Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Were the inventors of automatic machines to be ranged according to
the excellence of their devices for producing sound artistic
torture, the creator of the man-trap would occupy a very
respectable if not a very high place.
It should rather, however, be said, the inventor of the particular
form of man-trap of which this found in the keeper's out-house was
a specimen. For there were other shapes and other sizes,
instruments which, if placed in a row beside one of the type
disinterred by Tim, would have worn the subordinate aspect of the
bears, wild boars, or wolves in a travelling menagerie, as
compared with the leading lion or tiger. In short, though many
varieties had been in use during those centuries which we are
accustomed to look back upon as the true and only period of merry
England--in the rural districts more especially--and onward down
to the third decade of the nineteenth century, this model had
borne the palm, and had been most usually followed when the
orchards and estates required new ones.
There had been the toothless variety used by the softer-hearted
landlords--quite contemptible in their clemency. The jaws of
these resembled the jaws of an old woman to whom time has left
nothing but gums. There were also the intermediate or half-
toothed sorts, probably devised by the middle-natured squires, or
those under the influence of their wives: two inches of mercy, two
inches of cruelty, two inches of mere nip, two inches of probe,
and so on, through the whole extent of the jaws. There were also,
as a class apart, the bruisers, which did not lacerate the flesh,
but only crushed the bone
The sight of one of these gins when set produced a vivid
impression that it was endowed with life. It exhibited the
combined aspects of a shark, a crocodile, and a scorpion. Each
tooth was in the form of a tapering spine, two and a quarter
inches long, which, when the jaws were closed, stood in
alternation from this side and from that. When they were open,
the two halves formed a complete circle between two and three feet
in diameter, the plate or treading-place in the midst being about
a foot square, while from beneath extended in opposite directions
the soul of the apparatus, the pair of springs, each one being of
a stiffness to render necessary a lever or the whole weight of the
body when forcing it down.
There were men at this time still living at Hintock who remembered
when the gin and others like it were in use. Tim Tangs's great-
uncle had endured a night of six hours in this very trap, which
lamed him for life. Once a keeper of Hintock woods set it on the
track of a poacher, and afterwards, coming back that way,
forgetful of what he had done, walked into it himself. The wound
brought on lockjaw, of which he died. This event occurred during
the thirties, and by the year 1840 the use of such implements was
well-nigh discontinued in the neighborhood. But being made
entirely of iron, they by no means disappeared, and in almost
every village one could be found in some nook or corner as readily
as this was found by Tim. It had, indeed, been a fearful
amusement of Tim and other Hintock lads--especially those who had
a dim sense of becoming renowned poachers when they reached their
prime--to drag out this trap from its hiding, set it, and throw it
with billets of wood, which were penetrated by the teeth to the
depth of near an inch.
As soon as he had examined the trap, and found that the hinges and
springs were still perfect, he shouldered it without more ado, and
returned with his burden to his own garden, passing on through the
hedge to the path immediately outside the boundary. Here, by the
help of a stout stake, he set the trap, and laid it carefully
behind a bush while he went forward to reconnoitre. As has been
stated, nobody passed this way for days together sometimes; but
there was just a possibility that some other pedestrian than the
one in request might arrive, and it behooved Tim to be careful as
to the identity of his victim.
Going about a hundred yards along the rising ground to the right,
he reached a ridge whereon a large and thick holly grew. Beyond
this for some distance the wood was more open, and the course
which Fitzpiers must pursue to reach the point, if he came to-
night, was visible a long way forward.
For some time there was no sign of him or of anybody. Then there
shaped itself a spot out of the dim mid-distance, between the
masses of brushwood on either hand. And it enlarged, and Tim
could hear the brushing of feet over the tufts of sour-grass. The
airy gait revealed Fitzpiers even before his exact outline could
Tim Tangs turned about, and ran down the opposite side of the
hill, till he was again at the head of his own garden. It was the
work of a few moments to drag out the man-trap, very gently--that
the plate might not be disturbed sufficiently to throw it--to a
space between a pair of young oaks which, rooted in contiguity,
grew apart upward, forming a V-shaped opening between; and, being
backed up by bushes, left this as the only course for a foot-
passenger. In it he laid the trap with the same gentleness of
handling, locked the chain round one of the trees, and finally
slid back the guard which was placed to keep the gin from
accidentally catching the arms of him who set it, or, to use the
local and better word, "toiled" it.
Having completed these arrangements, Tim sprang through the
adjoining hedge of his father's garden, ran down the path, and
softly entered the house.
Obedient to his order, Suke had gone to bed; and as soon as he had
bolted the door, Tim unlaced and kicked off his boots at the foot
of the stairs, and retired likewise, without lighting a candle.
His object seemed to be to undress as soon as possible. Before,
however, he had completed the operation, a long cry resounded
without--penetrating, but indescribable.
"What's that?" said Suke, starting up in bed.
"Sounds as if somebody had caught a hare in his gin."
"Oh no," said she. "It was not a hare, 'twas louder. Hark!"
"Do 'ee get to sleep," said Tim. "How be you going to wake at
half-past three else?"
She lay down and was silent. Tim stealthily opened the window and
listened. Above the low harmonies produced by the instrumentation
of the various species of trees around the premises he could hear
the twitching of a chain from the spot whereon he had set the man-
trap. But further human sound there was none.
Tim was puzzled. In the haste of his project he had not
calculated upon a cry; but if one, why not more? He soon ceased to
essay an answer, for Hintock was dead to him already. In half a
dozen hours he would be out of its precincts for life, on his way
to the antipodes. He closed the window and lay down.
The hour which had brought these movements of Tim to birth had
been operating actively elsewhere. Awaiting in her father's house
the minute of her appointment with her husband, Grace Fitzpiers
deliberated on many things. Should she inform her father before
going out that the estrangement of herself and Edgar was not so
complete as he had imagined, and deemed desirable for her
happiness? If she did so she must in some measure become the
apologist of her husband, and she was not prepared to go so far.
As for him, he kept her in a mood of considerate gravity. He
certainly had changed. He had at his worst times always been
gentle in his manner towards her. Could it be that she might make
of him a true and worthy husband yet? She had married him; there
was no getting over that; and ought she any longer to keep him at
a distance? His suave deference to her lightest whim on the
question of his comings and goings, when as her lawful husband he
might show a little independence, was a trait in his character as
unexpected as it was engaging. If she had been his empress, and
he her thrall, he could not have exhibited a more sensitive care
to avoid intruding upon her against her will.
Impelled by a remembrance she took down a prayer-book and turned
to the marriage-service. Reading it slowly through, she became
quite appalled at her recent off-handedness, when she rediscovered
what awfully solemn promises she had made him at those chancel
steps not so very long ago.
She became lost in long ponderings on how far a person's
conscience might be bound by vows made without at the time a full
recognition of their force. That particular sentence, beginning
"Whom God hath joined together," was a staggerer for a gentlewoman
of strong devotional sentiment. She wondered whether God really
did join them together. Before she had done deliberating the time
of her engagement drew near, and she went out of the house almost
at the moment that Tim Tangs retired to his own.
The position of things at that critical juncture was briefly as
Two hundred yards to the right of the upper end of Tangs's garden
Fitzpiers was still advancing, having now nearly reached the
summit of the wood-clothed ridge, the path being the actual one
which further on passed between the two young oaks. Thus far it
was according to Tim's conjecture. But about two hundred yards to
the left, or rather less, was arising a condition which he had not
divined, the emergence of Grace as aforesaid from the upper corner
of her father's garden, with the view of meeting Tim's intended
victim. Midway between husband and wife was the diabolical trap,
silent, open, ready.
Fitzpiers's walk that night had been cheerful, for he was
convinced that the slow and gentle method he had adopted was
promising success. The very restraint that he was obliged to
exercise upon himself, so as not to kill the delicate bud of
returning confidence, fed his flame. He walked so much more
rapidly than Grace that, if they continued advancing as they had
begun, he would reach the trap a good half-minute before she could
reach the same spot.
But here a new circumstance came in; to escape the unpleasantness
of being watched or listened to by lurkers--naturally curious by
reason of their strained relations--they had arranged that their
meeting for to-night should be at the holm-tree on the ridge above
named. So soon, accordingly, as Fitzpiers reached the tree he
stood still to await her.
He had not paused under the prickly foliage more than two minutes
when he thought he heard a scream from the other side of the
ridge. Fitzpiers wondered what it could mean; but such wind as
there was just now blew in an adverse direction, and his mood was
light. He set down the origin of the sound to one of the
superstitious freaks or frolicsome scrimmages between sweethearts
that still survived in Hintock from old-English times; and waited
on where he stood till ten minutes had passed. Feeling then a
little uneasy, his mind reverted to the scream; and he went
forward over the summit and down the embowered incline, till he
reached the pair of sister oaks with the narrow opening between
Fitzpiers stumbled and all but fell. Stretching down his hand to
ascertain the obstruction, it came in contact with a confused mass
of silken drapery and iron-work that conveyed absolutely no
explanatory idea to his mind at all. It was but the work of a
moment to strike a match; and then he saw a sight which congealed
The man-trap was thrown; and between its jaws was part of a
woman's clothing--a patterned silk skirt--gripped with such
violence that the iron teeth had passed through it, skewering its
tissue in a score of places. He immediately recognized the skirt
as that of one of his wife's gowns--the gown that she had worn
when she met him on the very last occasion.
Fitzpiers had often studied the effect of these instruments when
examining the collection at Hintock House, and the conception
instantly flashed through him that Grace had been caught, taken
out mangled by some chance passer, and carried home, some of her
clothes being left behind in the difficulty of getting her free.
The shock of this conviction, striking into the very current of
high hope, was so great that he cried out like one in corporal
agony, and in his misery bowed himself down to the ground.
Of all the degrees and qualities of punishment that Fitzpiers had
undergone since his sins against Grace first began, not any even
approximated in intensity to this.
"Oh, my own--my darling! Oh, cruel Heaven--it is too much, this!"
he cried, writhing and rocking himself over the sorry accessaries
of her he deplored.
The voice of his distress was sufficiently loud to be audible to
any one who might have been there to hear it; and one there was.
Right and left of the narrow pass between the oaks were dense
bushes; and now from behind these a female figure glided, whose
appearance even in the gloom was, though graceful in outline,
She was in white up to the waist, and figured above. She was, in
short, Grace, his wife, lacking the portion of her dress which the
"Don't be grieved about me--don't, dear Edgar!" she exclaimed,
rushing up and bending over him. "I am not hurt a bit! I was
coming on to find you after I had released myself, but I heard
footsteps; and I hid away, because I was without some of my
clothing, and I did not know who the person might be."
Fitzpiers had sprung to his feet, and his next act was no less
unpremeditated by him than it was irresistible by her, and would
have been so by any woman not of Amazonian strength. He clasped
his arms completely round, pressed her to his breast, and kissed
"You are not dead!--you are not hurt! Thank God--thank God!" he
said, almost sobbing in his delight and relief from the horror of
his apprehension. "Grace, my wife, my love, how is this--what has
"I was coming on to you," she said as distinctly as she could in
the half-smothered state of her face against his. "I was trying
to be as punctual as possible, and as I had started a minute late
I ran along the path very swiftly--fortunately for myself. Just
when I had passed between these trees I felt something clutch at
my dress from behind with a noise, and the next moment I was
pulled backward by it, and fell to the ground. I screamed with
terror, thinking it was a man lying down there to murder me, but
the next moment I discovered it was iron, and that my clothes were
caught in a trap. I pulled this way and that, but the thing would
not let go, drag it as I would, and I did not know what to do. I
did not want to alarm my father or anybody, as I wished nobody to
know of these meetings with you; so I could think of no other plan
than slipping off my skirt, meaning to run on and tell you what a
strange accident had happened to me. But when I had just freed
myself by leaving the dress behind, I heard steps, and not being
sure it was you, I did not like to be seen in such a pickle, so I
"It was only your speed that saved you! One or both of your legs
would have been broken if you had come at ordinary walking pace."
"Or yours, if you had got here first," said she, beginning to
realize the whole ghastliness of the possibility. "Oh, Edgar,
there has been an Eye watching over us to-night, and we should be
He continued to press his face to hers. "You are mine--mine again
She gently owned that she supposed she was. "I heard what you
said when you thought I was injured," she went on, shyly, "and I
know that a man who could suffer as you were suffering must have a
tender regard for me. But how does this awful thing come here?"
"I suppose it has something to do with poachers." Fitzpiers was
still so shaken by the sense of her danger that he was obliged to
sit awhile, and it was not until Grace said, "If I could only get
my skirt out nobody would know anything about it," that he
By their united efforts, each standing on one of the springs of
the trap, they pressed them down sufficiently to insert across the
jaws a billet which they dragged from a faggot near at hand; and
it was then possible to extract the silk mouthful from the
monster's bite, creased and pierced with many holes, but not torn.
Fitzpiers assisted her to put it on again; and when her customary
contours were thus restored they walked on together, Grace taking
his arm, till he effected an improvement by clasping it round her
The ice having been broken in this unexpected manner, she made no
further attempt at reserve. "I would ask you to come into the
house," she said, "but my meetings with you have been kept secret
from my father, and I should like to prepare him."
"Never mind, dearest. I could not very well have accepted the
invitation. I shall never live here again--as much for your sake
as for mine. I have news to tell you on this very point, but my
alarm had put it out of my head. I have bought a practice, or
rather a partnership, in the Midlands, and I must go there in a
week to take up permanent residence. My poor old great-aunt died
about eight months ago, and left me enough to do this. I have
taken a little furnished house for a time, till we can get one of
He described the place, and the surroundings, and the view from
the windows, and Grace became much interested. "But why are you
not there now?" she said.
"Because I cannot tear myself away from here till I have your
promise. Now, darling, you will accompany me there--will you not?
To-night has settled that."
Grace's tremblings had gone off, and she did not say nay. They
went on together.
The adventure, and the emotions consequent upon the reunion which
that event had forced on, combined to render Grace oblivious of
the direction of their desultory ramble, till she noticed they
were in an encircled glade in the densest part of the wood,
whereon the moon, that had imperceptibly added its rays to the
scene, shone almost vertically. It was an exceptionally soft,
balmy evening for the time of year, which was just that transient
period in the May month when beech-trees have suddenly unfolded
large limp young leaves of the softness of butterflies' wings.
Boughs bearing such leaves hung low around, and completely
enclosed them, so that it was as if they were in a great green
vase, which had moss for its bottom and leaf sides.
The clouds having been packed in the west that evening so as to
retain the departing glare a long while, the hour had seemed much
earlier than it was. But suddenly the question of time occurred
"I must go back," she said; and without further delay they set
their faces towards Hintock. As they walked he examined his watch
by the aid of the now strong moonlight.
"By the gods, I think I have lost my train!" said Fitzpiers.
"Dear me--whereabouts are we?" said she.
"Two miles in the direction of Sherton."
"Then do you hasten on, Edgar. I am not in the least afraid. I
recognize now the part of the wood we are in and I can find my way
back quite easily. I'll tell my father that we have made it up.
I wish I had not kept our meetings so private, for it may vex him
a little to know I have been seeing you. He is getting old and
irritable, that was why I did not. Good-by."
"But, as I must stay at the Earl of Wessex to-night, for I cannot
possibly catch the train, I think it would be safer for you to let
me take care of you."
"But what will my father think has become of me? He does not know
in the least where I am--he thinks I only went into the garden for
a few minutes."
"He will surely guess--somebody has seen me for certain. I'll go
all the way back with you to-morrow."
"But that newly done-up place--the Earl of Wessex!"
"If you are so very particular about the publicity I will stay at
the Three Tuns."
"Oh no--it is not that I am particular--but I haven't a brush or
comb or anything!"
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.