(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

The quarrel between Walter Herries of Westaways and Jennifer Herries, his kinswoman at Fell House, went back many years. Christabel, Walter’s weak mother, had been insulted by Jennifer over the breaking of a fan at a ball, and Walter never forgot the slight to his proud, snobbish family. He also resented the presence of Judith Paris and her illegitimate son, living brazenly, as he thought, at Fell House, so near Westaways, his own fine house. By one method or another, he had determined to drive out the whole household, and he might have succeeded had it not been for Judith.

Judith openly accused her cousin of having incited a riot in which Reuben Sunwood, another kinsman, had been killed. Admitting the charge, Walter Herries said there had been no way for him to foresee Reuben’s death. He proposed that Jennifer and Judith should sell him Fell House at a fair price and move away. If they did not, Walter would persecute them until they would be glad to leave. When Judith refused, Walter bought Ireby, a high hill overlooking Fell House. He planned to build a huge mansion there to dwarf Jennifer’s modest home, and he would be there always to spy on the people of Fell House and hurt them. He also reminded Judith of Francis, Jennifer’s husband, who had committed suicide. Walter had exposed Jennifer’s lover to him, and the coward had shot himself rather than the man who had defiled his home. Judith, however, defied Walter’s angry boasts of his power and cunning.

She took complete charge at Fell House, and Jennifer thankfully let her assume management of the household. Since she was firm and headstrong, they did not give in to Walter even when he poisoned their cows.

Uhland and Elizabeth were Walter’s children. The girl was beautiful and kind, but Uhland was his father’s pride. The son was lame and pampered. At an early age, he shared his father’s hatred of Judith and her close kin. One day as he walked in the woods, he saw his sister Elizabeth and John, Jennifer’s son, together. He ordered his sister to see no more of John, but Elizabeth, who had a mind of her own, refused, knowing that her brother could never bring himself to tell his father. Uhland, lame and pale, was much attracted to robust Adam Paris, Judith’s son.

As Adam Paris grew up into a strong, rebellious boy, he soon learned that he was illegitimate and that his aunt had taken a lover. The knowledge made him resentful of all restraint, and only by the grace of the family name was he allowed to remain at Rugby.

When Walter really began to build on Ireby Hill, the country folk named his great mansion The Fortress. Walter had carried out his threat to dwarf the house of Judith and to spy on her people. Jennifer was greatly disturbed. Her fear of Walter made her go every day to Ireby and survey the progress made. Finally, the strain was unbearable; Jennifer died quietly from sheer apprehension.


(The entire section is 1201 words.)