(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

On the wild winter night Judith Herries was born in the gloomy old house at Herries in Rosthwaite, her aged father and young gypsy mother both died. The country midwife laid out the parents with as much respect as she thought Rogue Herries and his strange wife deserved. She wrapped the baby warmly, for it was bitterly cold. Then she sat down with a bottle of strong drink to fortify her own thin blood. The wind rose, and a loose windowpane blew in. The snow drifted in upon the cradle, but the midwife slept on.

Squire Gauntry, tough and taciturn, came by tired from hunting. He stopped when he heard the child’s thin wail above the howling wind. Failing to arouse the stupid countrywoman, he took the baby home to his masculine hall until her half brother, David Herries, arrived to claim her.

Judith Herries grew up at Fell House, near Uldale, with David Herries and his family. David, however, was fifty-five years older than Judith, and he often clashed with his young sister. She was spanked many times; the most serious punishment came when she danced naked on the roof. Judith frequently visited Stone Ends, Squire Gauntry’s place, where there were no restrictions.

One significant visit came in her eleventh year, when she ran away from Fell House after being punished for disobedience. Rough Gauntry welcomed her to a strange gathering. There were two women present with the gentlemen who were drinking and playing cards. One was vast Emma, Gauntry’s mistress, who was always to be Judith’s friend, and the other was beautiful Madame Paris, the mother of Georges. Judith, only a year or so younger than Georges, enticed him away on a childish prank. When she kissed him, he gently pulled her hair, and she slapped him.

That night when Judith went to bed, she entered the room she usually slept in at Stone Ends. There she saw Georges’ beautiful mother standing naked beside the bed. On his knees before her, dressed only in his shirt, knelt a gentleman who was kissing Madame Paris’ knees. From that night on, Judith thought as a woman.

When she was twelve years old, she saw Georges again at a display of fireworks by the lake. Disobeying orders, she went out in a boat with him. His kisses that night were more grown-up.

When she was sixteen years old, Judith married Georges. It was a bad match in every way, except that Judith really loved her husband. Georges installed her at Watendlath, a remote northern farm. There she lived a lonely life. Georges, a smuggler, spent little time at home.

After some years, Georges and Judith went to London, where the smuggler turned gambler and intriguer to recoup their fortunes. During a comparatively harmonious interval, they attended the famous ball given by Will Herries.

Jennifer Cards was the belle of the ball. She was a strikingly beautiful woman of twenty-six years and still single by preference. Many of the married Herries men followed her like sheep. Christabel, Will’s wife, was much...

(The entire section is 1230 words.)