The second Mrs. Ravenshoe was the handsome dower-less daughter of a Worcester squire, of good standing, who, being blessed with an extravagant” son, and six handsome daughters, had lived for several years abroad, finding society more accessible, and, consequently, the matrimonial chances of the “Petersham girls ” proportionately greater than in England. She was a handsome, proud woman, not particularly clever, or particularly agreeable, or particularly anything, except particularly self-possessed. She had been long enough looking after an establishment to know thoroughly the value of one, and had seen quite enough of good houses to know that a house without a mistress was no house at all. Accordingly, in a very few days the house felt her presence, submitted with the best grace to her not unkindly rule, and in a week they all felt as if she had been there for years.
Father Clifford, who longed only for peace, and was getting very old, got very fond of her, heretic as she was. She, too, liked the handsome, gentlemanly old man, and made herself agreeable to him, as a woman of he world knows so well how to do. Father Mackworth, on the other hand, his young coadjutor since Father Dennis’s death, an importation of Lady Alicia’s from Rome, very soon fell under her displeasure. The first Sunday after her arrival, she drove to church, and occupied the great old family pew, to the immense astonishment of the rustics, and, after afternoon service, caught up the old vicar in her imperious offhand way, and, will he nil he, carried him off to dinner — at which meal he was horrified to find himself sitting with two shaven priests, who talked Latin and crossed themselves. His embarrassment was greatly increased by the behaviour of Mrs. Ravenshoe, who admired his sermon, and spoke on doctrinal points with him as though there were not a priest within a mile. Father Mackworth was imprudent enough to begin talking at him, and at last said something unmistakably impertinent; upon which Mrs. Ravenshoe put her glass in her eye, and favoured him with such a glance of haughty astonishment as silenced him at once.
This was the beginning of hostilities between them, if one can give the name of hostilities to a series of infinitesimal annoyances on the one side, and to immeasurable and barely concealed contempt on the other. Mackworth, on the one hand, knew that she understood and despised him, and he hated her. She, on the other hand, knew that he knew it, but thought him too much below her to notice, save now and then that she might put down with a high hand any, even the most distant, pproach to a tangible impertinence. But she was no match for him in the arts of petty, delicate, galling annoyances. There he was her master; he had been brought up in a good school for that, and had learnt his lesson kindly. He found out that she disliked his presence, and shrunk from his smooth, lean face with unutterable dislike. From that moment he was always in her way, overwhelming her with oily politeness, rushing across the room to pick up anything she had dropped, or to open the door, till it required the greatest restraint to avoid breaking through all forms of politeness, and bidding him begone. But why should we go on detailing trifles like these, which in themselves are nothing, but accumulated, are unbearable?
So it went on, till one morning, about two years after the marriage, Mackworth appeared in Clifford’s room, and, yawning, threw himself into a chair.
“Benedicite,” said Father Clifford, who never neglected religious etiquette on any occasion.
Mackworth stretched out his legs and yawned, rather rudely, and then relapsed into silence. Father Clifford went on reading. At last Mackworth spoke.
“I’ll tell you what, my good friend, I am getting sick of this; I shall go back to Borne.”
“To Borne r
“Yes, back to Borne,” repeated the other impertinently, for he always treated the good old priest with contemptuous insolence when they were alone. “What is the use of staying here, fighting that woman? There's no more chance of turning her than a rock, and there is going to be no family.”
“You think so?” said Clifford.
“Good heavens, does it look like it? Two years, and not a sign; besides, should I talk of going, if I thought so? Then there would be a career worthy of me; then I should have a chance of deserving well of the Church, by keeping a wavering family in her bosom. And I could do it, too: every child would be a fresh weapon in my hands against that woman. Clifford, do you think that Ravenshoe is safe?”
He said this so abruptly that Clifford coloured and started. Mackworth at the same time turned suddenly upon him, and scrutinized his face keenly.
“Safe!” said the old man; “what makes you fear otherwise?”
“Nothing special,” said Mackworth; “only I have never been easy since you told me of that London escapade years ago.”
“He has been very devout ever since,” said Clifford. “I fear nothing.”
“Humph! Well, I am glad to hear it,” said Mackworth. “I shall go to Home. I’d sooner be gossiping with Alphonse and Pierre in the cloisters than vegetating here. My talents are thrown away.”
He departed down the winding steps [of the priests’ turret, which led to the flower garden. The day was fine, and a pleasant seat a short distance off invited him to sit. He could get a book he knew from the drawingroom and sit there. So, with habitually noiseless tread, he passed along the dark corridor, and opened the drawingroom door.
Nobody was there. The book he wanted was in the little drawingroom beyond, separated from the room he was in by a partly-drawn curtain. The priest advanced silently over the deep piled carpet and looked in.
The summer sunlight, struggling through a waving bower of climbing plants and the small panes of a deeply mullioned window, fell upon two persons, at the sight of whom he paused, and, holding his’ breath, stood, like a black statue in the gloomy room, wrapped in astonishment.
He had never in his life heard these twain use any words beyond those of common courtesy towards one another; he had thought them the most indifferent, the coldest pair, he had ever seen. But now! now, the haughty beauty was bending from her chair over her husband, who sat on a stool at her feet; her arm was round his neck, and her hand was in his; and, as he looked, she parted the clustering black curls from his forehead and kissed him.
He bent forward and listened more eagerly. He could hear the surf on the shore, the sea-birds on the cliffs, the nightingale in the wood; they fell upon his ear, but he could not distinguish them; he waited only for one of the two figures before him to speak.
At last Mrs. Ravenshoe broke silence, but in so low a voice that even he, whose attention was trained to the uttermost, could barely catch what she
“I yield, my love,” said she; “I give you this one, but mind, the rest are mine. I have your solemn promise for that?”
“My solemn promise,” said Densil, and kissed her again.
M My dear,” she resumed, “I wish you could get rid of that priest, that Mackworth. He is irksome to me.”
“He was recommended to my especial care by my mother,” was Densil’s reply. “If you could let him stay I should much rather.”
“Oh, let him stay!” said she; “he is too contemptible for me to annoy myself about. But I distrust him, Densil. He has a lowering look sometimes.”
“He is talented and agreeable,” said Densil; “but I never liked him.”
The listener turned to go, having heard enough, but was arrested by her continuing —
“By the bye, my love, do you know that that impudent girl Norah has been secretly married this three months?”
The priest listened more intently than ever.
“Who to?” asked Densil.
“To James, your keeper.”
“I am glad of that. That lad James stuck to me in prison, Susan, when they all left me. She is a fine faithful creature, too. Mind you give her a good scolding.”
Mackworth had heard enough apparently, for he stole gently away through the gloomy room, and walked musingly upstairs to Father Clifford.
That excellent old man took up the conversation just where it had left off.
“And when,” said he, “my brother, do you propose returning to Rome?”
“I shall not go to Rome at all,” was the satisfactory reply, followed by a deep silence.
In a few months, much to Father Clifford’s joy and surprise, Mrs. Ravenshoe bore a noble boy, which was named Cuthbert. Cuthbert was brought up in the Romish faith, and at five years old had just begun to learn his prayers of Father Clifford, when an event occurred equally unexpected by all parties. Mrs. Ravenshoe was again found to be in a condition to make an addition to her family.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10