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

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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 2 of 16)
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pews, and green-baize linings, and the great organ in the west gallery - so
different from their own little church in the shrubbery of King's-Hintock
Court - the man of thirty, to whose face she had looked up with so much
awe, and with a sense that he was rather ugly and formidable; the man
whom, though they corresponded politely, she had never seen since; one to
whose existence she was now so indifferent that if informed of his death,
and that she would never see him more, she would merely have replied,
'Indeed!' Betty's passions as yet still slept.

'Hast heard from thy husband lately?' said Squire Dornell, when they were
indoors, with an ironical laugh of fondness which demanded no answer.

The girl winced, and he noticed that his wife looked appealingly at him.
As the conversation went on, and there were signs that Dornell would
express sentiments that might do harm to a position which they could not
alter, Mrs. Dornell suggested that Betty should leave the room till her
father and herself had finished their private conversation; and this
Betty obediently did.

Dornell renewed his animadversions freely. 'Did you see how the sound of
his name frightened her?' he presently added. 'If you didn't, I did.
Zounds! what a future is in store for that poor little unfortunate wench
o' mine! I tell 'ee, Sue, 'twas not a marriage at all, in morality, and
if I were a woman in such a position, I shouldn't feel it as one. She
might, without a sign of sin, love a man of her choice as well now as if
she were chained up to no other at all. There, that's my mind, and I
can't help it. Ah, Sue, my man was best! He'd ha' suited her.'

'I don't believe it,' she replied incredulously.

'You should see him; then you would. He's growing up a fine fellow, I
can tell 'ee.'

'Hush! not so loud!' she answered, rising from her seat and going to the
door of the next room, whither her daughter had betaken herself. To Mrs.
Dornell's alarm, there sat Betty in a reverie, her round eyes fixed on
vacancy, musing so deeply that she did not perceive her mother's
entrance. She had heard every word, and was digesting the new knowledge.

Her mother felt that Falls-Park was dangerous ground for a young girl of
the susceptible age, and in Betty's peculiar position, while Dornell
talked and reasoned thus. She called Betty to her, and they took leave.
The Squire would not clearly promise to return and make King's-Hintock
Court his permanent abode; but Betty's presence there, as at former
times, was sufficient to make him agree to pay them a visit soon.

All the way home Betty remained preoccupied and silent. It was too plain
to her anxious mother that Squire Dornell's free views had been a sort of
awakening to the girl.

The interval before Dornell redeemed his pledge to come and see them was
unexpectedly short. He arrived one morning about twelve o'clock, driving
his own pair of black-bays in the curricle-phaeton with yellow panels and
red wheels, just as he had used to do, and his faithful old Tupcombe on
horseback behind. A young man sat beside the Squire in the carriage, and
Mrs. Dornell's consternation could scarcely be concealed when, abruptly
entering with his companion, the Squire announced him as his friend
Phelipson of Elm-Cranlynch.

Dornell passed on to Betty in the background and tenderly kissed her.
'Sting your mother's conscience, my maid!' he whispered. 'Sting her
conscience by pretending you are struck with Phelipson, and would ha'
loved him, as your old father's choice, much more than him she has forced
upon 'ee.'

The simple-souled speaker fondly imagined that it as entirely in
obedience to this direction that Betty's eyes stole interested glances at
the frank and impulsive Phelipson that day at dinner, and he laughed
grimly within himself to see how this joke of his, as he imagined it to
be, was disturbing the peace of mind of the lady of the house. 'Now Sue
sees what a mistake she has made!' said he.

Mrs. Dornell was verily greatly alarmed, and as soon as she could speak a
word with him alone she upbraided him. 'You ought not to have brought
him here. Oh Thomas, how could you be so thoughtless! Lord, don't you
see, dear, that what is done cannot be undone, and how all this foolery
jeopardizes her happiness with her husband? Until you interfered, and
spoke in her hearing about this Phelipson, she was as patient and as
willing as a lamb, and looked forward to Mr. Reynard's return with real
pleasure. Since her visit to Falls-Park she has been monstrous close-
mouthed and busy with her own thoughts. What mischief will you do? How
will it end?'

'Own, then, that my man was best suited to her. I only brought him to
convince you.'

'Yes, yes; I do admit it. But oh! do take him back again at once! Don't
keep him here! I fear she is even attracted by him already.'

'Nonsense, Sue. 'Tis only a little trick to tease 'ee!'

Nevertheless her motherly eye was not so likely to be deceived as his,
and if Betty were really only playing at being love-struck that day, she
played at it with the perfection of a Rosalind, and would have deceived
the best professors into a belief that it was no counterfeit. The
Squire, having obtained his victory, was quite ready to take back the too
attractive youth, and early in the afternoon they set out on their return
journey.

A silent figure who rode behind them was as interested as Dornell in that
day's experiment. It was the staunch Tupcombe, who, with his eyes on the
Squire's and young Phelipson's backs, thought how well the latter would
have suited Betty, and how greatly the former had changed for the worse
during these last two or three years. He cursed his mistress as the
cause of the change.

After this memorable visit to prove his point, the lives of the Dornell
couple flowed on quietly enough for the space of a twelvemonth, the
Squire for the most part remaining at Falls, and Betty passing and
repassing between them now and then, once or twice alarming her mother by
not driving home from her father's house till midnight.

* * * * *

The repose of King's-Hintock was broken by the arrival of a special
messenger. Squire Dornell had had an access of gout so violent as to be
serious. He wished to see Betty again: why had she not come for so long?

Mrs. Dornell was extremely reluctant to take Betty in that direction too
frequently; but the girl was so anxious to go, her interests latterly
seeming to be so entirely bound up in Falls-Park and its neighbourhood,
that there was nothing to be done but to let her set out and accompany
her.

Squire Dornell had been impatiently awaiting her arrival. They found him
very ill and irritable. It had been his habit to take powerful medicines
to drive away his enemy, and they had failed in their effect on this
occasion.

The presence of his daughter, as usual, calmed him much, even while, as
usual too, it saddened him; for he could never forget that she had
disposed of herself for life in opposition to his wishes, though she had
secretly assured him that she would never have consented had she been as
old as she was now.

As on a former occasion, his wife wished to speak to him alone about the
girl's future, the time now drawing nigh at which Reynard was expected to
come and claim her. He would have done so already, but he had been put
off by the earnest request of the young woman herself, which accorded
with that of her parents, on the score of her youth. Reynard had
deferentially submitted to their wishes in this respect, the
understanding between them having been that he would not visit her before
she was eighteen, except by the mutual consent of all parties. But this
could not go on much longer, and there was no doubt, from the tenor of
his last letter, that he would soon take possession of her whether or no.

To be out of the sound of this delicate discussion Betty was accordingly
sent downstairs, and they soon saw her walking away into the shrubberies,
looking very pretty in her sweeping green gown, and flapping
broad-brimmed hat overhung with a feather.

On returning to the subject, Mrs. Dornell found her husband's reluctance
to reply in the affirmative to Reynard's letter to be as great as ever.

'She is three months short of eighteen!' he exclaimed. ''Tis too soon. I
won't hear of it! If I have to keep him off sword in hand, he shall not
have her yet.'

'But, my dear Thomas,' she expostulated, 'consider if anything should
happen to you or to me, how much better it would be that she should be
settled in her home with him!'

'I say it is too soon!' he argued, the veins of his forehead beginning to
swell. 'If he gets her this side o' Candlemas I'll challenge en - I'll
take my oath on't! I'll be back to King's-Hintock in two or three days,
and I'll not lose sight of her day or night!'

She feared to agitate him further, and gave way, assuring him, in
obedience to his demand, that if Reynard should write again before he got
back, to fix a time for joining Betty, she would put the letter in her
husband's hands, and he should do as he chose. This was all that
required discussion privately, and Mrs. Dornell went to call in Betty,
hoping that she had not heard her father's loud tones.

She had certainly not done so this time. Mrs. Dornell followed the path
along which she had seen Betty wandering, but went a considerable
distance without perceiving anything of her. The Squire's wife then
turned round to proceed to the other side of the house by a short cut
across the grass, when, to her surprise and consternation, she beheld the
object of her search sitting on the horizontal bough of a cedar, beside
her being a young man, whose arm was round her waist. He moved a little,
and she recognized him as young Phelipson.

Alas, then, she was right. The so-called counterfeit love was real. What
Mrs. Dornell called her husband at that moment, for his folly in
originally throwing the young people together, it is not necessary to
mention. She decided in a moment not to let the lovers know that she had
seen them. She accordingly retreated, reached the front of the house by
another route, and called at the top of her voice from a window, 'Betty!'

For the first time since her strategic marriage of the child, Susan
Dornell doubted the wisdom of that step.

Her husband had, as it were, been assisted by destiny to make his
objection, originally trivial, a valid one. She saw the outlines of
trouble in the future. Why had Dornell interfered? Why had he insisted
upon producing his man? This, then, accounted for Betty's pleading for
postponement whenever the subject of her husband's return was broached;
this accounted for her attachment to Falls-Park. Possibly this very
meeting that she had witnessed had been arranged by letter.

Perhaps the girl's thoughts would never have strayed for a moment if her
father had not filled her head with ideas of repugnance to her early
union, on the ground that she had been coerced into it before she knew
her own mind; and she might have rushed to meet her husband with open
arms on the appointed day.

Betty at length appeared in the distance in answer to the call, and came
up pale, but looking innocent of having seen a living soul. Mrs. Dornell
groaned in spirit at such duplicity in the child of her bosom. This was
the simple creature for whose development into womanhood they had all
been so tenderly waiting - a forward minx, old enough not only to have a
lover, but to conceal his existence as adroitly as any woman of the
world! Bitterly did the Squire's lady regret that Stephen Reynard had
not been allowed to come to claim her at the time he first proposed.

The two sat beside each other almost in silence on their journey back to
King's-Hintock. Such words as were spoken came mainly from Betty, and
their formality indicated how much her mind and heart were occupied with
other things.

Mrs. Dornell was far too astute a mother to openly attack Betty on the
matter. That would be only fanning flame. The indispensable course
seemed to her to be that of keeping the treacherous girl under lock and
key till her husband came to take her off her mother's hands. That he
would disregard Dornell's opposition, and come soon, was her devout wish.

It seemed, therefore, a fortunate coincidence that on her arrival at
King's-Hintock a letter from Reynard was put into Mrs. Dornell's hands.
It was addressed to both her and her husband, and courteously informed
them that the writer had landed at Bristol, and proposed to come on to
King's-Hintock in a few days, at last to meet and carry off his darling
Betty, if she and her parents saw no objection.

Betty had also received a letter of the same tenor. Her mother had only
to look at her face to see how the girl received the information. She
was as pale as a sheet.

'You must do your best to welcome him this time, my dear Betty,' her
mother said gently.

'But - but - I - '

'You are a woman now,' added her mother severely, 'and these
postponements must come to an end.'

'But my father - oh, I am sure he will not allow this! I am not ready. If
he could only wait a year longer - if he could only wait a few months
longer! Oh, I wish - I wish my dear father were here! I will send to him
instantly.' She broke off abruptly, and falling upon her mother's neck,
burst into tears, saying, 'O my mother, have mercy upon me - I do not love
this man, my husband!'

The agonized appeal went too straight to Mrs. Dornell's heart for her to
hear it unmoved. Yet, things having come to this pass, what could she
do? She was distracted, and for a moment was on Betty's side. Her
original thought had been to write an affirmative reply to Reynard, allow
him to come on to King's-Hintock, and keep her husband in ignorance of
the whole proceeding till he should arrive from Falls on some fine day
after his recovery, and find everything settled, and Reynard and Betty
living together in harmony. But the events of the day, and her
daughter's sudden outburst of feeling, had overthrown this intention.
Betty was sure to do as she had threatened, and communicate instantly
with her father, possibly attempt to fly to him. Moreover, Reynard's
letter was addressed to Mr. Dornell and herself conjointly, and she could
not in conscience keep it from her husband.

'I will send the letter on to your father instantly,' she replied
soothingly. 'He shall act entirely as he chooses, and you know that will
not be in opposition to your wishes. He would ruin you rather than
thwart you. I only hope he may be well enough to bear the agitation of
this news. Do you agree to this?'

Poor Betty agreed, on condition that she should actually witness the
despatch of the letter. Her mother had no objection to offer to this;
but as soon as the horseman had cantered down the drive toward the
highway, Mrs. Dornell's sympathy with Betty's recalcitration began to die
out. The girl's secret affection for young Phelipson could not possibly
be condoned. Betty might communicate with him, might even try to reach
him. Ruin lay that way. Stephen Reynard must be speedily installed in
his proper place by Betty's side.

She sat down and penned a private letter to Reynard, which threw light
upon her plan.

* * * * *

'It is Necessary that I should now tell you,' she said, 'what I have
never Mentioned before - indeed I may have signified the Contrary - that
her Father's Objection to your joining her has not as yet been overcome.
As I personally Wish to delay you no longer - am indeed as anxious for
your Arrival as you can be yourself, having the good of my Daughter at
Heart - no course is left open to me but to assist your Cause without my
Husband's Knowledge. He, I am sorry to say, is at present ill at Falls-
Park, but I felt it my Duty to forward him your Letter. He will
therefore be like to reply with a peremptory Command to you to go back
again, for some Months, whence you came, till the Time he originally
stipulated has expir'd. My Advice is, if you get such a Letter, to take
no Notice of it, but to come on hither as you had proposed, letting me
know the Day and Hour (after dark, if possible) at which we may expect
you. Dear Betty is with me, and I warrant ye that she shall be in the
House when you arrive.'

* * * * *

Mrs. Dornell, having sent away this epistle unsuspected of anybody, next
took steps to prevent her daughter leaving the Court, avoiding if
possible to excite the girl's suspicions that she was under restraint.
But, as if by divination, Betty had seemed to read the husband's approach
in the aspect of her mother's face.

'He is coming!' exclaimed the maiden.

'Not for a week,' her mother assured her.

'He is then - for certain?'

'Well, yes.'

Betty hastily retired to her room, and would not be seen.

To lock her up, and hand over the key to Reynard when he should appear in
the hall, was a plan charming in its simplicity, till her mother found,
on trying the door of the girl's chamber softly, that Betty had already
locked and bolted it on the inside, and had given directions to have her
meals served where she was, by leaving them on a dumb-waiter outside the
door.

Thereupon Mrs. Dornell noiselessly sat down in her boudoir, which, as
well as her bed-chamber, was a passage-room to the girl's apartment, and
she resolved not to vacate her post night or day till her daughter's
husband should appear, to which end she too arranged to breakfast, dine,
and sup on the spot. It was impossible now that Betty should escape
without her knowledge, even if she had wished, there being no other door
to the chamber, except one admitting to a small inner dressing-room
inaccessible by any second way.

But it was plain that the young girl had no thought of escape. Her ideas
ran rather in the direction of intrenchment: she was prepared to stand a
siege, but scorned flight. This, at any rate, rendered her secure. As
to how Reynard would contrive a meeting with her coy daughter while in
such a defensive humour, that, thought her mother, must be left to his
own ingenuity to discover.

Betty had looked so wild and pale at the announcement of her husband's
approaching visit, that Mrs. Dornell, somewhat uneasy, could not leave
her to herself. She peeped through the keyhole an hour later. Betty lay
on the sofa, staring listlessly at the ceiling.

'You are looking ill, child,' cried her mother. 'You've not taken the
air lately. Come with me for a drive.'

Betty made no objection. Soon they drove through the park towards the
village, the daughter still in the strained, strung-up silence that had
fallen upon her. They left the park to return by another route, and on
the open road passed a cottage.

Betty's eye fell upon the cottage-window. Within it she saw a young girl
about her own age, whom she knew by sight, sitting in a chair and propped
by a pillow. The girl's face was covered with scales, which glistened in
the sun. She was a convalescent from smallpox - a disease whose
prevalence at that period was a terror of which we at present can hardly
form a conception.

An idea suddenly energized Betty's apathetic features. She glanced at
her mother; Mrs. Dornell had been looking in the opposite direction.
Betty said that she wished to go back to the cottage for a moment to
speak to a girl in whom she took an interest. Mrs. Dornell appeared
suspicious, but observing that the cottage had no back-door, and that
Betty could not escape without being seen, she allowed the carriage to be
stopped. Betty ran back and entered the cottage, emerging again in about
a minute, and resuming her seat in the carriage. As they drove on she
fixed her eyes upon her mother and said, 'There, I have done it now!' Her
pale face was stormy, and her eyes full of waiting tears.

'What have you done?' said Mrs. Dornell.

'Nanny Priddle is sick of the smallpox, and I saw her at the window, and
I went in and kissed her, so that I might take it; and now I shall have
it, and he won't be able to come near me!'

'Wicked girl!' cries her mother. 'Oh, what am I to do! What - bring a
distemper on yourself, and usurp the sacred prerogative of God, because
you can't palate the man you've wedded!'

The alarmed woman gave orders to drive home as rapidly as possible, and
on arriving, Betty, who was by this time also somewhat frightened at her
own enormity, was put into a bath, and fumigated, and treated in every
way that could be thought of to ward off the dreadful malady that in a
rash moment she had tried to acquire.

There was now a double reason for isolating the rebellious daughter and
wife in her own chamber, and there she accordingly remained for the rest
of the day and the days that followed; till no ill results seemed likely
to arise from her wilfulness.

* * * * *

Meanwhile the first letter from Reynard, announcing to Mrs. Dornell and
her husband jointly that he was coming in a few days, had sped on its way
to Falls-Park. It was directed under cover to Tupcombe, the confidential
servant, with instructions not to put it into his master's hands till he
had been refreshed by a good long sleep. Tupcombe much regretted his
commission, letters sent in this way always disturbing the Squire; but
guessing that it would be infinitely worse in the end to withhold the
news than to reveal it, he chose his time, which was early the next
morning, and delivered the missive.

The utmost effect that Mrs. Dornell had anticipated from the message was
a peremptory order from her husband to Reynard to hold aloof a few months
longer. What the Squire really did was to declare that he would go
himself and confront Reynard at Bristol, and have it out with him there
by word of mouth.

'But, master,' said Tupcombe, 'you can't. You cannot get out of bed.'

'You leave the room, Tupcombe, and don't say "can't" before me! Have
Jerry saddled in an hour.'

The long-tried Tupcombe thought his employer demented, so utterly
helpless was his appearance just then, and he went out reluctantly. No
sooner was he gone than the Squire, with great difficulty, stretched
himself over to a cabinet by the bedside, unlocked it, and took out a
small bottle. It contained a gout specific, against whose use he had
been repeatedly warned by his regular physician, but whose warning he now
cast to the winds.

He took a double dose, and waited half an hour. It seemed to produce no
effect. He then poured out a treble dose, swallowed it, leant back upon
his pillow, and waited. The miracle he anticipated had been worked at
last. It seemed as though the second draught had not only operated with
its own strength, but had kindled into power the latent forces of the
first. He put away the bottle, and rang up Tupcombe.

Less than an hour later one of the housemaids, who of course was quite
aware that the Squire's illness was serious, was surprised to hear a bold
and decided step descending the stairs from the direction of Mr.
Dornell's room, accompanied by the humming of a tune. She knew that the
doctor had not paid a visit that morning, and that it was too heavy to be
the valet or any other man-servant. Looking up, she saw Squire Dornell
fully dressed, descending toward her in his drab caped riding-coat and
boots, with the swinging easy movement of his prime. Her face expressed
her amazement.

'What the devil beest looking at?' said the Squire. 'Did you never see a
man walk out of his house before, wench?'

Resuming his humming - which was of a defiant sort - he proceeded to the
library, rang the bell, asked if the horses were ready, and directed them
to be brought round. Ten minutes later he rode away in the direction of
Bristol, Tupcombe behind him, trembling at what these movements might
portend.

They rode on through the pleasant woodlands and the monotonous straight
lanes at an equal pace. The distance traversed might have been about
fifteen miles when Tupcombe could perceive that the Squire was getting
tired - as weary as he would have been after riding three times the
distance ten years before. However, they reached Bristol without any
mishap, and put up at the Squire's accustomed inn. Dornell almost
immediately proceeded on foot to the inn which Reynard had given as his
address, it being now about four o'clock.

Reynard had already dined - for people dined early then - and he was
staying indoors. He had already received Mrs. Dornell's reply to his
letter; but before acting upon her advice and starting for King's-Hintock
he made up his mind to wait another day, that Betty's father might at


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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 2 of 16)