The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 105/Griffith Gaunt; or, Jealousy
GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY.
The bill was paid; the black horse saddled and brought round to the door. Mr. and Mrs. Vint stood bare-headed to honor the parting guest; and the latter offered him the stirrup-cup.
Griffith looked round for Mercy. She was nowhere to be seen.
Then he said, piteously, to Mrs. Vint, "What, not even bid me good by?"
Mrs. Vint replied, in a very low voice, that there was no disrespect intended. "The truth is, sir, she could not trust herself to see you go; but she bade me give you a message. Says she, 'Mother, tell him I pray God to bless him, go where he will.'"
Something rose in Griffith's throat "O Dame!" said he, "if she only knew the truth, she would think better of me than she does. God bless her!"
And he rode sorrowfully away, alone in the world once more.
At the first turn in the road, he wheeled his horse, and took a last lingering look.
There was nothing vulgar, nor inn-like, in the "Packhorse." It stood fifty yards from the road, on a little rural green, and was picturesque itself. The front was entirely clad with large-leaved ivy. Shutters there were none: the windows, with their diamond panes, were lustrous squares, set like great eyes in the green ivy. It looked a pretty, peaceful retreat, and in it Griffith had found peace and a dove-like friend.
He sighed, and rode away from the sight; not raging and convulsed, as when he rode from Hernshaw Castle, but somewhat sick at heart, and very heavy.
He paced so slowly that it took him a quarter of an hour to reach the "Woodman,"—a wayside inn, not two miles distant. As he went by, a farmer hailed him from the porch, and insisted on drinking with him; for he was very popular in the neighborhood. Whilst they were thus employed, who should come out but Paul Carrick, booted and spurred, and flushed in the face, and rather the worse for liquor imbibed on the spot.
"So you are going, are ye?" said he. "A good job, too." Then, turning to the other, "Master Gutteridge, never you save a man's life, if you can anyways help it. I saved this one's; and what does he do but turn round and poison my sweetheart against me?"
"How can you say so?" remonstrated Griffith. "I never belied you. Your name scarce ever passed my lips."
"Don't tell me," said Carrick. "However, she has come to her senses, and given your worship the sack. Ride you into Cumberland, and I to the 'Packhorse,' and take my own again."
With this, he unhooked his nag from the wall, and clattered off to the "Packhorse."
Griffith sat a moment stupefied, and then his face was convulsed by his ruling passion. He wheeled his horse, gave him the spur, and galloped after Carrick.
He soon came up with him, and yelled in his ear, "I'll teach you to spit your wormwood in my cup of sorrow."
Carrick shook his fist defiantly, and spurred his horse in turn.
It was an exciting race, and a novel one, but soon decided. The great black hunter went ahead, and still improved his advantage. Carrick, purple with rage, was full a quarter of a mile behind, when Griffith dashed furiously into the stable of the "Packhorse," and, leaving Black Dick panting and covered with foam, ran in search of Mercy.
The girl told him she was in the dairy. He looked in at the window, and there she was with her mother. With instinctive sense and fortitude she had fled to work. She was trying to churn; but it would not do: she had laid her shapely arm on the churn, and her head on it, and was crying.
Mrs. Vint was praising Carrick, and offering homely consolation.
"Ah, mother," sighed Mercy, "I could have made him happy. He does not know that; and he has turned his back on content. What will become of him?"
Griffith heard no more. He went round to the front door, and rushed in.
"Take your own way, Dame," said he, in great agitation. "Put up the banns when you like. Sweetheart, wilt wed with me? I'll make thee the best husband I can."
Mercy screamed faintly, and lifted up her hands; then she blushed and trembled to her very finger ends; but it ended in smiles of joy and her brow upon his shoulder.
In which attitude, with Mrs. Vint patting him approvingly on the back, they were surprised by Paul Carrick. He came to the door, and there stood aghast.
The young man stared ruefully at the picture, and then said, very dryly, "I'm too late, methinks."
"That you be, Paul," said Mrs. Vint, cheerfully. "She is meat for your master."
"Don't—you—never—come to me—to save your life—no more," blubbered Paul, breaking down all of a sudden.
He then retired, little heeded, and came no more to the "Packhorse" for several days.
It is desirable that improper marriages should never be solemnized; and the Christian Church saw this, many hundred years ago, and ordained that, before a marriage, the banns should be cried in a church three Sundays, and any person there present might forbid the union of the parties, and allege the just impediment.
This precaution was feeble, but not wholly inadequate—in the Middle Ages; for we know by good evidence that the priest was often interrupted and the banns forbidden.
But in modern days the banns are never forbidden; in other words, the precautionary measure that has come down to us from the thirteenth century is out of date and useless. It rests, indeed, on an estimate of publicity that has become childish, and almost asinine. If persons about to marry were compelled to inscribe their names and descriptions in a Matrimonial Weekly Gazette, and a copy of this were placed on a desk in ten thousand churches, perhaps we might stop one lady per annum from marrying her husband's brother, and one gentleman from wedding his neighbor's wife. But the crying of banns in a single parish church is a waste of the people's time and the parson's breath.
And so it proved in Griffith Gaunt's case. The Rev. William Wentworth published, in the usual recitative, the banns of marriage between Thomas Leicester, of the parish of Marylebone in London, and Mercy Vint, spinster, of this parish; and creation, present ex hypothesi mediævale, but absent in fact, assented, by silence, to the union.
So Thomas Leicester wedded Mercy Vint, and took her home to the "Packhorse."
It would be well if those who stifle their consciences, and commit crimes, would set up a sort of medico-moral diary, and record their symptoms minutely day by day. Such records might help to clear away some vague conventional notions.
To tell the truth, our hero, and now malefactor, (the combination is of high antiquity,) enjoyed, for several months, the peace of mind that belongs of right to innocence; and his days passed in a state of smooth complacency. Mercy was a good, wise, and tender wife; she naturally looked up to him after marriage more than she did before; she studied his happiness, as she had never studied her own; she mastered his character, admired his good qualities, discerned his weaknesses, but did not view them as defects; only as little traits to be watched, lest she should give pain to "her master," as she called him.
Affection, in her, took a more obsequious form than it could ever assume in Kate Peyton. And yet she had great influence, and softly governed "her master" for his good. She would come into the room and take away the bottle, if he was committing excess; but she had a way of doing it, so like a good, but resolute mother, and so unlike a termagant, that he never resisted. Upon the whole, she nursed his mind, as in earlier days she had nursed his body.
And then she made him so comfortable: she observed him minutely to that end. As is the eye of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so Mercy Leicester's dove-like eye was ever watching "her master's" face, to learn the minutest features of his mind.
One evening he came in tired, and there was a black fire in the parlor. His countenance fell the sixteenth of an inch. You and I, sir, should never have noticed it. But Mercy did, and, ever after, there was a clear fire when he came in.
She noted, too, that he loved to play the viol da gambo, but disliked the trouble of tuning it. So then she tuned it for him.
When he came home at night, early or late, he was sure to find a dry pair of shoes on the rug, his six-stringed viol tuned to a hair, a bright fire, and a brighter wife, smiling and radiant at his coming, and always neat; for, said she, "Shall I don my bravery for strangers, and not for my Thomas, that is the best of company?"
They used to go to church, and come back together, hand in hand like lovers; for the arm was rarely given in those days. And Griffith said to himself every Sunday, "What a comfort to have a Protestant wife!"
But one day he was off his guard, and called her "Kate, my dear."
"Who is Kate?" said she softly, but with a degree of trouble and intelligence that made him tremble.
"No matter," said he, all in a flutter. Then, solemnly, "Whoever she was, she is dead,—dead."
"Ah!" said Mercy, very tenderly and solemnly, and under her breath. "You loved her; yet she must die." She paused; then, in a tone so exquisite I can only call it an angel's whisper, "Poor Kate!"
Griffith groaned aloud. "For God's sake, never mention that name to me again. Let me forget she ever lived. She was not the true friend to me that you have been."
Mercy replied, softly, "Say not so, Thomas. You loved her well. Her death had all but cost me thine. Ah, well! we cannot all be the first. I am not very jealous, for my part; and I thank God for 't. Thou art a dear good husband to me, and that is enow."
Paul Carrick, unable to break off his habits, came to the "Packhorse" now and then; but Mercy protected her husband's heart from pain. She was kind, and even pitiful; but so discreet and resolute, and contrived to draw the line so clearly between her husband and her old sweetheart, that Griffith's foible could not burn him, for want of fuel.
And so passed several months, and the man's heart was at peace. He could not love Mercy passionately as he had loved Kate; but he was full of real regard and esteem for her. It was one of those gentle, clinging attachments that outlast grand passions, and survive till death; a tender, pure affection, though built upon a crime.
They had been married, and lived in sweet content, about three quarters of a year—when trouble came; but in a vulgar form. A murrain carried off several of Harry Vint's cattle; and it then came out that he had purchased six of them on credit, and had been to set his hand to bills of exchange for them. His rent was also behind, and, in fact, his affairs were in a desperate condition.
He hid it as long as he could from them all; but at last, being served with a process for debt, and threatened with a distress and an execution, he called a family council and exposed the real state of things.
Mrs. Vint rated him soundly for keeping all this secret so long.
He whom they called Thomas Leicester remonstrated with him. "Had you told me in time," said he, "I had not paid forfeit for 'The Vine,' but settled there, and given you a home."
Mercy said never a word but "Poor father!"
As the peril drew nearer, the conversations became more animated and agitated, and soon the old people took to complaining of Thomas Leicester to his wife.
"Thou hast married a gentleman; and he hath not the heart to lift a hand to save thy folk from ruin."
"Say not so," pleaded Mercy: "to be sure he hath the heart, but not the means. 'T was but yestreen he bade me sell his jewels for you. But, mother, I think they belonged to some one he loved,—and she died. So, poor thing, how could I? Then, if you love me, blame me, and not him."
"Jewels, quotha! will they stop such a gap as ours?" was the contemptuous reply.
From complaining of him behind his back, the old people soon came to launching innuendoes obliquely at him. Here is one specimen out of a dozen.
"Wife, if our Mercy had wedded one of her own sort, mayhap he'd have helped us a bit."
"Ay, poor soul; and she so near her time: if the bailiffs come down on us next month, 'tis my belief we shall lose her, as well as house and home."
The false Thomas Leicester let them run on, in dogged silence; but every word was a stab.
And one day, when he had been baited sore with hints, he turned round on them fiercely, and said: "Did I get you into this mess? It's all your own doing. Learn to see your own faults, and not be so hard on one that has been the best servant you ever had, gentleman or not."
Men can resist the remonstrances that wound them, and so irritate them, better than they can those gentle appeals that rouse no anger, but soften the whole heart. The old people stung him; but Mercy, without design, took a surer way. She never said a word; but sometimes, when the discussions were at their height, she turned her dove-like eyes on him, with a look so loving, so humbly inquiring, so timidly imploring, that his heart melted within him.
Ah, that is a true touch of nature and genuine observation of the sexes, in the old song,—
"My feyther urged me sair;
My mither didna speak;
But she looked me in the face,
Till my hairt was like to break."
These silent, womanly, imploring looks of patient Mercy were mightier than argument or invective.
The man knew all along where to get money, and how to get it. He had only to go to Hernshaw Castle. But his very soul shuddered at the idea. However, for Mercy's sake, he took the first step; he compelled himself to look the thing in the face, and discuss it with himself. A few months ago he could not have done even this,—he loved his lawful wife too much; hated her too much. But now, Mercy and Time had blunted both those passions; and he could ask himself whether he could not encounter Kate and her priest without any very violent emotion.
When they first set up house together, he had spent his whole fortune, a sum of two thousand pounds, on repairing and embellishing Hernshaw Castle and grounds. Since she had driven him out of the house, he had a clear right to have back the money; and he now resolved he would have it; but what he wanted was to get it without going to the place in person.
And now Mercy's figure, as well as her imploring looks, moved him greatly. She was in that condition which appeals to a man's humanity and masculine pity, as well as to his affection. To use the homely words of Scripture, she was great with child, and in that condition moved slowly about him, filling his pipe, and laying his slippers, and ministering to all his little comforts; she would make no difference: and when he saw the poor dove move about him so heavily, and rather languidly, yet so zealously and tenderly, the man's very bowels yearned over her, and he felt as if he could die to do her a service.
So, one day, when she was standing by him, bending over his little round table, and filling his pipe with her neat hand, he took her by the other hand and drew her gently on his knee, her burden and all. "Child!" said he, "do not thou fret. I know how to get money; and I'll do 't, for thy sake."
"I know that," said she, softly; "can I not read thy face by this time?" and so laid her cheek to his. "But, Thomas, for my sake, get it honestly,—or not at all," said she, still filling his pipe, with her cheek to his.
"I'll but take back my own," said he; "fear naught."
But, after thus positively pledging himself to Mercy, he became thoughtful and rather fretful; for he was still most averse to go to Hernshaw, and yet could hit upon no other way; since to employ an agent would be to let out that he had committed bigamy, and so risk his own neck, and break Mercy's heart.
After all his scale was turned by his foible.
Mrs. Vint had been weak enough to confide her trouble to a friend: it was all over the parish in three days.
Well, one day, in the kitchen of the Inn, Paul Carrick, having drunk two pints of good ale, said to Vint, "Landlord, you ought to have married her to me, I've got two hundred pounds laid by. I'd have pulled you out of the mire, and welcome."
"Would you, though, Paul?" said Harry Vint; "then, by G—, I wish I had."
Now Carrick bawled that out, and Griffith, who was at the door, heard it.
He walked into the kitchen, ghastly pale, and spoke to Harry Vint first.
"I take your inn, your farm, and your debts on me," said he; "not one without t' other."
"Spoke like a man!" cried the landlord, joyfully; "and so be it—before these witnesses."
Griffith turned on Carrick: "This house is mine. Get out on 't, ye jealous, mischief-making cur." And he took him by the collar and dragged him furiously out of the place, and sent him whirling into the middle of the road; then ran back for his hat and flung it out after him.
This done, he sat down boiling, and his eyes roved fiercely round the room in search of some other antagonist. But his strength was so great, and his face so altered with this sudden spasm of reviving jealousy, that nobody cared to provoke him further.
After a while, however, Harry Vint muttered dryly, "There goes one good customer."
Griffith took him up sternly: "If your debts are to be mine, your trade shall be mine too, that you had not the head to conduct."
"So be it, son-in-law," said the old man; "only you go so fast: you do take possession afore you pays the fee."
Griffith winced. "That shall be the last of your taunts, old man." He turned to the ostler: "Bill, give Black Dick his oats at sunrise; and in ten days at furthest I'll pay every shilling this house and farm do owe. Now, Master White, you'll put in hand a new sign-board for this inn; a fresh 'Packhorse,' and paint him jet black, with one white hoof (instead of chocolate), in honor of my nag Dick; and in place of Harry Vint you'll put in Thomas Leicester. See that is done against I come back, or come you here no more."
Soon after this scene he retired to tell Mercy; and, on his departure, the suppressed tongues went like mill-clacks.
Dick came round saddled at peep of day; but Mercy had been up more than an hour, and prepared her man's breakfast. She clung to him at parting, and cried a little; and whispered something in his ear, for nobody else to hear: it was an entreaty that he would not be long gone, lest he should be far from her in the hour of her peril.
Thereupon he promised her, and kissed her tenderly, and bade her be of good heart; and so rode away northwards with dogged resolution.
As soon as he was gone, Mercy's tears flowed without restraint.
Her father set himself to console her. "Thy good man," he said, "is but gone back to the high road for a night or two, to follow his trade of 'stand and deliver.' Fear naught, child; his pistols are well primed: I saw to that myself; and his horse is the fleetest in the county. You'll have him back in three days, and money in both pockets. I warrant you his is a better trade than mine; and he is a fool to change it."
Griffith was two days upon the road, and all that time he was turning over and discussing in his mind how he should conduct the disagreeable but necessary business he had undertaken.
He determined, at last, to make the visit one of business only: no heat, no reproaches. That lovely, hateful woman might continue to dishonor his name, for he had himself abandoned it. He would not deign to receive any money that was hers; but his own two thousand pounds he would have; and two or three hundred on the spot by way of instalment. And, with these hard views, he drew near to Hernshaw; but the nearer he got, the slower he went; for what at a distance had seemed tolerably easy began to get more and more difficult and repulsive. Moreover, his heart, which he thought he had steeled, began now to flutter a little, and somehow to shudder at the approaching interview.
Caroline Ryder went to the gate of the Grove, and stayed there two hours; but, of course, no Griffith came.
She returned the next night, and the next; and then she gave it up, and awaited an explanation. None came, and she was bitterly disappointed, and indignant.
She began to hate Griffith, and to conceive a certain respect, and even a tepid friendship, for the other woman he had insulted.
Another clew to this change of feeling is to be found in a word she let drop in talking to another servant. "My mistress," said she, "bears it like a man."
In fact, Mrs. Gaunt's conduct at this period was truly noble.
She suffered months of torture, months of grief; but the high-spirited creature hid it from the world, and maintained a sad but high composure.
She wore her black, for she said, "How do I know he is alive?" She retrenched her establishment, reduced her expenses two thirds, and busied herself in works of charity and religion.
Her desolate condition attracted a gentleman who had once loved her, and now esteemed and pitied her profoundly,—Sir George Neville.
He was still unmarried, and she was the cause; so far at least as this: she had put him out of conceit with the other ladies at that period when he had serious thoughts of marriage: and the inclination to marry at all had not since returned.
If the Gaunts had settled at Boulton, Sir George would have been their near neighbor; but Neville's Court was nine miles from Hernshaw Castle: and when they met, which was not very often, Mrs. Gaunt was on her guard to give Griffith no shadow of uneasiness. She was therefore rather more dignified and distant with Sir George than her own inclination and his merits would have prompted; for he was a superior and very agreeable man.
When it became quite certain that her husband had left her, Sir George rode up to Hernshaw Castle, and called upon her.
She begged to be excused from seeing him.
Now Sir George was universally courted, and this rather nettled him; however, he soon learned that she received nobody except a few religious friends of her own sex.
Sir George then wrote her a letter that did him credit: it was full of worthy sentiment and good sense. For instance, he said he desired to intrude his friendly offices and his sympathy upon her, but nothing more. Time had cured him of those warmer feelings which had once ruffled his peace; but Time could not efface his tender esteem for the lady he had loved in his youth, nor his profound respect for her character.
Mrs. Gaunt wept over his gentle letter, and was on the verge of asking herself why she had chosen Griffith instead of this chevalier. She sent him a sweet, yet prudent reply; she did not encourage him to visit her; but said, that, if ever she should bring herself to receive visits from the gentlemen of the county during her husband's absence, he should be the first to know it. She signed herself his unhappy, but deeply grateful, servant and friend.
One day, as she came out of a poor woman's cottage, with a little basket on her arm, which she had emptied in the cottage, she met Sir George Neville full.
He took his hat off, and made her a profound bow. He was then about to ride on, but altered his mind, and, dismounted to speak to her.
The interview was constrained at first; but erelong he ventured to tell her she really ought to consult with some old friend and practical man like himself. He would undertake to scour the country, and find her husband, if he was above ground.
"Me go a-hunting the man," cried she, turning red; "not if he was my king as well as my husband. He knows where to find me; and that is enough."
"Well, but madam, would you not like to learn where he is, and what he is doing?"
"Why, yes, my good, kind friend, I should like to know that." And, having pronounced these words with apparent calmness, she burst out crying, and almost ran away from him.
Sir George looked sadly after her, and formed a worthy resolution. He saw there was but one road to her regard. He resolved to hunt her husband for her, without intruding on her, or giving her a voice in the matter. Sir George was a magistrate, and accustomed to organize inquiries; spite of the length of time that had elapsed, he traced Griffith for a considerable distance. Pending further inquiries, he sent Mrs. Gaunt word that the truant had not made for the sea, but had gone due south.
Mrs. Gaunt returned him her warm thanks for this scrap of information. So long as Griffith remained in the island there was always a hope he might return to her. The money he had taken would soon be exhausted; and poverty might drive him to her; and she was so far humbled by grief, that she could welcome him even on those terms.
Affliction tempers the proud. Mrs. Gaunt was deeply injured as well as insulted; but, for all that, in her many days and weeks of solitude and sorrow, she took herself to task, and saw her fault. She became more gentle, more considerate of her servants' feelings, more womanly.
For many months she could not enter "the Grove." The spirited woman's very flesh revolted at the sight of the place where she had been insulted and abandoned. But, as she went deeper in religion, she forced herself to go to the gate and look in, and say out loud, "I gave the first offence," and then she would go in-doors again, quivering with the internal conflict.
Finally, being a Catholic, and therefore attaching more value to self-torture than we do, the poor soul made this very grove her place of penance. Once a week she had the fortitude to drag herself to the very spot where Griffith had denounced her; and there she would kneel and pray for him and for herself. And certainly, if humility and self-abasement were qualities of the body, here was to be seen their picture; for her way was to set her crucifix up at the foot of a tree; then to bow herself all down, between kneeling and lying, and put her lips meekly to the foot of the crucifix, and so pray long and earnestly.
Now, one day, while she was thus crouching in prayer, a gentleman, booted and spurred and splashed, drew near, with hesitating steps. She was so absorbed, she did not hear those steps at all till they were very near; but then she trembled all over; for her delicate ear recognized a manly tread she had not heard for many a day. She dared not move nor look, for she thought it was a mere sound, sent to her by Heaven to comfort her.
But the next moment a well-known mellow voice came like a thunder-clap, it shook her so.
"Forgive me, my good dame, but I desire to know—"
The question went no further, for Kate Gaunt sprang to her feet, with a loud scream, and stood glaring at Griffith Gaunt, and he at her.
And thus husband and wife met again,—met, by some strange caprice of Destiny, on the very spot where they had parted so horribly.
The gaze these two persons bent on one another may be half imagined: it can never be described.
Griffith spoke first. "In black!" said he, in a whisper.
His voice was low; his face, though pale and grim, had not the terrible aspect he wore at parting.
So she thought he had come back in an amicable spirit; and she flew to him, with a cry of love, and threw her arm round his neck, and panted on his shoulder.
At this reception, and the tremulous contact of one he had loved so dearly, a strange shudder ran through his frame,—a shudder that marked his present repugnance, yet indicated her latent power.
He himself felt he had betrayed some weakness; and it was all the worse for her. He caught her wrist and put her from him, not roughly, but with a look of horror. "The day is gone by for that, madam," he gasped. Then, sternly: "Think you I came here to play the credulous husband?"
Mrs. Gaunt drew back in her turn, and faltered out, "What! come back here, and not sorry for what you have done? not the least sorry? O my heart! you have almost broken it."
"Prithee, no more of this," said Griffith, sternly. "You and I are naught to one another now, and forever. But there, you are but a woman, and I did not come to quarrel with you." And he fixed his eyes on the ground.
"Thank God for that," faltered Mrs. Gaunt. "O sir, the sight of you—the thought of what you were to me once—till jealousy blinded you. Lend me your arm, if you are a man; my limbs do fail me."
The shock had been too much; a pallor overspread her lovely features, her knees knocked together, and she was tottering like some tender tree cut down, when Griffith, who, with all his faults, was a man, put out his strong arm, and she clung to it, quivering all over, and weeping hysterically.
That little hand, with its little feminine clutch, trembling on his arm, raised a certain male compassion for her piteous condition; and he bestowed a few cold, sad words of encouragement on her. "Come, come," said he, gently; "I shall not trouble you long. I'm cured of my jealousy. 'T is gone, along with my love. You and your saintly sinner are safe from me. I am come hither for my own, my two thousand pounds, and for nothing more."
"Ah! you are come back for money, not for me?" she murmured, with forced calmness.
"For money, and not for you, of course," said he, coldly.
The words were hardly out of his mouth, when the proud lady flung his arm from her. "Then money shall you have, and not me; nor aught of me but my contempt."
But she could not carry it off as heretofore. She turned her back haughtily on him; but, at the first step, she burst out crying, "Come, and I'll give you what you are come for," she sobbed. "Ungrateful! heartless! O, how little I knew this man!"
She crept away before him, drooping her head, and crying bitterly; and he followed her, hanging his head, and ill at ease; for there was such true passion in her voice, her streaming eyes, and indeed in her whole body, that he was moved, and the part he was playing revolted him. He felt confused and troubled, and asked himself how on earth it was that she, the guilty one, contrived to appear the injured one, and made him, the wronged one, feel almost remorseful.
Mrs. Gaunt took no more notice of him now than if he had been a dog following at her heels. She went into the drawing-room, and sank helplessly on the nearest couch, threw her head wearily back, and shut her eyes. Yet the tears trickled through the closed lids.
Griffith caught up a hand-bell, and rang it vigorously.
Quick, light steps were soon heard pattering; and in darted Caroline Ryder, with an anxious face; for of late she had conceived a certain sober regard for her mistress, who had ceased to be her successful rival, and who bore her grief like a man.
At sight of Griffith, Ryder screamed aloud, and stood panting.
Mrs. Gaunt opened her eyes. "Ay, child, he has come home," said she, bitterly; "his body, but not his heart."
She stretched her hand out feebly, and pointed to a bottle of salts that stood on the table. Ryder ran and put them to her nostrils. Mrs. Gaunt whispered in her ear, "Send a swift horse for Father Francis; tell him life or death!"
Ryder gave her a very intelligent look, and presently slipped out, and ran into the stable-yard.
At the gate she caught sight of Griffith's horse. What does this quick-witted creature do but send the groom off on that horse, and not on Mrs. Gaunt's.
"Now, Dame," said Griffith, doggedly, "are you better?"
"Ay, I thank you."
"Then listen to me. When you and I set up house together, I had two thousand pounds. I spent it on this house. The house is yours. You told me so, one day, you know."
"Ah, you can remember my faults."
"I remember all, Kate."
"Thank you, at least, for calling me Kate. Well, Griffith, since you abandoned us, I thought, and thought, and thought, of all that might befall you; and I said, 'What will he do for money?' My jewels, that you did me the honor to take, would not last you long, I feared. So I reduced my expenses three fourths at least, and I put by some money for your need."
Griffith looked amazed. "For my need?" said he.
"For whose else? I'll send for it, and place it in your hands—to-morrow."
"To-morrow? Why not to-day?"
"I have a favor to ask of you first."
"What is that?"
"Justice. If you are fond of money, I too have something I prize: my honor. You have belied and insulted me, sir; but I know you were under a delusion. I mean to remove that delusion, and make you see how little I am to blame; for, alas! I own I was imprudent. But, O Griffith, as I hope to be saved, it was the imprudence of innocence and over-confidence."
"Mistress," said Griffith, in a stern, yet agitated voice, "be advised, and leave all this: rouse not a man's sleeping wrath. Let bygones be bygones."
Mrs. Gaunt rose, and said, faintly, "So be it. I must go, sir, and give some orders for your entertainment."
"O, don't put yourself about for me," said Griffith: "I am not the master of this house."
Mrs. Gaunt's lip trembled, but she was a match for him. "Then are you my guest," said she; "and my credit is concerned in your comfort."
She made him a courtesy, as if he were a stranger, and marched to the door, concealing, with great pride and art, a certain trembling of her knees.
At the door she found Ryder, and bade her follow, much to that lady's disappointment; for she desired a tête-à-tête with Griffith, and an explanation.
As soon as the two women were out of Griffith's hearing, the mistress laid her hand on the servant's arm, and, giving way to her feelings, said, all in a flutter: "Child, if I have been a good mistress to thee, show it now. Help me keep him in the house till Father Francis comes."
"I undertake to do so much," said Ryder, firmly. "Leave it to me, mistress."
Mrs. Gaunt threw her arms round Ryder's neck and kissed her.
It was done so ardently, and by a woman hitherto so dignified and proud, that Ryder was taken by surprise, and almost affected.
As for the service Mrs. Gaunt had asked of her, it suited her own designs.
"Mistress," said she, "be ruled by me; keep out of his way a bit, while I get Miss Rose ready. You understand."
"Ah! I have one true friend in the house," said poor Mrs. Gaunt. She then confided in Ryder, and went away to give her own orders for Griffith's reception.
Ryder found little Rose, dressed her to perfection, and told her her dear papa was come home. She then worked upon the child's mind in that subtle way known to women, so that Rose went down stairs loaded and primed, though no distinct instructions had been given her.
As for Griffith, he walked up and down, uneasy; and wished he had stayed at the "Packhorse." He had not bargained for all these emotions; the peace of mind he had enjoyed for some months seemed trickling away.
"Mercy, my dear," said he to himself, "'t will be a dear penny to me, I doubt."
Then he went to the window, and looked at the lawn, and sighed. Then he sat down, and thought of the past.
Whilst he sat thus moody, the door opened very softly, and a little cherubic face, with blue eyes and golden hair, peeped in. Griffith started. "Ah!" cried Rose, with a joyful scream; and out flew her little arms, and away she came, half running, half dancing, and was on his knee in a moment, with her arms round his neck.
"Papa! papa!" she cried. "O my dear, dear, dear, darling papa!" And she kissed and patted his cheek again and again.
Her innocent endearments moved him to tears. "My pretty angel!" he sighed: "my lamb!"
"How your heart beats! Don't cry, dear papa. Nobody is dead: only we thought you were. I'm so glad you are come home alive. Now we can take off this nasty black: I hate it."
"What, 't is for me you wear it, pretty one?"
"Ay. Mamma made us. Poor mamma has been so unhappy. And that reminds me: you are a wicked man, papa. But I love you all one for that. It tis so dull when everybody is good like mamma; and she makes me dreadfully good too; but now you are come back, there will be a little, little wickedness again, it is to be hoped. Aren't you glad you are not dead, and are come home instead? I am."
"I am glad I have seen thee. Come, take my hand, and let us go look at the old place."
"Ay. But you must wait till I get on my new hat and feather."
"Nay, nay; art pretty enough bare-headed."
"O papa! but I must, for decency. You are company now; you know."
"Dull company, sweetheart, thou 'lt find me."
"I don't mean that: I mean, when you were here always, you were only papa; but now you come once in an age, you're company. I won't budge without 'em; so there, now."
"Well, little one, I do submit to thy hat and feather; only be quick, or I shall go forth without thee."
"If you dare," said Rose impetuously; "for I won't be half a moment."
She ran and extorted from Ryder the new hat and feather, which by rights she was not to have worn until next month.
Griffith and his little girl went all over the well-known premises, he sad and moody, she excited and chattering, and nodding her head down, and cocking her eye up every now and then, to get a glimpse of her feather.
"And don't you go away again, dear papa. It tis so dull without you. Nobody comes here. Mamma won't let 'em."
"Nobody except Father Leonard," said Griffith, bitterly.
"Father Leonard? Why, he never comes here. Leonard! That is the beautiful priest that used to pat me on the head, and bid me love and honor my parents. And so I do. Only mamma is always crying, and you keep away; so how can I love and honor you, when I never see you, and they keep telling me you are good for nothing, and dead."
"My young mistress, when did you see Father Leonard last?" said Griffith, gnawing his lip.
"How can I tell? Why, it was miles ago; when I was a mere girl. You know he went away before you did."
"I know nothing of the kind. Tell me the truth now. He has visited here since I went away."
"That is strange. She visits him, then?"
"What, mamma? She seldom stirs out; and never beyond the village. We keep no carriage now. Mamma is turned such a miser. She is afraid you will be poor; so she puts it all by for you. But now you are come, we shall have carriages and things again. O, by the by, Father Leonard! I heard them say he had left England, so I did."
"When was that?"
"Well, I think that was a little bit after you went away."
"That is strange," said Griffith, thoughtfully.
He led his little girl by the hand, but scarcely listened to her prattle; he was so surprised and puzzled by the information he had elicited from her.
Upon the whole, however, he concluded that his wife and the priest had perhaps been smitten with remorse, and had parted—when it was too late.
This, and the peace of mind he had found elsewhere, somewhat softened his feelings towards them. "So," thought he, "they were not hardened creatures after all. Poor Kate!"
As these milder feelings gained on him, Rose suddenly uttered a joyful cry; and, looking up, he saw Mrs. Gaunt coming towards him, and Ryder behind her. Both were in gay colors, which, in fact, was what had so delighted Rose.
They came up, and Mrs. Gaunt seemed a changed woman. She looked young and beautiful, and bent a look of angelic affection on her daughter; and said to Griffith, "Is she not grown? Is she not lovely? Sure you will never desert her again."
"'T was not her I deserted, but her mother; and she had played me false with her d——d priest," was Griffith's reply.
Mrs. Gaunt drew back with horror. "This, before my girl?" she cried. "Griffith Gaunt, you lie!"
And this time it was the woman who menaced the man. She rose to six feet high, and advanced on him with her great gray eyes flashing flames at him. "O that I were a man!" she cried: "this insult should be the last. I'd lay you dead at her feet and mine."
Griffith actually drew back a step; for the wrath of such a woman was terrible,—more terrible perhaps to a brave man than to a coward.
Then he put his hands in his pockets with a dogged air, and said, grinding his teeth, "But—as you are not a man, and I'm not a woman, we can't settle it that way. So I give you the last word, and good day. I'm sore in want of money; but I find I can't pay the price it is like to cost me. Farewell."
"Begone!" said Mrs. Gaunt: "and, this time, forever. Ruffian, and fool, I loathe the sight of you."
Rose ran weeping to her. "O mamma, don't quarrel with papa": then back to Griffith, "O papa, don't quarrel with mamma,—for my sake."
Griffith hung his head, and said, in a broken voice: "No, my lamb, we twain must not quarrel before thee. We will part in silence, as becomes those that once were dear, and have thee to show for 't. Madam, I wish you all health and happiness. Adieu."
He turned on his heel; and Mrs. Gaunt took Rose to her knees, and bent and wept over her. Niobe over her last was not more graceful, nor more sad.
As for Ryder, she stole quietly after her retiring master. She found him peering about, and asked him demurely what he was looking for.
"My good black horse, girl, to take me from this cursed place. Did I not tie him to yon gate?"
"The black horse? Why I sent him for Father Francis. Nay, listen to me, master; you know I was always your friend, and hard upon her. Well, since you went, things have come to pass that make me doubt. I do begin to fear you were too hasty."
"Do you tell me this now, woman?" cried Griffith, furiously.
"How could I tell you before? Why did you break your tryst with me? If you had come according to your letter, I'd have told you months ago what I tell you now; but, as I was saying, the priest never came near her after you left; and she never stirred abroad to meet him. More than that, he has left England."
"Remorse! Too late."
"Perhaps it may, sir. I couldn't say; but there is one coming that knows the very truth."
"Who is that?"
"Father Francis. The moment you came, sir, I took it on me to send for him. You know the man: he won't tell a lie to please our dame. And he knows all; for Leonard has confessed to him. I listened, and heard him say as much. Then, master, be advised, and get the truth from Father Francis."
Griffith trembled. "Francis is an honest man," said he; "I'll wait till he comes. But O, my lass, I find money may be bought too dear."
"Your chamber is ready, sir, and your clothes put out. Supper is ordered. Let me show you your room. We are all so happy now."
"Well," said he, listlessly, "since my horse is gone, and Francis coming, and I'm wearied and sick of the world, do what you will with me for this one day."
He followed her mechanically to a bedroom, where was a bright fire, and a fine shirt, and his silver-laced suit of clothes airing.
A sense of luxurious comfort struck him at the sight.
"Ay," said he, "I'll dress, and so to supper; I'm main hungry. It seems a man must eat, let his heart be ever so sore."
Before she left him, Ryder asked him coldly why he had broken his appointment with her.
"That is too long a story to tell you now," said he, coolly.
"Another time then," said she; and went out smiling, but bitter at heart.
Griffith had a good wash, and enjoyed certain little conveniences which he had not at the "Packhorse." He doffed his riding suit, and donned the magnificent dress Ryder had selected for him; and with his fine clothes he somehow put on more ceremonious manners.
He came down to the dining-room. To his surprise he found it illuminated with wax candles, and the table and sideboard gorgeous with plate.
Supper soon smoked upon the board; but, though it was set for three, nobody else appeared.
Griffith inquired of Ryder whether he was to sup alone.
She replied: "My mistress desires you not to wait for her. She has no stomach."
"Well, then, I have," said Griffith, and fell to with a will.
Ryder, who waited on this occasion, stood and eyed him with curiosity: his conduct was so unlike a woman's.
Just as he concluded, the door opened, and a burly form entered. Griffith rose, and embraced him with his arms and lips, after the fashion of the day. "Welcome, thou one honest priest!" said he.
"Welcome, thrice welcome, my long lost son!" said the cordial Francis.
"Sit down, man, and eat with me. I'll begin again, for you."
"Presently, Squire; I've work to do first. Go thou and bid thy mistress come hither to me."
Ryder, to whom this was addressed, went out, and left the gentlemen together.
Father Francis drew out of his pocket two packets, carefully tied and sealed. He took a knife from the table and cut the strings, and broke the seals. Griffith eyed him with curiosity.
Father Francis looked at him. "These," said he, very gravely, "are the letters that Brother Leonard hath written, at sundry times, to Catharine Gaunt, and these are the letters Catharine Gaunt hath written to Brother Leonard."
Griffith trembled, and his face was convulsed.
"Let me read them at once," said he: and stretched out his hand, with eyes like a dog's in the dark.
Francis withdrew them, quietly. "Not till she is also present," said he.
At that Griffith's good-nature, multiplied by a good supper, took the alarm. "Come, come, sir," said he, "have a little mercy. I know you are a just man, and, though a boon companion, most severe in all matters of morality. But, I tell you plainly, if you are going to drag this poor woman in the dirt, I shall go out of the room. What is the use tormenting her? I've told her my mind before her own child: and now I wish I had not. When I caught them in the grove I lifted my hand to strike her, and she never winced; I had better have left that alone too, methinks. D—n the women: you are always in the wrong if you treat 'em like men. They are not wicked: they are weak. And this one hath lain in my bosom, and borne me two children, and one he lieth in the churchyard, and t' other hath her hair and my very eyes: and the truth is, I can't bear any man on earth to miscall her, but myself. God help me; I doubt I love her still too well to sit by and see her tortured. She was all in black for her fault, poor penitent wretch. Give me the letters; but let her be."
Francis was moved by this appeal, but shook his head solemnly; and, ere Griffith could renew his argument, the door was flung open by Ryder, and a stately figure sailed in, that took both the gentlemen by surprise.
It was Mrs. Gaunt, in full dress. Rich brocade that swept the ground; magnificent bust, like Parian marble varnished; and on her brow a diadem of emeralds and diamonds that gave her beauty an imperial stamp.
She swept into the room as only fine women can sweep, made Griffith a haughty courtesy, and suddenly lowered her head, and received Father Francis's blessing: then seated herself, and quietly awaited events.
"The brazen jade!" thought Griffith. "But how divinely beautiful!" And he became as agitated as she was calm—in appearance. For need I say her calmness was put on? Defensive armor made for her by her pride and her sex.
The voice of Father Francis now rose, solid, grave, and too impressive to be interrupted.
"My daughter, and you who are her husband and my friend, I am here to do justice between you both, with God's help; and to show you both your faults. Catharine Gaunt, you began the mischief, by encouraging another man to interfere between you and your husband in things secular."
"But, father, he was my director, my priest."
"My daughter, do you believe, with the Protestants, that marriage is a mere civil contract; or do you hold, with us, that it is one of the holy sacraments?"
"Can you ask me?" murmured Kate, reproachfully.
"Well, then, those whom God and the whole Church have in holy sacrament united, what right hath a single priest to disunite in heart, and make the wife false to any part whatever of that most holy vow? I hear, and not from you, that Leonard did set you against your husband's friends, withdrew you from society, and sent him abroad alone. In one word, he robbed your husband of his companion and his friend. The sin was Leonard's; but the fault was yours. You were five years older than Leonard, and a woman of sense and experience; he but a boy by comparison. What right had you to surrender your understanding, in a matter of this kind, to a poor silly priest, fresh from his seminary, and as manifestly without a grain of common sense as he was full of piety?"
This remonstrance produced rather a striking effect on both those who heard it. Mrs. Gaunt seemed much struck with it. She leaned back in her chair, and put her hand to her brow with a sort of despairing gesture that Griffith could not very well understand, it seemed to him so disproportionate.
It softened him, however, and he faltered out, "Ay, father, that is how it all began. Would to heaven it had stopped there."
Francis resumed. "This false step led to consequences you never dreamed of; for one of your romantic notions is, that a priest is an angel. I have known you, in former times, try to take me for an angel: then would I throw cold water on your folly by calling lustily for chines of beef and mugs of ale. But I suppose Leonard thought himself an angel too; and the upshot was, he fell in love with his neighbor's wife."
"And she with him," groaned Griffith.
"Not so," said Francis; "but perhaps she was nearer it than she thinks."
"Prove that," said Mrs. Gaunt, "and I'll fall on my knees to him before you."
Francis smiled, and proceeded. "To be sure, from the moment you discovered Leonard was in love with you, you drew back, and conducted yourself with prudence and propriety. Read these letters, sir, and tell me what you think of them."
He handed them to Griffith. Griffith's hand trembled visibly as he took them.
"Stay," said Father Francis; "your better way will be to read the whole correspondence according to the dates. Begin with this of Mrs. Gaunt's."
Griffith read the letter in an audible whisper.
Mrs. Gaunt listened with all her ears.
"Dear Father and Friend,—The words you spoke to me to-day admit but one meaning; you are jealous of my husband.
"Then you must be—how can I write it?—almost in love with me.
"So then my poor husband was wiser than I. He saw a rival in you: and he has one.
"I am deeply, deeply shocked. I ought to be very angry too; but, thinking of your solitary condition, and all the good you have done to my soul, my heart has no place for aught but pity. Only, as I am in my senses, and you are not, you must now obey me, as heretofore I have obeyed you. You must seek another sphere of duty, without delay.
"These seem harsh words from me to you. You will live to see they are kind ones.
"Write me one line, and no more, to say you will be ruled by me in this.
"God and the saints have you in their holy keeping. So prays your affectionate and
"Sorrowful daughter and true friend,
"Poor soul!" said Griffith. "Said I not that women are not wicked, but weak? Who would think that after this he could get the better of her good resolves,—the villain!"
"Now read his reply," said Father Francis.
"Ay," said Griffith. "So this is his one word of reply, is it? three pages closely writ,—the villain, O the villain!"
"Read the villain's letter," said Francis, calmly.
The letter was very humble and pathetic,—the reply of a good, though erring man, who owned that in a moment of weakness he had been betrayed into a feeling inconsistent with his holy profession. He begged his correspondent, however, not to judge him quite so hardly. He reminded her of his solitary life, his natural melancholy, and assured her that all men in his condition had moments when they envied those whose bosoms had partners. "Such a cry of anguish," said he, "was once wrung from a maiden queen, maugre all her pride. The Queen of Scots hath a son; and I am but a barren stock." He went on to say that prayer and vigilance united do much. "Do not despair so soon of me. Flight is not cure: let me rather stay, and, with God's help and the saints', overcome this unhappy weakness. If I fail, it will indeed be time for me to go, and never again see the angelic face of my daughter and my benefactress."
Griffith laid down the letter. He was somewhat softened by it, and said, gently, "I cannot understand it. This is not the letter of a thorough bad man neither."
"No," said Father Francis, coldly, "'t is the letter of a self-deceiver; and there is no more dangerous man to himself and others than your self-deceiver. But now let us see whether he can throw dust in her eyes, as well as his own." And he handed him Kate's reply.
The first word of it was, "You deceive yourself." The writer then insisted, quietly, that he owed it to himself, to her, and to her husband, whose happiness he was destroying, to leave the place at her request.
"Either you must go, or I," said she: "and pray let it be you. Also, this place is unworthy of your high gifts: and I love you, in my way, the way I mean to love you when we meet again—in heaven; and I labor your advancement to a sphere more worthy of you."
I wish space permitted me to lay the whole correspondence before the reader; but I must confine myself to its general purport.
It proceeded in this way: the priest, humble, eloquent, pathetic; but gently, yet pertinaciously, clinging to the place: the lady, gentle, wise, and firm, detaching with her soft fingers, first one hand, then another, of the poor priest's, till at last he was driven to the sorry excuse that he had no money to travel with, nor place to go to.
"I can't understand it," said Griffith. "Are these letters all forged, or are there two Kate Gaunts? the one that wrote these prudent letters, and the one I caught upon this very priest's arm. Perdition!"
Mrs. Gaunt started to her feet. "Methinks 'tis time for me to leave the room," said she, scarlet.
"Gently, my good friends; one thing at a time," said Francis. "Sit thou down, impetuous. The letters, sir,—what think you of them?"
"I see no harm in them," said Griffith.
"No harm! Is that all? But I say these are very remarkable letters, sir: and they show us that a woman may be innocent and unsuspicious, and so seem foolish, yet may be wise for all that. In her early communication with Leonard,
'At Wisdom's gate Suspicion slept;
And thought no ill where no ill seemed.'
But, you see, suspicion being once aroused, wisdom was not to be lulled nor blinded. But that is not all: these letters breathe a spirit of Christian charity; of true, and rare, and exalted piety. Tender are they, without passion; wise, yet not cold; full of conjugal love, and of filial pity for an erring father, whom she leads, for his good, with firm yet dutiful hand. Trust to my great experience: doubt the chastity of snow rather than hers who could write these pure and exquisite lines. My good friend, you heard me rebuke and sneer at this poor lady for being too innocent and unsuspicious of man's frailty: now hear me own to you that I could no more have written these angelic letters than a barn-door fowl could soar to the mansions of the saints in heaven."
This unexpected tribute took Mrs. Gaunt's heart by storm; she threw her arms round Father Francis's neck, and wept upon his shoulder.
"Ah!" she sobbed, "you are the only one left that loves me."
She could not understand justice praising her: it must be love.
"Ay," said Griffith, in a broken voice, "she writes like an angel: she speaks like an angel: she looks like an angel. My heart says she is an angel. But my eyes have shown me she is naught. I left her, unable to walk, by her way of it; I came back and found her on that priest's arm, springing along like a greyhound." He buried his head in his hands, and groaned aloud.
Francis turned to Mrs. Gaunt, and said, a little severely, "How do you account for that?"
"I'll tell you, Father," said Kate, "because you love me. I do not speak to you, sir: for you never loved me."
"I could give thee the lie," said Griffith, in a trembling voice; "but 'tis not worth while. Know, sir, that within twenty-four hours after I caught her with that villain, I lay a-dying for her sake; and lost my wits; and, when I came to, they were a-making my shroud in the very room where I lay. No matter; no matter; I never loved her."
"Alas! poor soul!" sighed Kate. "Would I had died ere I brought thee to that!" And, with this, they both began to cry at the same moment.
"Ay, poor fools," said Father Francis, softly; "neither of ye loved t' other; that is plain. So now sit you there, and let us have your explanation; for you must own appearances are strong against you."
Mrs. Gaunt drew her stool to Francis's knee; and addressing herself to him alone, explained as follows:—
"I saw Father Leonard was giving way, and only wanted one good push, after a manner. Well, you know I had got him, by my friends, a good place in Ireland: and I had money by me for his journey; so, when my husband talked of going to the fair, I thought, 'O, if I could but get this settled to his mind before he comes back!' So I wrote a line to Leonard. You can read it if you like. 'T is dated the 30th of September, I suppose."
"I will," said Francis, and read this out:—
"Dear Father and Friend,—You have fought the good fight, and conquered. Now, therefore, I will see you once more, and thank you for my husband (he is so unhappy), and put the money for your journey into your hand myself,—your journey to Ireland. You are the Duke of Leinster's chaplain; for I have accepted that place for you. Let me see you to-morrow in the Grove, for a few minutes, at high noon. God bless you.
"Well, father," said Mrs. Gaunt, "'t is true that I could only walk two or three times across the room. But, alack, you know what women are: excitement gives us strength. With thinking that our unhappiness was at an end,—that, when he should come back from the fair, I should fling my arm round his neck, and tell him I had removed the cause of his misery, and so of mine,—I seemed to have wings; and I did walk with Leonard, and talked with rapture of the good he was to do in Ireland, and how he was to be a mitred abbot one day (for he is a great man), and poor little me be proud of him; and how we were all to be happy together in heaven, where is no marrying nor giving in marriage. This was our discourse; and I was just putting the purse into his hands, and bidding him God-speed, when he—for whom I fought against my woman's nature, and took this trying task upon me—broke in upon us, with the face of a fiend; trampled on the poor, good priest, that deserved veneration and consolation from him, of all men; and raised his hand to me; and was not man enough to kill me after all; but called me—ask him what he called me—see if he dares to say it again before you; and then ran away, like a coward as he is, from the lady he had defiled with his rude tongue, and the heart he had broken. Forgive him? that I never will,—never,—never."
"Who asked you to forgive him?" said the shrewd priest. "Your own heart. Come, look at him."
"Not I," said she, irresolutely. Then, still more feebly: "He is naught to me." And so stole a look at him.
Griffith, pale as ashes, had his hand on his brow, and his eyes were fixed with horror and remorse.
"Something tells me she has spoken the truth," he said, in a quavering voice. Then, with concentrated horror, "But if so—O God, what have I done?—What shall I do?"
Mrs. Gaunt extended her arms towards him across the priest.
"Why, fall at thy wife's knees and ask her to forgive thee."
Griffith obeyed: he fell on his knees, and Mrs. Gaunt leaned her head on Francis's shoulder, and gave her hand across him to her remorse-stricken husband.
Neither spoke, nor desired to speak; and even Father Francis sat silent, and enjoyed that sweet glow which sometimes blesses the peacemaker, even in this world of wrangles and jars.
But the good soul had ridden hard, and the neglected meats emitted savory odors; and by and by he said dryly, "I wonder whether that fat pullet tastes as well as it smells: can you tell me, Squire?"
"O, inhospitable wretch that I am!" said Mrs. Gaunt: "I thought but of my own heart."
"And forgot the stomach of your unspiritual father. But, my dear, you are pale, you tremble."
"'T is nothing, sir: I shall soon be better. Sit you down and sup: I will return anon."
She retired, not to make a fuss; but her heart palpitated violently, and she had to sit down on the stairs.
Ryder, who was prowling about, found her there, and fetched her hartshorn.
Mrs. Gaunt got better; but felt so languid, and also hysterical, that she retired to her own room for the night, attended by the faithful Ryder, to whom she confided that a reconciliation had taken place, and, to celebrate it, gave her a dress she had only worn a year. This does not sound queenly to you ladies; but know that a week's wear tells far more on the flimsy trash you wear now-a-days, than a year did on the glorious silks of Lyons Mrs. Gaunt put on; thick as broadcloth, and embroidered so cunningly by the loom, that it would pass for rarest needle-work. Besides, in those days, silk was silk.
As Ryder left her, she asked, "Where is master to lie to-night?"
Mrs. Gaunt was not pleased at this question being put to her. She would have preferred to leave that to Griffith. And, as she was a singular mixture of frankness and finesse, I believe she had retired to her own room partly to test Griffith's heart. If he was as sincere as she was, he would not be content with a public reconciliation.
But the question being put to her plump, and by one of her own sex, she colored faintly, and said, "Why, is there not a bed in his room?"
"O yes, madam."
"Then see it be well aired. Put down all the things before the fire; and then tell me: I'll come and see. The feather-bed, mind, as well as the sheets and blankets."
Ryder executed all this with zeal. She did more; though Griffith and Francis sat up very late, she sat up too; and, on the gentlemen leaving the supper-room, she met them both, with bed-candles, in a delightful cap, and undertook, with cordial smiles, to show them both their chambers.
"Tread softly on the landing, an if it please you, gentlemen. My mistress hath been unwell; but she is in a fine sleep now, by the blessing, and I would not have her disturbed."
Good, faithful, single-hearted Ryder!
Father Francis went to bed thoughtful. There was something about Griffith he did not like: the man every now and then broke out into boisterous raptures, and presently relapsed into moody thoughtfulness. Francis almost feared that his cure was only temporary.
In the morning, before he left, he drew Mrs. Gaunt aside, and told her his misgivings. She replied that she thought she knew what was amiss, and would soon set that right.
Griffith tossed and turned in his bed, and spent a stormy night. His mind was in a confused whirl, and his heart distracted. The wife he had loved so tenderly proved to be the very reverse of all he had lately thought her! She was pure as snow, and had always loved him; loved him now, and only wanted a good excuse to take him to her arms again. But Mercy Vint!—his wife, his benefactress! a woman as chaste as Kate, as strict in life and morals,—what was to become of her? How could he tell her she was not his wife? how reveal to her her own calamity, and his treason? And, on the other hand, desert her without a word! and leave her hoping, fearing, pining, all her life! Affection, humanity, gratitude, alike forbade it.
He came down in the morning, pale for him, and worn with the inward struggle.
Naturally there was a restraint between him and Mrs. Gaunt; and only short sentences passed between them.
He saw the peacemaker off, and then wandered all over the premises, and the past came nearer, and the present seemed to retire into the background.
He wandered about like one in a dream; and was so self-absorbed, that he did not see Mrs. Gaunt coming towards him, with observant eyes.
She met him full; he started like a guilty thing.
"Are you afraid of me?" said she, sweetly.
"No, my dear, not exactly; and yet I am: afraid, or ashamed, or both."
"You need not. I said I forgive you; and you know I am not one that does things by halves."
"You are an angel!" said he, warmly; "but" (suddenly relapsing into despondency) "we shall never be happy together again."
She sighed. "Say not so. Time and sweet recollections may heal even this wound by degrees."
"God grant it," said he, despairingly.
"And, though we can't be lovers again all at once, we may be friends. To begin, tell me, what have you on your mind? Come, make a friend of me."
He looked at her in alarm.
She smiled. "Shall I guess?" said she.
"You will never guess," said he; "and I shall never have the heart to tell you."
"Let me try. Well, I think you have run in debt, and are afraid to ask me for the money."
Griffith was greatly relieved by this conjecture; he drew a long breath; and, after a pause, said cunningly, "What made you think that?"
"Because you came here for money, and not for happiness. You told me so in the Grove."
"That is true. What a sordid wretch you must think me!"
"No, because you were under a delusion. But I do believe you are just the man to turn reckless, when you thought me false, and go drinking and dicing." She added eagerly, "I do not suspect you of anything worse."
He assured her that was not the way of it.
"Then tell me the way of it. You must not think, because I pester you not with questions, I have no curiosity. O, how often I have longed to be a bird, and watch you day and night unseen! How would you have liked that? I wish you had been one, to watch me. Ah, you don't answer. Could you have borne so close an inspection, sir?"
Griffith shuddered at the idea; and his eyes fell before the full gray orbs of his wife.
"Well, never mind," said she. "Tell me your story."
"Well, then, when I left you, I was raving mad."
"That is true, I'll be sworn."
"I let my horse go; and he took me near a hundred miles from here, and stopped at—at—a farm-house. The good people took me in."
"God bless them for it. I'll ride and thank them."
"Nay, nay; 't is too far. There I fell sick of a fever, a brain-fever: the doctor blooded me."
"Alas! would he had taken mine instead."
"And I lost my wits for several days; and when I came back, I was weak as water, and given up by the doctor; and the first thing I saw was an old hag set a-making of my shroud."
Here the narrative was interrupted a moment by Mrs. Gaunt seizing him convulsively; and then holding him tenderly, as if he was even now about to be taken from her.
"The good people nursed me, and so did their daughter, and I came back from the grave. I took an inn; but I gave up that, and had to pay forfeit; and so my money all went; but they kept me on. To be sure I helped on the farm: they kept a hostelry as well. By and by came that murrain among the cattle. Did you have it in these parts, too?"
"I know not; nor care. Prithee, leave cattle, and talk of thyself."
"Well, in a word, they were ruined, and going to be sold up. I could not bear that: I became bondsman for the old man. It was the least I could do. Kate, they had saved thy husband's life."
"Not a word more, Griffith. How much stand you pledged for?"
"A large sum."
"Would five hundred pounds be of any avail?"
"Five hundred pounds! Ay, that it would, and to spare; but where can I get so much money? And the time so short."
"Give me thy hand, and come with me," said Mrs. Gaunt, ardently.
She took his hand, and made a swift rush across the lawn. It was not exactly running, nor walking, but some grand motion she had when excited. She put him to his stride to keep up with her at all; and in two minutes she had him into her boudoir. She unlocked a bureau, all in a hurry, and took out a bag of gold. "There!" she cried, thrusting it into his hand, and blooming all over with joy and eagerness: "I thought you would want money; so I saved it up. You shall not be in debt a day longer. Now mount thy horse, and carry it to those good souls; only, for my sake, take the gardener with thee,—I have no groom now but he,—and both well armed."
"What! go this very day?"
"Ay, this very hour. I can bear thy absence for a day or two more,—I have borne it so long; but I cannot bear thy plighted word to stand in doubt a day, no, not an hour. I am your wife, sir, your true and loving wife: your honor is mine, and is as dear to me now as it was when you saw me with Father Leonard in the Grove, and read me all awry. Don't wait a moment. Begone at once."
"Nay, nay, if I go to-morrow, I shall be in time."
"Ay, but," said Mrs. Gaunt, very softly, "I am afraid if I keep you another hour I shall not have the heart to let you go at all; and the sooner gone, the sooner back for good, please God. There, give me one kiss, to live on, and begone this instant."
He covered her hands with kisses and tears. "I'm not worthy to kiss any higher than thy hand," he said, and so ran sobbing from her.
He went straight to the stable, and saddled Black Dick.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.