Thomas Hardy.

A group of noble dames, That is to say, The first Countess of Wessex--Barbara of the house of Grebe--The Marchioness of Stonehenge--Lady Mottisfont--The Lady Icenway--Squire Petrick's Lady--Anna, Lady Baxby--The Lady Penelope--The Duchess of Hamptonshire and The Honourable Laura online

. (page 11 of 16)
Online LibraryThomas HardyA group of noble dames, That is to say, The first Countess of Wessex--Barbara of the house of Grebe--The Marchioness of Stonehenge--Lady Mottisfont--The Lady Icenway--Squire Petrick's Lady--Anna, Lady Baxby--The Lady Penelope--The Duchess of Hamptonshire and The Honourable Laura → online text (page 11 of 16)
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imaginatively only, he now became attached to him in flesh and bone, as
any parent might; and the feeling that he could at best only see his
child at the rarest and most cursory moments, if at all, drove him into a
state of distraction which threatened to overthrow his promise to the
boy's mother to keep out of his sight.

But such was his chivalrous respect for Lady Icenway, and his regret at
having ever deceived her, that he schooled his poor heart into
submission. Owing to his loneliness, all the fervour of which he was
capable - and that was much - flowed now in the channel of parental and
marital love - for a child who did not know him, and a woman who had
ceased to love him.

At length this singular punishment became such a torture to the poor
foreigner that he resolved to lessen it at all hazards, compatible with
punctilious care for the name of the lady his former wife, to whom his
attachment seemed to increase in proportion to her punitive treatment of
him. At one time of his life he had taken great interest in
tulip-culture, as well as gardening in general; and since the ruin of his
fortunes, and his arrival in England, he had made of his knowledge a
precarious income in the hot-houses of nurserymen and others. With the
new idea in his head he applied himself zealously to the business, till
he acquired in a few months great skill in horticulture. Waiting till
the noble lord, his lady's husband, had room for an under-gardener of a
general sort, he offered himself for the place, and was engaged
immediately by reason of his civility and intelligence, before Lady
Icenway knew anything of the matter. Much therefore did he surprise her
when she found him in the conservatories of her mansion a week or two
after his arrival. The punishment of instant dismissal, with which at
first she haughtily threatened him, my lady thought fit, on reflection,
not to enforce. While he served her thus she knew he would not harm her
by a word, while, if he were expelled, chagrin might induce him to reveal
in a moment of exasperation what kind treatment would assist him to
conceal.

So he was allowed to remain on the premises, and had for his residence a
little cottage by the garden-wall which had been the domicile of some of
his predecessors in the same occupation. Here he lived absolutely alone,
and spent much of his leisure in reading, but the greater part in
watching the windows and lawns of his lady's house for glimpses of the
form of the child. It was for that child's sake that he abandoned the
tenets of the Roman Catholic Church in which he had been reared, and
became the most regular attendant at the services in the parish place of
worship hard by, where, sitting behind the pew of my lady, my lord, and
his stepson, the gardener could pensively study the traits and movements
of the youngster at only a few feet distance, without suspicion or
hindrance.

He filled his post for more than two years with a pleasure to himself
which, though mournful, was soothing, his lady never forgiving him, or
allowing him to be anything more than 'the gardener' to her child, though
once or twice the boy said, 'That gardener's eyes are so sad! Why does
he look so sadly at me?' He sunned himself in her scornfulness as if it
were love, and his ears drank in her curt monosyllables as though they
were rhapsodies of endearment. Strangely enough, the coldness with which
she treated her foreigner began to be the conduct of Lord Icenway towards
herself. It was a matter of great anxiety to him that there should be a
lineal successor to the title, yet no sign of that successor appeared.
One day he complained to her quite roughly of his fate. 'All will go to
that dolt of a cousin!' he cried. 'I'd sooner see my name and place at
the bottom of the sea!'

The lady soothed him and fell into thought, and did not recriminate. But
one day, soon after, she went down to the cottage of the gardener to
inquire how he was getting on, for he had been ailing of late, though, as
was supposed, not seriously. Though she often visited the poor, she had
never entered her under-gardener's home before, and was much
surprised - even grieved and dismayed - to find that he was too ill to rise
from his bed. She went back to her mansion and returned with some
delicate soup, that she might have a reason for seeing him.

His condition was so feeble and alarming, and his face so thin, that it
quite shocked her softening heart, and gazing upon him she said, 'You
must get well - you must! I have been hard with you - I know it. I will
not be so again.'

The sick and dying man - for he was dying indeed - took her hand and
pressed it to his lips. 'Too late, my darling, too late!' he murmured.

'But you _must not_ die! Oh, you must not!' she said. And on an impulse
she bent down and whispered some words to him, blushing as she had
blushed in her maiden days.

He replied by a faint wan smile. 'Time was! . . . but that's past!' he
said, 'I must die!'

And die he did, a few days later, as the sun was going down behind the
garden-wall. Her harshness seemed to come trebly home to her then, and
she remorsefully exclaimed against herself in secret and alone. Her one
desire now was to erect some tribute to his memory, without its being
recognized as her handiwork. In the completion of this scheme there
arrived a few months later a handsome stained-glass window for the
church; and when it was unpacked and in course of erection Lord Icenway
strolled into the building with his wife.

'"_Erected to his memory by his grieving widow_,"' he said, reading the
legend on the glass. 'I didn't know that he had a wife; I've never seen
her.'

'Oh yes, you must have, Icenway; only you forget,' replied his lady
blandly. 'But she didn't live with him, and was seldom seen visiting
him, because there were differences between them; which, as is usually
the case, makes her all the more sorry now.'

'And go ruining herself by this expensive ruby-and-azure glass-design.'

'She is not poor, they say.'

As Lord Icenway grew older he became crustier and crustier, and whenever
he set eyes on his wife's boy by her other husband he would burst out
morosely, saying,

''Tis a very odd thing, my lady, that you could oblige your first
husband, and couldn't oblige me.'

'Ah! if I had only thought of it sooner!' she murmured.

'What?' said he.

'Nothing, dearest,' replied Lady Icenway.

* * * * *

The Colonel was the first to comment upon the Churchwarden's tale, by
saying that the fate of the poor fellow was rather a hard one.

The gentleman-tradesman could not see that his fate was at all too hard
for him. He was legally nothing to her, and he had served her
shamefully. If he had been really her husband it would have stood
differently.

The Bookworm remarked that Lord Icenway seemed to have been a very
unsuspicious man, with which view a fat member with a crimson face
agreed. It was true his wife was a very close-mouthed personage, which
made a difference. If she had spoken out recklessly her lord might have
been suspicious enough, as in the case of that lady who lived at
Stapleford Park in their great-grandfathers' time. Though there, to be
sure, considerations arose which made her husband view matters with much
philosophy.

A few of the members doubted the possibility of this.

The crimson man, who was a retired maltster of comfortable means,
_ventru_, and short in stature, cleared his throat, blew off his
superfluous breath, and proceeded to give the instance before alluded to
of such possibility, first apologizing for his heroine's lack of a title,
it never having been his good fortune to know many of the nobility. To
his style of narrative the following is only an approximation.




DAME THE SIXTH - SQUIRE PETRICK'S LADY
By the Crimson Maltster


Folk who are at all acquainted with the traditions of Stapleford Park
will not need to be told that in the middle of the last century it was
owned by that trump of mortgagees, Timothy Petrick, whose skill in
gaining possession of fair estates by granting sums of money on their
title-deeds has seldom if ever been equalled in our part of England.
Timothy was a lawyer by profession, and agent to several noblemen, by
which means his special line of business became opened to him by a sort
of revelation. It is said that a relative of his, a very deep thinker,
who afterwards had the misfortune to be transported for life for mistaken
notions on the signing of a will, taught him considerable legal lore,
which he creditably resolved never to throw away for the benefit of other
people, but to reserve it entirely for his own.

However, I have nothing in particular to say about his early and active
days, but rather of the time when, an old man, he had become the owner of
vast estates by the means I have signified - among them the great manor of
Stapleford, on which he lived, in the splendid old mansion now pulled
down; likewise estates at Marlott, estates near Sherton Abbas, nearly all
the borough of Millpool, and many properties near Ivell. Indeed, I can't
call to mind half his landed possessions, and I don't know that it
matters much at this time of day, seeing that he's been dead and gone
many years. It is said that when he bought an estate he would not decide
to pay the price till he had walked over every single acre with his own
two feet, and prodded the soil at every point with his own spud, to test
its quality, which, if we regard the extent of his properties, must have
been a stiff business for him.

At the time I am speaking of he was a man over eighty, and his son was
dead; but he had two grandsons, the eldest of whom, his namesake, was
married, and was shortly expecting issue. Just then the grandfather was
taken ill, for death, as it seemed, considering his age. By his will the
old man had created an entail (as I believe the lawyers call it),
devising the whole of the estates to his elder grandson and his issue
male, failing which, to his younger grandson and his issue male, failing
which, to remoter relatives, who need not be mentioned now.

While old Timothy Petrick was lying ill, his elder grandson's wife,
Annetta, gave birth to her expected child, who, as fortune would have it,
was a son. Timothy, her husband, through sprung of a scheming family,
was no great schemer himself; he was the single one of the Petricks then
living whose heart had ever been greatly moved by sentiments which did
not run in the groove of ambition; and on this account he had not married
well, as the saying is; his wife having been the daughter of a family of
no better beginnings than his own; that is to say, her father was a
country townsman of the professional class. But she was a very pretty
woman, by all accounts, and her husband had seen, courted, and married
her in a high tide of infatuation, after a very short acquaintance, and
with very little knowledge of her heart's history. He had never found
reason to regret his choice as yet, and his anxiety for her recovery was
great.

She was supposed to be out of danger, and herself and the child
progressing well, when there was a change for the worse, and she sank so
rapidly that she was soon given over. When she felt that she was about
to leave him, Annetta sent for her husband, and, on his speedy entry and
assurance that they were alone, she made him solemnly vow to give the
child every care in any circumstances that might arise, if it should
please Heaven to take her. This, of course, he readily promised. Then,
after some hesitation, she told him that she could not die with a
falsehood upon her soul, and dire deceit in her life; she must make a
terrible confession to him before her lips were sealed for ever. She
thereupon related an incident concerning the baby's parentage, which was
not as he supposed.

Timothy Petrick, though a quick-feeling man, was not of a sort to show
nerves outwardly; and he bore himself as heroically as he possibly could
do in this trying moment of his life. That same night his wife died; and
while she lay dead, and before her funeral, he hastened to the bedside of
his sick grandfather, and revealed to him all that had happened: the
baby's birth, his wife's confession, and her death, beseeching the aged
man, as he loved him, to bestir himself now, at the eleventh hour, and
alter his will so as to dish the intruder. Old Timothy, seeing matters
in the same light as his grandson, required no urging against allowing
anything to stand in the way of legitimate inheritance; he executed
another will, limiting the entail to Timothy his grandson, for life, and
his male heirs thereafter to be born; after them to his other grandson
Edward, and Edward's heirs. Thus the newly-born infant, who had been the
centre of so many hopes, was cut off and scorned as none of the elect.

The old mortgagee lived but a short time after this, the excitement of
the discovery having told upon him considerably, and he was gathered to
his fathers like the most charitable man in his neighbourhood. Both wife
and grandparent being buried, Timothy settled down to his usual life as
well as he was able, mentally satisfied that he had by prompt action
defeated the consequences of such dire domestic treachery as had been
shown towards him, and resolving to marry a second time as soon as he
could satisfy himself in the choice of a wife.

But men do not always know themselves. The embittered state of Timothy
Petrick's mind bred in him by degrees such a hatred and mistrust of
womankind that, though several specimens of high attractiveness came
under his eyes, he could not bring himself to the point of proposing
marriage. He dreaded to take up the position of husband a second time,
discerning a trap in every petticoat, and a Slough of Despond in possible
heirs. 'What has happened once, when all seemed so fair, may happen
again,' he said to himself. 'I'll risk my name no more.' So he
abstained from marriage, and overcame his wish for a lineal descendant to
follow him in the ownership of Stapleford.

Timothy had scarcely noticed the unfortunate child that his wife had
borne, after arranging for a meagre fulfilment of his promise to her to
take care of the boy, by having him brought up in his house.
Occasionally, remembering this promise, he went and glanced at the child,
saw that he was doing well, gave a few special directions, and again went
his solitary way. Thus he and the child lived on in the Stapleford
mansion-house till two or three years had passed by. One day he was
walking in the garden, and by some accident left his snuff-box on a
bench. When he came back to find it he saw the little boy standing
there; he had escaped his nurse, and was making a plaything of the box,
in spite of the convulsive sneezings which the game brought in its train.
Then the man with the encrusted heart became interested in the little
fellow's persistence in his play under such discomforts; he looked in the
child's face, saw there his wife's countenance, though he did not see his
own, and fell into thought on the piteousness of childhood - particularly
of despised and rejected childhood, like this before him.

From that hour, try as he would to counteract the feeling, the human
necessity to love something or other got the better of what he had called
his wisdom, and shaped itself in a tender anxiety for the youngster
Rupert. This name had been given him by his dying mother when, at her
request, the child was baptized in her chamber, lest he should not
survive for public baptism; and her husband had never thought of it as a
name of any significance till, about this time, he learnt by accident
that it was the name of the young Marquis of Christminster, son of the
Duke of Southwesterland, for whom Annetta had cherished warm feelings
before her marriage. Recollecting some wandering phrases in his wife's
last words, which he had not understood at the time, he perceived at last
that this was the person to whom she had alluded when affording him a
clue to little Rupert's history.

He would sit in silence for hours with the child, being no great speaker
at the best of times; but the boy, on his part, was too ready with his
tongue for any break in discourse to arise because Timothy Petrick had
nothing to say. After idling away his mornings in this manner, Petrick
would go to his own room and swear in long loud whispers, and walk up and
down, calling himself the most ridiculous dolt that ever lived, and
declaring that he would never go near the little fellow again; to which
resolve he would adhere for the space perhaps of a day. Such cases are
happily not new to human nature, but there never was a case in which a
man more completely befocled his former self than in this.

As the child grew up, Timothy's attachment to him grew deeper, till
Rupert became almost the sole object for which he lived. There had been
enough of the family ambition latent in him for Timothy Petrick to feel a
little envy when, some time before this date, his brother Edward had been
accepted by the Honourable Harriet Mountclere, daughter of the second
Viscount of that name and title; but having discovered, as I have before
stated, the paternity of his boy Rupert to lurk in even a higher stratum
of society, those envious feelings speedily dispersed. Indeed, the more
he reflected thereon, after his brother's aristocratic marriage, the more
content did he become. His late wife took softer outline in his memory,
as he thought of the lofty taste she had displayed, though only a plain
burgher's daughter, and the justification for his weakness in loving the
child - the justification that he had longed for - was afforded now in the
knowledge that the boy was by nature, if not by name, a representative of
one of the noblest houses in England.

'She was a woman of grand instincts, after all,' he said to himself
proudly. 'To fix her choice upon the immediate successor in that ducal
line - it was finely conceived! Had he been of low blood like myself or
my relations she would scarce have deserved the harsh measure that I have
dealt out to her and her offspring. How much less, then, when such
grovelling tastes were farthest from her soul! The man Annetta loved was
noble, and my boy is noble in spite of me.'

The afterclap was inevitable, and it soon came. 'So far,' he reasoned,
'from cutting off this child from inheritance of my estates, as I have
done, I should have rejoiced in the possession of him! He is of pure
stock on one side at least, whilst in the ordinary run of affairs he
would have been a commoner to the bone.'

Being a man, whatever his faults, of good old beliefs in the divinity of
kings and those about 'em, the more he overhauled the case in this light,
the more strongly did his poor wife's conduct in improving the blood and
breed of the Petrick family win his heart. He considered what ugly,
idle, hard-drinking scamps many of his own relations had been; the
miserable scriveners, usurers, and pawnbrokers that he had numbered among
his forefathers, and the probability that some of their bad qualities
would have come out in a merely corporeal child, to give him sorrow in
his old age, turn his black hairs gray, his gray hairs white, cut down
every stick of timber, and Heaven knows what all, had he not, like a
skilful gardener, minded his grafting and changed the sort; till at
length this right-minded man fell down on his knees every night and
morning and thanked God that he was not as other meanly descended fathers
in such matters.

It was in the peculiar disposition of the Petrick family that the
satisfaction which ultimately settled in Timothy's breast found
nourishment. The Petricks had adored the nobility, and plucked them at
the same time. That excellent man Izaak Walton's feelings about fish
were much akin to those of old Timothy Petrick, and of his descendants in
a lesser degree, concerning the landed aristocracy. To torture and to
love simultaneously is a proceeding strange to reason, but possible to
practice, as these instances show.

Hence, when Timothy's brother Edward said slightingly one day that
Timothy's son was well enough, but that he had nothing but shops and
offices in his backward perspective, while his own children, should he
have any, would be far different, in possessing such a mother as the
Honourable Harriet, Timothy felt a bound of triumph within him at the
power he possessed of contradicting that statement if he chose.

So much was he interested in his boy in this new aspect that he now began
to read up chronicles of the illustrious house ennobled as the Dukes of
Southwesterland, from their very beginning in the glories of the
Restoration of the blessed Charles till the year of his own time. He
mentally noted their gifts from royalty, grants of lands, purchases,
intermarriages, plantings and buildings; more particularly their
political and military achievements, which had been great, and their
performances in art and letters, which had been by no means contemptible.
He studied prints of the portraits of that family, and then, like a
chemist watching a crystallization, began to examine young Rupert's face
for the unfolding of those historic curves and shades that the painters
Vandyke and Lely had perpetuated on canvas.

When the boy reached the most fascinating age of childhood, and his
shouts of laughter ran through Stapleford House from end to end, the
remorse that oppressed Timothy Petrick knew no bounds. Of all people in
the world this Rupert was the one on whom he could have wished the
estates to devolve; yet Rupert, by Timothy's own desperate strategy at
the time of his birth, had been ousted from all inheritance of them; and,
since he did not mean to remarry, the manors would pass to his brother
and his brother's children, who would be nothing to him, whose boasted
pedigree on one side would be nothing to his Rupert's.

Had he only left the first will of his grandfather alone!

His mind ran on the wills continually, both of which were in existence,
and the first, the cancelled one, in his own possession. Night after
night, when the servants were all abed, and the click of safety locks
sounded as loud as a crash, he looked at that first will, and wished it
had been the second and not the first.

The crisis came at last. One night, after having enjoyed the boy's
company for hours, he could no longer bear that his beloved Rupert should
be dispossessed, and he committed the felonious deed of altering the date
of the earlier will to a fortnight later, which made its execution appear
subsequent to the date of the second will already proved. He then boldly
propounded the first will as the second.

His brother Edward submitted to what appeared to be not only
incontestible fact, but a far more likely disposition of old Timothy's
property; for, like many others, he had been much surprised at the
limitations defined in the other will, having no clue to their cause. He
joined his brother Timothy in setting aside the hitherto accepted
document, and matters went on in their usual course, there being no
dispositions in the substituted will differing from those in the other,
except such as related to a future which had not yet arrived.

The years moved on. Rupert had not yet revealed the anxiously expected
historic lineaments which should foreshadow the political abilities of
the ducal family aforesaid when it happened on a certain day that Timothy
Petrick made the acquaintance of a well-known physician of Budmouth, who
had been the medical adviser and friend of the late Mrs. Petrick's family
for many years; though after Annetta's marriage, and consequent removal
to Stapleford, he had seen no more of her, the neighbouring practitioner
who attended the Petricks having then become her doctor as a matter of
course. Timothy was impressed by the insight and knowledge disclosed in
the conversation of the Budmouth physician, and the acquaintance ripening
to intimacy, the physician alluded to a form of hallucination to which
Annetta's mother and grandmother had been subject - that of believing in
certain dreams as realities. He delicately inquired if Timothy had ever
noticed anything of the sort in his wife during her lifetime; he, the
physician, had fancied that he discerned germs of the same peculiarity in
Annetta when he attended her in her girlhood. One explanation begat
another, till the dumbfoundered Timothy Petrick was persuaded in his own
mind that Annetta's confession to him had been based on a delusion.

'You look down in the mouth?' said the doctor, pausing.


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Online LibraryThomas HardyA group of noble dames, That is to say, The first Countess of Wessex--Barbara of the house of Grebe--The Marchioness of Stonehenge--Lady Mottisfont--The Lady Icenway--Squire Petrick's Lady--Anna, Lady Baxby--The Lady Penelope--The Duchess of Hamptonshire and The Honourable Laura → online text (page 11 of 16)