The Fortress - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Fortress ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Opis

Judith Paris, now middle-aged, is returning to the Lakes to deal with the fierce feud between the two branches of the family. The feud ended with the construction of one branch of a huge house, known as The Fortress, which will dominate the land of others. But in this conflict, the children of two families play an important role.

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Contents

PART I

MADAME

THE SHADOW AGAINST THE SKY

AT WESTAWAYS

ADAM’S WORLD

THE SUMMER FAIR

THE BEGINNING OF THE FORTRESS

JUDITH AND ADAM IN LONDON

WESTAWAYS: FATHER AND SON

ENTRY OF THE FORTRESS

PART II

ADAM AND MARGARET

THE BATTLE

THE CHARTISTS

HISTORY OF ELIZABETH

THE GOVERNESS

FAMILY LETTERS

HOMECOMING IN WINTER

THE WILD GOOSE

PART III

CUMBERLAND CHASE

UHLAND’S JOURNAL

WAX FLOWERS AND THE REVOLUTION

CHILDE ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER

EXHIBITION

THE FUNERAL

CLIMAX TO A LONG SEQUENCE

CLIMAX TO A LONG SEQUENCE

CLIMAX TO A LONG SEQUENCE

PART IV

MOTHER AND SON

BIRTH OF VANESSA

SAYERS VERSUS HEENAN

SHE VISITS THE FORTRESS FOR THE LAST TIME

ON CAT BELLS: ESCAPE FROM ECSTASY

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A VERY OLD LADY

AT VICTORINE’S

BATTLE WITH PANGLOSS

THE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY

NOTE

PART I

MADAME

THE SHADOW AGAINST THE SKY

“All is well,’ Judith said quietly, coming forward and stroking the red apples of the sofa. “I shall not leave you, Jennifer. It is better I remain.’

As her hand mechanically stroked those same rosy apples, so friendly and familiar, she reflected.

Yes, this simple sentence declared the crisis of her whole existence. Nothing ever again could matter to her so deeply as this decision. With it she had cut away half her life, and perhaps the better half. She was not by nature a dramatic woman; moreover, she had but lately returned from the funeral of the best friend she had, and she was forty-seven years of age in this month of January 1822. So–for women then thought forty-seven a vast age–she should be past drama. Quietly she sat down on the sofa, leaned forward, looking into the fire. Jennifer Herries was speaking with eager excitement, but Judith did not hear her. Jennifer was fifty-two and should also be past drama but, although a lazy woman, she liked sensation when it did not put herself to discomfort.

Judith at that moment heard and saw nothing but the past, the past that she was irrevocably forsaking. Strange how the same patterns were for ever returning! Her father had been a rogue and a vagabond, a rebel against all the order and material discipline of the proper Herries. In his early years he had married Convention and of her had had a son, late in life he had married a gipsy and of her had had a daughter in his old age, when he was over seventy. David at one end of his life, Judith at the other.

In their histories again the pattern had been repeated. David of his marriage had had two sons: Will the money-maker, Francis the dreamer. Will prospered even now in the City; Francis was a failure, dead of his own hand.

And with their children again the pattern was repeated. For Will’s son Walter was triumphant near by in his house at Westaways, and Francis’ widow, Jennifer, and Francis’ children, John and Dorothy, remained, undefended, here at Uldale.

It was here that she, Judith, came into the pattern. Daughter of two vagabonds, mother of an illegitimate boy, she should be vagrant. Half of her–the finer, truer, more happy and fortunate half–(she nodded at the fire in confirmation) was so. But the other half was proper, managing, material, straight-seeing Herries. She threw her wild half into the blaze (her hand flickered towards the fire). It was gone. She remained to fight for Jennifer, Jennifer’s children, John and Dorothy, and, maybe, who knows?... her own boy Adam.

To fight whom? Here Jennifer’s voice broke through:

„... That will be most agreeable. I have always said that the Yellow Room needs but a trifle altering and it will make... but Francis would never see it. And with a new wallpaper.... We must certainly have a new wallpaper....’

To fight Walter Herries, and all that were his. As “Rogue’ Herries in his tumble-down house in Borrowdale had fought all the world, as Francis his grandson had tried to fight the world and failed, so now would she fight Walter, flamboyant, triumphing Walter, made of Will and his money-bags, sworn to extinguish Jennifer and her children and all that were in Fell House, Uldale.

It had been the wish of her whole life to flee from all the Herries and live in the hills as her mother had lived before her, but Walter Herries had challenged her and she had taken up the challenge.

„... Not that it should be difficult,’ Jennifer was saying, “to find another girl to work with Doris. Girls will come willingly enough now that you are going to remain, Judith, dear....’

Walter and his two children, Uhland and Elizabeth, with all the money in the world, against Jennifer and her children, undefended and helpless, Judith and her Adam, fatherless and by law without a name....

Jennifer was going on: “And Walter will not dare, now that you are remaining, Judith.... You are the only one of us all of whom he is afraid.... He will not dare....’

Would he not, so large and confident and powerful? Had he not said that he would snuff them out–Jennifer, John, Dorothy–raze Fell House to the ground? And what had she, small, elderly, alone, with no one in the world belonging to her save Adam, to oppose to that strength?

Nevertheless, she looked across to Jennifer triumphantly.

“We will give Walter something to think about,’ she said.

“And you can go to Watendlath when you wish,’ Jennifer said.

“Oh no. Watendlath is over for me. Watendlath is ended, a closed valley.’

“But how foolish, Judith. It is only a mile or two.’

“It is the other end of the world.’

She did not tell anyone how that night, with Adam asleep beside her, she cried. She lay awake for half the night, hearing the owl hoot, a mouse scuttle, and seeing a slow, lonely moon trace with her silver finger a question mark across the floor.

Her thoughts were wild, incoherent, most mingled. At one moment she was fiercely rebellious. She sat up, staring about her. No, she would not remain! She would tell Jennifer in the morning that she revoked her decision. She allowed her fancy then to play with the lovely sequence of events if she went. Tom Ritson should arrive in his cart. She and Adam would be packed into it, and, after tearful farewells, they would be off, down the hill with one last backward wave at the bottle-green windows of the Uldale shop and the slow friendly shoulder of the moor, along the road to Bassenthwaite, beside the Lake, Keswick, then up the hill again, above Lodore, and then–Oh, happiness! Oh, joy! The little valley closing them in, the long green field, the tumbling Punchbowl, the two farms, her own, John Green House, and the Ritsons’; below the farm the round scoop of the Tarn, black or silver or blue, the amphitheatre of the hills, the sheep nosing at the turf, the cattle moving in the byre, and best of all, Charlie Watson, straight as an arrow in spite of his years, riding towards her over the stones... the fresh sweet air, tang of soil and bracken, glitter of stones, sweep of the changing sky... she had to catch the sheets between her hands.

That life was for ever surrendered. Then, at once, her other practical self came running in. She was mistress of Fell House now. They would all do anything that she told them. Jennifer was her slave. She had seen, at the Ireby funeral, what the neighbours and villagers thought of her. Yes, in spite of her illegitimate son. Many things would have to be done. Had she strength enough? It was the convention that a woman over forty was an “old thing’ without savour. It was true that she had been aware, for some time past, of the troubles, melancholies, miasmas peculiar to her time of life, but she had refused to surrender to them. She felt within her a wonderful vitality and energy, as though she were at the beginning of life rather than more than half through the course of it. Just as in earlier days her love for her husband Georges had filled her with fire and splendour, so now her love for her son Adam glorified her. She was such a woman.

Yes, many things needed to be done. Walter Herries thought that Fell House was at an end, did he? She would show him. Jennifer had money. They could purchase the piece of land towards Ireby... four more cows, two more horses. The dairy must be enlarged. They were lucky in their servants. Bennett was devoted, would do anything for her. Jack was a good boy. Mrs. Quinney was honest and hard-working, although she had a tongue when she was put out. Martha Hodgson was a good God-fearing cook, who never grumbled so long as she was not interfered with, and Doris would do well if they had a child in from the village to help her.

They must entertain more than they had done. John and Dorothy were growing now. John was fourteen and Dorothy thirteen. It was right that they should take their proper place in the County.... She must find a tutor for John and Adam. Someone who would have no dealings with Walter. There was Roger Rackstraw in Keswick, a friend of Miss Pennyfeather’s. He had a broken nose and looked altogether like a prize-fighter, but he had been for two years tutor to the Osmaston children and had done well there. She would see about that in the morning. She would lose no time. And, maybe, she might, after all, shortly pay a visit to Watendlath, stay with the Ritsons for a week, ride over to Watson’s farm.... No, no.... Better leave that alone until she was settled here, settled deep, deep down so that she could never pull herself up again.

Then once more desolation caught her. She lay back on her pillow sobbing. She could not help it. She had given up all that she loved best in the world, all save Adam. And for what? She had been considering Walter Herries as too serious a figure? What was he after all but a big, blundering bully? What could he have done to Jennifer and the children? John would soon be able to protect his mother.... But no. John was soft, sensitive, gentle. She remembered how years ago Mrs. Ponder, a servant in the house, had thrown his pet rabbit out of the window. She had thought then that he would have died of misery. And yet he had courage. Only a few days before, when the rioters had set fire to the stables, he had sat with his mother through all the noise and confusion, reading to her, trying to comfort her.... He had courage, but he was no match for his Cousin Walter. She, and she alone.... At that she fell, at last, asleep.

It was natural that the world of Judith’s son, young Adam, should be very different in shape, colour and contents from his mother’s.

He was now in his seventh year and as strong as a young colt. He was, most certainly, not handsome. Even his mother could not think so. His hair was black and straight without a suspicion of a wave in it, his nose snub, his mouth large, his legs and arms too long for his body as yet. Nevertheless, he gave promise of both[10] height and breadth. His grey eyes held both humour and caution, and he was brown with health. He was clumsy in his movements–indeed he was to move all his life short-sightedly, and this not because he was short-sighted but because he was absent-minded.

Were his interest thoroughly caught, absent-minded was the last thing that he was, but he was often thinking of the unexpected instead of the customary.

It seemed that his character would be warm and loyal, but he was sparing of words. He hated to show feeling or express it. He was independent, always venturing off on his own, busy on his own purposes. Whether he liked or disliked anyone he never said, but he had a very especial connection with his mother and would, on a sudden, leave what he was doing and search for her because he thought that she needed him.

When he did this his intuition was always right. He was quite fearless and could be very pugnacious, but he would attack someone without warning and often when he had been smiling but a moment earlier. He was inquisitive, would ask questions and remember carefully the answers given him, although he would not always believe their truth. On the whole, his independence, his loyalty, his taciturnity and his courage were at present his strongest characteristics. He walked very much by himself.

His horizon was larger than that of many boys of his age, for his first years had been spent[11] in France and after that he had lived like a young peasant in the Watendlath valley. His friends had been farmers like Charlie Watson and the Ritsons, farmers’ wives like Alice Perry, farmers’ boys like the young Perrys.

Then on coming to Fell House he had known the first attachment of his life (he was never to know very many). His mother was part of himself and he of his mother, so that did not figure as an attachment, but at the moment that he saw John Herries he adored him.

John, Jennifer’s boy, who was eight years older than Adam, was fair, slender, handsome and an aristocrat. He walked with his head up, as though he were made to rule the earth. But he was too gentle and unselfish to wish to rule anyone, and it soon happened that the young black ruffian Adam did all the commanding. John was impetuous until checked, then was hurt and silent. He had a very occasional stammer that added to his shyness. He had most beautiful natural manners and was over-aware of the feelings of others. He loved to be liked, hated to be disapproved of, while Adam did not care whether anyone liked him or no. Nevertheless, Adam responded deeply to affection, although he said nothing that showed this. He forgot neither kindness nor injury, but John was always eager to heal a quarrel; John was wretched in an atmosphere of unfriendliness. Adam enjoyed a fight if he felt that the cause was a worthy one.

John’s sister, Dorothy, was fair, plump and amiable. She was a type that was always re[12]curring in the Herries families. She had some of her mother’s laziness, but took a livelier interest in the outside world than her mother did.

Adam’s world seemed sufficiently filled with these figures–his mother, Jennifer whom he called his aunt although she was not, John, Dorothy, Mrs. Quinney the housekeeper, Mrs. Hodgson the cook, Bennett the coachman, Jack the stable-boy, Doris, two dairy-maids. Until now there had also been Mr. Winch the tutor, but Mr. Winch was gone for ever.

Geographically his world held first the house, the garden, the stables, then the moors that fell to the very edge of the garden, Skiddaw and Blencathra under whose shadows all the life of the house passed, and beyond them Keswick, and beyond that the world of Watendlath becoming speedily to him now a dream world, a sort of fairy kingdom where all the glories and wonders of life were enclosed.

However, he had then (and he was always to have) the great gift of accepting what he was given and making the best of it. It is true that did he feel he was being given something that he ought not to be given, he would fight relentlessly to change it. He had, for instance, felt that he was not given Mr. Winch, and he had fought Mr. Winch most gallantly. It seemed only in the proper nature of things that Mr. Winch should be removed.

His attitude to John changed as time passed. He did not love him less, but when he found that he could make John and Dorothy do as he wished[13] he had his way with them. Although he was only six he knew very well on every occasion what it was that he wanted to do. The only trouble was that others did not always want to do likewise.

Like a stone flung into a pool so the fearful adventure of the rioters had broken into the settled pattern of Adam’s life. That had been one of his proudest moments when his mother had told him to go into Aunt Jennifer’s room and wait there until “the men who were throwing stones at the windows’ had gone away. He had known that there was more in his mother’s mind than she expressed in words. She had in fact said to him: “I shall have occupation enough. I trust you to guard all that I have no time for.’ A strange scene that was in Aunt Jennifer’s bedroom with all the familiar things, the high bed with the crimson curtains, and Aunt Jennifer’s lovely black hair in a lace cap, her silver shoes and a green turban with a feather in it lying on the floor, Dorothy sitting virtuously on a chair pretending that she listened to John who was reading from Goldsmith’s History of England (Adam did not, of course, know what the book was), John with his gentle voice reading on and on, never taking his eyes from the book–all this so quiet and ordinary, while the reflection from the flames of the burning stables played like living figures on the wallpaper, and the muffled echoes of shouts and cries came from below. He would never forget the white tenseness of John’s face, the little exclamations of Aunt Jennifer:[14] “Oh dear! Oh dear!’ “Listen to that!’ “We shall all be murdered!’ “Children, we shall all be murdered!’, the ridiculous aspect of the leather cushions that had been pushed up against the windows, the way in which everything in the room jumped and sank and jumped again in accordance with the fiery hands that stroked the walls. He himself sat on a low chair near the bed and had no doubt but that he was there on guard over them all. He was prepared that at any moment Aunt Jennifer should jump out of bed and run as she was into the passage and down the stairs. It was privately his opinion that she showed great cowardice to remain there while his mother and Bennett and Mrs. Quinney were defending the house, but he had a patronising, forgiving affection for Aunt Jennifer, as though she were a pony gone at the knees, or a dog that wouldn’t fight other dogs, or a doll whose stomach oozed sawdust.

It was all that he himself could do to sit there thus quietly, but his mother had given him that piece of work and so without question there he was!

The worst moment of all was when Aunt Jennifer suddenly cried (just as John was reading about the Princes who were murdered in the Tower): “Oh, it is me that they are after! I know it is!... They have always hated me! They will burn the house over us!... We mustn’t remain here, children.... We must fly or we shall have the house burnt over our heads!’

Although Adam was too young to be aware of[15] it, it was perhaps the serious regard that the three children bestowed upon her that forced her to lie back again upon her pillow, to close her eyes and await, as best she might, the outcome.

Indeed the affair was soon at an end. Quiet fell in a moment. The shadows and tremblings of the flames’ reflections continued to play upon the walls of the room. John opened the door and listened. Below there were shufflings of feet, whispers, someone was weeping. They waited.... At last Judith herself came, and Adam learnt that Uncle Reuben was dead.

The news was the first real crisis in young Adam’s life, the first occasion on which he had been close to a death that was real and actual to him. In France the old Curé of the village had died when paying them a call, but Adam had been too young to understand. In Watendlath a cow had died and one of Charlie Watson’s horses. But Uncle Reuben had been his friend. He had spent whole days with him in the hills and, although he had been fat and puffed as he climbed a hill, he had been able to talk to hundreds of people at the same time and had known stories about Abraham, the Lord Jesus, the Giant of Poland, King Arthur’s Round Table and scores of others. He had never bothered Adam with making him do things he did not want to do, as Charlie Watson sometimes did, and he carried gingerbread and lollipops in the pocket of his gown.

Now Uncle Reuben was dead, shot with a gun that had been fired by one of the wicked men[16] who wanted to burn the house down. As the consciousness of this absolute fact, positive, not in any circumstances to be changed, sank into Adam’s mind, something affected him for ever. He was, his whole life afterwards, to remember the moment when his mother, breaking off from some story that she was telling him, drew him towards her and said to him that now they were to remain at Fell House, not go to Watendlath as she had promised, and they were to remain to fight.... To fight whom?... Was it Uncle Walter?

He suggested Uncle Walter because he himself wanted to fight him. Once in the hills when he had been bathing, Uncle Walter had ridden past on a white horse and tried to strike him with his whip. He had not forgotten that. He would never forget. So it seemed to him quite natural that he and his mother should fight Uncle Walter. And now when his mother said that they would remain here and not go to Watendlath he connected that with Uncle Reuben’s death and concluded at once that it was Uncle Walter who had shot him. That being so, he, Adam, would one day shoot Uncle Walter. The sequence of ideas was quite natural and inevitable. He said nothing. He asked no questions. But he did one thing. He had a black doll, a black doll with a red coat and brass buttons. He hung the doll from a nail on the wall and threw marbles at it. Within a week he could hit the doll from a great distance. The doll’s face that had been made of painted clay was no longer a face.

Then on an afternoon late in February, John and Adam had a curious adventure. Adventures were for ever happening to Adam, whether watching a carriageful of ladies tumbled into the ditch on the Carlisle Road, seeing a drunken old man fall off the top of the Kendal coach, looking at the gipsies who came and pitched with their caravans painted orange and blue on the moor above the house until they were ordered away (they had brown babies, two monkeys and a basketful of snakes; a woman in a crimson kerchief with silver coins through her ears invited Adam to join them: had it not been for his mother he would have done so). Adventures for him were perpetual, but this one had for him a new quality, terrifying had he allowed himself to be terrified.

It had been a strange day. In the forenoon there had been showers of rain that had filled the road with puddles of silver. Then Skiddaw about two of the afternoon took a step or two and came face to face with the house, dragging a stream of clouds over his shoulder with him. He had a way of doing this: a shrug of shoulders, a quiver of his sides and there he was staring in at the parlour window. The air was fresh with a sniff of spring (although spring would not be with them for a month or two). Adam walked out as far as the stream in the hollow below the Tarn; the water glided and leapt. The moss was wet on the gleaming stones above the brown water; the Fell rose straight from the hollow and was thronged with little moorland streams, for there[18] had been heavy rains. He thought that he saw an eagle and he looked up and up into a sky that was whitish blue and empty until the clouds that clung on to Skiddaw’s shoulders. All these little things belonged to the adventure. As he entered the house again Skiddaw receded and the clouds turned rose; the road beyond the garden wall was very hard and white. He could hear a young owl hooting. He climbed the stairs to find two large marbles, one crystal white, one purple, that he liked to carry in his pocket. Then slid down the banisters to the parlour. He knew that his mother and Aunt Jennifer were paying a visit. They had gone in the carriage with Bennett.

In the doorway of the parlour he found John and saw at once that he was shaking with some event. He pulled Adam by the arm into the room, which was lit only with the dusk of the falling day and the sharp jumping flames from the fire.

He spoke in a whisper.

“Adam!... Cousin Walter has been here!’

Adam looked to the window.

“No,’ said John, “he has gone.’

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