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LONDON [Vol. II]
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TORTURES OF LADY RAVENSWORTH.
WEEK had now elapsed since Lydia Hutchinson entered the service of Lady
The service! Oh! what a service was that where the
menial had become the mistress, and the mistress had descended to the menial.
From the moment that Lydia had expressed her unalterable
resolution to remain at the Hall, Lord Ravensworth scarcely ever quitted his
private cabinet. He had a bed made up in an adjoining room, and secluded himself
completely from his wife. Vainly did Adeline ask him — go upon her
knees before him — and beseech him, with the bitterest tears and the
most fervent prayers, to return to an active life: — he contemplated
her with an apathetic listlessness — as if he were verging, [-253-]
when but little past the prime of life, into second childhood. Or if he did
manifest a scintillation of his former spirit, it was merely to command his wife
to leave him to his own meditations.
And again did he have recourse to the pipe: in fact he
was never easy now save when he lulled his thoughts into complete stupefaction
by means of the oriental tobacco. Even when, in the midst of her earnest
prayers, his wife implored him to come forth again into the world — to
live, in fine, for the sake of his as yet unborn babe, the fire that
kindled in his eyes was so evanescent that an acute observer could alone
perceive the momentary — and only momentary — effect
which the appeal produced.
The guests had all taken their departure the day after
the bridal; and the splendid mansion immediately became the scene of silence and
To all the entreaties of his wife — to all
the representations of his favourite page Quentin, that he would engage eminent
medical assistance, Lord Ravensworth turned a deaf ear, or else so far roused
himself as to utter a stern refusal, accompanied with a command that he might be
Thus was he rapidly accomplishing his own
destruction, — committing involuntary suicide by slow, certain, and
yet unsuspected means, — even as his brother, the Honourable Gilbert
Vernon, had declared to the Resurrection Man.
Adeline had no inclination to seek the bustle and
excitement of society. Her love of display and ostentation was subdued — if
not altogether crushed. She was so overwhelmed with sorrow — so
goaded by the tyranny of Lydia Hutchinson — so desperate by the mere
fact of having to submit to that oppression, and by the consciousness that she
dared not unbosom her cares to a single sympathising heart, — that
she at times felt as if she were on the point of becoming raving mad, and at
others as if she could lay herself down and die!
We will afford the reader an idea of the mode of life
which the once proud and haughty Lady Ravensworth was now compelled to lead
beneath the crushing despotism of Lydia Hutchinson.
It was on the seventh morning after the arrival of the
latter at Ravensworth Hall.
The clock had struck nine, when Lydia repaired to the
apartment of her mistress — her mistress!
Until she reached the door, her manner was meek and
subdued, because she incurred a chance of meeting other domestics in the
passages and corridors.
But the moment she entered Adeline's apartment — the
moment the door of that chamber closed behind her — her manner
suddenly changed. No longer meek — no longer subdued, — no
longer wearing the stamp of servitude Lydia assumed a stern expression of
countenance — so terrible in a vengeful woman — and in
an instant clothed herself, as it were, with an appearance of truly fiend-like
Approaching the bed, Lydia shook her rudely.
Lady Ravensworth awoke with a start, and then glanced
hastily — almost franticly — around.
"Ah! you here again!" she murmured,
shrinking from the look of bitter hatred which Lydia cast upon her.
"Yes — I am here again," said the
vindictive woman. "It is time for you to rise."
"Oh! spare me, Lydia," exclaimed Adeline; me
to repose a little longer. I have passed a wretched — a sleepless
night: see — my pillow is still moist with the tears of anguish
which I have shed; and it was but an hour ago that I fell into an uneasy
slumber! I cannot live thus — I would rather that you should take a
dagger and plunge it into my heart at once. Oh! leave me — leave me
to rest for only another hour!"
"No: — it is time to rise, I say,"
cried Lydia. "It has been my destiny to pass many long weary nights in the
streets — in the depth of winter — and with the icy wind
penetrating through my scanty clothing till it seemed to freeze the very marrow
in my bones. I have been so wearied — so cold — so
broken down for want of sleep, that I would have given ten years of my life for
two hours' repose in a warm and comfortable bed: — but still have I
often, in those times, passed a whole week without so resting my sinking frame.
Think you, then, that I can now permit you the luxury of sleep when your
body requires it — of repose when your mind needs it? No,
Adeline — no! I cannot turn you forth into the streets to become a
houseless wanderer, as I have been: — but I can at least arouse you
from the indolent enjoyment of that bed of down."
With these words Lydia seized Lady Ravensworth rudely by
the wrist, and compelled her to leave the couch.
Then the revengeful woman seated herself in a chair, and
said in a harsh tone, "Light the fire, Adeline — I am
"No — no: I will not be your
servant!" exclaimed Lady Ravensworth. "You are mine — and
it is for you to do those menial offices."
"Provoke me not, Adeline," said Lydia
Hutchinson, coolly; "or I will repair straight to the servants' hall, and
there proclaim the astounding fact that Lord Ravensworth's relapse has been
produced by the discovery of his wife's frailty ere their marriage."
"Oh! my God — what will become of
me!" murmured Adeline, wringing her hands. "Are you a woman? or are
you a fiend!"
"I am a woman — and one who, having
suffered much, knows how to revenge deeply," returned Lydia. "You
shall obey me — or I will cover you with shame!"
Adeline made no reply; but, with scalding tears
trickling down her cheeks, she proceeded — yes, she — the
high-born peeress! — to arrange the wood in the grate — to
heap up the coals — and to light the fire.
And while she was kneeling in the performance of that
menial task, — while her delicate white hands were coming in contact
with the black grate, — and while she was shivering in her night
gear, and her long dishevelled hair streamed over her naked neck and
bosom, — there, within a few feet of her, sate the menial — the
servant, comfortably placed in an arm-chair, and calmly surveying the degrading
occupation of her mistress.
"I have often — Oh! how often — longed
for a stick of wood and a morsel of coal to make myself a fire, if no larger
than sufficient to warm the palms of my almost frostbitten hands," said
Lydia, after a short pause; "and when I have dragged my weary limbs past
the houses of the rich, and have caught sight of the cheerful flames blazing
through the area-windows of their kitchens, I have thought to myself, 'Oh!
for one hour to sit within the influence of that genial warmth!'' And yet
you — you, the [-254-] proud
daughter of the aristocracy — recoil in disgust from a task which so
many thousands of poor creatures would only be too glad to have an opportunity
Adeline sobbed bitterly, but made no reply.
The fire was now blazing in the grate: still the
high-born peeress was shivering with the cold — for ere she could
put on a single article of clothing, she was forced to wash the black dirt from
her delicate fingers.
Then that lady, who — until within a
week — had never even done so much as take, with her own hands, a
change of linen from the cupboard or select a gown from the wardrobe, was
compelled to perform those duties for herself; — and all the while
her servant, — her hired servant, to whom she had to pay high wages
and afford food and lodging, — that servant was seated in the
arm-chair, warming herself by the now cheerful fire!
"Do not be ashamed of your occupation, madam,"
said Lydia. "It is fortunate for you that there is a well-stocked cupboard
to select from, and a well-provided wardrobe to have recourse to. Your linen is
of the most delicate texture, and of the most refined work: your feet have never
worn any thing coarser than silk. For your gowns, you may choose amongst fifty
dresses. One would even think that your ladyship would be bewildered by the
variety of the assortment. And yet you are indignant at being compelled to take
the trouble to make your selections! For how many long weeks and months together
have I been forced, at times, to wear the same thin, tattered gown — the
same threadbare shawl — the same well-darned stockings! And how many
thousands are there, Adeline, who dwell in rags from the moment of their birth
to that of their death! Ah! if we could only take the daughters of the working
classes, and give them good clothing, — enable them to smooth their
hair with fragrant oil, and to wash their flesh with perfumed soaps, — and
provide them with all those accessories which enhance so much the natural
loveliness of woman, — think you not that they would be as
attractive — as worthy of homage — as yourself? And let
me tell you, Adeline, that such black ingratitude as I have encountered at your
hands, is unknown in the humble cottage: — the poor are not so
selfish — so hollow-hearted as the rich!"
While Lydia Hutchinson was thus venting her bitter
sarcasm and her cutting reproach upon Lady Ravensworth, the latter was hurriedly
accomplishing the routine of the toilet.
She no longer took pride in her appearance: — she
scarcely glanced in the mirror as she combed out those tresses which it was
Lydia's duty to have arranged; — her sole thought was to escape as
speedily as possible from that room where insults and indignities were so
profusely accumulated upon her.
But her ordeal of torture was not yet at its end. So
soon as Lady Ravensworth was dressed, Lydia Hutchinson said in a cool but
authoritative tone, "Adeline, you will comb out my hair for me now."
"Provoke me not, vile woman — provoke
me not beyond the powers of endurance!" almost shrieked the unhappy lady;
"or I shall be tempted — oh! I shall be tempted to lay violent
hands upon you. My God — my God! what will become of me?"
"I am prepared to stand the risk of any ebullition
of fury on your part," said Lydia, in the same imperturbable manner in
which she had before spoken. "Lay but a finger upon me to do me an injury,
and I will attack you — I will assault you — I will
disfigure your countenance with my nails — I will tear out your hair
by handfuls — I will beat your teeth from your mouth; — for
I am stronger than you — and you would gain nothing by an attempt to
"But I will not be your servant!" cried
Adeline, fire flashing from her eyes.
"I tended your ladyship when you lay upon the
humble couch in my garret, in the agonies of maternity," replied Lydia;
"and your ladyship shall now wait upon me."
"No — no! You would make me a
slave — a low slave — the lowest of slaves! ' ejaculated
Adeline wildly. "You degrade me in my own estimation — you
render me contemptible in my own eyes — "
"And you have spurned and scorned me,"
interrupted Lydia; "you have made me, too, the lowest of slaves, by using
me as an instrument to save you from shame; — and now it is time
that I should teach you — the proud peeress — that
I — the humble and friendless woman — have my feelings,
which may — be wounded as well as your own."
"Lydia — I beg you — I
implore you — on my knees I beseech you to have mercy upon me!"
cried Adeline, clasping her hands together in a paroxysm of ineffable anguish,
and falling at the feet of the stern and relentless woman whom she had wronged.
"I can know no mercy for you," said
Lydia Hutchinson, now speaking in a deep and almost hoarse tone, which denoted
the powerful concentration of her vengeful passions. "When I think of all
that I have suffered — when I trace my miseries to their
source — and remember how happy I might have been in the society of
a fond father and a loving brother, — when I reflect that it was
you — you who led me astray, and having blighted all my
prospects — demanding even the sacrifice of my good name to your
interests, — thrust me away from you with scorn, — when
I ponder upon all this, it is enough to — drive me mad; — and
yet you ask for mercy! No — never, never! I cannot pity you — for
I hate, I abhor you!"
"Do not talk so fearfully, Lydia — good
Lydia'" cried Adeline, in a voice of despair, while she endeavoured to take
the hands of her servant, at whose feet she still knelt.
"Think not to move me with a show of kindness, said
Lydia, drawing back her hands in a contemptuous manner: "your overtures
of good treatment come too late!"
"But I will make amends for the past — I
will henceforth consider you as my sister," exclaimed Adeline, raising her
eyes in an imploring manner towards the vengeful woman. "I will do all I
can to repair my former ingratitude — only be forbearing with
me — if not for my sake, at least for the sake of my unborn
"Your maternal feelings have improved in quality of
late," said Lydia, with a scornful curl of the lip; "for — as
you must well remember — your first babe was consigned to me
to be concealed in a pond, or thrust into some hole — you cared not
how nor -~ where, so long as it was hidden from every eye."
"Of all the agonies which you make me endure,
detestable woman," ejaculated Adeline, rising from her knees in a perfect
fury of rage and despair "that perpetual recurrence to the past is the most
[-255-] intolerable of all! Tell me — do
you want to kill me by a slow and lingering death? or do you wish to drive me
mad — mad?" she repeated, her eyes rolling wildly, and
her delicate hands clenching as she screamed forth the word.
The scene was really an awful one — a scene
to which no powers of description can possibly do justice.
The stern, inflexible tyranny of Lydia Hutchinson forced
Lady Ravensworth to pass through all the terrible ordeal of the most tearing and
Did the miserable peeress endeavour to screen herself
within the stronghold of a sullen silence, the words of Lydia Hutchinson would
gradually fall upon her, one after the other, with an irritating power that at
length goaded her to desperation. Did she meet accusation by retort, and
encounter reproach with upbraiding, the inveteracy of Lydia's torturing language
wound her feelings up to such a pitch that it was no wonder she should ask, with
an agonising scream, whether the avenging woman sought to drive her mad? Or,
again, did she endeavour to move the heart of her hired servant by
self-humiliation and passionate appeal, the coldness, or the malignant triumph
with which those manifestations were received awoke within her that proud and
haughty spirit which was now so nearly subdued altogether.
"Do you wish to drive me mad?" Lady
Ravensworth had said: — then, when the accompanying paroxysm of
feeling was past, she threw herself on a chair, and burst into an agony of
But Lydia was not softened!
She suffered Adeline to weep for a few minutes; and when
the unhappy lady was exhausted — subdued — spirit-broken — the
unrelenting torturess repeated her command — "You can now
arrange my hair."
Oh! bad as Adeline was at heart — selfish as
she was by nature and by education, — it would have moved a savage
to have seen the imploring, beseeching look which, through her tears, she cast
upon Lydia's countenance.
"My hair!" said Lydia, imperatively.
Then Lady Ravensworth rose, and meekly and timidly began
to perform that menial office for her own menial.
"I never thought," observed Lydia, "while
I was a wanderer and an outcast in the streets, — as, for instance,
on the occasion when I accosted you, in the bitterness of my starving condition,
in Saint James's Street, and when your lacqueys thrust me back, your husband
declaring that it was easy to see what I was, and your carriage dashing
me upon the kerbstone, — little did I think then that the
time would ever be when a peeress of England should dress my hair — and
least of all that this peeress should be you! But when, in your pride, you
spurned the worm — you knew not that the day could ever possibly
come for that worm to raise its head and sting you! Think you that I value any
peculiar arrangement which you can bestow upon my hair? Think you that I cannot
even, were I still vain, adapt it more to my taste with my own hands? Yes — certainly
I could I But I compel you to attend upon me thus — I constitute
myself the mistress, and make you the menial, when we are alone together — because
it is the principal element of my vengeance. It degrades you — it
renders you little in your own eyes, — you who were once so
great — so haughty — and so proud!"
In this strain did Lydia Hutchinson continue to speak,
while Lady Ravensworth arranged her hair.
And each word that the vindictive woman uttered, fell
like a drop of molten lead upon the already lacerated heart of the unfortunate
At length the ordeal — that same ordeal
which had characterised each morning since Lydia Hutchinson had become an inmate
of Ravensworth Hall — was over; and Adeline was released from that
horrible tyranny — but only for a short time.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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