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A Group of Noble Dames by Thomas Hardy

Part 2 out of 4

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she had retired to bed when she sent word to say that she could not
join the dancers again. Before then she had told her maid that she
would dispense with her services for this night; and there was
evidence to show that the young lady had never lain down at all, the
bed remaining unpressed. Circumstances seemed to prove that the
deceitful girl had feigned indisposition to get an excuse for
leaving the ball-room, and that she had left the house within ten
minutes, presumably during the first dance after supper.

'I saw her go,' said Lord Uplandtowers.

'The devil you did!' says Sir John.

'Yes.' And he mentioned the retreating carriage-lights, and how he
was assured by Lady Grebe that no guest had departed.

'Surely that was it!' said the father. 'But she's not gone alone,
d'ye know!'

'Ah--who is the young man?'

'I can on'y guess. My worst fear is my most likely guess. I'll say
no more. I thought--yet I would not believe--it possible that you
was the sinner. Would that you had been! But 'tis t'other, 'tis
t'other, by G-! I must e'en up, and after 'em!'

'Whom do you suspect?'

Sir John would not give a name, and, stultified rather than
agitated, Lord Uplandtowers accompanied him back to Chene. He again
asked upon whom were the Baronet's suspicions directed; and the
impulsive Sir John was no match for the insistence of Uplandtowers.

He said at length, 'I fear 'tis Edmond Willowes.'

'Who's he?'

'A young fellow of Shottsford-Forum--a widow-woman's son,' the other
told him, and explained that Willowes's father, or grandfather, was
the last of the old glass-painters in that place, where (as you may
know) the art lingered on when it had died out in every other part
of England.

'By G- that's bad--mighty bad!' said Lord Uplandtowers, throwing
himself back in the chaise in frigid despair.

They despatched emissaries in all directions; one by the Melchester
Road, another by Shottsford-Forum, another coastwards.

But the lovers had a ten-hours' start; and it was apparent that
sound judgment had been exercised in choosing as their time of
flight the particular night when the movements of a strange carriage
would not be noticed, either in the park or on the neighbouring
highway, owing to the general press of vehicles. The chaise which
had been seen waiting at Lornton Inn was, no doubt, the one they had
escaped in; and the pair of heads which had planned so cleverly thus
far had probably contrived marriage ere now.

The fears of her parents were realized. A letter sent by special
messenger from Barbara, on the evening of that day, briefly informed
them that her lover and herself were on the way to London, and
before this communication reached her home they would be united as
husband and wife. She had taken this extreme step because she loved
her dear Edmond as she could love no other man, and because she had
seen closing round her the doom of marriage with Lord Uplandtowers,
unless she put that threatened fate out of possibility by doing as
she had done. She had well considered the step beforehand, and was
prepared to live like any other country-townsman's wife if her
father repudiated her for her action.

'D- her!' said Lord Uplandtowers, as he drove homeward that night.
'D- her for a fool!'--which shows the kind of love he bore her.

Well; Sir John had already started in pursuit of them as a matter of
duty, driving like a wild man to Melchester, and thence by the
direct highway to the capital. But he soon saw that he was acting
to no purpose; and by and by, discovering that the marriage had
actually taken place, he forebore all attempts to unearth them in
the City, and returned and sat down with his lady to digest the
event as best they could.

To proceed against this Willowes for the abduction of our heiress
was, possibly, in their power; yet, when they considered the now
unalterable facts, they refrained from violent retribution. Some
six weeks passed, during which time Barbara's parents, though they
keenly felt her loss, held no communication with the truant, either
for reproach or condonation. They continued to think of the
disgrace she had brought upon herself; for, though the young man was
an honest fellow, and the son of an honest father, the latter had
died so early, and his widow had had such struggles to maintain
herself; that the son was very imperfectly educated. Moreover, his
blood was, as far as they knew, of no distinction whatever, whilst
hers, through her mother, was compounded of the best juices of
ancient baronial distillation, containing tinctures of Maundeville,
and Mohun, and Syward, and Peverell, and Culliford, and Talbot, and
Plantagenet, and York, and Lancaster, and God knows what besides,
which it was a thousand pities to throw away.

The father and mother sat by the fireplace that was spanned by the
four-centred arch bearing the family shields on its haunches, and
groaned aloud--the lady more than Sir John.

'To think this should have come upon us in our old age!' said he.

'Speak for yourself!' she snapped through her sobs. 'I am only one-
and-forty! . . . Why didn't ye ride faster and overtake 'em!'

In the meantime the young married lovers, caring no more about their
blood than about ditch-water, were intensely happy--happy, that is,
in the descending scale which, as we all know, Heaven in its wisdom
has ordained for such rash cases; that is to say, the first week
they were in the seventh heaven, the second in the sixth, the third
week temperate, the fourth reflective, and so on; a lover's heart
after possession being comparable to the earth in its geologic
stages, as described to us sometimes by our worthy President; first
a hot coal, then a warm one, then a cooling cinder, then chilly--the
simile shall be pursued no further. The long and the short of it
was that one day a letter, sealed with their daughter's own little
seal, came into Sir John and Lady Grebe's hands; and, on opening it,
they found it to contain an appeal from the young couple to Sir John
to forgive them for what they had done, and they would fall on their
naked knees and be most dutiful children for evermore.

Then Sir John and his lady sat down again by the fireplace with the
four-centred arch, and consulted, and re-read the letter. Sir John
Grebe, if the truth must be told, loved his daughter's happiness far
more, poor man, than he loved his name and lineage; he recalled to
his mind all her little ways, gave vent to a sigh; and, by this time
acclimatized to the idea of the marriage, said that what was done
could not be undone, and that he supposed they must not be too harsh
with her. Perhaps Barbara and her husband were in actual need; and
how could they let their only child starve?

A slight consolation had come to them in an unexpected manner. They
had been credibly informed that an ancestor of plebeian Willowes was
once honoured with intermarriage with a scion of the aristocracy who
had gone to the dogs. In short, such is the foolishness of
distinguished parents, and sometimes of others also, that they wrote
that very day to the address Barbara had given them, informing her
that she might return home and bring her husband with her; they
would not object to see him, would not reproach her, and would
endeavour to welcome both, and to discuss with them what could best
be arranged for their future.

In three or four days a rather shabby post-chaise drew up at the
door of Chene Manor-house, at sound of which the tender-hearted
baronet and his wife ran out as if to welcome a prince and princess
of the blood. They were overjoyed to see their spoilt child return
safe and sound--though she was only Mrs. Willowes, wife of Edmond
Willowes of nowhere. Barbara burst into penitential tears, and both
husband and wife were contrite enough, as well they might be,
considering that they had not a guinea to call their own.

When the four had calmed themselves, and not a word of chiding had
been uttered to the pair, they discussed the position soberly, young
Willowes sitting in the background with great modesty till invited
forward by Lady Grebe in no frigid tone.

'How handsome he is!' she said to herself. 'I don't wonder at
Barbara's craze for him.'

He was, indeed, one of the handsomest men who ever set his lips on a
maid's. A blue coat, murrey waistcoat, and breeches of drab set off
a figure that could scarcely be surpassed. He had large dark eyes,
anxious now, as they glanced from Barbara to her parents and
tenderly back again to her; observing whom, even now in her
trepidation, one could see why the sang froid of Lord Uplandtowers
had been raised to more than lukewarmness. Her fair young face
(according to the tale handed down by old women) looked out from
under a gray conical hat, trimmed with white ostrich-feathers, and
her little toes peeped from a buff petticoat worn under a puce gown.
Her features were not regular: they were almost infantine, as you
may see from miniatures in possession of the family, her mouth
showing much sensitiveness, and one could be sure that her faults
would not lie on the side of bad temper unless for urgent reasons.

Well, they discussed their state as became them, and the desire of
the young couple to gain the goodwill of those upon whom they were
literally dependent for everything induced them to agree to any
temporizing measure that was not too irksome. Therefore, having
been nearly two months united, they did not oppose Sir John's
proposal that he should furnish Edmond Willowes with funds
sufficient for him to travel a year on the Continent in the company
of a tutor, the young man undertaking to lend himself with the
utmost diligence to the tutor's instructions, till he became
polished outwardly and inwardly to the degree required in the
husband of such a lady as Barbara. He was to apply himself to the
study of languages, manners, history, society, ruins, and everything
else that came under his eyes, till he should return to take his
place without blushing by Barbara's side.

'And by that time,' said worthy Sir John, 'I'll get my little place
out at Yewsholt ready for you and Barbara to occupy on your return.
The house is small and out of the way; but it will do for a young
couple for a while.'

'If 'twere no bigger than a summer-house it would do!' says Barbara.

'If 'twere no bigger than a sedan-chair!' says Willowes. 'And the
more lonely the better.'

'We can put up with the loneliness,' said Barbara, with less zest.
'Some friends will come, no doubt.'

All this being laid down, a travelled tutor was called in--a man of
many gifts and great experience,--and on a fine morning away tutor
and pupil went. A great reason urged against Barbara accompanying
her youthful husband was that his attentions to her would naturally
be such as to prevent his zealously applying every hour of his time
to learning and seeing--an argument of wise prescience, and
unanswerable. Regular days for letter-writing were fixed, Barbara
and her Edmond exchanged their last kisses at the door, and the
chaise swept under the archway into the drive.

He wrote to her from Le Havre, as soon as he reached that port,
which was not for seven days, on account of adverse winds; he wrote
from Rouen, and from Paris; described to her his sight of the King
and Court at Versailles, and the wonderful marble-work and mirrors
in that palace; wrote next from Lyons; then, after a comparatively
long interval, from Turin, narrating his fearful adventures in
crossing Mont Cenis on mules, and how he was overtaken with a
terrific snowstorm, which had well-nigh been the end of him, and his
tutor, and his guides. Then he wrote glowingly of Italy; and
Barbara could see the development of her husband's mind reflected in
his letters month by month; and she much admired the forethought of
her father in suggesting this education for Edmond. Yet she sighed
sometimes--her husband being no longer in evidence to fortify her in
her choice of him--and timidly dreaded what mortifications might be
in store for her by reason of this mesalliance. She went out very
little; for on the one or two occasions on which she had shown
herself to former friends she noticed a distinct difference in their
manner, as though they should say, 'Ah, my happy swain's wife;
you're caught!'

Edmond's letters were as affectionate as ever; even more
affectionate, after a while, than hers were to him. Barbara
observed this growing coolness in herself; and like a good and
honest lady was horrified and grieved, since her only wish was to
act faithfully and uprightly. It troubled her so much that she
prayed for a warmer heart, and at last wrote to her husband to beg
him, now that he was in the land of Art, to send her his portrait,
ever so small, that she might look at it all day and every day, and
never for a moment forget his features.

Willowes was nothing loth, and replied that he would do more than
she wished: he had made friends with a sculptor in Pisa, who was
much interested in him and his history; and he had commissioned this
artist to make a bust of himself in marble, which when finished he
would send her. What Barbara had wanted was something immediate;
but she expressed no objection to the delay; and in his next
communication Edmund told her that the sculptor, of his own choice,
had decided to increase the bust to a full-length statue, so anxious
was he to get a specimen of his skill introduced to the notice of
the English aristocracy. It was progressing well, and rapidly.

Meanwhile, Barbara's attention began to be occupied at home with
Yewsholt Lodge, the house that her kind-hearted father was preparing
for her residence when her husband returned. It was a small place
on the plan of a large one--a cottage built in the form of a
mansion, having a central hall with a wooden gallery running round
it, and rooms no bigger than closets to follow this introduction.
It stood on a slope so solitary, and surrounded by trees so dense,
that the birds who inhabited the boughs sang at strange hours, as if
they hardly could distinguish night from day.

During the progress of repairs at this bower Barbara frequently
visited it. Though so secluded by the dense growth, it was near the
high road, and one day while looking over the fence she saw Lord
Uplandtowers riding past. He saluted her courteously, yet with
mechanical stiffness, and did not halt. Barbara went home, and
continued to pray that she might never cease to love her husband.
After that she sickened, and did not come out of doors again for a
long time.

The year of education had extended to fourteen months, and the house
was in order for Edmond's return to take up his abode there with
Barbara, when, instead of the accustomed letter for her, came one to
Sir John Grebe in the handwriting of the said tutor, informing him
of a terrible catastrophe that had occurred to them at Venice. Mr
Willowes and himself had attended the theatre one night during the
Carnival of the preceding week, to witness the Italian comedy, when,
owing to the carelessness of one of the candle-snuffers, the theatre
had caught fire, and been burnt to the ground. Few persons had lost
their lives, owing to the superhuman exertions of some of the
audience in getting out the senseless sufferers; and, among them
all, he who had risked his own life the most heroically was Mr.
Willowes. In re-entering for the fifth time to save his fellow-
creatures some fiery beams had fallen upon him, and he had been
given up for lost. He was, however, by the blessing of Providence,
recovered, with the life still in him, though he was fearfully
burnt; and by almost a miracle he seemed likely to survive, his
constitution being wondrously sound. He was, of course, unable to
write, but he was receiving the attention of several skilful
surgeons. Further report would be made by the next mail or by
private hand.

The tutor said nothing in detail of poor Willowes's sufferings, but
as soon as the news was broken to Barbara she realized how intense
they must have been, and her immediate instinct was to rush to his
side, though, on consideration, the journey seemed impossible to
her. Her health was by no means what it had been, and to post
across Europe at that season of the year, or to traverse the Bay of
Biscay in a sailing-craft, was an undertaking that would hardly be
justified by the result. But she was anxious to go till, on reading
to the end of the letter, her husband's tutor was found to hint very
strongly against such a step if it should be contemplated, this
being also the opinion of the surgeons. And though Willowes's
comrade refrained from giving his reasons, they disclosed themselves
plainly enough in the sequel.

The truth was that the worst of the wounds resulting from the fire
had occurred to his head and face--that handsome face which had won
her heart from her,--and both the tutor and the surgeons knew that
for a sensitive young woman to see him before his wounds had healed
would cause more misery to her by the shock than happiness to him by
her ministrations.

Lady Grebe blurted out what Sir John and Barbara had thought, but
had had too much delicacy to express.

'Sure, 'tis mighty hard for you, poor Barbara, that the one little
gift he had to justify your rash choice of him--his wonderful good
looks--should be taken away like this, to leave 'ee no excuse at all
for your conduct in the world's eyes . . . Well, I wish you'd
married t'other--that do I!' And the lady sighed.

'He'll soon get right again,' said her father soothingly.

Such remarks as the above were not often made; but they were
frequent enough to cause Barbara an uneasy sense of self-
stultification. She determined to hear them no longer; and the
house at Yewsholt being ready and furnished, she withdrew thither
with her maids, where for the first time she could feel mistress of
a home that would be hers and her husband's exclusively, when he
came.

After long weeks Willowes had recovered sufficiently to be able to
write himself; and slowly and tenderly he enlightened her upon the
full extent of his injuries. It was a mercy, he said, that he had
not lost his sight entirely; but he was thankful to say that he
still retained full vision in one eye, though the other was dark for
ever. The sparing manner in which he meted out particulars of his
condition told Barbara how appalling had been his experience. He
was grateful for her assurance that nothing could change her; but
feared she did not fully realize that he was so sadly disfigured as
to make it doubtful if she would recognize him. However, in spite
of all, his heart was as true to her as it ever had been.

Barbara saw from his anxiety how much lay behind. She replied that
she submitted to the decrees of Fate, and would welcome him in any
shape as soon as he could come. She told him of the pretty retreat
in which she had taken up her abode, pending their joint occupation
of it, and did not reveal how much she had sighed over the
information that all his good looks were gone. Still less did she
say that she felt a certain strangeness in awaiting him, the weeks
they had lived together having been so short by comparison with the
length of his absence.

Slowly drew on the time when Willowes found himself well enough to
come home. He landed at Southampton, and posted thence towards
Yewsholt. Barbara arranged to go out to meet him as far as Lornton
Inn--the spot between the Forest and the Chase at which he had
waited for night on the evening of their elopement. Thither she
drove at the appointed hour in a little pony-chaise, presented her
by her father on her birthday for her especial use in her new house;
which vehicle she sent back on arriving at the inn, the plan agreed
upon being that she should perform the return journey with her
husband in his hired coach.

There was not much accommodation for a lady at this wayside tavern;
but, as it was a fine evening in early summer, she did not mind--
walking about outside, and straining her eyes along the highway for
the expected one. But each cloud of dust that enlarged in the
distance and drew near was found to disclose a conveyance other than
his post-chaise. Barbara remained till the appointment was two
hours passed, and then began to fear that owing to some adverse wind
in the Channel he was not coming that night.

While waiting she was conscious of a curious trepidation that was
not entirely solicitude, and did not amount to dread; her tense
state of incertitude bordered both on disappointment and on relief.
She had lived six or seven weeks with an imperfectly educated yet
handsome husband whom now she had not seen for seventeen months, and
who was so changed physically by an accident that she was assured
she would hardly know him. Can we wonder at her compound state of
mind?

But her immediate difficulty was to get away from Lornton Inn, for
her situation was becoming embarrassing. Like too many of Barbara's
actions, this drive had been undertaken without much reflection.
Expecting to wait no more than a few minutes for her husband in his
post-chaise, and to enter it with him, she had not hesitated to
isolate herself by sending back her own little vehicle. She now
found that, being so well known in this neighbourhood, her excursion
to meet her long-absent husband was exciting great interest. She
was conscious that more eyes were watching her from the inn-windows
than met her own gaze. Barbara had decided to get home by hiring
whatever kind of conveyance the tavern afforded, when, straining her
eyes for the last time over the now darkening highway, she perceived
yet another dust-cloud drawing near. She paused; a chariot ascended
to the inn, and would have passed had not its occupant caught sight
of her standing expectantly. The horses were checked on the
instant.

'You here--and alone, my dear Mrs. Willowes?' said Lord
Uplandtowers, whose carriage it was.

She explained what had brought her into this lonely situation; and,
as he was going in the direction of her own home, she accepted his
offer of a seat beside him. Their conversation was embarrassed and
fragmentary at first; but when they had driven a mile or two she was
surprised to find herself talking earnestly and warmly to him: her
impulsiveness was in truth but the natural consequence of her late
existence--a somewhat desolate one by reason of the strange marriage
she had made; and there is no more indiscreet mood than that of a
woman surprised into talk who has long been imposing upon herself a
policy of reserve. Therefore her ingenuous heart rose with a bound
into her throat when, in response to his leading questions, or
rather hints, she allowed her troubles to leak out of her. Lord
Uplandtowers took her quite to her own door, although he had driven
three miles out of his way to do so; and in handing her down she
heard from him a whisper of stern reproach: 'It need not have been
thus if you had listened to me!'

She made no reply, and went indoors. There, as the evening wore
away, she regretted more and more that she had been so friendly with
Lord Uplandtowers. But he had launched himself upon her so
unexpectedly: if she had only foreseen the meeting with him, what a
careful line of conduct she would have marked out! Barbara broke
into a perspiration of disquiet when she thought of her unreserve,
and, in self-chastisement, resolved to sit up till midnight on the
bare chance of Edmond's return; directing that supper should be laid
for him, improbable as his arrival till the morrow was.

The hours went past, and there was dead silence in and round about
Yewsholt Lodge, except for the soughing of the trees; till, when it
was near upon midnight, she heard the noise of hoofs and wheels
approaching the door. Knowing that it could only be her husband,
Barbara instantly went into the hall to meet him. Yet she stood
there not without a sensation of faintness, so many were the changes
since their parting! And, owing to her casual encounter with Lord
Uplandtowers, his voice and image still remained with her, excluding
Edmond, her husband, from the inner circle of her impressions.

But she went to the door, and the next moment a figure stepped
inside, of which she knew the outline, but little besides. Her
husband was attired in a flapping black cloak and slouched hat,
appearing altogether as a foreigner, and not as the young English
burgess who had left her side. When he came forward into the light
of the lamp, she perceived with surprise, and almost with fright,
that he wore a mask. At first she had not noticed this--there being
nothing in its colour which would lead a casual observer to think he
was looking on anything but a real countenance.

He must have seen her start of dismay at the unexpectedness of his
appearance, for he said hastily: 'I did not mean to come in to you
like this--I thought you would have been in bed. How good you are,
dear Barbara!' He put his arm round her, but he did not attempt to
kiss her.

'O Edmond--it IS you?--it must be?' she said, with clasped hands,
for though his figure and movement were almost enough to prove it,
and the tones were not unlike the old tones, the enunciation was so
altered as to seem that of a stranger.

'I am covered like this to hide myself from the curious eyes of the
inn-servants and others,' he said, in a low voice. 'I will send
back the carriage and join you in a moment.'

'You are quite alone?'

'Quite. My companion stopped at Southampton.'

The wheels of the post-chaise rolled away as she entered the dining-
room, where the supper was spread; and presently he rejoined her
there. He had removed his cloak and hat, but the mask was still
retained; and she could now see that it was of special make, of some
flexible material like silk, coloured so as to represent flesh; it
joined naturally to the front hair, and was otherwise cleverly
executed.

'Barbara--you look ill,' he said, removing his glove, and taking her
hand.

'Yes--I have been ill,' said she.

'Is this pretty little house ours?'

'O--yes.' She was hardly conscious of her words, for the hand he
had ungloved in order to take hers was contorted, and had one or two
of its fingers missing; while through the mask she discerned the
twinkle of one eye only.

'I would give anything to kiss you, dearest, now, at this moment!'
he continued, with mournful passionateness. 'But I cannot--in this
guise. The servants are abed, I suppose?'

'Yes,' said she. 'But I can call them? You will have some supper?'

He said he would have some, but that it was not necessary to call
anybody at that hour. Thereupon they approached the table, and sat
down, facing each other.

Despite Barbara's scared state of mind, it was forced upon her
notice that her husband trembled, as if he feared the impression he
was producing, or was about to produce, as much as, or more than,
she. He drew nearer, and took her hand again.

'I had this mask made at Venice,' he began, in evident
embarrassment. 'My darling Barbara--my dearest wife--do you think
you--will mind when I take it off? You will not dislike me--will
you?'

'O Edmond, of course I shall not mind,' said she. 'What has
happened to you is our misfortune; but I am prepared for it.'

'Are you sure you are prepared?'

'O yes! You are my husband.'

'You really feel quite confident that nothing external can affect
you?' he said again, in a voice rendered uncertain by his agitation.

'I think I am--quite,' she answered faintly.

He bent his head. 'I hope, I hope you are,' he whispered.

In the pause which followed, the ticking of the clock in the hall
seemed to grow loud; and he turned a little aside to remove the
mask. She breathlessly awaited the operation, which was one of some
tediousness, watching him one moment, averting her face the next;
and when it was done she shut her eyes at the hideous spectacle that
was revealed. A quick spasm of horror had passed through her; but
though she quailed she forced herself to regard him anew, repressing
the cry that would naturally have escaped from her ashy lips.
Unable to look at him longer, Barbara sank down on the floor beside
her chair, covering her eyes.

'You cannot look at me!' he groaned in a hopeless way. 'I am too
terrible an object even for you to bear! I knew it; yet I hoped
against it. Oh, this is a bitter fate--curse the skill of those
Venetian surgeons who saved me alive! . . . Look up, Barbara,' he
continued beseechingly; 'view me completely; say you loathe me, if
you do loathe me, and settle the case between us for ever!'

His unhappy wife pulled herself together for a desperate strain. He
was her Edmond; he had done her no wrong; he had suffered. A
momentary devotion to him helped her, and lifting her eyes as bidden
she regarded this human remnant, this ecorche, a second time. But
the sight was too much. She again involuntarily looked aside and
shuddered.

'Do you think you can get used to this?' he said. 'Yes or no! Can
you bear such a thing of the charnel-house near you? Judge for
yourself; Barbara. Your Adonis, your matchless man, has come to
this!'

The poor lady stood beside him motionless, save for the restlessness
of her eyes. All her natural sentiments of affection and pity were
driven clean out of her by a sort of panic; she had just the same
sense of dismay and fearfulness that she would have had in the
presence of an apparition. She could nohow fancy this to be her
chosen one--the man she had loved; he was metamorphosed to a
specimen of another species. 'I do not loathe you,' she said with
trembling. 'But I am so horrified--so overcome! Let me recover
myself. Will you sup now? And while you do so may I go to my room
to--regain my old feeling for you? I will try, if I may leave you
awhile? Yes, I will try!'

Without waiting for an answer from him, and keeping her gaze
carefully averted, the frightened woman crept to the door and out of
the room. She heard him sit down to the table, as if to begin
supper though, Heaven knows, his appetite was slight enough after a
reception which had confirmed his worst surmises. When Barbara had
ascended the stairs and arrived in her chamber she sank down, and
buried her face in the coverlet of the bed.

Thus she remained for some time. The bed-chamber was over the
dining-room, and presently as she knelt Barbara heard Willowes
thrust back his chair, and rise to go into the hall. In five
minutes that figure would probably come up the stairs and confront
her again; it,--this new and terrible form, that was not her
husband's. In the loneliness of this night, with neither maid nor
friend beside her, she lost all self-control, and at the first sound
of his footstep on the stairs, without so much as flinging a cloak
round her, she flew from the room, ran along the gallery to the back
staircase, which she descended, and, unlocking the back door, let
herself out. She scarcely was aware what she had done till she
found herself in the greenhouse, crouching on a flower-stand.

Here she remained, her great timid eyes strained through the glass
upon the garden without, and her skirts gathered up, in fear of the
field-mice which sometimes came there. Every moment she dreaded to
hear footsteps which she ought by law to have longed for, and a
voice that should have been as music to her soul. But Edmond
Willowes came not that way. The nights were getting short at this
season, and soon the dawn appeared, and the first rays of the sun.
By daylight she had less fear than in the dark. She thought she
could meet him, and accustom herself to the spectacle.

So the much-tried young woman unfastened the door of the hot-house,
and went back by the way she had emerged a few hours ago. Her poor
husband was probably in bed and asleep, his journey having been
long; and she made as little noise as possible in her entry. The
house was just as she had left it, and she looked about in the hall
for his cloak and hat, but she could not see them; nor did she
perceive the small trunk which had been all that he brought with
him, his heavier baggage having been left at Southampton for the
road-waggon. She summoned courage to mount the stairs; the bedroom-
door was open as she had left it. She fearfully peeped round; the
bed had not been pressed. Perhaps he had lain down on the dining-
room sofa. She descended and entered; he was not there. On the
table beside his unsoiled plate lay a note, hastily written on the
leaf of a pocket-book. It was something like this:

'MY EVER-BELOVED WIFE--The effect that my forbidding appearance has
produced upon you was one which I foresaw as quite possible. I
hoped against it, but foolishly so. I was aware that no HUMAN love
could survive such a catastrophe. I confess I thought yours DIVINE;
but, after so long an absence, there could not be left sufficient
warmth to overcome the too natural first aversion. It was an
experiment, and it has failed. I do not blame you; perhaps, even,
it is better so. Good-bye. I leave England for one year. You will
see me again at the expiration of that time, if I live. Then I will
ascertain your true feeling; and, if it be against me, go away for
ever. E. W.'

On recovering from her surprise, Barbara's remorse was such that she
felt herself absolutely unforgiveable. She should have regarded him
as an afflicted being, and not have been this slave to mere
eyesight, like a child. To follow him and entreat him to return was
her first thought. But on making inquiries she found that nobody
had seen him: he had silently disappeared.

More than this, to undo the scene of last night was impossible. Her
terror had been too plain, and he was a man unlikely to be coaxed
back by her efforts to do her duty. She went and confessed to her
parents all that had occurred; which, indeed, soon became known to
more persons than those of her own family.

The year passed, and he did not return; and it was doubted if he
were alive. Barbara's contrition for her unconquerable repugnance
was now such that she longed to build a church-aisle, or erect a
monument, and devote herself to deeds of charity for the remainder
of her days. To that end she made inquiry of the excellent parson
under whom she sat on Sundays, at a vertical distance of twenty
feet. But he could only adjust his wig and tap his snuff-box; for
such was the lukewarm state of religion in those days, that not an
aisle, steeple, porch, east window, Ten-Commandment board, lion-and-
unicorn, or brass candlestick, was required anywhere at all in the
neighbourhood as a votive offering from a distracted soul--the last
century contrasting greatly in this respect with the happy times in
which we live, when urgent appeals for contributions to such objects
pour in by every morning's post, and nearly all churches have been
made to look like new pennies. As the poor lady could not ease her
conscience this way, she determined at least to be charitable, and
soon had the satisfaction of finding her porch thronged every
morning by the raggedest, idlest, most drunken, hypocritical, and
worthless tramps in Christendom.

But human hearts are as prone to change as the leaves of the creeper
on the wall, and in the course of time, hearing nothing of her
husband, Barbara could sit unmoved whilst her mother and friends
said in her hearing, 'Well, what has happened is for the best.' She
began to think so herself; for even now she could not summon up that
lopped and mutilated form without a shiver, though whenever her mind
flew back to her early wedded days, and the man who had stood beside
her then, a thrill of tenderness moved her, which if quickened by
his living presence might have become strong. She was young and
inexperienced, and had hardly on his late return grown out of the
capricious fancies of girlhood.

But he did not come again, and when she thought of his word that he
would return once more, if living, and how unlikely he was to break
his word, she gave him up for dead. So did her parents; so also did
another person--that man of silence, of irresistible incisiveness,
of still countenance, who was as awake as seven sentinels when he
seemed to be as sound asleep as the figures on his family monument.
Lord Uplandtowers, though not yet thirty, had chuckled like a
caustic fogey of threescore when he heard of Barbara's terror and
flight at her husband's return, and of the latter's prompt
departure. He felt pretty sure, however, that Willowes, despite his
hurt feelings, would have reappeared to claim his bright-eyed
property if he had been alive at the end of the twelve months.

As there was no husband to live with her, Barbara had relinquished
the house prepared for them by her father, and taken up her abode
anew at Chene Manor, as in the days of her girlhood. By degrees the
episode with Edmond Willowes seemed but a fevered dream, and as the
months grew to years Lord Uplandtowers' friendship with the people
at Chene--which had somewhat cooled after Barbara's elopement--
revived considerably, and he again became a frequent visitor there.
He could not make the most trivial alteration or improvement at
Knollingwood Hall, where he lived, without riding off to consult
with his friend Sir John at Chene; and thus putting himself
frequently under her eyes, Barbara grew accustomed to him, and
talked to him as freely as to a brother. She even began to look up
to him as a person of authority, judgment, and prudence; and though
his severity on the bench towards poachers, smugglers, and turnip-
stealers was matter of common notoriety, she trusted that much of
what was said might be misrepresentation.

Thus they lived on till her husband's absence had stretched to
years, and there could be no longer any doubt of his death. A
passionless manner of renewing his addresses seemed no longer out of
place in Lord Uplandtowers. Barbara did not love him, but hers was
essentially one of those sweet-pea or with-wind natures which
require a twig of stouter fibre than its own to hang upon and bloom.
Now, too, she was older, and admitted to herself that a man whose
ancestor had run scores of Saracens through and through in fighting
for the site of the Holy Sepulchre was a more desirable husband,
socially considered, than one who could only claim with certainty to
know that his father and grandfather were respectable burgesses.

Sir John took occasion to inform her that she might legally consider
herself a widow; and, in brief; Lord Uplandtowers carried his point
with her, and she married him, though he could never get her to own
that she loved him as she had loved Willowes. In my childhood I
knew an old lady whose mother saw the wedding, and she said that
when Lord and Lady Uplandtowers drove away from her father's house
in the evening it was in a coach-and-four, and that my lady was
dressed in green and silver, and wore the gayest hat and feather
that ever were seen; though whether it was that the green did not
suit her complexion, or otherwise, the Countess looked pale, and the
reverse of blooming. After their marriage her husband took her to
London, and she saw the gaieties of a season there; then they
returned to Knollingwood Hall, and thus a year passed away.

Before their marriage her husband had seemed to care but little
about her inability to love him passionately. 'Only let me win
you,' he had said, 'and I will submit to all that.' But now her
lack of warmth seemed to irritate him, and he conducted himself
towards her with a resentfulness which led to her passing many hours
with him in painful silence. The heir-presumptive to the title was
a remote relative, whom Lord Uplandtowers did not exclude from the
dislike he entertained towards many persons and things besides, and
he had set his mind upon a lineal successor. He blamed her much
that there was no promise of this, and asked her what she was good
for.

On a particular day in her gloomy life a letter, addressed to her as
Mrs. Willowes, reached Lady Uplandtowers from an unexpected quarter.
A sculptor in Pisa, knowing nothing of her second marriage, informed
her that the long-delayed life-size statue of Mr. Willowes, which,
when her husband left that city, he had been directed to retain till
it was sent for, was still in his studio. As his commission had not
wholly been paid, and the statue was taking up room he could ill
spare, he should be glad to have the debt cleared off, and
directions where to forward the figure. Arriving at a time when the
Countess was beginning to have little secrets (of a harmless kind,
it is true) from her husband, by reason of their growing
estrangement, she replied to this letter without saying a word to
Lord Uplandtowers, sending off the balance that was owing to the
sculptor, and telling him to despatch the statue to her without
delay.

It was some weeks before it arrived at Knollingwood Hall, and, by a
singular coincidence, during the interval she received the first
absolutely conclusive tidings of her Edmond's death. It had taken
place years before, in a foreign land, about six months after their
parting, and had been induced by the sufferings he had already
undergone, coupled with much depression of spirit, which had caused
him to succumb to a slight ailment. The news was sent her in a
brief and formal letter from some relative of Willowes's in another
part of England.

Her grief took the form of passionate pity for his misfortunes, and
of reproach to herself for never having been able to conquer her
aversion to his latter image by recollection of what Nature had
originally made him. The sad spectacle that had gone from earth had
never been her Edmond at all to her. O that she could have met him
as he was at first! Thus Barbara thought. It was only a few days
later that a waggon with two horses, containing an immense packing-
case, was seen at breakfast-time both by Barbara and her husband to
drive round to the back of the house, and by-and-by they were
informed that a case labelled 'Sculpture' had arrived for her
ladyship.

'What can that be?' said Lord Uplandtowers.

'It is the statue of poor Edmond, which belongs to me, but has never
been sent till now,' she answered.

'Where are you going to put it?' asked he.

'I have not decided,' said the Countess. 'Anywhere, so that it will
not annoy you.'

'Oh, it won't annoy me,' says he.

When it had been unpacked in a back room of the house, they went to
examine it. The statue was a full-length figure, in the purest
Carrara marble, representing Edmond Willowes in all his original
beauty, as he had stood at parting from her when about to set out on
his travels; a specimen of manhood almost perfect in every line and
contour. The work had been carried out with absolute fidelity.

'Phoebus-Apollo, sure,' said the Earl of Uplandtowers, who had never
seen Willowes, real or represented, till now.

Barbara did not hear him. She was standing in a sort of trance
before the first husband, as if she had no consciousness of the
other husband at her side. The mutilated features of Willowes had
disappeared from her mind's eye; this perfect being was really the
man she had loved, and not that later pitiable figure; in whom love
and truth should have seen this image always, but had not done so.

It was not till Lord Uplandtowers said roughly, 'Are you going to
stay here all the morning worshipping him?' that she roused herself.

Her husband had not till now the least suspicion that Edmond
Willowes originally looked thus, and he thought how deep would have
been his jealousy years ago if Willowes had been known to him.
Returning to the Hall in the afternoon he found his wife in the
gallery, whither the statue had been brought.

She was lost in reverie before it, just as in the morning.

'What are you doing?' he asked.

She started and turned. 'I am looking at my husb- my statue, to see
if it is well done,' she stammered. 'Why should I not?'

'There's no reason why,' he said. 'What are you going to do with
the monstrous thing? It can't stand here for ever.'

'I don't wish it,' she said. 'I'll find a place.'

In her boudoir there was a deep recess, and while the Earl was
absent from home for a few days in the following week, she hired
joiners from the village, who under her directions enclosed the
recess with a panelled door. Into the tabernacle thus formed she
had the statue placed, fastening the door with a lock, the key of
which she kept in her pocket.

When her husband returned he missed the statue from the gallery,
and, concluding that it had been put away out of deference to his
feelings, made no remark. Yet at moments he noticed something on
his lady's face which he had never noticed there before. He could
not construe it; it was a sort of silent ecstasy, a reserved
beatification. What had become of the statue he could not divine,
and growing more and more curious, looked about here and there for
it till, thinking of her private room, he went towards that spot.
After knocking he heard the shutting of a door, and the click of a
key; but when he entered his wife was sitting at work, on what was
in those days called knotting. Lord Uplandtowers' eye fell upon the
newly-painted door where the recess had formerly been.

'You have been carpentering in my absence then, Barbara,' he said
carelessly.

'Yes, Uplandtowers.'

'Why did you go putting up such a tasteless enclosure as that--
spoiling the handsome arch of the alcove?'

'I wanted more closet-room; and I thought that as this was my own
apartment--'

'Of course,' he returned. Lord Uplandtowers knew now where the
statue of young Willowes was.

One night, or rather in the smallest hours of the morning, he missed
the Countess from his side. Not being a man of nervous imaginings
he fell asleep again before he had much considered the matter, and
the next morning had forgotten the incident. But a few nights later
the same circumstances occurred. This time he fully roused himself;
but before he had moved to search for her, she entered the chamber
in her dressing-gown, carrying a candle, which she extinguished as
she approached, deeming him asleep. He could discover from her
breathing that she was strangely moved; but not on this occasion
either did he reveal that he had seen her. Presently, when she had
lain down, affecting to wake, he asked her some trivial questions.
'Yes, EDMOND,' she replied absently.

Lord Uplandtowers became convinced that she was in the habit of
leaving the chamber in this queer way more frequently than he had
observed, and he determined to watch. The next midnight he feigned
deep sleep, and shortly after perceived her stealthily rise and let
herself out of the room in the dark. He slipped on some clothing
and followed. At the farther end of the corridor, where the clash
of flint and steel would be out of the hearing of one in the bed-
chamber, she struck a light. He stepped aside into an empty room
till she had lit a taper and had passed on to her boudoir. In a
minute or two he followed. Arrived at the door of the boudoir, he
beheld the door of the private recess open, and Barbara within it,
standing with her arms clasped tightly round the neck of her Edmond,
and her mouth on his. The shawl which she had thrown round her
nightclothes had slipped from her shoulders, and her long white robe
and pale face lent her the blanched appearance of a second statue
embracing the first. Between her kisses, she apostrophized it in a
low murmur of infantine tenderness:

'My only love--how could I be so cruel to you, my perfect one--so
good and true--I am ever faithful to you, despite my seeming
infidelity! I always think of you--dream of you--during the long
hours of the day, and in the night-watches! O Edmond, I am always
yours!' Such words as these, intermingled with sobs, and streaming
tears, and dishevelled hair, testified to an intensity of feeling in
his wife which Lord Uplandtowers had not dreamed of her possessing.

'Ha, ha!' says he to himself. 'This is where we evaporate--this is
where my hopes of a successor in the title dissolve--ha, ha! This
must be seen to, verily!'

Lord Uplandtowers was a subtle man when once he set himself to
strategy; though in the present instance he never thought of the
simple stratagem of constant tenderness. Nor did he enter the room
and surprise his wife as a blunderer would have done, but went back
to his chamber as silently as he had left it. When the Countess
returned thither, shaken by spent sobs and sighs, he appeared to be
soundly sleeping as usual. The next day he began his countermoves
by making inquiries as to the whereabouts of the tutor who had
travelled with his wife's first husband; this gentleman, he found,
was now master of a grammar-school at no great distance from
Knollingwood. At the first convenient moment Lord Uplandtowers went
thither and obtained an interview with the said gentleman. The
schoolmaster was much gratified by a visit from such an influential
neighbour, and was ready to communicate anything that his lordship
desired to know.

After some general conversation on the school and its progress, the
visitor observed that he believed the schoolmaster had once
travelled a good deal with the unfortunate Mr. Willowes, and had
been with him on the occasion of his accident. He, Lord
Uplandtowers, was interested in knowing what had really happened at
that time, and had often thought of inquiring. And then the Earl
not only heard by word of mouth as much as he wished to know, but,
their chat becoming more intimate, the schoolmaster drew upon paper
a sketch of the disfigured head, explaining with bated breath
various details in the representation.

'It was very strange and terrible!' said Lord Uplandtowers, taking
the sketch in his hand. 'Neither nose nor ears!'

A poor man in the town nearest to Knollingwood Hall, who combined
the art of sign-painting with ingenious mechanical occupations, was
sent for by Lord Uplandtowers to come to the Hall on a day in that
week when the Countess had gone on a short visit to her parents.
His employer made the man understand that the business in which his
assistance was demanded was to be considered private, and money
insured the observance of this request. The lock of the cupboard
was picked, and the ingenious mechanic and painter, assisted by the
schoolmaster's sketch, which Lord Uplandtowers had put in his
pocket, set to work upon the god-like countenance of the statue
under my lord's direction. What the fire had maimed in the original
the chisel maimed in the copy. It was a fiendish disfigurement,
ruthlessly carried out, and was rendered still more shocking by
being tinted to the hues of life, as life had been after the wreck.

Six hours after, when the workman was gone, Lord Uplandtowers looked
upon the result, and smiled grimly, and said:

'A statue should represent a man as he appeared in life, and that's
as he appeared. Ha! ha! But 'tis done to good purpose, and not
idly.'

He locked the door of the closet with a skeleton key, and went his
way to fetch the Countess home.

That night she slept, but he kept awake. According to the tale, she
murmured soft words in her dream; and he knew that the tender
converse of her imaginings was held with one whom he had supplanted
but in name. At the end of her dream the Countess of Uplandtowers
awoke and arose, and then the enactment of former nights was
repeated. Her husband remained still and listened. Two strokes
sounded from the clock in the pediment without, when, leaving the
chamber-door ajar, she passed along the corridor to the other end,
where, as usual, she obtained a light. So deep was the silence that
he could even from his bed hear her softly blowing the tinder to a
glow after striking the steel. She moved on into the boudoir, and
he heard, or fancied he heard, the turning of the key in the closet-
door. The next moment there came from that direction a loud and
prolonged shriek, which resounded to the farthest corners of the
house. It was repeated, and there was the noise of a heavy fall.

Lord Uplandtowers sprang out of bed. He hastened along the dark
corridor to the door of the boudoir, which stood ajar, and, by the
light of the candle within, saw his poor young Countess lying in a
heap in her nightdress on the floor of the closet. When he reached
her side he found that she had fainted, much to the relief of his
fears that matters were worse. He quickly shut up and locked in the
hated image which had done the mischief; and lifted his wife in his
arms, where in a few instants she opened her eyes. Pressing her
face to his without saying a word, he carried her back to her room,
endeavouring as he went to disperse her terrors by a laugh in her
ear, oddly compounded of causticity, predilection, and brutality.

'Ho--ho--ho!' says he. 'Frightened, dear one, hey? What a baby
'tis! Only a joke, sure, Barbara--a splendid joke! But a baby
should not go to closets at midnight to look for the ghost of the
dear departed! If it do it must expect to be terrified at his
aspect--ho--ho--ho!'

When she was in her bed-chamber, and had quite come to herself;
though her nerves were still much shaken, he spoke to her more
sternly. 'Now, my lady, answer me: do you love him--eh?'

'No--no!' she faltered, shuddering, with her expanded eyes fixed on
her husband. 'He is too terrible--no, no!'

'You are sure?'

'Quite sure!' replied the poor broken-spirited Countess. But her
natural elasticity asserted itself. Next morning he again inquired
of her: 'Do you love him now?'

She quailed under his gaze, but did not reply.

'That means that you do still, by G-!' he continued.

'It means that I will not tell an untruth, and do not wish to
incense my lord,' she answered, with dignity.

'Then suppose we go and have another look at him?' As he spoke, he
suddenly took her by the wrist, and turned as if to lead her towards
the ghastly closet.

'No--no! Oh--no!' she cried, and her desperate wriggle out of his
hand revealed that the fright of the night had left more impression
upon her delicate soul than superficially appeared.

'Another dose or two, and she will be cured,' he said to himself.

It was now so generally known that the Earl and Countess were not in
accord, that he took no great trouble to disguise his deeds in
relation to this matter. During the day he ordered four men with
ropes and rollers to attend him in the boudoir. When they arrived,
the closet was open, and the upper part of the statue tied up in
canvas. He had it taken to the sleeping-chamber. What followed is
more or less matter of conjecture. The story, as told to me, goes
on to say that, when Lady Uplandtowers retired with him that night,
she saw near the foot of the heavy oak four-poster, a tall dark
wardrobe, which had not stood there before; but she did not ask what
its presence meant.

'I have had a little whim,' he explained when they were in the dark.

'Have you?' says she.

'To erect a little shrine, as it may be called.'

'A little shrine?'

'Yes; to one whom we both equally adore--eh? I'll show you what it
contains.'

He pulled a cord which hung covered by the bed-curtains, and the
doors of the wardrobe slowly opened, disclosing that the shelves
within had been removed throughout, and the interior adapted to
receive the ghastly figure, which stood there as it had stood in the
boudoir, but with a wax-candle burning on each side of it to throw
the cropped and distorted features into relief. She clutched him,
uttered a low scream, and buried her head in the bedclothes. 'Oh,
take it away--please take it away!' she implored.

'All in good time namely, when you love me best,' he returned
calmly. 'You don't quite yet--eh?'

'I don't know--I think--O Uplandtowers, have mercy--I cannot bear
it--O, in pity, take it away!'

'Nonsense; one gets accustomed to anything. Take another gaze.'

In short, he allowed the doors to remain unclosed at the foot of the
bed, and the wax-tapers burning; and such was the strange
fascination of the grisly exhibition that a morbid curiosity took
possession of the Countess as she lay, and, at his repeated request,
she did again look out from the coverlet, shuddered, hid her eyes,
and looked again, all the while begging him to take it away, or it
would drive her out of her senses. But he would not do so as yet,
and the wardrobe was not locked till dawn.

The scene was repeated the next night. Firm in enforcing his
ferocious correctives, he continued the treatment till the nerves of
the poor lady were quivering in agony under the virtuous tortures
inflicted by her lord, to bring her truant heart back to
faithfulness.

The third night, when the scene had opened as usual, and she lay
staring with immense wild eyes at the horrid fascination, on a
sudden she gave an unnatural laugh; she laughed more and more,
staring at the image, till she literally shrieked with laughter:
then there was silence, and he found her to have become insensible.
He thought she had fainted, but soon saw that the event was worse:
she was in an epileptic fit. He started up, dismayed by the sense
that, like many other subtle personages, he had been too exacting
for his own interests. Such love as he was capable of, though
rather a selfish gloating than a cherishing solicitude, was fanned
into life on the instant. He closed the wardrobe with the pulley,
clasped her in his arms, took her gently to the window, and did all
he could to restore her.

It was a long time before the Countess came to herself, and when she
did so, a considerable change seemed to have taken place in her
emotions. She flung her arms around him, and with gasps of fear
abjectly kissed him many times, at last bursting into tears. She
had never wept in this scene before.

'You'll take it away, dearest--you will!' she begged plaintively.

'If you love me.'

'I do--oh, I do!'

'And hate him, and his memory?'

'Yes--yes!'

'Thoroughly?'

'I cannot endure recollection of him!' cried the poor Countess
slavishly. 'It fills me with shame--how could I ever be so
depraved! I'll never behave badly again, Uplandtowers; and you will
never put the hated statue again before my eyes?'

He felt that he could promise with perfect safety. 'Never,' said
he.

'And then I'll love you,' she returned eagerly, as if dreading lest
the scourge should be applied anew. 'And I'll never, never dream of
thinking a single thought that seems like faithlessness to my
marriage vow.'

The strange thing now was that this fictitious love wrung from her
by terror took on, through mere habit of enactment, a certain
quality of reality. A servile mood of attachment to the Earl became
distinctly visible in her contemporaneously with an actual dislike
for her late husband's memory. The mood of attachment grew and
continued when the statue was removed. A permanent revulsion was
operant in her, which intensified as time wore on. How fright could
have effected such a change of idiosyncrasy learned physicians alone
can say; but I believe such cases of reactionary instinct are not
unknown.

The upshot was that the cure became so permanent as to be itself a
new disease. She clung to him so tightly, that she would not
willingly be out of his sight for a moment. She would have no
sitting-room apart from his, though she could not help starting when
he entered suddenly to her. Her eyes were well-nigh always fixed
upon him. If he drove out, she wished to go with him; his slightest
civilities to other women made her frantically jealous; till at
length her very fidelity became a burden to him, absorbing his time,
and curtailing his liberty, and causing him to curse and swear. If
he ever spoke sharply to her now, she did not revenge herself by
flying off to a mental world of her own; all that affection for
another, which had provided her with a resource, was now a cold
black cinder.

From that time the life of this scared and enervated lady--whose
existence might have been developed to so much higher purpose but
for the ignoble ambition of her parents and the conventions of the
time--was one of obsequious amativeness towards a perverse and cruel
man. Little personal events came to her in quick succession--half a
dozen, eight, nine, ten such events,--in brief; she bore him no less
than eleven children in the eight following years, but half of them
came prematurely into the world, or died a few days old; only one, a
girl, attained to maturity; she in after years became the wife of
the Honourable Mr. Beltonleigh, who was created Lord D'Almaine, as
may be remembered.

There was no living son and heir. At length, completely worn out in
mind and body, Lady Uplandtowers was taken abroad by her husband, to
try the effect of a more genial climate upon her wasted frame. But
nothing availed to strengthen her, and she died at Florence, a few
months after her arrival in Italy.

Contrary to expectation, the Earl of Uplandtowers did not marry
again. Such affection as existed in him--strange, hard, brutal as
it was--seemed untransferable, and the title, as is known, passed at
his death to his nephew. Perhaps it may not be so generally known
that, during the enlargement of the Hall for the sixth Earl, while
digging in the grounds for the new foundations, the broken fragments
of a marble statue were unearthed. They were submitted to various
antiquaries, who said that, so far as the damaged pieces would allow
them to form an opinion, the statue seemed to be that of a mutilated
Roman satyr; or if not, an allegorical figure of Death. Only one or
two old inhabitants guessed whose statue those fragments had
composed.

I should have added that, shortly after the death of the Countess,
an excellent sermon was preached by the Dean of Melchester, the
subject of which, though names were not mentioned, was
unquestionably suggested by the aforesaid events. He dwelt upon the
folly of indulgence in sensuous love for a handsome form merely; and
showed that the only rational and virtuous growths of that affection
were those based upon intrinsic worth. In the case of the tender
but somewhat shallow lady whose life I have related, there is no
doubt that an infatuation for the person of young Willowes was the
chief feeling that induced her to marry him; which was the more
deplorable in that his beauty, by all tradition, was the least of
his recommendations, every report bearing out the inference that he
must have been a man of steadfast nature, bright intelligence, and
promising life.

The company thanked the old surgeon for his story, which the rural
dean declared to be a far more striking one than anything he could
hope to tell. An elderly member of the Club, who was mostly called
the Bookworm, said that a woman's natural instinct of fidelity
would, indeed, send back her heart to a man after his death in a
truly wonderful manner sometimes--if anything occurred to put before
her forcibly the original affection between them, and his original
aspect in her eyes,--whatever his inferiority may have been, social
or otherwise; and then a general conversation ensued upon the power
that a woman has of seeing the actual in the representation, the
reality in the dream--a power which (according to the sentimental
member) men have no faculty of equalling.

The rural dean thought that such cases as that related by the
surgeon were rather an illustration of passion electrified back to
life than of a latent, true affection. The story had suggested that
he should try to recount to them one which he had used to hear in
his youth, and which afforded an instance of the latter and better
kind of feeling, his heroine being also a lady who had married
beneath her, though he feared his narrative would be of a much
slighter kind than the surgeon's. The Club begged him to proceed,
and the parson began.

DAME THE THIRD: THE MARCHIONESS OF STONEHENGE
By the Rural Dean

I would have you know, then, that a great many years ago there lived
in a classical mansion with which I used to be familiar, standing
not a hundred miles from the city of Melchester, a lady whose
personal charms were so rare and unparalleled that she was courted,
flattered, and spoilt by almost all the young noblemen and gentlemen
in that part of Wessex. For a time these attentions pleased her
well. But as, in the words of good Robert South (whose sermons
might be read much more than they are), the most passionate lover of
sport, if tied to follow his hawks and hounds every day of his life,
would find the pursuit the greatest torment and calamity, and would
fly to the mines and galleys for his recreation, so did this lofty
and beautiful lady after a while become satiated with the constant
iteration of what she had in its novelty enjoyed; and by an almost
natural revulsion turned her regards absolutely netherward, socially
speaking. She perversely and passionately centred her affection on
quite a plain-looking young man of humble birth and no position at
all; though it is true that he was gentle and delicate in nature, of
good address, and guileless heart. In short, he was the parish-
clerk's son, acting as assistant to the land-steward of her father,
the Earl of Avon, with the hope of becoming some day a land-steward
himself. It should be said that perhaps the Lady Caroline (as she
was called) was a little stimulated in this passion by the discovery
that a young girl of the village already loved the young man fondly,
and that he had paid some attentions to her, though merely of a
casual and good-natured kind.

Since his occupation brought him frequently to the manor-house and
its environs, Lady Caroline could make ample opportunities of seeing
and speaking to him. She had, in Chaucer's phrase, 'all the craft
of fine loving' at her fingers' ends, and the young man, being of a
readily-kindling heart, was quick to notice the tenderness in her
eyes and voice. He could not at first believe in his good fortune,
having no understanding of her weariness of more artificial men; but
a time comes when the stupidest sees in an eye the glance of his
other half; and it came to him, who was quite the reverse of dull.
As he gained confidence accidental encounters led to encounters by
design; till at length when they were alone together there was no
reserve on the matter. They whispered tender words as other lovers
do, and were as devoted a pair as ever was seen. But not a ray or
symptom of this attachment was allowed to show itself to the outer
world.

Now, as she became less and less scrupulous towards him under the
influence of her affection, and he became more and more reverential
under the influence of his, and they looked the situation in the
face together, their condition seemed intolerable in its
hopelessness. That she could ever ask to be allowed to marry him,
or could hold her tongue and quietly renounce him, was equally
beyond conception. They resolved upon a third course, possessing
neither of the disadvantages of these two: to wed secretly, and
live on in outward appearance the same as before. In this they
differed from the lovers of my friend's story.

Not a soul in the parental mansion guessed, when Lady Caroline came
coolly into the hall one day after a visit to her aunt, that, during
that visit, her lover and herself had found an opportunity of
uniting themselves till death should part them. Yet such was the
fact; the young woman who rode fine horses, and drove in pony-
chaises, and was saluted deferentially by every one, and the young
man who trudged about, and directed the tree-felling, and the laying
out of fish-ponds in the park, were husband and wife.

As they had planned, so they acted to the letter for the space of a
month and more, clandestinely meeting when and where they best could
do so; both being supremely happy and content. To be sure, towards
the latter part of that month, when the first wild warmth of her
love had gone off, the Lady Caroline sometimes wondered within
herself how she, who might have chosen a peer of the realm, baronet,
knight; or, if serious-minded, a bishop or judge of the more gallant
sort who prefer young wives, could have brought herself to do a
thing so rash as to make this marriage; particularly when, in their
private meetings, she perceived that though her young husband was
full of ideas, and fairly well read, they had not a single social
experience in common. It was his custom to visit her after
nightfall, in her own house, when he could find no opportunity for
an interview elsewhere; and to further this course she would
contrive to leave unfastened a window on the ground-floor
overlooking the lawn, by entering which a back stair-case was
accessible; so that he could climb up to her apartments, and gain
audience of his lady when the house was still.

One dark midnight, when he had not been able to see her during the
day, he made use of this secret method, as he had done many times
before; and when they had remained in company about an hour he
declared that it was time for him to descend.

He would have stayed longer, but that the interview had been a
somewhat painful one. What she had said to him that night had much
excited and angered him, for it had revealed a change in her; cold
reason had come to his lofty wife; she was beginning to have more
anxiety about her own position and prospects than ardour for him.
Whether from the agitation of this perception or not, he was seized
with a spasm; he gasped, rose, and in moving towards the window for
air he uttered in a short thick whisper, 'Oh, my heart!'

With his hand upon his chest he sank down to the floor before he had
gone another step. By the time that she had relighted the candle,
which had been extinguished in case any eye in the opposite grounds
should witness his egress, she found that his poor heart had ceased
to beat; and there rushed upon her mind what his cottage-friends had
once told her, that he was liable to attacks of heart-disease, one
of which, the doctor had informed them, might some day carry him
off.

Accustomed as she was to doctoring the other parishioners, nothing
that she could effect upon him in that kind made any difference
whatever; and his stillness, and the increasing coldness of his feet
and hands, disclosed too surely to the affrighted young woman that
her husband was dead indeed. For more than an hour, however, she
did not abandon her efforts to restore him; when she fully realized
the fact that he was a corpse she bent over his body, distracted and
bewildered as to what step she next should take.

Her first feelings had undoubtedly been those of passionate grief at
the loss of him; her second thoughts were concern at her own
position as the daughter of an earl. 'Oh, why, why, my unfortunate
husband, did you die in my chamber at this hour!' she said piteously
to the corpse. 'Why not have died in your own cottage if you would
die! Then nobody would ever have known of our imprudent union, and
no syllable would have been breathed of how I mismated myself for
love of you!'

The clock in the courtyard striking the hour of one aroused Lady
Caroline from the stupor into which she had fallen, and she stood
up, and went towards the door. To awaken and tell her mother seemed
her only way out of this terrible situation; yet when she put her
hand on the key to unlock it she withdrew herself again. It would
be impossible to call even her mother's assistance without risking a
revelation to all the world through the servants; while if she could
remove the body unassisted to a distance she might avert suspicion
of their union even now. This thought of immunity from the social
consequences of her rash act, of renewed freedom, was indubitably a
relief to her, for, as has been said, the constraint and riskiness
of her position had begun to tell upon the Lady Caroline's nerves.

She braced herself for the effort, and hastily dressed herself; and
then dressed him. Tying his dead hands together with a
handkerchief; she laid his arms round her shoulders, and bore him to
the landing and down the narrow stairs. Reaching the bottom by the
window, she let his body slide slowly over the sill till it lay on
the ground without. She then climbed over the window-sill herself,
and, leaving the sash open, dragged him on to the lawn with a rustle
not louder than the rustle of a broom. There she took a securer
hold, and plunged with him under the trees.

Away from the precincts of the house she could apply herself more
vigorously to her task, which was a heavy one enough for her, robust
as she was; and the exertion and fright she had already undergone
began to tell upon her by the time she reached the corner of a
beech-plantation which intervened between the manor-house and the
village. Here she was so nearly exhausted that she feared she might
have to leave him on the spot. But she plodded on after a while,
and keeping upon the grass at every opportunity she stood at last
opposite the poor young man's garden-gate, where he lived with his
father, the parish-clerk. How she accomplished the end of her task
Lady Caroline never quite knew; but, to avoid leaving traces in the
road, she carried him bodily across the gravel, and laid him down at
the door. Perfectly aware of his ways of coming and going, she
searched behind the shutter for the cottage door-key, which she
placed in his cold hand. Then she kissed his face for the last
time, and with silent little sobs bade him farewell.

Lady Caroline retraced her steps, and reached the mansion without
hindrance; and to her great relief found the window open just as she
had left it. When she had climbed in she listened attentively,
fastened the window behind her, and ascending the stairs noiselessly
to her room, set everything in order, and returned to bed.

The next morning it was speedily echoed around that the amiable and
gentle young villager had been found dead outside his father's door,
which he had apparently been in the act of unlocking when he fell.
The circumstances were sufficiently exceptional to justify an
inquest, at which syncope from heart-disease was ascertained to be
beyond doubt the explanation of his death, and no more was said
about the matter then. But, after the funeral, it was rumoured that
some man who had been returning late from a distant horse-fair had
seen in the gloom of night a person, apparently a woman, dragging a
heavy body of some sort towards the cottage-gate, which, by the
light of after events, would seem to have been the corpse of the
young fellow. His clothes were thereupon examined more particularly
than at first, with the result that marks of friction were visible
upon them here and there, precisely resembling such as would be left
by dragging on the ground.

Our beautiful and ingenious Lady Caroline was now in great
consternation; and began to think that, after all, it might have
been better to honestly confess the truth. But having reached this
stage without discovery or suspicion, she determined to make another
effort towards concealment; and a bright idea struck her as a means
of securing it. I think I mentioned that, before she cast eyes on
the unfortunate steward's clerk, he had been the beloved of a
certain village damsel, the woodman's daughter, his neighbour, to
whom he had paid some attentions; and possibly he was beloved of her
still. At any rate, the Lady Caroline's influence on the estates of
her father being considerable, she resolved to seek an interview
with the young girl in furtherance of her plan to save her
reputation, about which she was now exceedingly anxious; for by this
time, the fit being over, she began to be ashamed of her mad passion
for her late husband, and almost wished she had never seen him.

In the course of her parish-visiting she lighted on the young girl
without much difficulty, and found her looking pale and sad, and
wearing a simple black gown, which she had put on out of respect for
the young man's memory, whom she had tenderly loved, though he had
not loved her.

'Ah, you have lost your lover, Milly,' said Lady Caroline.

The young woman could not repress her tears. 'My lady, he was not
quite my lover,' she said. 'But I was his--and now he is dead I
don't care to live any more!'

'Can you keep a secret about him?' asks the lady; 'one in which his
honour is involved--which is known to me alone, but should be known
to you?'

The girl readily promised, and, indeed, could be safely trusted on
such a subject, so deep was her affection for the youth she mourned.

'Then meet me at his grave to-night, half-an-hour after sunset, and
I will tell it to you,' says the other.

In the dusk of that spring evening the two shadowy figures of the
young women converged upon the assistant-steward's newly-turfed
mound; and at that solemn place and hour, the one of birth and
beauty unfolded her tale: how she had loved him and married him
secretly; how he had died in her chamber; and how, to keep her
secret, she had dragged him to his own door.

'Married him, my lady!' said the rustic maiden, starting back.

'I have said so,' replied Lady Caroline. 'But it was a mad thing,
and a mistaken course. He ought to have married you. You, Milly,
were peculiarly his. But you lost him.'

'Yes,' said the poor girl; 'and for that they laughed at me. "Ha--
ha, you mid love him, Milly," they said; "but he will not love
you!"'

'Victory over such unkind jeerers would be sweet,' said Lady
Caroline. 'You lost him in life; but you may have him in death AS
IF you had had him in life; and so turn the tables upon them.'

'How?' said the breathless girl.

The young lady then unfolded her plan, which was that Milly should
go forward and declare that the young man had contracted a secret
marriage (as he truly had done); that it was with her, Milly, his
sweetheart; that he had been visiting her in her cottage on the
evening of his death; when, on finding he was a corpse, she had
carried him to his house to prevent discovery by her parents, and
that she had meant to keep the whole matter a secret till the
rumours afloat had forced it from her.

'And how shall I prove this?' said the woodman's daughter, amazed at
the boldness of the proposal.

'Quite sufficiently. You can say, if necessary, that you were
married to him at the church of St. Michael, in Bath City, in my
name, as the first that occurred to you, to escape detection. That
was where he married me. I will support you in this.'

'Oh--I don't quite like--'

'If you will do so,' said the lady peremptorily, 'I will always be
your father's friend and yours; if not, it will be otherwise. And I
will give you my wedding-ring, which you shall wear as yours.'

'Have you worn it, my lady?'

'Only at night.'

There was not much choice in the matter, and Milly consented. Then
this noble lady took from her bosom the ring she had never been able
openly to exhibit, and, grasping the young girl's hand, slipped it
upon her finger as she stood upon her lover's grave.

Milly shivered, and bowed her head, saying, 'I feel as if I had
become a corpse's bride!'

But from that moment the maiden was heart and soul in the
substitution. A blissful repose came over her spirit. It seemed to
her that she had secured in death him whom in life she had vainly
idolized; and she was almost content. After that the lady handed
over to the young man's new wife all the little mementoes and
trinkets he had given herself; even to a locket containing his hair.

The next day the girl made her so-called confession, which the
simple mourning she had already worn, without stating for whom,
seemed to bear out; and soon the story of the little romance spread
through the village and country-side, almost as far as Melchester.
It was a curious psychological fact that, having once made the
avowal, Milly seemed possessed with a spirit of ecstasy at her
position. With the liberal sum of money supplied to her by Lady
Caroline she now purchased the garb of a widow, and duly appeared at
church in her weeds, her simple face looking so sweet against its
margin of crape that she was almost envied her state by the other
village-girls of her age. And when a woman's sorrow for her beloved
can maim her young life so obviously as it had done Milly's there
was, in truth, little subterfuge in the case. Her explanation
tallied so well with the details of her lover's latter movements--
those strange absences and sudden returnings, which had occasionally
puzzled his friends--that nobody supposed for a moment that the
second actor in these secret nuptials was other than she. The
actual and whole truth would indeed have seemed a preposterous
assertion beside this plausible one, by reason of the lofty
demeanour of the Lady Caroline and the unassuming habits of the late
villager. There being no inheritance in question, not a soul took
the trouble to go to the city church, forty miles off, and search
the registers for marriage signatures bearing out so humble a
romance.

In a short time Milly caused a decent tombstone to be erected over
her nominal husband's grave, whereon appeared the statement that it
was placed there by his heartbroken widow, which, considering that
the payment for it came from Lady Caroline and the grief from Milly,
was as truthful as such inscriptions usually are, and only required
pluralizing to render it yet more nearly so.

The impressionable and complaisant Milly, in her character of widow,
took delight in going to his grave every day, and indulging in
sorrow which was a positive luxury to her. She placed fresh flowers
on his grave, and so keen was her emotional imaginativeness that she
almost believed herself to have been his wife indeed as she walked
to and fro in her garb of woe. One afternoon, Milly being busily
engaged in this labour of love at the grave, Lady Caroline passed
outside the churchyard wall with some of her visiting friends, who,
seeing Milly there, watched her actions with interest, remarked upon
the pathos of the scene, and upon the intense affection the young
man must have felt for such a tender creature as Milly. A strange
light, as of pain, shot from the Lady Caroline's eye, as if for the
first time she begrudged to the young girl the position she had been
at such pains to transfer to her; it showed that a slumbering
affection for her husband still had life in Lady Caroline, obscured
and stifled as it was by social considerations.

An end was put to this smooth arrangement by the sudden appearance
in the churchyard one day of the Lady Caroline, when Milly had come
there on her usual errand of laying flowers. Lady Caroline had been
anxiously awaiting her behind the chancel, and her countenance was
pale and agitated.

'Milly!' she said, 'come here! I don't know how to say to you what
I am going to say. I am half dead!'

'I am sorry for your ladyship,' says Milly, wondering.

'Give me that ring!' says the lady, snatching at the girl's left
hand.

Milly drew it quickly away.

'I tell you give it to me!' repeated Caroline, almost fiercely.
'Oh--but you don't know why? I am in a grief and a trouble I did
not expect!' And Lady Caroline whispered a few words to the girl.

'O my lady!' said the thunderstruck Milly. 'What WILL you do?'

'You must say that your statement was a wicked lie, an invention, a
scandal, a deadly sin--that I told you to make it to screen me!
That it was I whom he married at Bath. In short, we must tell the
truth, or I am ruined--body, mind, and reputation--for ever!'

But there is a limit to the flexibility of gentle-souled women.
Milly by this time had so grown to the idea of being one flesh with
this young man, of having the right to bear his name as she bore it;
had so thoroughly come to regard him as her husband, to dream of him
as her husband, to speak of him as her husband, that she could not
relinquish him at a moment's peremptory notice.

'No, no,' she said desperately, 'I cannot, I will not give him up!
Your ladyship took him away from me alive, and gave him back to me
only when he was dead. Now I will keep him! I am truly his widow.
More truly than you, my lady! for I love him and mourn for him, and
call myself by his dear name, and your ladyship does neither!'

'I DO love him!' cries Lady Caroline with flashing eyes, 'and I
cling to him, and won't let him go to such as you! How can I, when
he is the father of this poor babe that's coming to me? I must have
him back again! Milly, Milly, can't you pity and understand me,
perverse girl that you are, and the miserable plight that I am in?
Oh, this precipitancy--it is the ruin of women! Why did I not
consider, and wait! Come, give me back all that I have given you,
and assure me you will support me in confessing the truth!'

'Never, never!' persisted Milly, with woe-begone passionateness.
'Look at this headstone! Look at my gown and bonnet of crape--this
ring: listen to the name they call me by! My character is worth as
much to me as yours is to you! After declaring my Love mine, myself
his, taking his name, making his death my own particular sorrow, how
can I say it was not so? No such dishonour for me! I will outswear
you, my lady; and I shall be believed. My story is so much the more
likely that yours will be thought false. But, O please, my lady, do
not drive me to this! In pity let me keep him!'

The poor nominal widow exhibited such anguish at a proposal which
would have been truly a bitter humiliation to her, that Lady
Caroline was warmed to pity in spite of her own condition.

'Yes, I see your position,' she answered. 'But think of mine! What
can I do? Without your support it would seem an invention to save
me from disgrace; even if I produced the register, the love of
scandal in the world is such that the multitude would slur over the
fact, say it was a fabrication, and believe your story. I do not
know who were the witnesses, or anything!'

In a few minutes these two poor young women felt, as so many in a
strait have felt before, that union was their greatest strength,
even now; and they consulted calmly together. The result of their
deliberations was that Milly went home as usual, and Lady Caroline
also, the latter confessing that very night to the Countess her
mother of the marriage, and to nobody else in the world. And, some
time after, Lady Caroline and her mother went away to London, where
a little while later still they were joined by Milly, who was
supposed to have left the village to proceed to a watering-place in
the North for the benefit of her health, at the expense of the
ladies of the Manor, who had been much interested in her state of
lonely and defenceless widowhood.

Early the next year the widow Milly came home with an infant in her
arms, the family at the Manor House having meanwhile gone abroad.
They did not return from their tour till the autumn ensuing, by
which time Milly and the child had again departed from the cottage
of her father the woodman, Milly having attained to the dignity of
dwelling in a cottage of her own, many miles to the eastward of her
native village; a comfortable little allowance had moreover been
settled on her and the child for life, through the instrumentality
of Lady Caroline and her mother.

Two or three years passed away, and the Lady Caroline married a
nobleman--the Marquis of Stonehenge--considerably her senior, who
had wooed her long and phlegmatically. He was not rich, but she led
a placid life with him for many years, though there was no child of
the marriage. Meanwhile Milly's boy, as the youngster was called,
and as Milly herself considered him, grew up, and throve
wonderfully, and loved her as she deserved to be loved for her
devotion to him, in whom she every day traced more distinctly the
lineaments of the man who had won her girlish heart, and kept it
even in the tomb.

She educated him as well as she could with the limited means at her
disposal, for the allowance had never been increased, Lady Caroline,
or the Marchioness of Stonehenge as she now was, seeming by degrees
to care little what had become of them. Milly became extremely
ambitious on the boy's account; she pinched herself almost of
necessaries to send him to the Grammar School in the town to which
they retired, and at twenty he enlisted in a cavalry regiment,
joining it with a deliberate intent of making the Army his
profession, and not in a freak of idleness. His exceptional
attainments, his manly bearing, his steady conduct, speedily won him
promotion, which was furthered by the serious war in which this
country was at that time engaged. On his return to England after
the peace he had risen to the rank of riding-master, and was soon
after advanced another stage, and made quartermaster, though still a
young man.

His mother--his corporeal mother, that is, the Marchioness of
Stonehenge--heard tidings of this unaided progress; it reawakened
her maternal instincts, and filled her with pride. She became
keenly interested in her successful soldier-son; and as she grew
older much wished to see him again, particularly when, the Marquis
dying, she was left a solitary and childless widow. Whether or not
she would have gone to him of her own impulse I cannot say; but one
day, when she was driving in an open carriage in the outskirts of a
neighbouring town, the troops lying at the barracks hard by passed
her in marching order. She eyed them narrowly, and in the finest of
the horsemen recognized her son from his likeness to her first
husband.

This sight of him doubly intensified the motherly emotions which had
lain dormant in her for so many years, and she wildly asked herself
how she could so have neglected him? Had she possessed the true
courage of affection she would have owned to her first marriage, and
have reared him as her son! What would it have mattered if she had
never obtained this precious coronet of pearls and gold leaves, by
comparison with the gain of having the love and protection of such a
noble and worthy son? These and other sad reflections cut the
gloomy and solitary lady to the heart; and she repented of her pride
in disclaiming her first husband more bitterly than she had ever
repented of her infatuation in marrying him.

Her yearning was so strong, that at length it seemed to her that she
could not live without announcing herself to him as his mother.
Come what might, she would do it: late as it was, she would have
him away from that woman whom she began to hate with the fierceness
of a deserted heart, for having taken her place as the mother of her
only child. She felt confidently enough that her son would only too
gladly exchange a cottage-mother for one who was a peeress of the
realm. Being now, in her widowhood, free to come and go as she
chose, without question from anybody, Lady Stonehenge started next
day for the little town where Milly yet lived, still in her robes of
sable for the lost lover of her youth.

'He is MY son,' said the Marchioness, as soon as she was alone in
the cottage with Milly. 'You must give him back to me, now that I
am in a position in which I can defy the world's opinion. I suppose
he comes to see you continually?'

'Every month since he returned from the war, my lady. And sometimes
he stays two or three days, and takes me about seeing sights
everywhere!' She spoke with quiet triumph.

'Well, you will have to give him up,' said the Marchioness calmly.
'It shall not be the worse for you--you may see him when you choose.
I am going to avow my first marriage, and have him with me.'

'You forget that there are two to be reckoned with, my lady. Not
only me, but himself.'

'That can be arranged. You don't suppose that he wouldn't--' But
not wishing to insult Milly by comparing their positions, she said,
'He is my own flesh and blood, not yours.'

'Flesh and blood's nothing!' said Milly, flashing with as much scorn
as a cottager could show to a peeress, which, in this case, was not
so little as may be supposed. 'But I will agree to put it to him,
and let him settle it for himself.'

'That's all I require,' said Lady Stonehenge. 'You must ask him to
come, and I will meet him here.'

The soldier was written to, and the meeting took place. He was not
so much astonished at the disclosure of his parentage as Lady
Stonehenge had been led to expect, having known for years that there
was a little mystery about his birth. His manner towards the
Marchioness, though respectful, was less warm than she could have
hoped. The alternatives as to his choice of a mother were put
before him. His answer amazed and stupefied her.

'No, my lady,' he said. 'Thank you much, but I prefer to let things
be as they have been. My father's name is mine in any case. You
see, my lady, you cared little for me when I was weak and helpless;
why should I come to you now I am strong? She, dear devoted soul
[pointing to Milly], tended me from my birth, watched over me,
nursed me when I was ill, and deprived herself of many a little
comfort to push me on. I cannot love another mother as I love her.
She IS my mother, and I will always be her son!' As he spoke he put
his manly arm round Milly's neck, and kissed her with the tenderest
affection.

The agony of the poor Marchioness was pitiable. 'You kill me!' she
said, between her shaking sobs. 'Cannot you--love--me--too?'

'No, my lady. If I must say it, you were ashamed of my poor father,
who was a sincere and honest man; therefore, I am ashamed of you.'

Nothing would move him; and the suffering woman at last gasped,
'Cannot--oh, cannot you give one kiss to me--as you did to her? It
is not much--it is all I ask--all!'

'Certainly,' he replied.

He kissed her coldly, and the painful scene came to an end. That
day was the beginning of death to the unfortunate Marchioness of
Stonehenge. It was in the perverseness of her human heart that his
denial of her should add fuel to the fire of her craving for his
love. How long afterwards she lived I do not know with any
exactness, but it was no great length of time. That anguish that is
sharper than a serpent's tooth wore her out soon. Utterly reckless
of the world, its ways, and its opinions, she allowed her story to
become known; and when the welcome end supervened (which, I grieve
to say, she refused to lighten by the consolations of religion), a
broken heart was the truest phrase in which to sum up its cause.

The rural dean having concluded, some observations upon his tale
were made in due course. The sentimental member said that Lady
Caroline's history afforded a sad instance of how an honest human
affection will become shamefaced and mean under the frost of class-
division and social prejudices. She probably deserved some pity;
though her offspring, before he grew up to man's estate, had
deserved more. There was no pathos like the pathos of childhood,
when a child found itself in a world where it was not wanted, and
could not understand the reason why. A tale by the speaker, further
illustrating the same subject, though with different results from
the last, naturally followed.

DAME THE FOURTH: LADY MOTTISFONT
By the Sentimental Member

Of all the romantic towns in Wessex, Wintoncester is probably the
most convenient for meditative people to live in; since there you
have a cathedral with a nave so long that it affords space in which
to walk and summon your remoter moods without continually turning on
your heel, or seeming to do more than take an afternoon stroll under
cover from the rain or sun. In an uninterrupted course of nearly
three hundred steps eastward, and again nearly three hundred steps
westward amid those magnificent tombs, you can, for instance,
compare in the most leisurely way the dry dustiness which ultimately
pervades the persons of kings and bishops with the damper dustiness
that is usually the final shape of commoners, curates, and others
who take their last rest out of doors. Then, if you are in love,
you can, by sauntering in the chapels and behind the episcopal
chantries with the bright-eyed one, so steep and mellow your ecstasy
in the solemnities around, that it will assume a rarer and finer
tincture, even more grateful to the understanding, if not to the
senses, than that form of the emotion which arises from such
companionship in spots where all is life, and growth, and fecundity.

It was in this solemn place, whither they had withdrawn from the
sight of relatives on one cold day in March, that Sir Ashley
Mottisfont asked in marriage, as his second wife, Philippa, the
gentle daughter of plain Squire Okehall. Her life had been an
obscure one thus far; while Sir Ashley, though not a rich man, had a
certain distinction about him; so that everybody thought what a
convenient, elevating, and, in a word, blessed match it would be for
such a supernumerary as she. Nobody thought so more than the
amiable girl herself. She had been smitten with such affection for
him that, when she walked the cathedral aisles at his side on the
before-mentioned day, she did not know that her feet touched hard
pavement; it seemed to her rather that she was floating in space.
Philippa was an ecstatic, heart-thumping maiden, and could not
understand how she had deserved to have sent to her such an
illustrious lover, such a travelled personage, such a handsome man.

When he put the question, it was in no clumsy language, such as the
ordinary bucolic county landlords were wont to use on like quivering
occasions, but as elegantly as if he had been taught it in Enfield's
Speaker. Yet he hesitated a little--for he had something to add.

'My pretty Philippa,' he said (she was not very pretty by the way),
'I have, you must know, a little girl dependent upon me: a little
waif I found one day in a patch of wild oats [such was this worthy
baronet's humour] when I was riding home: a little nameless
creature, whom I wish to take care of till she is old enough to take
care of herself; and to educate in a plain way. She is only fifteen
months old, and is at present in the hands of a kind villager's wife
in my parish. Will you object to give some attention to the little
thing in her helplessness?'

It need hardly be said that our innocent young lady, loving him so
deeply and joyfully as she did, replied that she would do all she
could for the nameless child; and, shortly afterwards, the pair were
married in the same cathedral that had echoed the whispers of his
declaration, the officiating minister being the Bishop himself; a
venerable and experienced man, so well accomplished in uniting
people who had a mind for that sort of experiment, that the couple,
with some sense of surprise, found themselves one while they were
still vaguely gazing at each other as two independent beings.

After this operation they went home to Deansleigh Park, and made a
beginning of living happily ever after. Lady Mottisfont, true to
her promise, was always running down to the village during the
following weeks to see the baby whom her husband had so mysteriously
lighted on during his ride home--concerning which interesting
discovery she had her own opinion; but being so extremely amiable
and affectionate that she could have loved stocks and stones if
there had been no living creatures to love, she uttered none of her
thoughts. The little thing, who had been christened Dorothy, took
to Lady Mottisfont as if the baronet's young wife had been her
mother; and at length Philippa grew so fond of the child that she
ventured to ask her husband if she might have Dorothy in her own
home, and bring her up carefully, just as if she were her own. To
this he answered that, though remarks might be made thereon, he had
no objection; a fact which was obvious, Sir Ashley seeming rather
pleased than otherwise with the proposal.

After this they lived quietly and uneventfully for two or three
years at Sir Ashley Mottisfont's residence in that part of England,
with as near an approach to bliss as the climate of this country
allows. The child had been a godsend to Philippa, for there seemed
no great probability of her having one of her own: and she wisely
regarded the possession of Dorothy as a special kindness of
Providence, and did not worry her mind at all as to Dorothy's
possible origin. Being a tender and impulsive creature, she loved
her husband without criticism, exhaustively and religiously, and the
child not much otherwise. She watched the little foundling as if
she had been her own by nature, and Dorothy became a great solace to
her when her husband was absent on pleasure or business; and when he
came home he looked pleased to see how the two had won each other's
hearts. Sir Ashley would kiss his wife, and his wife would kiss
little Dorothy, and little Dorothy would kiss Sir Ashley, and after
this triangular burst of affection Lady Mottisfont would say, 'Dear
me--I forget she is not mine!'

'What does it matter?' her husband would reply. 'Providence is
fore-knowing. He has sent us this one because he is not intending
to send us one by any other channel.'

Their life was of the simplest. Since his travels the baronet had
taken to sporting and farming; while Philippa was a pattern of
domesticity. Their pleasures were all local. They retired early to
rest, and rose with the cart-horses and whistling waggoners. They
knew the names of every bird and tree not exceptionally uncommon,
and could foretell the weather almost as well as anxious farmers and
old people with corns.

One day Sir Ashley Mottisfont received a letter, which he read, and
musingly laid down on the table without remark.

'What is it, dearest?' asked his wife, glancing at the sheet.

'Oh, it is from an old lawyer at Bath whom I used to know. He
reminds me of something I said to him four or five years ago--some
little time before we were married--about Dorothy.'

'What about her?'

'It was a casual remark I made to him, when I thought you might not
take kindly to her, that if he knew a lady who was anxious to adopt
a child, and could insure a good home to Dorothy, he was to let me
know.'

'But that was when you had nobody to take care of her,' she said
quickly. 'How absurd of him to write now! Does he know you are
married? He must, surely.'

'Oh yes!'

He handed her the letter. The solicitor stated that a widow-lady of
position, who did not at present wish her name to be disclosed, had
lately become a client of his while taking the waters, and had
mentioned to him that she would like a little girl to bring up as
her own, if she could be certain of finding one of good and pleasing
disposition; and, the better to insure this, she would not wish the
child to be too young for judging her qualities. He had remembered
Sir Ashley's observation to him a long while ago, and therefore
brought the matter before him. It would be an excellent home for
the little girl--of that he was positive--if she had not already
found such a home.

'But it is absurd of the man to write so long after!' said Lady
Mottisfont, with a lumpiness about the back of her throat as she
thought how much Dorothy had become to her. 'I suppose it was when
you first--found her--that you told him this?'

'Exactly--it was then.'

He fell into thought, and neither Sir Ashley nor Lady Mottisfont
took the trouble to answer the lawyer's letter; and so the matter
ended for the time.

One day at dinner, on their return from a short absence in town,
whither they had gone to see what the world was doing, hear what it
was saying, and to make themselves generally fashionable after
rusticating for so long--on this occasion, I say, they learnt from
some friend who had joined them at dinner that Fernell Hall--the
manorial house of the estate next their own, which had been offered
on lease by reason of the impecuniosity of its owner--had been taken
for a term by a widow lady, an Italian Contessa, whose name I will
not mention for certain reasons which may by and by appear. Lady
Mottisfont expressed her surprise and interest at the probability of
having such a neighbour. 'Though, if I had been born in Italy, I
think I should have liked to remain there,' she said.

'She is not Italian, though her husband was,' said Sir Ashley.

'Oh, you have heard about her before now?'

'Yes; they were talking of her at Grey's the other evening. She is
English.' And then, as her husband said no more about the lady, the
friend who was dining with them told Lady Mottisfont that the
Countess's father had speculated largely in East-India Stock, in
which immense fortunes were being made at that time; through this
his daughter had found herself enormously wealthy at his death,
which had occurred only a few weeks after the death of her husband.
It was supposed that the marriage of an enterprising English
speculator's daughter to a poor foreign nobleman had been matter of
arrangement merely. As soon as the Countess's widowhood was a
little further advanced she would, no doubt, be the mark of all the
schemers who came near her, for she was still quite young. But at
present she seemed to desire quiet, and avoided society and town.

Some weeks after this time Sir Ashley Mottisfont sat looking fixedly
at his lady for many moments. He said:

'It might have been better for Dorothy if the Countess had taken
her. She is so wealthy in comparison with ourselves, and could have

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