Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1230
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 upset and scolded Jennifer for attending the ball without a chaperon. Jennifer answered roughly, and in her anger, she seized Christabel’s fan and broke it. That was the occasion for the great Herries quarrel. Ever after, Will and then his son Walter were intent on destroying Jennifer.
Their quarrel eventually involved Francis, Judith’s well-loved nephew, for Francis, thirty-six years old and a pathetic, futile man of deep sensibility, married Jennifer years after the incident.
Georges at last seemed to be serious in attempting to advance his fortunes. Judith never knew exactly what he was doing, but part of his project meant standing in well with Will Herries, who was a real power in the city. Mysterious men came and went in the Paris’ shabby rooms. Stane was the one whom Judith distrusted most, and often she begged Georges to discontinue his association with him. Her suspicions were verified one day when Georges came home exhausted and in wild despair. He told Judith that because he had struck a man, London would be closed to him for a while.
Despondent, Georges went to Christiana and returned to smuggling; Judith went to Watendlath. After one of his mysterious trips, Georges appeared haggard and upset; he told her that off Norway he choked Stane to death. Then he had overturned the small boat to make the death appear an accident and swam ashore. Although Georges was unsuspected, he needed Judith now. She had him to herself at last.
Then old Stane came, professing to seek shelter with his dead son’s friend. When he had satisfied his suspicion of Georges’ guilt, the powerful old man threw Georges over the railing of the landing and broke his back, killing him.
Now a widow, Judith moved to London. Nine years later, she went to stay with Francis and Jennifer. The beautiful Jennifer now had two children, John and Dorothy. Since she had never loved Francis, Jennifer felt no compulsion to keep his love. She gave herself to Fernyhirst, a neighbor. Although most of the people in the neighborhood knew of her infidelity, Francis shut his eyes to it.
Then came the news that Will Herries had bought Westaways, only eight miles away from Fell House, where Judith lived in the uneasy home of Jennifer and Francis. They were sure that Will meant to harm them for the slight to his wife years before; indeed, Will hated them savagely. It was Walter, however, who was to be the agent for his father’s hate.
Warren Forster brought the news of Will’s plans to Fell House. He was a tiny, kindly man who had long admired Judith. The two went riding one day, and out of pity and friendship, Judith gave herself to Warren, whose wife had left him years before.
Judith was now nearly forty years old, and she knew that she was carrying Warren’s child. She went to Paris with blowzy Emma, now on the stage. It was just after Waterloo, and Paris was filled with Germans and Englishmen. When Warren finally found them, he was a sick man.
While Judith and Warren dined in a small cafe one night, a vengeful Frenchman shot a Prussian sitting at the next table. In the excitement, Warren died. The shock unnerved Judith, and there, behind a screen, her son Adam was born.
In England, Walter was determined to harm Jennifer. He knew of her affair with Fernyhirst, and he also knew of a journey Francis was taking. After he sent a note of warning to the inn where Francis was staying, Francis returned unexpectedly to Fell House. There he found his wife’s lover in her room and fell on him savagely. Later, he overtook the fleeing Fernyhirst and fought a duel with him, but Fernyhirst ran away. In futile despair, Francis went to London and there he later killed himself.
Now Judith had to manage a shaken and crumpled Jennifer and fight a savage Walter. A riot was incited by Walter that caused the death of Reuben Sunwood, Judith’s kinsman and staunch friend, and a fire of mysterious origin broke out in the stables. Judith gave up her plan to return to Watendlath. For Jennifer’s sake, she and Adam went back to Fell House to stay.
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