
returned to the Court. She was truly relieved to find Betty there,
even though on a bed of sickness. The disease ran its course, and
in due time Betty became convalescent, without having suffered
deeply for her rashness, one little speck beneath her ear, and one
beneath her chin, being all the marks she retained.
The Squire's body was not brought back to King's-Hintock. Where he
was born, and where he had lived before wedding his Sue, there he
had wished to be buried. No sooner had she lost him than Mrs.
Dornell, like certain other wives, though she had never shown any
great affection for him while he lived, awoke suddenly to his many
virtues, and zealously embraced his opinion about delaying Betty's
union with her husband, which she had formerly combated strenuously.
'Poor man! how right he was, and how wrong was I!' Eighteen was
certainly the lowest age at which Mr. Reynard should claim her
child--nay, it was too low! Far too low!
So desirous was she of honouring her lamented husband's sentiments
in this respect, that she wrote to her son-in-law suggesting that,
partly on account of Betty's sorrow for her father's loss, and out
of consideration for his known wishes for delay, Betty should not be
taken from her till her nineteenth birthday.
However much or little Stephen Reynard might have been to blame in
his marriage, the patient man now almost deserved to be pitied.
First Betty's skittishness; now her mother's remorseful volte-face:
it was enough to exasperate anybody; and he wrote to the widow in a
tone which led to a little coolness between those hitherto firm
friends. However, knowing that he had a wife not to claim but to
win, and that young Phelipson had been packed off to sea by his
parents, Stephen was complaisant to a degree, returning to London,
and holding quite aloof from Betty and her mother, who remained for
the present in the country. In town he had a mild visitation of the
distemper he had taken from Betty, and in writing to her he took
care not to dwell upon its mildness. It was now that Betty began to
pity him for what she had inflicted upon him by the kiss, and her
correspondence acquired a distinct flavour of kindness
Owing to his rebuffs, Reynard had grown to be truly in love with
Betty in his mild, placid, durable way--in that way which perhaps,
upon the whole, tends most generally to the woman's comfort under
the institution of marriage, if not particularly to her ecstasy.
Mrs. Dornell's exaggeration of her husband's wish for delay in their
living together was inconvenient, but he would not openly infringe
it. He wrote tenderly to Betty, and soon announced that he had a
little surprise in store for her. The secret was that the King had
been graciously pleased to inform him privately, through a relation,
that His Majesty was about to offer him a Barony. Would she like
the title to be Ivell? Moreover, he had reason for knowing that in
a few years the dignity would be raised to that of an Earl, for
which creation he thought the title of Wessex would be eminently
suitable, considering the position of much of their property. As
Lady Ivell, therefore, and future Countess of Wessex, he should beg
leave to offer her his heart a third time.
He did not add, as he might have added, how greatly the
consideration of the enormous estates at King's-Hintock and
elsewhere which Betty would inherit, and her children after her, had
conduced to this desirable honour.
Whether the impending titles had really any effect upon Betty's
regard for him I cannot state, for she was one of those close
characters who never let their minds be known upon anything. That
such honour was absolutely unexpected by her from such a quarter is,
however, certain; and she could not deny that Stephen had shown her
kindness, forbearance, even magnanimity; had forgiven her for an
errant passion which he might with some reason have denounced,
notwithstanding her cruel position as a child entrapped into
marriage ere able to understand its bearings.
Her mother, in her grief and remorse for the loveless life she had
led with her rough, though open-hearted, husband, made now a creed
of his merest whim; and continued to insist that, out of respect to
his known desire, her son-in-law should not reside with Betty till
the girl's father had been dead a year at least, at which time the
girl would still be under nineteen. Letters must suffice for
Stephen till then.
'It is rather long for him to wait,' Betty hesitatingly said one
'What!' said her mother. 'From YOU? not to respect your dear
'Of course it is quite proper,' said Betty hastily. 'I don't
gainsay it. I was but thinking that--that--'
In the long slow months of the stipulated interval her mother tended
and trained Betty carefully for her duties. Fully awake now to the
many virtues of her dear departed one, she, among other acts of
pious devotion to his memory, rebuilt the church of King's-Hintock
village, and established valuable charities in all the villages of
that name, as far as to Little-Hintock, several miles eastward.
In superintending these works, particularly that of the church-
building, her daughter Betty was her constant companion, and the
incidents of their execution were doubtless not without a soothing
effect upon the young creature's heart. She had sprung from girl to
woman by a sudden bound, and few would have recognized in the
thoughtful face of Betty now the same person who, the year before,
had seemed to have absolutely no idea whatever of responsibility,
moral or other. Time passed thus till the Squire had been nearly a
year in his vault; and Mrs. Dornell was duly asked by letter by the
patient Reynard if she were willing for him to come soon. He did
not wish to take Betty away if her mother's sense of loneliness
would be too great, but would willingly live at King's-Hintock
awhile with them.
Before the widow had replied to this communication, she one day
happened to observe Betty walking on the south terrace in the full
sunlight, without hat or mantle, and was struck by her child's
figure. Mrs. Dornell called her in, and said suddenly: 'Have you
seen your husband since the time of your poor father's death?'
'Well--yes, mamma,' says Betty, colouring.
'What--against my wishes and those of your dear father! I am
shocked at your disobedience!'
'But my father said eighteen, ma'am, and you made it much longer--'
'Why, of course--out of consideration for you! When have ye seen
'Well,' stammered Betty, 'in the course of his letters to me he said
that I belonged to him, and if nobody knew that we met it would make
no difference. And that I need not hurt your feelings by telling
'So I went to Casterbridge that time you went to London about five
'And met him there? When did you come back?'
'Dear mamma, it grew very late, and he said it was safer not to go
back till next day, as the roads were bad; and as you were away from
'I don't want to hear any more! This is your respect for your
father's memory,' groaned the widow. 'When did you meet him again?'
'Oh--not for more than a fortnight.'
'A fortnight! How many times have ye seen him altogether?'
'I'm sure, mamma, I've not seen him altogether a dozen times.'
'A dozen! And eighteen and a half years old barely!'
'Twice we met by accident,' pleaded Betty. 'Once at Abbot's-Cernel,
and another time at the Red Lion, Melchester.'
'O thou deceitful girl!' cried Mrs. Dornell. 'An accident took you
to the Red Lion whilst I was staying at the White Hart! I remember-
-you came in at twelve o'clock at night and said you'd been to see
the cathedral by the light o' the moon!'
'My ever-honoured mamma, so I had! I only went to the Red Lion with
'Oh Betty, Betty! That my child should have deceived me even in my
'But, my dearest mamma, you made me marry him!' says Betty with
spirit, 'and of course I've to obey him more than you now!'
Mrs. Dornell sighed. 'All I have to say is, that you'd better get
your husband to join you as soon as possible,' she remarked. 'To go
on playing the maiden like this--I'm ashamed to see you!'
She wrote instantly to Stephen Reynard: 'I wash my hands of the
whole matter as between you two; though I should advise you to
OPENLY join each other as soon as you can--if you wish to avoid
He came, though not till the promised title had been granted, and he
could call Betty archly 'My Lady.'
People said in after years that she and her husband were very happy.
However that may be, they had a numerous family; and she became in
due course first Countess of Wessex, as he had foretold.
The little white frock in which she had been married to him at the
tender age of twelve was carefully preserved among the relics at
King's-Hintock Court, where it may still be seen by the curious--a
yellowing, pathetic testimony to the small count taken of the
happiness of an innocent child in the social strategy of those days,
which might have led, but providentially did not lead, to great
When the Earl died Betty wrote him an epitaph, in which she
described him as the best of husbands, fathers, and friends, and
called herself his disconsolate widow.
Such is woman; or rather (not to give offence by so sweeping an
assertion), such was Betty Dornell.
It was at a meeting of one of the Wessex Field and Antiquarian Clubs
that the foregoing story, partly told, partly read from a
manuscript, was made to do duty for the regulation papers on
deformed butterflies, fossil ox-horns, prehistoric dung-mixens, and
such like, that usually occupied the more serious attention of the
This Club was of an inclusive and intersocial character; to a
degree, indeed, remarkable for the part of England in which it had
its being--dear, delightful Wessex, whose statuesque dynasties are
even now only just beginning to feel the shaking of the new and
strange spirit without, like that which entered the lonely valley of
Ezekiel's vision and made the dry bones move: where the honest
squires, tradesmen, parsons, clerks, and people still praise the
Lord with one voice for His best of all possible worlds.
The present meeting, which was to extend over two days, had opened
its proceedings at the museum of the town whose buildings and
environs were to be visited by the members. Lunch had ended, and
the afternoon excursion had been about to be undertaken, when the
rain came down in an obstinate spatter, which revealed no sign of
cessation. As the members waited they grew chilly, although it was
only autumn, and a fire was lighted, which threw a cheerful shine
upon the varnished skulls, urns, penates, tesserae, costumes, coats
of mail, weapons, and missals, animated the fossilized ichthyosaurus
and iguanodon; while the dead eyes of the stuffed birds--those
never-absent familiars in such collections, though murdered to
extinction out of doors--flashed as they had flashed to the rising
sun above the neighbouring moors on the fatal morning when the
trigger was pulled which ended their little flight. It was then
that the historian produced his manuscript, which he had prepared,
he said, with a view to publication. His delivery of the story
having concluded as aforesaid, the speaker expressed his hope that
the constraint of the weather, and the paucity of more scientific
papers, would excuse any inappropriateness in his subject.
Several members observed that a storm-bound club could not presume
to be selective, and they were all very much obliged to him for such
a curious chapter from the domestic histories of the county.
The President looked gloomily from the window at the descending
rain, and broke a short silence by saying that though the Club had
met, there seemed little probability of its being able to visit the
objects of interest set down among the agenda.
The Treasurer observed that they had at least a roof over their
heads; and they had also a second day before them.
A sentimental member, leaning back in his chair, declared that he
was in no hurry to go out, and that nothing would please him so much
as another county story, with or without manuscript.
The Colonel added that the subject should be a lady, like the
former, to which a gentleman known as the Spark said 'Hear, hear!'
Though these had spoken in jest, a rural dean who was present
observed blandly that there was no lack of materials. Many, indeed,
were the legends and traditions of gentle and noble dames, renowned
in times past in that part of England, whose actions and passions
were now, but for men's memories, buried under the brief inscription
on a tomb or an entry of dates in a dry pedigree.
Another member, an old surgeon, a somewhat grim though sociable
personage, was quite of the speaker's opinion, and felt quite sure
that the memory of the reverend gentleman must abound with such
curious tales of fair dames, of their loves and hates, their joys
and their misfortunes, their beauty and their fate.
The parson, a trifle confused, retorted that their friend the
surgeon, the son of a surgeon, seemed to him, as a man who had seen
much and heard more during the long course of his own and his
father's practice, the member of all others most likely to be
acquainted with such lore.
The bookworm, the Colonel, the historian, the Vice-president, the
churchwarden, the two curates, the gentleman-tradesman, the
sentimental member, the crimson maltster, the quiet gentleman, the
man of family, the Spark, and several others, quite agreed, and
begged that he would recall something of the kind. The old surgeon
said that, though a meeting of the Mid-Wessex Field and Antiquarian
Club was the last place at which he should have expected to be
called upon in this way, he had no objection; and the parson said he
would come next. The surgeon then reflected, and decided to relate
the history of a lady named Barbara, who lived towards the end of
the last century, apologizing for his tale as being perhaps a little
too professional. The crimson maltster winked to the Spark at
hearing the nature of the apology, and the surgeon began.
DAME THE SECOND: BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE
By the Old Surgeon
It was apparently an idea, rather than a passion, that inspired Lord
Uplandtowers' resolve to win her. Nobody ever knew when he formed
it, or whence he got his assurance of success in the face of her
manifest dislike of him. Possibly not until after that first
important act of her life which I shall presently mention. His
matured and cynical doggedness at the age of nineteen, when impulse
mostly rules calculation, was remarkable, and might have owed its
existence as much to his succession to the earldom and its
accompanying local honours in childhood, as to the family character;
an elevation which jerked him into maturity, so to speak, without
his having known adolescence. He had only reached his twelfth year
when his father, the fourth Earl, died, after a course of the Bath
Nevertheless, the family character had a great deal to do with it.
Determination was hereditary in the bearers of that escutcheon;
sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.
The seats of the two families were about ten miles apart, the way
between them lying along the now old, then new, turnpike-road
connecting Havenpool and Warborne with the city of Melchester: a
road which, though only a branch from what was known as the Great
Western Highway, is probably, even at present, as it has been for
the last hundred years, one of the finest examples of a macadamized
turnpike-track that can be found in England.
The mansion of the Earl, as well as that of his neighbour, Barbara's
father, stood back about a mile from the highway, with which each
was connected by an ordinary drive and lodge. It was along this
particular highway that the young Earl drove on a certain evening at
Christmastide some twenty years before the end of the last century,
to attend a ball at Chene Manor, the home of Barbara, and her
parents Sir John and Lady Grebe. Sir John's was a baronetcy created
a few years before the breaking out of the Civil War, and his lands
were even more extensive than those of Lord Uplandtowers himself;
comprising this Manor of Chene, another on the coast near, half the
Hundred of Cockdene, and well-enclosed lands in several other
parishes, notably Warborne and those contiguous. At this time
Barbara was barely seventeen, and the ball is the first occasion on
which we have any tradition of Lord Uplandtowers attempting tender
relations with her; it was early enough, God knows.
An intimate friend--one of the Drenkhards--is said to have dined
with him that day, and Lord Uplandtowers had, for a wonder,
communicated to his guest the secret design of his heart.
'You'll never get her--sure; you'll never get her!' this friend had
said at parting. 'She's not drawn to your lordship by love: and as
for thought of a good match, why, there's no more calculation in her
than in a bird.'
'We'll see,' said Lord Uplandtowers impassively.
He no doubt thought of his friend's forecast as he travelled along
the highway in his chariot; but the sculptural repose of his profile
against the vanishing daylight on his right hand would have shown
his friend that the Earl's equanimity was undisturbed. He reached
the solitary wayside tavern called Lornton Inn--the rendezvous of
many a daring poacher for operations in the adjoining forest; and he
might have observed, if he had taken the trouble, a strange post-
chaise standing in the halting-space before the inn. He duly sped
past it, and half-an-hour after through the little town of Warborne.
Onward, a mile farther, was the house of his entertainer.
At this date it was an imposing edifice--or, rather, congeries of
edifices--as extensive as the residence of the Earl himself; though
far less regular. One wing showed extreme antiquity, having huge
chimneys, whose substructures projected from the external walls like
towers; and a kitchen of vast dimensions, in which (it was said)
breakfasts had been cooked for John of Gaunt. Whilst he was yet in
the forecourt he could hear the rhythm of French horns and
clarionets, the favourite instruments of those days at such
Entering the long parlour, in which the dance had just been opened
by Lady Grebe with a minuet--it being now seven o'clock, according
to the tradition--he was received with a welcome befitting his rank,
and looked round for Barbara. She was not dancing, and seemed to be
preoccupied--almost, indeed, as though she had been waiting for him.
Barbara at this time was a good and pretty girl, who never spoke ill
of any one, and hated other pretty women the very least possible.
She did not refuse him for the country-dance which followed, and
soon after was his partner in a second.
The evening wore on, and the horns and clarionets tootled merrily.
Barbara evinced towards her lover neither distinct preference nor
aversion; but old eyes would have seen that she pondered something.
However, after supper she pleaded a headache, and disappeared. To
pass the time of her absence, Lord Uplandtowers went into a little
room adjoining the long gallery, where some elderly ones were
sitting by the fire--for he had a phlegmatic dislike of dancing for
its own sake,--and, lifting the window-curtains, he looked out of
the window into the park and wood, dark now as a cavern. Some of
the guests appeared to be leaving even so soon as this, two lights
showing themselves as turning away from the door and sinking to
nothing in the distance.
His hostess put her head into the room to look for partners for the
ladies, and Lord Uplandtowers came out. Lady Grebe informed him
that Barbara had not returned to the ball-room: she had gone to bed
in sheer necessity.
'She has been so excited over the ball all day,' her mother
continued, 'that I feared she would be worn out early . . . But
sure, Lord Uplandtowers, you won't be leaving yet?'
He said that it was near twelve o'clock, and that some had already
'I protest nobody has gone yet,' said Lady Grebe.
To humour her he stayed till midnight, and then set out. He had
made no progress in his suit; but he had assured himself that
Barbara gave no other guest the preference, and nearly everybody in
the neighbourhood was there.
''Tis only a matter of time,' said the calm young philosopher.
The next morning he lay till near ten o'clock, and he had only just
come out upon the head of the staircase when he heard hoofs upon the
gravel without; in a few moments the door had been opened, and Sir
John Grebe met him in the hall, as he set foot on the lowest stair.
'My lord--where's Barbara--my daughter?'
Even the Earl of Uplandtowers could not repress amazement. 'What's
the matter, my dear Sir John,' says he.
The news was startling, indeed. From the Baronet's disjointed
explanation Lord Uplandtowers gathered that after his own and the
other guests' departure Sir John and Lady Grebe had gone to rest
without seeing any more of Barbara; it being understood by them that