Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1201
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.
When Walter’s family moved into the Fortress, they gave a big reception, but even the crowds and the huge fires could not warm the great stone house. Elizabeth was especially unhappy in the gloomy, rambling mansion. She and John had agreed not to see each other anymore, since marriage seemed an impossibility while their families were enemies. Consequently, when she was invited to visit her Herries cousins in London, she accepted gratefully; but once in fine society, she was troubled. She felt lonely and left out. Mr. Temple, a fat lawyer, pursued her vigorously.
Uhland followed his sister to London. When he saw that Elizabeth could marry the rich and eligible Mr. Temple, he fiercely urged the match. Elizabeth felt more than ever estranged from her family, and when her father wrote and commanded the marriage, Elizabeth promptly and vehemently refused Mr. Temple’s awkward proposal. Enlisting the help of a friendly maid, she stole out of the Herries house and took a job as governess with a family named Golightly.
In her new position, Elizabeth had little to do. Her employers, however, were common, noisy people, and she soon began to detest her place with them. Then her ridiculous employer, old enough to be her father, declared his love for her and his resolution to leave his wife. Terrified, Elizabeth wrote an appeal to John. Forgetting their families’ enmity, John and Elizabeth were quietly married.
At the age of twenty-two, Adam Paris decided to leave Fell House. He had been threatening to go away for five years, but his mother had put him off each time.
In London, Adam found only temporary employment; in a few weeks, he was hungry and penniless. Taken in by chance by the Kraft family, he soon joined the Chartist movement. In that struggle, Caesar Kraft became Adam’s guide and Kraft’s daughter, Margaret, offered Adam sympathy and finally love.
The 1840’s were stirring times in England. Widespread unemployment, poverty, and child labor made reform necessary. Aided by Adam and many others, the Chartists planned their big procession to Parliament. Caesar Kraft was a moderate man, and at a Chartist meeting, he counseled patience. When the procession was broken up, the hotheads blamed him for their failure, and in the riot that followed, Kraft was clubbed to death.
Adam and Margaret were married shortly afterward. Adam’s small skill at editing and hack writing kept them going in a tiny apartment. On their visits to Fell House, Margaret was very unhappy. She saw her husband engulfed by his mother’s love and herself an outsider. When she broke down one night and wept, Adam began to understand her feelings and desires. From that time on, Judith took second place with him, even after they moved to Fell House to stay.
John Herries did well in London. As a parliamentary secretary, his future seemed bright. Uhland, however, was madly determined to make John pay for having the impertinence to marry his sister. Everywhere John went, he knew Uhland was dogging his path. John was not exactly afraid, but contact with Uhland left him powerless before that great hatred.
In a desperate attempt to shake off his incubus, John met Uhland in a deserted country house. There, he suddenly lost his terror of his tormentor and jumped up, daring Uhland to follow him anymore. In a mad rage, Uhland seized his gun, shot John, and then killed himself. Elizabeth was then left with Benjie, her small son. Walter’s hate had borne its final, bitter fruit.
In the Fortress, Walter lived out his drunken old age with a gaudy housekeeper. Steadfastly, he refused to answer Elizabeth’s letters or to let her call. Finally, when she was more than sixty years old, Elizabeth heard that her father was seriously ill. She stormed the Fortress, sent the blowzy housekeeper packing, and nursed the old drunkard back to health. She was so successful with the chastened old man that on Judith’s hundredth birthday Elizabeth brought her father with her as a guest to Fell House.
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