University of Virginia Library


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I thought as much when first from thickest leaves,
I saw you trudging in such posting pace.
But to the purpose; what may be the cause
Of this most strange and sudden banishment?

The cause, ask you? a simple cause, God wot;
Twas neither treason, nor yet felony,
But for because I blamed his foolishness.

I hear you say so, but I greatly fear,
Ere that your tale be brought unto an end,
You'll prove yourself the author of the same.
But pray, be brief; what folly did your spouse,
And how will you revenge your wrong on him?

Robert Greene.

Her fear seemed to possess the power of a spell
to produce the very person whose presence she most
dreaded. As if in compliance with its summons,
her mother stood before her. Her tall majestic form,
raised to its fullest height by the fever of indignation
in her mind, stood between her idiot daughter and
the astounded John Hurdis. He had sprung to his
feet on the instant when Jane, in terror, had started
from his embrace, and without daring to face the
woman, he stood fixed to the spot where she first confronted
him. Her meagre, usually pale and severe


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features, were now crimsoned with indignation—her
eyes flashed a fire of feeling and of character which
lifted her, however poor and lowly had been her
birth and was her station, immeasurably above the
base creature whose superior wealth had furnished
the facilities, and, too frequently in the minds of
men, provide a sanction, for the vilest abuses of
the dependence and inferiority of the poor. The
consciousness of wrong in his mind totally deprived
him at that instant, of those resources of audacity
with which he who meditates villany should always
be well supplied; and, woman as she was—poor,
old, and without character and command as was
the wife of the worthless Pickett—the sound of her
voice went through the frame of Hurdis with
a keenness that made him quiver. And yet the
tones were gentle; they were studiously subdued,
and from this cause, indeed, their influence was
most probably increased upon both Hurdis and the

“Jane, my child, go home—go home!”

These were words not to be disobeyed by the
trembling and weeping idiot. Yet she looked and
lingered—she fain would have disobeyed them for
the first time—but the bony and long finger of the
mother was uplifted, and simply pointed in the
direction of their cottage, which was not visible from
the point on which they stood. Slowly at first, then,


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after she had advanced a few paces, bounding off
with the rapidity of fear, the girl hurried away, and
was soon lost to the sight of the two remaining persons.

When satisfied that she was no longer within
sound of their voices, for her keen eye had followed
all the while the retreating footsteps of the maiden,
she turned the entire force of its now voluminous
expression upon the man before her. Her gray eyebrows,
which were thick, were brought down by the
muscular compression of the skin of the forehead,
into a complete pent house above her eyes, and served
to concentrate their rays, which shot forth like
summer lightning from the sable cloud. The lips
were compressed with a smiling scorn, her whole
face partaking of the same contemptuous and withering
expression. John Hurdis stole but a single
glance at the features which were also full of accusation,
and, without looking a second time, turned
uneasily away. But the woman did not suffer him
to escape. She drew nigher—she called him by
name; and, though she spoke in low and quiet tones,
they were yet such that he did not venture to
persist in his movement, which seemed to threaten
as prompt and rapid a departure as that of the idiot.
Her words began, abruptly enough, with one of
the subjects nearest to her heart. She was not a
woman to trifle. The woods in which she had lived,


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and their obscurity, had taught lessons of taciturnity,
and it was, therefore, in the fulness of her heart
only, that she suffered her lips to speak.

“And wherefore is it” she demanded, “that Mr.
Hurdis takes such pains to bring the idiot daughter
of Ben Pickett into these secret places? Why do
these woods, which are so wild—so little beautiful,
and attractive—so far inferior to his own—why do
they tempt him to these long walks? And this poor
child, is it that he so pities her infirmity—which
every body should pity—that he seeks her for a constant
companion in these woods, where no eye may
watch over his steps, and no ear hear the language
which is uttered in her own? Explain to me this, I
pray you, Mr. Hurdis. Why is it that these woods are
so much more agreeable to you than your father's or
'Squire Easterby's, and why a gentleman, who
makes bold to love Mary Easterby, and who values
her sense and smartness, can be content with the
idle talk of an unhappy child like mine? Tell me
what it means, I intreat you, Mr. Hurdis; for in
truth—supposing that you mean rightly—it is all a
mystery to me.”

The very meekness of the woman's manner helped
to increase the annoyance of Hurdis. It was too
little offensive to find fault with; and yet the measured
tones of her voice had in them so much that
was bitter that he could not entirely conceal from


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her that he felt it. His reply was such as might
have been expected.

“Why, Mrs. Pickett, I meant no harm, to be
sure. As for the woods, they are quiet and pretty
enough for me; and though, it is true, that my own
or Mr. Easterby's are quite as pretty, yet that's no
reason, one should be confined only to them. I like
to ramble elsewhere by way of change, and to day,
you see, happening to see your daughter as I rambled,
I only jointed her and we walked together;
that's all.”

“And do you mean to say, Mr. Hurdis, that you
have never before joined Jane Pickett in these

“To be sure not—no—”


“Yes, that's to say, I don't make a practice of it.
I may have walked with her here once, or it may be.
twice before, Mrs. Pickett—”

“Ay, sir, twice, thrice, and a half dozen times, if
the truth is to be told,” exclaimed the woman vehemently.
“I have seen you, sir, thrice myself and
watched your footsteps, and heard your words—
words cunningly devised, sir, to work upon the
simple feelings of that poor ignorant, whose very
feebleness should commend her to the protection,
not the abuse, of a noble minded man. Deny it, sir,
if you dare. I tell you, here, in the presence of the


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eternal God, that I have heard and seen you walk
secretly in this wood with Jane Pickett more than
three several times—nay more, sir, you have enticed
her into it by various arts; and have abused her ignorance
by speaking to her in language unbecoming
in a gentleman to speak, and still more unbecoming
in a female to hear. I have seen you, and heard
you, sir, with my own eyes and ears; and that you
have not done worse, sir, is perhaps only owing to
her ignorance of your meaning.”

“You, at least, would have known better, Mrs.
Pickett,” replied Hurdis with a sneer—the discovery
of the woman being too obviously complete to leave
him any hope from evasion.

“Your sneer falls harmlessly upon my mind, Mr.
Hurdis—I am too poor, and too much of a mother,
sir, to be provoked by that. It only shows you to
me in a somewhat bolder point of view than I had
been accustomed to regard you. I knew well
enough your character, when I watched you in your
walks with my child, and heard the language which
you used in her ears—”

“Certainly a very commendable and honourable
employment, Mrs. Pickett. I give you credit for it.”

“Ay, sir, both proper and commendable when
employed as a precaution against those whose designs
are known to be improper, and whose character
is without honour. I well enough understand your


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meaning. It was scarcely honourable, you would
say, that I should place myself as a spy upon your
conduct, and become an eavesdropper to possess myself
of your counsels. These are fashions of opinion,
sir, which have no effect upon me. I am a mother,
and I was watching over the safety of a frail and
feeble child, who, God help her that made her so!
was too little able to take care of herself not to render
it needful that I should do so. It was a mother's
eye that watched—not you, sir, but her child—it
was a mother's ear that sought to know—not the
words which were spoken by John Hurdis, but all
words, no matter of whom, which were poured into
the ears of her child. I watched not you but her;
and learn from me now, sir, that you never whistled
her from our cabin that my cars caught not the signal
as readily as hers—she never stole forth at your
summons, but my feet as promptly followed hers.
Do you wonder now that I should know you as I
do? Ah, Mr. Hurdis, does it not shame you to the
heart to think that you have schemed so long with
all the arts of a cunning man for the ruin of a feeble
idiot scarcely sixteen years of age?”

“It's false!” exclaimed John Hurdis, hoarse with
passion; “I tell you, woman, 'tis false, what you say.
I had no such design.”

“'Tis true, before Heaven that hears us, Mr.
Hurdis; I say it is true,” replied the woman in moderate


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tones. “You may deny it as you please, sir,
but you can neither deceive Heaven nor me, and to
us your denial must be unavailing. I could not
mistake nor misunderstand your arts and language.
You have striven to teach Jane Hurdis an idea of
sin, and, perhaps, you have not succeeded in doing
so, only because nobody yet has been able to teach her
any idea—even one of virtue. But it was not only
her mind that you strove to inform. You have appealed
to the blood and to the passions of the child,
and but for the mother that watched over her, you
might have succeeded, at last, in your bad purposes.
Oh, John Hurdis, if Ben Pickett could only know,
what, for the sake of peace and to avoid bloodshed
I have kept to myself, he would have thrust his
knife into your throat long before this. I could have
stopped you in your pursuit of my child, by a word
to her father; for, low and poor as he is, and base as
you may think you have made him, he has pride
enough yet to avenge our dishonour. I have kept
back what I had to say to this moment, and now I
tell you and you, only, what I do know—it will be
for yourself to say whether Ben Pickett shall ever
know it.”

“Pshaw, woman, you talk nonsense: and but that
you are a woman, I could be very angry with you.
As for doing any thing improper with Jane Pickett,
I swear—”


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“No, do not swear; for if you do, John Hurdis,
if you dare swear that you had no such design, I
will swear that you belie yourself—that your oath
is false before Heaven, and that you are as black
hearted and perjured, as I hold you base and cowardly.
And if you did swear, of what use would
be your oath. Could you hope to make me believe
you after my own oath? Could you hope to deceive
Heaven! Who else is here to listen? Keep your
false oath for other witnesses, John Hurdis, who are
more blind and deaf than I am, and more easily, deceived
than the God who alone sees us now.”

“Mrs. Pickett, you are a very singular woman.
I don't know what to make of you.”

The manner of the woman had absolutely quelled
the base spirit of the man. When he spoke thus,
he literally knew not what he said.

“You shall know more of me, Mr. Hurdis, before
I have done,” was her reply. “My feelings
on the subject of my child, have almost made me
forget some other matters upon which I have sought
to speak with you. You questioned my child upon
the subject of a conversation between her father and
myself. She told you that we spoke of you.”

“Yes; I think I remember,” he said breathlessly,
and with feeble utterance.

“You do remember; you must,” said the woman.
“You were very anxious to get the truth from my


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child; you shall hear it all from me. You have sent
Ben Pickett upon your business.”

“He will not tell you that,” said Hurdis.

“Perhaps not; but I know it.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Dare you tell? No! And he dare not. The
husband may not show to his own wife, the business
upon which he goes. There is something wrong
in it, and it is your business.”

“It is not; he goes, if he goes at all, upon his
own, not mine. I do not employ him.”

“You do. Beware, John Hurdis; you are not half
so secure as you pretend, and perhaps, think yourself.
The eyes that watch the footsteps of a weak
and idiot child, will not be the less heedful of those
of a weak and erring husband. If Ben Pickett
goes to do wrong, he goes upon your business. If
wrong is done, and is traced to him, believe me—
for I swear it—I will perish in the attempt, but I
will trace it home to its projector and proprietor.
You are not, and you shall not be safe. I have my

“What suspicions? I defy you to say I have any
thing to do with your husband.”

The boldness of John Hurdis was all assumed,
and the veil was readily seen through by the keen
sighted woman.

“I will confirm to your own ears the intelligence


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which you procured from my child. It was base
in me to follow and to watch over her safety—it
was not base in you to pick from her thoughtless
lips the secrets of her parents, and the private conversation
of her household. I will not ask you to
define the distinction between the two. She told
you the truth. I suspected that you were using Ben
Pickett to do the villany which you had the soul
to conceive, but not to execute. I know some villanies
on which you have before employed him.”

“What villanies mean you?” he demanded anxiously.

“No matter now—I may find them of more use
to me some future day than now. I will tell you
now what were my fears—my suspicions—when
you came to our cabin the last night and carried
Ben Pickett with you into the woods—”

“You followed us? You heard—you listened to
what was said between us?” was the hurried speech
of Hurdis, his apprehensions denoted in his tremulous
and broken utterance—in the startling glare of
his eyes, and the universal pallor of his whole countenance.
A smile of scorn played upon the lips of
the woman—she felt her superiority. She spoke,
after a moment's pause, during which the scorn of
her face changed into sorrow.

“Your cheek betrays you, John Hurdis, and confirms
my worst fears. I would that you had been


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more bold. I would have given much to have seen
you more indifferent to my answer. Could you
defy me now, as you did but a little while ago,
I should sleep much easier to night. But now I
tremble quite as much as you. I feel that all my
doubts are true. I would have forgiven you your
meditated wrong to my child could you have looked
and spoken differently.”

“God of Heaven, woman,” exclaimed John Hurdis,
with a feeling of desperation in his voice and
manner—“what is it that you mean? Speak out and
tell me all—say the worst—what is it that you know
—what is it you believe? Did you or did you not
follow us last night? Did you hear my conference
with your husband?”

“I did not!”

Hurdis was relieved by the answer. He breathed
freely once more, as he replied—

“Ha! say no more then—I do not care to hear
you now. I have had wind and fury enough.”

“You must hear me. I will tell you now what
I believe.”

“I will not hear you. Let me go. I have heard
enough. What is your belief to me?”

He would have passed her, but she caught his

“You shall—but for one moment.”

He paused, and like an impatient steed beneath


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a curb which chafes him, and from which he cannot
break away, John Hurdis turned in her grasp, revolving
upon the same ground while she spoke, and
striving not to hear the language which yet forced
itself upon his senses.

“I believe, John Hurdis, that you have sent my
husband to do some violence. He denies it, and
I have striven to believe him, but I cannot. Since
he has left me, I find my suspicions return; and
they take a certain shape to my mind, the more I
think of them. I believe that you have sent him
against your own brother whom you both hate and

“Woman—you lie!”

He broke away from her grasp, but lingered.

“I will not call you man, John Hurdis—but I
will not think unkindly of you, if it be as you say,
that I lie. God grant that my fears be false. But
believing what I say—that you have despatched
my husband to do a crime which you dare not do
yourself, I tell you that if it be done—”

“He will be the criminal!” said Hurdis, in low
but emphatic tones as he turned from her. “He
will be the criminal, and if detected—if, as you
think, he has gone to commit crime, and such a
crime—the gallows, woman, will be the penalty,
and it may be that your hand will guide him to it.”


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The woman shrank back and shivered; but only
for an instant. Recovering she advanced—

“Not my hand, John Hurdis, but yours, if any.
But let that day come, no matter whose hand shall
guide Ben Pickett to such a doom, I tell you John
Hurdis, he shall have company. You are rich, John
Hurdis, and I am poor; but know from me that
there is energy and resolution enough, in this
withered bosom, to follow you in all your secret
machinations, to trace your steps in any forests, and
to bring you to the same punishment, or a worse,
than that which you bring on him. I am poor and
old—men scorn me, and my own sex turns away,
and, sickening at my poverty, forget for a while that
they are human, in ceasing to believe me so. But
the very scorn of mankind will strengthen me; and
when I am alone—when the weak man whom you
entice with your money to do the deed from which
you shrink, becomes your victim—beware of me;
for so surely as there is a God in heaven, he will
help me to find the evidence which shall bring you
to punishment on earth.”

“The woman is a fiend—a very devil!” cried
Hurdis as he rushed from the strong and resolute
spirit before him. Her tall form was lifted beyond
her ordinary height as she spoke, and he shrank
from the intense fire that shot through her long gray
eye-brows. “I would sooner face the devil,” he


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muttered as he fled. “There's something speaks in
her that I fear! Curse the chance, but it is terrible
to have such an enemy, and to feel that one is doing

He looked back but once ere he left the forest,
and her eyes were still fixed upon him. He ventured
no second glance; but, annoyed with a thousand
apprehensions, to which the interview had given
existence, he hurried homeward like one pursued,
starting at every sound in the woods, though it were
only the falling of a leaf in the sudden gust of November.