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Crowley Castle

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Crowley Castle

by Elizabeth Glaskell

Genre: Drama
Setting: America
Format of Original Source: Short Story
Recommended Adaptation Length:

Candidate for Adaptation? Promising

EXCERPT:

‘My father!’ she cried eagerly, before Victorine could speak. ‘Is Sir Mark–well?’ (‘alive’ was her first thought, but she dared not give the word utterance.)

‘Call Mr. Duke!’ said Joseph, speaking to some one unseen. Then he came forward. ‘God bless you, Miss! God bless you! And this day of all days! Sir Mark is well–leastways he’s sadly changed. Where’s Mr Duke? Call him! My young lady’s fainting!’

And this was Theresa’s return home. None ever knew how much she had suffered since she had left home. If any one had known, Victorine would never have stood there dressed in that mourning. She put it on, sorely against her will, for the purpose of upholding the lying fiction of Theresa’s having been a happy prosperous marriage. She was always indignant if any of the old servants fell back into the once familiar appellation of Miss Theresa. ‘The countess,’ she would say, in lofty rebuke.

What passed between Theresa and her father at that first interview no one ever knew. Whether she told him anything of her married life, or whether she only soothed the tears he shed on seeing her again, by sweet repetition of tender words and caresses–such as are the sugared pabulum of age as well as of infancy–no one ever knew. Neither Duke nor his wife ever heard her allude to the time she had passed in Paris, except in the most cursory and superficial manner. Sir Mark was anxious to show her that all was forgiven, and would fain have displaced Bessy from her place as lady of the castle, and made Theresa take the headship of the house, and sit at table where the mistress ought to be. And Bessy would have given up her onerous dignities without a word; for Duke was always more jealous for his wife’s position than she herself was, but Theresa declined to assume any such place in the household, saying, in the languid way which now seemed habitual to her, that English house-keeping, and all the domestic arrangements of an English country house were cumbrous and wearisome to her; that if Bessy would continue to act as she had done hitherto, and would so forestall what must be her natural duties at some future period, she, Theresa, should be infinitely obliged.

Bessy consented, and in everything tried to remember what Theresa liked, and how affairs were ordered in the old Theresa days. She wished the servants to feel that ‘the countess’ had equal rights with herself in the management of the house. But she, to whom the housekeeper takes her accounts–she in whose hands the power of conferring favours and privileges remains de facto–will always be held by servants as the mistress; and Theresa’s claims soon sank into the background. At first, she was too broken–spirited, too languid, to care for anything but quiet rest in her father’s companionship. They sat sometimes for hours hand in hand; or they sauntered out on the terraces, hardly speaking, but happy; because they were once more together, and once more on loving terms. Theresa grew strong during this time of gentle brooding peace. The pinched pale face of anxiety lined with traces of suffering, relaxed into the soft oval; the light came into the eyes, the colour came into the cheeks.

But, in the autumn after Theresa’s return, Sir Mark died; it had been a gradual decline of strength, and his last moments were passed in her arms. Her new misfortune threw her back into the wan worn creature she had been when she first came home, a widow, to Crowley Castle; she shut herself up in her rooms, and allowed no one to come near her but Victorine. Neither Duke nor Bessy was admitted into the darkened rooms, which she had hung with black cloth in solemn funereal state.

Victorine’s life since her return to the castle had been anything but peaceable. New powers had arisen in the housekeeper’s room. Madam Brownlow had her maid, far more exacting than Madam Brownlow herself; and a new housekeeper reigned in the place of her who was formerly but an echo of Victorine’s opinions. Victorine’s own temper, too, was not improved by her four years abroad, and there was a general disposition among the servants to resist all her assumption of authority. She felt her powerlessness after a struggle or two, but treasured up her vengeance. If she had lost power over the household, however, there was no diminution of her influence over her mistress. It was her device at last that lured the countess out of her gloomy seclusion.

Almost the only creature Victorine cared for, besides Theresa, was the little Mary Brownlow. What there was of softness in her woman’s nature, seemed to come out towards children; though, if the child had been a boy instead of a girl, it is probable that Victorine might not have taken it into her good graces. As it was, the French nurse and the English child were capital friends; and when Victorine sent Mary into the countess’s room, and bade her not be afraid, but ask the lady in her infantine babble to come out and see Mary’s snow-man, she knew that the little one, for her sake, would put her small hand into Theresa’s, and thus plead with more success, because with less purpose, than any one else had been able to plead. Out came Theresa, colourless and sad, holding Mary by the hand. They went, unobserved as they thought, to the great gallery-window, and looked out into the court-yard; then Theresa returned to her rooms. But the ice was broken, and before the winter was over, Theresa fell into her old ways, and sometimes smiled, and sometimes even laughed, until chance visitors again spoke of her rare beauty and her courtly grace.

It was noticeable that Theresa revived first out of her lassitude to an interest in all Duke’s pursuits. She grew weary of Bessy’s small cares and domestic talk–now about the servants, now about her mother and the parsonage, now about the parish. She questioned Duke about his travels, and could enter into his appreciation and judgement of foreign nations; she perceived the latent powers of his mind; she became impatient of their remaining dormant in country seclusion. She had spoken of leaving Crowley Castle, and of finding some other home, soon after her father’s death; but both Duke and Bessy had urged her to stay with them, Bessy saying, in the pure innocence of her heart, how glad she was that, in the probably increasing cares of her nursery, Duke would have a companion so much to his mind.

About a year after Sir Mark’s death, the member for Sussex died, and Theresa set herself to stir up Duke to assume his place. With some difficulty (for Bessy was passive: perhaps even opposed to the scheme in her quiet way), Theresa succeeded, and Duke was elected. She was vexed at Bessy’s torpor, as she called it, in the whole affair; vexed as she now often was with Bessy’s sluggish interest in all things beyond her immediate ken. Once, when Theresa tried to make Bessy perceive how Duke might shine and rise in his new sphere, Bessy burst into tears, and said, ‘You speak as if his presence here were nothing, and his fame in London everything. I cannot help fearing that he will leave off caring for all the quiet ways in which we have been so happy ever since we were married.’

‘But when he is here,’ replied Theresa, ‘and when he wants to talk to you of politics, of foreign news, of great public interests, you drag him down to your level of woman’s cares.’

‘Do I?’ said Bessy. ‘Do I drag him down? I wish I was cleverer; but you know, Theresa, I was never clever in anything but housewifery.’

Theresa was touched for a moment by this humility.



COMMENTS:

This story covers a lot of events; plenty to fill an entire musical. They’re psychologically old-fashioned, though, and perhapsno longer palatable for modern audiences.


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