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 12 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 12 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

'A bit unmanned. 'Tis unexpected-like,' sighed Timothy.

But he could hardly believe it possible; and, thinking it best to be
frank with the doctor, told him the whole story which, till now, he had
never related to living man, save his dying grandfather. To his
surprise, the physician informed him that such a form of delusion was
precisely what he would have expected from Annetta's antecedents at such
a physical crisis in her life.

Petrick prosecuted his inquiries elsewhere; and the upshot of his labours
was, briefly, that a comparison of dates and places showed irrefutably
that his poor wife's assertion could not possibly have foundation in
fact. The young Marquis of her tender passion - a highly moral and bright-
minded nobleman - had gone abroad the year before Annetta's marriage, and
had not returned till after her death. The young girl's love for him had
been a delicate ideal dream - no more.

Timothy went home, and the boy ran out to meet him; whereupon a strangely
dismal feeling of discontent took possession of his soul. After all,
then, there was nothing but plebeian blood in the veins of the heir to
his name and estates; he was not to be succeeded by a noble-natured line.
To be sure, Rupert was his son; but that glory and halo he believed him
to have inherited from the ages, outshining that of his brother's
children, had departed from Rupert's brow for ever; he could no longer
read history in the boy's face, and centuries of domination in his eyes.

His manner towards his son grew colder and colder from that day forward;
and it was with bitterness of heart that he discerned the characteristic
features of the Petricks unfolding themselves by degrees. Instead of the
elegant knife-edged nose, so typical of the Dukes of Southwesterland,
there began to appear on his face the broad nostril and hollow bridge of
his grandfather Timothy. No illustrious line of politicians was promised
a continuator in that graying blue eye, for it was acquiring the
expression of the orb of a particularly objectionable cousin of his own;
and, instead of the mouth-curves which had thrilled Parliamentary
audiences in speeches now bound in calf in every well-ordered library,
there was the bull-lip of that very uncle of his who had had the
misfortune with the signature of a gentleman's will, and had been
transported for life in consequence.

To think how he himself, too, had sinned in this same matter of a will
for this mere fleshly reproduction of a wretched old uncle whose very
name he wished to forget! The boy's Christian name, even, was an
imposture and an irony, for it implied hereditary force and brilliancy to
which he plainly would never attain. The consolation of real sonship was
always left him certainly; but he could not help groaning to himself,
'Why cannot a son be one's own and somebody else's likewise!'

The Marquis was shortly afterwards in the neighbourhood of Stapleford,
and Timothy Petrick met him, and eyed his noble countenance admiringly.
The next day, when Petrick was in his study, somebody knocked at the

'Who's there?'


'I'll Rupert thee, you young impostor! Say, only a poor commonplace
Petrick!' his father grunted. 'Why didn't you have a voice like the
Marquis's I saw yesterday?' he continued, as the lad came in. 'Why
haven't you his looks, and a way of commanding, as if you'd done it for
centuries - hey?'

'Why? How can you expect it, father, when I'm not related to him?'

'Ugh! Then you ought to be!' growled his father.

* * * * *

As the narrator paused, the surgeon, the Colonel, the historian, the
Spark, and others exclaimed that such subtle and instructive
psychological studies as this (now that psychology was so much in demand)
were precisely the tales they desired, as members of a scientific club,
and begged the master-maltster to tell another curious mental delusion.

The maltster shook his head, and feared he was not genteel enough to tell
another story with a sufficiently moral tone in it to suit the club; he
would prefer to leave the next to a better man.

The Colonel had fallen into reflection. True it was, he observed, that
the more dreamy and impulsive nature of woman engendered within her
erratic fancies, which often started her on strange tracks, only to
abandon them in sharp revulsion at the dictates of her common
sense - sometimes with ludicrous effect. Events which had caused a lady's
action to set in a particular direction might continue to enforce the
same line of conduct, while she, like a mangle, would start on a sudden
in a contrary course, and end where she began.

The Vice-President laughed, and applauded the Colonel, adding that there
surely lurked a story somewhere behind that sentiment, if he were not
much mistaken.

The Colonel fixed his face to a good narrative pose, and went on without
further preamble.

By the Colonel

It was in the time of the great Civil War - if I should not rather, as a
loyal subject, call it, with Clarendon, the Great Rebellion. It was, I
say, at that unhappy period of our history, that towards the autumn of a
particular year, the Parliament forces sat down before Sherton Castle
with over seven thousand foot and four pieces of cannon. The Castle, as
we all know, was in that century owned and occupied by one of the Earls
of Severn, and garrisoned for his assistance by a certain noble Marquis
who commanded the King's troops in these parts. The said Earl, as well
as the young Lord Baxby, his eldest son, were away from home just now,
raising forces for the King elsewhere. But there were present in the
Castle, when the besiegers arrived before it, the son's fair wife Lady
Baxby, and her servants, together with some friends and near relatives of
her husband; and the defence was so good and well-considered that they
anticipated no great danger.

The Parliamentary forces were also commanded by a noble lord - for the
nobility were by no means, at this stage of the war, all on the King's
side - and it had been observed during his approach in the night-time, and
in the morning when the reconnoitring took place, that he appeared sad
and much depressed. The truth was that, by a strange freak of destiny,
it had come to pass that the stronghold he was set to reduce was the home
of his own sister, whom he had tenderly loved during her maidenhood, and
whom he loved now, in spite of the estrangement which had resulted from
hostilities with her husband's family. He believed, too, that,
notwithstanding this cruel division, she still was sincerely attached to

His hesitation to point his ordnance at the walls was inexplicable to
those who were strangers to his family history. He remained in the field
on the north side of the Castle (called by his name to this day because
of his encampment there) till it occurred to him to send a messenger to
his sister Anna with a letter, in which he earnestly requested her, as
she valued her life, to steal out of the place by the little gate to the
south, and make away in that direction to the residence of some friends.

Shortly after he saw, to his great surprise, coming from the front of the
Castle walls a lady on horseback, with a single attendant. She rode
straight forward into the field, and up the slope to where his army and
tents were spread. It was not till she got quite near that he discerned
her to be his sister Anna; and much was he alarmed that she should have
run such risk as to sally out in the face of his forces without knowledge
of their proceedings, when at any moment their first discharge might have
burst forth, to her own destruction in such exposure. She dismounted
before she was quite close to him, and he saw that her familiar face,
though pale, was not at all tearful, as it would have been in their
younger days. Indeed, if the particulars as handed down are to be
believed, he was in a more tearful state than she, in his anxiety about
her. He called her into his tent, out of the gaze of those around; for
though many of the soldiers were honest and serious-minded men, he could
not bear that she who had been his dear companion in childhood should be
exposed to curious observation in this her great grief.

When they were alone in the tent he clasped her in his arms, for he had
not seen her since those happier days when, at the commencement of the
war, her husband and himself had been of the same mind about the
arbitrary conduct of the King, and had little dreamt that they would not
go to extremes together. She was the calmest of the two, it is said, and
was the first to speak connectedly.

'William, I have come to you,' said she, 'but not to save myself as you
suppose. Why, oh, why do you persist in supporting this disloyal cause,
and grieving us so?'

'Say not that,' he replied hastily. 'If truth hides at the bottom of a
well, why should you suppose justice to be in high places? I am for the
right at any price. Anna, leave the Castle; you are my sister; come
away, my dear, and save thy life!'

'Never!' says she. 'Do you plan to carry out this attack, and level the
Castle indeed?'

'Most certainly I do,' says he. 'What meaneth this army around us if not

'Then you will find the bones of your sister buried in the ruins you
cause!' said she. And without another word she turned and left him.

'Anna - abide with me!' he entreated. 'Blood is thicker than water, and
what is there in common between you and your husband now?'

But she shook her head and would not hear him and hastening out, mounted
her horse, and returned towards the Castle as she had come. Ay, many's
the time when I have been riding to hounds across that field that I have
thought of that scene!

When she had quite gone down the field, and over the intervening ground,
and round the bastion, so that he could no longer even see the tip of her
mare's white tail, he was much more deeply moved by emotions concerning
her and her welfare than he had been while she was before him. He wildly
reproached himself that he had not detained her by force for her own
good, so that, come what might, she would be under his protection and not
under that of her husband, whose impulsive nature rendered him too open
to instantaneous impressions and sudden changes of plan; he was now
acting in this cause and now in that, and lacked the cool judgment
necessary for the protection of a woman in these troubled times. Her
brother thought of her words again and again, and sighed, and even
considered if a sister were not of more value than a principle, and if he
would not have acted more naturally in throwing in his lot with hers.

The delay of the besiegers in attacking the Castle was said to be
entirely owing to this distraction on the part of their leader, who
remained on the spot attempting some indecisive operations, and parleying
with the Marquis, then in command, with far inferior forces, within the
Castle. It never occurred to him that in the meantime the young Lady
Baxby, his sister, was in much the same mood as himself. Her brother's
familiar voice and eyes, much worn and fatigued by keeping the field, and
by family distractions on account of this unhappy feud, rose upon her
vision all the afternoon, and as day waned she grew more and more
Parliamentarian in her principles, though the only arguments which had
addressed themselves to her were those of family ties.

Her husband, General Lord Baxby, had been expected to return all the day
from his excursion into the east of the county, a message having been
sent to him informing him of what had happened at home; and in the
evening he arrived with reinforcements in unexpected numbers. Her
brother retreated before these to a hill near Ivell, four or five miles
off, to afford the men and himself some repose. Lord Baxby duly placed
his forces, and there was no longer any immediate danger. By this time
Lady Baxby's feelings were more Parliamentarian than ever, and in her
fancy the fagged countenance of her brother, beaten back by her husband,
seemed to reproach her for heartlessness. When her husband entered her
apartment, ruddy and boisterous, and full of hope, she received him but
sadly; and upon his casually uttering some slighting words about her
brother's withdrawal, which seemed to convey an imputation upon his
courage, she resented them, and retorted that he, Lord Baxby himself, had
been against the Court-party at first, where it would be much more to his
credit if he were at present, and showing her brother's consistency of
opinion, instead of supporting the lying policy of the King (as she
called it) for the sake of a barren principle of loyalty, which was but
an empty expression when a King was not at one with his people. The
dissension grew bitter between them, reaching to little less than a hot
quarrel, both being quick-tempered souls.

Lord Baxby was weary with his long day's march and other excitements, and
soon retired to bed. His lady followed some time after. Her husband
slept profoundly, but not so she; she sat brooding by the window-slit,
and lifting the curtain looked forth upon the hills without.

In the silence between the footfalls of the sentinels she could hear
faint sounds of her brother's camp on the distant hills, where the
soldiery had hardly settled as yet into their bivouac since their
evening's retreat. The first frosts of autumn had touched the grass, and
shrivelled the more delicate leaves of the creepers; and she thought of
William sleeping on the chilly ground, under the strain of these
hardships. Tears flooded her eyes as she returned to her husband's
imputations upon his courage, as if there could be any doubt of Lord
William's courage after what he had done in the past days.

Lord Baxby's long and reposeful breathings in his comfortable bed vexed
her now, and she came to a determination on an impulse. Hastily lighting
a taper, she wrote on a scrap of paper:

'_Blood is thicker than water_, _dear William - I will come_;' and with
this in her hand, she went to the door of the room, and out upon the
stairs; on second thoughts turning back for a moment, to put on her
husband's hat and cloak - not the one he was daily wearing - that if seen
in the twilight she might at a casual glance appear as some lad or hanger-
on of one of the household women; thus accoutred she descended a flight
of circular stairs, at the bottom of which was a door opening upon the
terrace towards the west, in the direction of her brother's position. Her
object was to slip out without the sentry seeing her, get to the stables,
arouse one of the varlets, and send him ahead of her along the highway
with the note to warn her brother of her approach, to throw in her lot
with his.

She was still in the shadow of the wall on the west terrace, waiting for
the sentinel to be quite out of the way, when her ears were greeted by a
voice, saying, from the adjoining shade -

'Here I be!'

The tones were the tones of a woman. Lady Baxby made no reply, and stood
close to the wall.

'My Lord Baxby,' the voice continued; and she could recognize in it the
local accent of some girl from the little town of Sherton, close at hand.
'I be tired of waiting, my dear Lord Baxby! I was afeard you would never

Lady Baxby flushed hot to her toes.

'How the wench loves him!' she said to herself, reasoning from the tones
of the voice, which were plaintive and sweet and tender as a bird's. She
changed from the home-hating truant to the strategic wife in one moment.

'Hist!' she said.

'My lord, you told me ten o'clock, and 'tis near twelve now,' continues
the other. 'How could ye keep me waiting so if you love me as you said?
I should have stuck to my lover in the Parliament troops if it had not
been for thee, my dear lord!'

There was not the least doubt that Lady Baxby had been mistaken for her
husband by this intriguing damsel. Here was a pretty underhand business!
Here were sly manoeuvrings! Here was faithlessness! Here was a precious
assignation surprised in the midst! Her wicked husband, whom till this
very moment she had ever deemed the soul of good faith - how could he!

Lady Baxby precipitately retreated to the door in the turret, closed it,
locked it, and ascended one round of the staircase, where there was a
loophole. 'I am not coming! I, Lord Baxby, despise ye and all your
wanton tribe!' she hissed through the opening; and then crept upstairs,
as firmly rooted in Royalist principles as any man in the Castle.

Her husband still slept the sleep of the weary, well-fed, and
well-drunken, if not of the just; and Lady Baxby quickly disrobed herself
without assistance - being, indeed, supposed by her woman to have retired
to rest long ago. Before lying down, she noiselessly locked the door and
placed the key under her pillow. More than that, she got a staylace,
and, creeping up to her lord, in great stealth tied the lace in a tight
knot to one of his long locks of hair, attaching the other end of the
lace to the bedpost; for, being tired herself now, she feared she might
sleep heavily; and, if her husband should wake, this would be a delicate
hint that she had discovered all.

It is added that, to make assurance trebly sure, her gentle ladyship,
when she had lain down to rest, held her lord's hand in her own during
the whole of the night. But this is old-wives' gossip, and not
corroborated. What Lord Baxby thought and said when he awoke the next
morning, and found himself so strangely tethered, is likewise only matter
of conjecture; though there is no reason to suppose that his rage was
great. The extent of his culpability as regards the intrigue was this
much; that, while halting at a cross-road near Sherton that day, he had
flirted with a pretty young woman, who seemed nothing loth, and had
invited her to the Castle terrace after dark - an invitation which he
quite forgot on his arrival home.

The subsequent relations of Lord and Lady Baxby were not again greatly
embittered by quarrels, so far as is known; though the husband's conduct
in later life was occasionally eccentric, and the vicissitudes of his
public career culminated in long exile. The siege of the Castle was not
regularly undertaken till two or three years later than the time I have
been describing, when Lady Baxby and all the women therein, except the
wife of the then Governor, had been removed to safe distance. That
memorable siege of fifteen days by Fairfax, and the surrender of the old
place on an August evening, is matter of history, and need not be told by

* * * * *

The Man of Family spoke approvingly across to the Colonel when the Club
had done smiling, declaring that the story was an absolutely faithful
page of history, as he had good reason to know, his own people having
been engaged in that well-known scrimmage. He asked if the Colonel had
ever heard the equally well-authenticated, though less martial tale of a
certain Lady Penelope, who lived in the same century, and not a score of
miles from the same place?

The Colonel had not heard it, nor had anybody except the local historian;
and the inquirer was induced to proceed forthwith.

By the Man of Family

In going out of Casterbridge by the low-lying road which eventually
conducts to the town of Ivell, you see on the right hand an ivied manor-
house, flanked by battlemented towers, and more than usually
distinguished by the size of its many mullioned windows. Though still of
good capacity, the building is much reduced from its original grand
proportions; it has, moreover, been shorn of the fair estate which once
appertained to its lord, with the exception of a few acres of park-land
immediately around the mansion. This was formerly the seat of the
ancient and knightly family of the Drenghards, or Drenkhards, now extinct
in the male line, whose name, according to the local chronicles, was
interpreted to mean _Strenuus Miles_, _vel Potator_, though certain
members of the family were averse to the latter signification, and a duel
was fought by one of them on that account, as is well known. With this,
however, we are not now concerned.

In the early part of the reign of the first King James, there was
visiting near this place of the Drenghards a lady of noble family and
extraordinary beauty. She was of the purest descent; ah, there's seldom
such blood nowadays as hers! She possessed no great wealth, it was said,
but was sufficiently endowed. Her beauty was so perfect, and her manner
so entrancing, that suitors seemed to spring out of the ground wherever
she went, a sufficient cause of anxiety to the Countess her mother, her
only living parent. Of these there were three in particular, whom
neither her mother's complaints of prematurity, nor the ready raillery of
the maiden herself, could effectually put off. The said gallants were a
certain Sir John Gale, a Sir William Hervy, and the well-known Sir George
Drenghard, one of the Drenghard family before-mentioned. They had,
curiously enough, all been equally honoured with the distinction of
knighthood, and their schemes for seeing her were manifold, each fearing
that one of the others would steal a march over himself. Not content
with calling, on every imaginable excuse, at the house of the relative
with whom she sojourned, they intercepted her in rides and in walks; and
if any one of them chanced to surprise another in the act of paying her
marked attentions, the encounter often ended in an altercation of great
violence. So heated and impassioned, indeed, would they become, that the
lady hardly felt herself safe in their company at such times,
notwithstanding that she was a brave and buxom damsel, not easily put
out, and with a daring spirit of humour in her composition, if not of

At one of these altercations, which had place in her relative's grounds,
and was unusually bitter, threatening to result in a duel, she found it
necessary to assert herself. Turning haughtily upon the pair of
disputants, she declared that whichever should be the first to break the
peace between them, no matter what the provocation, that man should never
be admitted to her presence again; and thus would she effectually
stultify the aggressor by making the promotion of a quarrel a distinct
bar to its object.

While the two knights were wearing rather a crest-fallen appearance at
her reprimand, the third, never far off, came upon the scene, and she
repeated her caveat to him also. Seeing, then, how great was the concern
of all at her peremptory mood, the lady's manner softened, and she said
with a roguish smile -

'Have patience, have patience, you foolish men! Only bide your time
quietly, and, in faith, I will marry you all in turn!'

They laughed heartily at this sally, all three together, as though they
were the best of friends; at which she blushed, and showed some
embarrassment, not having realized that her arch jest would have sounded
so strange when uttered. The meeting which resulted thus, however, had
its good effect in checking the bitterness of their rivalry; and they
repeated her speech to their relatives and acquaintance with a hilarious
frequency and publicity that the lady little divined, or she might have
blushed and felt more embarrassment still.

In the course of time the position resolved itself, and the beauteous
Lady Penelope (as she was called) made up her mind; her choice being the
eldest of the three knights, Sir George Drenghard, owner of the mansion
aforesaid, which thereupon became her home; and her husband being a
pleasant man, and his family, though not so noble, of as good repute as
her own, all things seemed to show that she had reckoned wisely in
honouring him with her preference.

But what may lie behind the still and silent veil of the future none can
foretell. In the course of a few months the husband of her choice died
of his convivialities (as if, indeed, to bear out his name), and the Lady
Penelope was left alone as mistress of his house. By this time she had
apparently quite forgotten her careless declaration to her lovers
collectively; but the lovers themselves had not forgotten it; and, as she
would now be free to take a second one of them, Sir John Gale appeared at
her door as early in her widowhood as it was proper and seemly to do so.

She gave him little encouragement; for, of the two remaining, her best
beloved was Sir William, of whom, if the truth must be told, she had
often thought during her short married life. But he had not yet
reappeared. Her heart began to be so much with him now that she

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 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 12 of 16)