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[-252-] 

CHAPTER CCXIII.

THE TORTURES OF LADY RAVENSWORTH.

    A WEEK had now elapsed since Lydia Hutchinson entered the service of Lady Ravensworth.
    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 of woe.
    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 left alone.
    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 malignity.
    Adeline slept.
    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 cold."
    "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 of performing!"
    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 hurt me."
    "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 babe!"
    "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 heart-breaking emotions.
    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 tears.
    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 Adeline.
    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.

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