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Miss AyntorCs Thumb is turned Bach 191

than anything you can guess at. Master

" Great Heaven ! has any accident happened
to my boy ? I saw him but an hour ago ; he
came into my room, dear fellow, to bid me
good-bye before he started for the station.

The young horse was in the dog-cart

Mary, Mary, do not — do not tell me that my
Walter is killed!"

" He is quite well, my Lady, so far as I
know — quite well in health."

. " Thank Heaven for that ! Bless you for
that, Mary! Why did you frighten me so,
if there is nothing the matter?"

"There is something the matter, my Lady.
Pray, command yourself; you will have
need of all your fortitude. I would
never tell it you — burdened as you are
already — only you must know it ; you,

192 Mirk Ahhey.

above all, and no one else, if we can
help it."

" More secrets ! more deception, Mary !
Spare me, if you can, dear friend; I am
sorely tried already."

"I cannot spare you, my Lady, or I
would do so. Heaven knows ; nay, I would
almost take the shame upon my own
shoulders, if that might shield you from the
sorrow it must needs bring with it. Miss
Letty "

" It is not fit that Shame and my daughter
should be mentioned in the same breath,"
replied my Lady, rising, and speaking with
dignity. " Do not continue ; I forbid you to
speak. What you were going to say is false,
and I will not listen."

''It is true, my Lady — true as that the
sun is shining now. Of course, Miss Letty

Miss AyntorCs Thumb is turned Back 193

has nothing to do with it ; but it was through
her I learned it."

" Does she Jcnovj it, then ? " asked my
Lady sternly.

" Certainly not, madam ; and Heaven
grant she never may. She's as pure-
minded as any seraph, and, like Charity,
thinketh no evil. But she told me this
afternoon — seeing that you were troubled,
and not liking to pain you, perhaps without
reason, and speaking to me as her old nurse
and friend, who loves all the Lisgards,
good and bad (for they are not all good,
alas, alas !), and who will love them to the
end — she told me that something wliich she
had overheard between Miss Eose and Master

" You mean Sir Eichard," interposed my


194 Mirk Abbey.

"No, madam — his brother. It was Master
Walter that I was speaking of the other
day in the carriage, and whom I understood
your Ladyship to say that Miss Aynton had
refused. I knew very well that they were
love-making, flirting and such like upon
the sly; but I did not know — I could not

suspect mistress dear, a terrible

disgrace has befallen you, through that
infamous young hussy. Miss Eose Aynton
— though what Master Walter could have
seen in the Jade, I am sure passes my
comprehension altogether."

" Disgrace ! Walter ! Eose Aynton !
What do you mean, woman?" asked my
Lady angrily. "You must be mad, to say
such things. I heard Sir Eichard ask the
girl to be his wife with my own ears, and
she refused him."

Miss Aynton's Thumh is turned Bach. 195

" Did she, my Lady ? Well, I 'm surprised at
that, for I should have thought she would have
stuck at nothing. — But let me tell the whole
story. What Miss Letty heard at the picnic
was this : she heard Master Walter cursing
Miss Eose. That was an odd thing for a
young gentleman to do to a }'Oung lady —
although, for that matter, I have no doubt
she deserved it — was it not ? Well, that was
what Miss Letty thought. She had never
heard such words before, and could scarcely
force her innocent lips to repeat them ; but
I made her do it. And certainly Master
Walter expressed himself pretty strong. It
seems he was angered about the young woman's

behaviour to his brother yesterday"

" Ay," interrupted my Lady quietly, and
still thinking that the prejudice of her
waiting-maid had much exaggerated matters,

196 Mirk Alley,

" that was partly my fault ; I begged Miss
Aynton to be more complaisant in ber manner
to Sir Eicbard."

"Well, Master Walter migbt bave been
annoyed, madam, but what right bad be to
be jealous ? and especially what relation could
exist between him and Miss Eose, which
justified him in using such dreadful words?
Fancy swearing at her, my Lady ! "

" Yes, that is shocking indeed, Mary. Miss
Letty, however, must certainly have misunder-
stood him."

*' That's what I told her, my Lady, in
hopes to quiet her a bit ; but I did not
believe it myself, no more than you do.
We don't suppose that Miss Letty invented
the oaths, do we ? "

" That is true," sighed Lady Lisgard. " It
makes me very wretched to think that

Miss Aynton's Thunib is turned Back. 197

my boy Walter should have so far
forgotten himself as to use such
language to a young girl — a guest, too, in
his mother's house. I shall certainly
demand an explanation of it from his
own lips."

" Alas, there is no need, madam,"
returned the waiting-maid. " I can tell
you all — if you can bear to listen to it."

" I am listening," said my Lady wearily ;
but she sat with her back towards Mistress
Forest, and once, in the course of her recital,
she uttered a piteous moan, and covered
her face with her hands.

''When Miss Letty told me what I have
just said, my Lady, and had parted from
me a little comforted, trj^ing to persuade
herself that she really might have been
mistaken in what she had overheard, I

198 Mirk Alley.

instantly sought out Anne Eees, and
bade her come with me to my room. You
wouldn't have believed it in a girl as
you yourself chose out of the village
school, and who has been at the Abbey
under my own eye for four years ; but she
refused point-blank : very respectful, I
must say, but also very firm. ' I durstn't
do it,' said she, all of a twitter — 'not till
Miss Eose is abed and asleep ; or if I
do, you may be certain sure as she will
come to know it, and get out of me every
word that may pass between us two.'

"The girl looked as scared as though
she had seen a ghost, and yet my request
did not seem to come on her at all
unexpected ; and, in point of fact, she
knew what she was wanted for well
enough. However, I thought it best to let

Miss Aynton's Tlmriib is turned Back. 199

her have her way; and so it was arranged
that she was to come to my room as soon
as she had done with the young ladies —
although 'tis little enough, indeed, she has
done for Miss Letty of late weeks, but all
for that spiteful little hussy, Miss Eose.

" * Now,' said I when I got her alone,
'Anne Eees, there is nobody to listen to
what we say, and you may speak to me as
to your own mother.'

" ' Ah, Mistress Forest,' answered she, begin-
ning to whimper, ' I only wish I dared.'

" ' This young lady has got you under her
thumb, I see, Annie. Xow, if you '11 tell me
the whole truth of what is going on between
her and Master Walter, I promise you that
I '11 turn her thumb hack. It will hurt her
a little — and that you won't be sorry for,
perhaps — and it will set you free.'

200 Mirk Alley.

" ' Oh, Mistress Forest, if you could only-
do that, I would be a good girl all my life,
and never try on other people's clothes again,

nor be a spy upon my Lady, and'

Here she stopped quite short, and looked
as though she would have bitten her tongue

" ' Now, Anne,' said I, ' you must tell
me, whether you will or not : for you have
gone too far to turn back. How did Miss
Eose Aynton make a slave of a well-
conducted girl like you — with nothing but
vanity, that I know of, to be said against
you — and compel you to do all this dirty
work for her?'

" 'Well, Mistress Forest, as you truly
say, I was always a vain child ; and
Heaven has punished me pretty sharp
for it. One day, when the young ladies

Miss Aynton's Thuml is turned Back. 201

were out, and I ^yas in Miss Aynton's
room a-setting it to rights, what should
I come upon — where, perhaps, I had no
riglit to look for it, for it was evidently
meant to be hidden — but a queer-shaped
leather box with trinkets in it.'

" ' A jewel-case, I suppose you mean, Anne.'
" ' Yes, ma'am ; but they were none of
those as Miss Aynton was in the habit of
wearing — nor had she that box w^hen
she first came : she must have brought
it down with her after she went back to
London for a week in the early part of
the year. However, all as struck me then
was the beauty of the jewels ; and I
thought there was no harm in my just
trying them on in the front of the swing
mirror. My ears not being pierced, I
couldn't fix the earrings, although I wouldn't

202 Mirh Alley.

a-minded a little pain, and they sparkled
like morning-dew ; but I clasped on the
pearl necklace and the bracelets, and stood
admiring myself in the looking-glass a good
long time. Then all of a sudden I saw
an angry face looking over my shoulder,
and heard a cruel voice whisper : " Thief,
thief!" just like the hiss of a wood-snake.
I scarcely recognised Miss Eose, who had
always looked so pleasant, and been such
a smooth-spoken young lady.

" " I could send you to prison, Anne
Eees for this," continued she, very grave
and slow ; " and I will, too, if you
don't do everything I tell you. I hate a

" " Lor, miss," cried I, " have mercy, for
Heaven's sake ! I never meant to thieve

Miss Aynton's Thumb is turned Back 203

" " And I liate a liar," added she, looking
so cold and cruel that she made me shudder.
" You break open my drawer — not a word,
you bad girl, or I'll send to Dalwynch for
a policeman — and I actually find my pro-
perty on your very person 1 You ought to
go to jail for this ; and perhaps I am
wrong not to send you there. However,
remember ; from this moment, you are ?/??/
servant — only mine ; and whatever I tell
you to do, whether it is against your late
mistress or not, see that you do it ; and
dare not to breathe one word of anything
that I do, or speak, or possess — such as
these jewels, for instance — or you will rue
it bitterly, Anne Eees."

" ' Of course I promised. Mistress Forest,
for I was in such a state of terror that I
would have promised anything ; but you

204 Mirk Abhey.

cannot imagine to what a slavery I bound
myself ! '

" ' I know all about tbat, Anne/ said I :
' everybody knows you 're become a spy
and a sneak. But tbere is no occasion for
you to follow such vocations any longer.
My Lady would never believe a word of
your intending to steal those things : I can
promise you her protection ; so make your
mind quite easy upon that point. — But now,
what about Master Walter?'

" ' Well, Mistress Forest, the jewels were
his present, to begin with. There have
been very wicked goings on. It was quite
dreadful to see her kiss dear good Miss
Letty at night, and return her " God bless
you !" so pious like, when she was not
blessing her — I mean Miss Eose — at all.
Oh, Mistress Forest, I have known all this

Miss Aynton's Thumh is turned Back. 205

for weeks and weeks, and dared not speak
one word ; and now the truth is almost too
terrible to tell.'

" And then, my Lady," ' pursued Mistress
Forest, " she told me things which it is not
necessary to repeat to you. I knew she
was telling truth ; but in order to assure
myself that it was so, I crept out with
naked feet, and listened at Miss Aynton's
door, and I heard two voices "

" Did you recognise them, woman ; are you
sure of that ? " asked my Lady sternly.

" Ah, yes, madam — there is no doubt."

" Heaven help us, and forgive us ! '* mur-
mured my Lady, with bowed head. "Ah,
Walter, Walter, I had expected Shame, but
not from deed of yours 1 Where is this —
Miss Aynton, Mary ? "

" At her breakfast, my Lady ; and doubt-

206 Mirk Ahhey.

less making an exceedingly good one. She
is not one to let her conscience interfere
with her appetite, bless you ! Like the
murderer under sentence in Dalwynch jail,
as I read of in the paper yesterday, she
' takes her meals with regularity,' I warrant ;
and does not in any way physically
deteriorate under the distressing circum-
stances of her situation."

" Send her to me, Mary — in the boudoir
yonder," said my Lady gravely. " Tell her
I desire to speak with her very particularly.
Breakfast ? No, alas ! I feel as though a
morsel of food would choke me. Send her
hither at once."



ICAlSrXOT, for my own part, at all
agree with the depreciatory expressions
used by Mistress Forest with respect to Miss
Eose Aynton's personal appearance. '"TNliat
Master Walter could have seen in her," &c.,
it was easy enough for anybody else to see
who was not of her own sex. A magnificent
figure, masses of silken hair that, when
unbound, would ripple almost to her
dainty feet, and a countenance "bright
as light, and clear as wind;" and indeed

208 Mirk Alley.

this latter was too keen and sharply cut
for my taste. The sort of expression which
one likes to see in one's lawyer, does not
so well become the object of our heart's
affections. Of course, there was nothing of
steel about Miss Eose, except what might
have been in her crinoline ; but I never saw
man or woman who gave me so much the
idea of being armed ca'p-a-pied ; she seemed
to be equipped in a complete Milan suit of
proof, impregnable, invulnerable. Like Le
Noir Faineant in Ivanhoe, she never
attacked anybody, although my Lady
fancied she had recently detected signs of
aggression about her; and those who knew
her best avoided putting the temptation in
her way. But when she entered her hostess's
boudoir by invitation, upon that particular
morning, she looked not only, as usual, on

Thrust aTid Counter-Thrtist. 209

her guard; there was also a certain
slumbrous fire in her dark eyes, which
betokened onslaught — the initiative of
battle. My Lady herself remarked it, not
without pity. "How little is this poor
lost creature aware," thought she, "that I
know alL"

But she was quite wrong in this. Miss
Eose had almost gathered the truth from
the trembling fingers and frightened manner
of her tiring-maid that morning; and the
thing had been quite confirmed to her by the
malicious triumph with which Mary Forest
had delivered her mistress's request to see
her in the boudoir upon very particular

"Will you please to sit down, Miss Aynton?"

Yes, it was so. The secret was out. Not

even a morning salutation from her friend


210 Mirk Abhey.

and hostess ; and the hand only outstretched
to point her out a chair at the other
extremity of the room. " Before proceeding
with what I have to say," began my Lady,
" I wish to know whether your aunt is in

" I believe so, Lady Lisgard ; I think she
has come back from Leamington — although I
have not heard from her for the last two

''That is well. When I hinted, yesterday
morning, that it would be better for you to
return to London, I was unaware of the
necessity for your departure from this roof at
once — immediately— zjiA for ever."

" Indeed ! " Not a muscle moved : confident
in the goodness, if not of her cause, at
least of her Milan suit ; conscious, too, of the
possession of a Damascus poniard, undreamed

Thrust arid Counter-Thrust. 211

of by the foe, and admirable for close
encounters, her right hand nervously opened
and shut as though to clutch the handle —
that was alL

" You have disgraced this house and me :
yourself and your sex."

"You lie, insolent woman," returned the
other ; " and judge others hy yourself!'

Each started to her feet, and looked her
enemy in the face as she slung these words
of flame.

" It is worse than useless, girl, thus to
brazen it out," continued my Lady, attaching
no importance to the emphasis the other
laid upon her last words. "Outraging not
only moral laws, but even the rites of
hospitality, you have intrigued with my
own son under my own roof."

"You dare to say so, Lady Lisgard, do

212 Mirh Abbey,

you ? It is only for his sake, I swear, that
I do not brand you Wanton, for that
calumny. I could do it ; you know I could,
although you wear that look of wonder. Was
not that man Derrick once your lover ?
Ah! you wince at that. Sir Eobert — good,

easy man — he knew nothing, of course"

Here she stopped, for my Lady's face was
tenible to look upon.

"Be silent, bad, bold girl ! You shoot
your poisoned arrows at a venture, and
aim nothing home. You know not what
a wife should be — how should you?

It is not true that the swan is " born to
be the only graceful shape of Scorn." A
fair woman unjustly slandered is its rival
therein. Eose Ajmton cowered before that
keen contempt — beneath the dropping of

Thrust arid Gounter-Thnist. 213

those bitter words — as though they were
sword and fire.

" I will never forgive you this, Lady
Lisgard," muttered she — " never, never ! "

" You ! you forgive ! To such as you, it
would be idle to protest my soul is spotless.
The man whose name you have soiled by
uttering it — my husband — he, in high heaven,
knows right well that never so much as
thought of mine has wronged him. Vile,
evil-minded gui, as false as frail ! "

"That is sufficient, madam ; almost
enough, even if I were indeed the thing
you take me for." Here the girl paused to
moisten her dry lips, and catch her breath,
of which passion had almost deprived her.
" Now, look you, I was wrong. I thought
my Lady was not so niy-pure as the world
took her to be, and I was wrong. I have seen

214 Mirk Ahhey.

things with my own eyes, and through the
eyes of others, that might well entitle me
to say : ' I still believe it.' I tell you,
Lady Lisgard, I have proofs — or what
seemed to me to be so, a few minutes
back — of the charge that has so moved
you, such as would amply justify my
disbelief in your denial. But I honestly
avow that I was wrong."

" I thank you. Miss Eose Aynton, for
your charity."

"Spare your scorn, madam. It is no
charity that moves me ; nay, far from it.
Convinced almost against my will, I own,
by your unsupported assertion — your mere
'No,' I have withdrawn an accusation for
which I have been patiently preparing
evidence this long time — not, indeed, for
your hurt, but for my own safety and

Thrust and Counter-ITirtcst. 215

convenience, and hereby confess it baseless
and unjust. IS'ow, on your part, I do
beseech you, make amends to me. You, too^
have had your seeming proofs of my
disgrace ; you, too, have heard and seen
yourself, or through the eyes and ears of
others, certain"

"Add not, lost, wretched girl," interposed
my Lady, " deceit to sin ! All that is left
you is to pray to Heaven for pardon, and
to leave that hospitable roof which you have

Rose Aynton's gipsy face grew drawn and
pale. She had aimed her blow, and missed;
the weapon in which she had put so much
trust had proved utterly good for nothing.
All her schemes of the last few months were
rendered fruitless, and the discoveries to
which she had attached such vast importance,

216 Mirk Abbey.

and which she had attained to by such
mean arts, shewn to be vain and futile.
And now that she had humiliated herself
by owning this, and thrown herself at this
woman's feet, she would not extend so much
as a finger-tip to help her.

"Lady Lisgard, as I hope for heaven,"
cried she in anguish, " I am innocent of that
with which you charge me ; I am honest as
yourself, or Letty. Alas, you shudder, because
I dare to compare myself with your pure
daughter ; you think that I soil that name,
too, by uttering it. What shall I say — by
what shall I swear, in order to make you
believe me ? "

"I would to Heaven I could believe you,
Kose," returned my Lady sadly, touched in
spite of herself by the girl's yearning appeal.
" If you could erase this damning blot upon

Thrust and Counter-Thrust 217

my son's fair name, and give me back my
Walter — as I deemed him but an hour
ago — I would be so grateful, girl, that you
should almost think I loved you."

" You would I " cried Eose with eagerness ;
then added bitterly : " But no ; you mean
if I could say : ' Your son has never pressed
his lips to these, has never sworn to be
mine, and mine alone.' But you would not
thank me for merely pro\dng that in this,
although he did it, he was not to blame."

" What ! not to blame ? "

" No, madam — for even for his sake, I
cannot longer bear this burden of undeserved
shame. Walter Lisgard is my hiisiand. We
were married weeks ago, when I went to
London in the spring."

" Married, married ! " gasped my Lady.
** Thank God for that ! Far better to

218 MirJc Alley.

deceive me, boy, than this poor girl. I
never thought to say ; ' I am glad you are
my daughter-in-law, Eose Aynton ; ' but I
do say so now." She took both her hands
in hers, and gazed upon her downcast face,
now overspread with blushes, and tinged for
once with genuine tenderness. " It moves
you, does it, that I am thankful to see the
honour of my son preserved at some
sacrifice of his prospects. How little do
you know me, girl ! yet ^ I am glad to move
you anyway. Eose, be a kind wife to him.
I will not blame you for what has hap-
pened, although I have much cause. I must
blame him rather. Who can wonder that
you yielded when he said : * Be mine.' So
gentle and so loving as he can be ! Now,
too, I see it all. When you refused Sir
Eichard in the library, you were actually

Thrust and Counter-Thrust 219

his brother's wife. Ah, Heaven, you must
not remain here longer — not a day. I shall
write to Walter"

" Nay, madam — mother" exclaimed Rose
beseechingly, " I pray you let me write. I
have broken my plighted word, and dis-
obeyed my husband's bidding in revealing
this. To please him, I had resolved to
defend myself this morning as I best might,
by returning thrust for thrust, without using
this shield — my innocence — at all. But your
bitter words — a shower of barbed darts —
drove me behind it. He will be very wrath
with me indeed, madam ; but far worse if
the news comes from you. He has much
just now to make him anxious too."

" Indeed," replied my Lady hastily. " How
is it, then, that I have heard nothing of it ?
But I forgot ; it is you who have his secrets

220 Mirk Alley.

now. Yes, you shall write, not I. Tell
him that I am sorry — sorry that he should
have deceived me above all ; but that I
forgive him freely. He knows that, however,
right well He must not come back to
Mirk until he hears from me ; and you,
Kose, you must join him without delay.
Every member of this household must learn
at once that you are Walter's wife ; but
not till you have gone — for Eichard's sake."

My Lady's thoughts, as always, were for
others ; even when this great blow had
well-nigh stunned her, she did not permit
herself the luxury of selfish grief She was
already busy with schemes for the benefit
of her erring boy ; how to contrive and
where to save without prejudice to Sir
Eichard's interests (for that must be now
avoided above everything) so that a

Thrust and Counter-Thrust. 221

respectable allowance might be meted out
to the yoimg couple. She could not respect,
and far less love the girl who had become
her Walter's wife in so clandestine a
manner; but still she was his wife, and
therefore, in her eyes, a something precious.
Then, bad as matters were, they might
have been far worse ; she had fully
expected that they were so ; and she felt
in some sort grateful to accept this product
of rashness and deceit in place of downright
shame. Moreover, she foresaw in her own
mind, for ever dwelling on such
contingencies, that out of this evil a
certain good might come, in case of that
terrible misfortune befalling her, compared
with which this present sorrow was as the
prick of a pin's point.

Eose, upon her part, had certainly cause for

222 Mirk Abhey.

congratulation upon the result of this inter-
view. Although her weapon of offence had
failed her — and she was genuinely convinced
of the groundlessness of her late suspicions
concerning Lady Lisgard — she had found in
her mother-in-law a most generous adversary,
and one certainly far more forgiving than she
deserved. Even the worst of us, I conclude,.
are not bad at all times, and when my Lady,
as they parted, touched her brow with her
pale lips, and murmured once more: "Be a
kind wife to him, Eose," that young woman
mustered an honest tear or two — of which
articles, to do her justice, she did not keep,
like some women, a constant supply on hand
for social emergencies.

Not until she regained her own room did
she begin to think that she had been unneces-

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