"O, I have not a word to say against the man," said George, with a mighty effort.
"And what use is your quarrelling with the woman?" suggested the practical priest.
"None whatever," said George, sullenly. After a moment's silence he rang the bell feverishly. "Order my horse round directly," said he. Then he sat down, and buried his face in his hands, and did not, and could not, listen to the voice of consolation.
Now the house was full of spies in petticoats, amateur spies, that ran and told the mistress everything of their own accord, to curry favor.
And this no doubt was the cause that, just as the groom walked the piebald out of the stable towards the hall door, a maid came to Father Francis with a little note: he opened it, and found these words written faintly, in a fine Italian hand:—
"I scarce knew my own heart till I saw him wounded and poor, and myself rich at his expense. Entreat Mr. Neville to forgive me."
He handed the note to Neville without a word.
Neville read it, and his lip trembled; but he said nothing, and presently went out into the hall, and put on his hat, for he saw his nag at the door.
Father Francis followed him, and said, sorrowfully, "What, not one word in reply to so humble a request?"
"Well, here's my reply," said George, grinding his teeth. "She knows French, though she pretends not.
'Le bruit est pour le fat, la plainte est pour le sot, L'honnete homme trompe s'eloigne et ne dit mot.'"
And with this he galloped furiously away.
He buried himself at Neville's Cross for several days, and would neither see nor speak to a soul. His heart was sick, his pride lacerated. He even shed some scalding tears in secret; though, to look at him, that seemed impossible.
* * * * *
So passed a bitter week: and in the course of it he bethought him of the tears he had made a true Italian lady shed, and never pitied her a grain till now.
He was going abroad: on his desk lay a little crumpled paper. It was Kate's entreaty for forgiveness. He had ground it in his hand, and ridden away with it.
Now he was going away, he resolved to answer her.
He wrote a letter full of bitter reproaches; read it over; and tore it up.
He wrote a satirical and cutting letter; read it; and tore it up.
He wrote her a mawkish letter; read it; and tore it up.
The priest's words, scorned at first, had sunk into him a little.
He walked about the room, and tried to see it all like a by-stander.
He examined her writing closely: the pen had scarcely marked the paper. They were the timidest strokes. The writer seemed to kneel to him. He summoned all his manhood, his fortitude, his generosity, and, above all, his high-breeding; and produced the following letter; and this one he sent:—
"MISTRESS KATE,—I leave England to-day for your sake; and shall never return unless the day shall come when I can look on you but as a friend. The love that ends in hate, that is too sorry a thing to come betwixt you and me.
"If you have used me ill, your punishment is this; you have given me the right to say to you——I forgive you.
And he went straight to Italy.
* * * * *
Kate laid his note upon her knee, and sighed deeply; and said, "Poor fellow! How noble of him! What can such men as this see in any woman to go and fall in love with her?"
Griffith found her with a tear in her eye. He took her out walking, and laid all his radiant plans of wedded life before her. She came back flushed, and beaming with complacency and beauty.
Old Peyton was brought to consent to the marriage. Only he attached one condition, that Bolton and Hernshaw should be settled on Kate for her separate use.
To this Griffith assented readily; but Kate refused plump. "What, give him myself, and then grudge him my estates!" said she, with a look of lofty and beautiful scorn at her male advisers.
But Father Francis, having regard to the temporal interests of his Church, exerted his strength and pertinacity, and tired her out; so those estates were put into trustees' hands, and tied up tight as wax.
This done, Griffith Gaunt and Kate Peyton were married, and made the finest pair that wedded in the county that year.
As the bells burst into a merry peal, and they walked out of church man and wife, their path across the churchyard was strewed thick with flowers, emblematic, no doubt, of the path of life that lay before so handsome a couple.
They spent the honeymoon in London, and tasted earthly felicity.
Yet did not quarrel after it; but subsided into the quiet complacency of wedded life.
Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt lived happily together—as times went.
A fine girl and boy were born to them; and need I say how their hearts expanded and exulted, and seemed to grow twice as large.
The little boy was taken from them at three years old; and how can I convey to any but a parent the anguish of that first bereavement?
Well, they suffered it together, and that poignant grief was one tie more between them.
For many years they did not furnish any exciting or even interesting matter to this narrator. And all the better for them: without these happy periods of dulness our lives would be hell, and our hearts eternally bubbling and boiling in a huge pot made hot with thorns.
In the absence of striking incidents, it may be well to notice the progress of character, and note the tiny seeds of events to come.
Neither the intellectual nor the moral character of any person stands stock-still: a man improves, or he declines. Mrs. Gaunt had a great taste for reading; Mr. Gaunt had not: what was the consequence? At the end of seven years the lady's understanding had made great strides; the gentleman's had apparently retrograded.
Now we all need a little excitement, and we all seek it, and get it by hook or by crook. The girl who satisfies that natural craving with what the canting dunces of the day call a "sensational" novel, and the girl who does it by waltzing till daybreak, are sisters; only one obtains the result intellectually, and the other obtains it like a young animal, and a pain in her empty head next day.
Mrs. Gaunt could enjoy company, but was never dull with a good book. Mr. Gaunt was a pleasant companion, but dull out of company. So, rather than not have it, he would go to the parlor of the "Red Lion," and chat and sing with the yeomen and rollicking young squires that resorted thither: and this was matter of grief and astonishment to Mrs. Gaunt.
It was balanced by good qualities she knew how to appreciate. Morals were much looser then than now; and more than one wife of her acquaintance had a rival in the village, or even among her own domestics; but Griffith had no loose inclinations of that kind, and never gave her a moment's uneasiness. He was constancy and fidelity in person.
Sobriety had not yet been invented. But Griffith was not so intemperate as most squires; he could always mount the stairs to tea, and generally without staggering.
He was uxorious, and it used to come out after his wine. This Mrs. Gaunt permitted at first, but by and by says she, expanding her delicate nostrils: "You may be as affectionate as you please, dear, and you may smell of wine, if you will; but please not to smell of wine and be affectionate at the same moment. I value your affection too highly to let you disgust me with it."
And the model husband yielded to this severe restriction; and, as it never occurred to him to give up his wine, he forbore to be affectionate in his cups.
One great fear Mrs. Gaunt had entertained before marriage ceased to haunt her. Now and then her quick eye saw Griffith writhe at the great influence her director had with her; but he never spoke out to offend her, and she, like a good wife, saw, smiled, and adroitly, tenderly soothed: and this was nothing compared to what she had feared.
Griffith saw his wife admired by other men, yet never chid nor chafed. The merit of this belonged in a high degree to herself. The fact is, that Kate Peyton, even before marriage, was not a coquette at heart, though her conduct might easily bear that construction; and she was now an experienced matron, and knew how to be as charming as ever, yet check or parry all approaches to gallantry on the part of her admirers. Then Griffith observed how delicate and prudent his lovely wife was, without ostentatious prudery; and his heart was at peace.
He was the happier of the two, for he looked up to his wife, as well as loved her; whereas she was troubled at times with a sense of superiority to her husband. She was amiable enough, and wise enough, to try and shut her eyes to it; and often succeeded, but not always.
Upon the whole, they were a contented couple; though the lady's dreamy eyes seemed still to be exploring earth and sky in search of something they had not yet found, even in wedded life.
They lived at Hernshaw. A letter had been found among Mr. Charlton's papers explaining his will. He counted on their marrying, and begged them to live at the castle. He had left it on his wife's death; it reminded him too keenly of happier days; but, as he drew near his end, and must leave all earthly things, he remembered the old house with tenderness, and put out his dying hand to save it from falling into decay.
Unfortunately, considerable repairs were needed; and, as Kate's property was tied up so tight, Griffith's two thousand pounds went in repairing the house, lawn, park palings, and walled gardens; went, every penny, and left the bridge over the lake still in a battered, rotten, and, in a word, picturesque condition.
This lake was by the older inhabitants sometimes called the "mere," and sometimes "the fish-pools"; it resembled an hour-glass in shape, only curved like a crescent.
In mediaeval times it had no doubt been a main defence of the place. It was very deep in parts, especially at the waist or narrow that was spanned by the decayed bridge. There were hundreds of carp and tench in it older than any He in Cumberland, and also enormous pike and eels; and fish from one to five pounds' weight by the million. The water literally teemed from end to end; and this was a great comfort to so good a Catholic as Mrs. Gaunt. When she was seized with a desire to fast, and that was pretty often, the gardener just went down to the lake and flung a casting-net in some favorite hole, and drew out half a bushel the first cast; or planted a flue-net round a patch of weeds, then belabored the weeds with a long pole, and a score of fine fish were sure to run out into the meshes.
The "mere" was clear as plate glass, and came to the edge of the shaven lawn, and reflected flowers, turf, and overhanging shrubs deliciously.
Yet an ill name brooded over its seductive waters; for two persons had been drowned in it during the last hundred years: and the last one was the parson of the parish, returning from the squire's dinner in the normal condition of a guest, A.D. 1740-50. But what most affected the popular mind was, not the jovial soul hurried into eternity, but the material circumstance that the greedy pike had cleared the flesh off his bones in a single night, so that little more than a skeleton, with here and there a black rag hanging to it, had been recovered next morning.
This ghastly detail being stoutly maintained and constantly repeated by two ancient eye-witnesses, whose one melodramatic incident and treasure it was, the rustic mind saw no beauty whatever in those pellucid and delicious waters, where flowers did glass themselves.
As for the women of the village, they looked on this sheet of water as a trap for their poor bodies and those of their children, and spoke of it as a singular hardship in their lot, that Hernshaw Mere had not been filled up threescore years agone.
The castle itself was no castle, nor had it been for centuries. It was just a house with battlements; but attached to the stable was an old square tower, that really had formed part of the mediaeval castle.
However, that unsubstantial shadow, a name, is often more durable than the thing, especially in rural parts; but, indeed, what is there in a name for Time's teeth to catch hold of?
Though no castle, it was a delightful abode. The drawing-room and dining-room had both spacious bay-windows, opening on to the lawn that sloped very gradually down to the pellucid lake, and there was mirrored. On this sweet lawn the inmates and guests walked for sun and mellow air, and often played bowls at eventide.
On the other side was the drive up to the house-door, and a sweep, or small oval plot, of turf, surrounded by gravel; and a gate at the corner of this sweep opened into a grove of the grandest old spruce-firs in the island.
This grove, dismal in winter and awful at night, was deliciously cool and sombre in the dog-days. The trees were spires; and their great stems stood serried like infantry in column, and flung a grand canopy of sombre plumes overhead. A strange, antique, and classic grove,—nulli penetrabilis astro.
This retreat was enclosed on three sides by a wall, and on the east side came nearly to the house. A few laurel-bushes separated the two. At night it was shunned religiously, on account of the ghosts. Even by daylight it was little frequented, except by one person,—and she took to it amazingly. That person was Mrs. Gaunt. There seems to be, even in educated women, a singular, instinctive love of twilight; and here was twilight at high noon. The place, too, suited her dreamy, meditative nature. Hither, then, she often retired for peace and religious contemplation, and moved slowly in and out among the tall stems, or sat still, with her thoughtful brow leaned on her white hand,—till the cool, umbrageous retreat got to be called, among the servants, "The Dame's Haunt."
This, I think, is all needs be told about the mere place, where the Gaunts lived comfortably many years, and little dreamed of the strange events in store for them; little knew the passions that slumbered in their own bosoms, and, like other volcanoes, bided their time.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Snow-Bound: a Winter Idyl. By JOHN G. WHITTIER. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
What Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" has long been to Old England, Whittier's "Snow-Bound" will always be to New England. Both poems have the flavor of native soil in them. Neither of them is a reminder of anything else, but each is individual and special in those qualities which interest and charm the reader. If "The Deserted Village" had never been written, Whittier would have composed his "Snow-Bound," no doubt; and the latter only recalls the former on account of that genuine home-atmosphere which surrounds both these exquisite productions. After a perusal of this new American idyl, no competent critic will contend that we lack proper themes for poetry in our own land. The "Snow-Bound" will be a sufficient reminder to all cavillers, at home or abroad, that the American Muse need not travel far away for poetic situations.
Whittier has been most fortunate in the subject-matter of this new poem. Every page has beauties on it so easy to discern, that the common as well as the cultured mind will at once feel them without an effort. We have only space for a few passages from the earlier portion of the idyl.
"The sun that brief December day Rose cheerless over hills of gray, And, darkly circled, gave at noon A sadder light than waning moon. Slow tracing down the thickening sky Its mute and ominous prophecy, A portent seeming less than threat, It sank from sight before it set. A chill no coat, however stout, Of homespun stuff could quite shut out, A hard, dull bitterness of cold, That checked, mid-vein, the circling race Of life-blood in the sharpened face, The coming of the snow-storm told. The wind blew east: we heard the roar Of Ocean on his wintry shore, And felt the strong pulse throbbing there Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
"Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,— Brought in the wood from out of doors, Littered the stalls, and from the mows Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows; Heard the horse whinnying for his corn; And, sharply clashing horn on horn, Impatient down the stanchion rows The cattle shake their walnut bows; While, peering from his early perch Upon the scaffold's pole of birch, The cock his crested helmet bent And down his querulous challenge sent.
"Unwarmed by any sunset light The gray day darkened into night, A night made hoary with the swarm And whirl-dance of the blinding storm, As zigzag wavering to and fro Crossed and recrossed the winged snow: And ere the early bed-time came The white drift piled the window-frame, And through the glass the clothes-line posts Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
"So all night long the storm roared on: The morning broke without the sun; In tiny spherule traced with lines Of Nature's geometric signs, In starry flake, and pellicle, All day the hoary meteor fell; And, when the second morning shone, We looked upon a world unknown, On nothing we could call our own. Around the glistening wonder bent The blue walls of the firmament, No cloud above, no earth below,— A universe of sky and snow! The old familiar sights of ours Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood, Or garden wall, or belt of wood; A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed, A fenceless drift what once was road; The bridle-post an old man sat With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat; The well-curb had a Chinese roof; And even the long sweep, high aloof, In its slant splendor, seemed to tell Of Pisa's leaning miracle.
"A prompt, decisive man, no breath Our father wasted: 'Boys, a path!' Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy Count such a summons less than joy?) Our buskins on our feet we drew; With mittened hands, and caps drawn low, To guard our necks and ears from snow, We cut the solid whiteness through. And, where the drift was deepest, made A tunnel walled and overlaid With dazzling crystal: we had read Of rare Aladdin's wondrous cave, And to our own his name we gave, With many a wish the luck were ours To test his lamp's supernal powers.
"We reached the barn with merry din, And roused the prisoned brutes within. The old horse thrust his long head out, And grave with wonder gazed about; The cock his lusty greeting said, And forth his speckled harem led; The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked, And mild reproach of hunger looked; The horned patriarch of the sheep, Like Egypt's Amun roused from sleep, Shook his sage head with gesture mute, And emphasized with stamp of foot."
Lives of Boulton and Watt. Principally from the original Soho MSS. Comprising also a History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine. By SAMUEL SMILES. London: John Murray.
The author of this book is an enthusiast in biography. He has given the best years of his life to the task of recording the struggles and successes of men who have labored for the good of their kind; and his own name will always be honorably mentioned in connection with Stephenson, Watt, Flaxman, and others, of whom he has written so well. Of all his published books, next to "Self-Help," this volume, lately issued, is his most interesting one. James Watt, with his nervous sensibility, his headaches, his pecuniary embarrassments, and his gloomy temperament, has never till now been revealed precisely as he lived and struggled. The extensive collection of Soho documents to which Mr. Smiles had access has enabled him to add so much that is new and valuable to the story of his hero's career, that hereafter this biography must take the first place as a record of the great inventor.
As a tribute to Boulton, so many years the friend, partner, and consoler of Watt, the book is deeply interesting. Fighting many a hard battle for his timid, shrinking associate, Boulton stands forth a noble representative of strength, courage, and perseverance. Never was partnership more admirably conducted; never was success more richly earned. Mr. Smiles is neither a Macaulay nor a Motley, but he is so honest and earnest in every work he undertakes, he rarely fails to make a book deeply instructive and entertaining.
Winifred Bertram and the World she lived in. By the Author of the Schoenberg-Cotta Family. New York: M. W. Dodd.
The previous works of this prolific author have proved by their popularity that they meet a genuine demand. Such a fact can no more be reached by literary criticism, than can the popularity of Tupper's poetry. It is no reproach to a book which actually finds readers to say that it is not high art. Winifred Bertram has this advantage over her predecessors, that she takes part in no theological controversies except those of the present day, and therefore seems more real and truthful than the others. In regard to present issues, however, the book deals in the usual proportion of rather one-sided dialogues, and of arguments studiously debilitated in order to be knocked down by other arguments. Yet there is much that is lovely and touching in the characters delineated; there is a good deal of practical sense and sweet human charity; and the different heroes and heroines show some human variety in their action, although in conversation they all preach very much alike. Indeed, the book is overhung with rather an oppressive weight of clergyman; and when the loveliest of the saints is at last wedded to the youngest of the divines, she throws an awful shade over clerical connubiality by invariably addressing him as "Mr. Bertram." In this respect, at least, the fashionable novels hold out brighter hopes to the heart of woman.