The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, v4
George Meredith

Part 2 out of 2

his castle, and he had lived in it from an early period. Astonishment
never shook the foundations, nor did envy of greater heights tempt him to
relinquish the security of his stronghold, for he saw none. Jugglers he
saw running up ladders that overtopped him, and air-balloons scaling the
empyrean; but the former came precipitately down again, and the latter
were at the mercy of the winds; while he remained tranquil on his solid
unambitious ground, fitting his morality to the laws, his conscience to
his morality, his comfort to his conscience. Not that voluntarily he cut
himself off from his fellows: on the contrary, his sole amusement was
their society. Alone he was rather dull, as a man who beholds but one
thing must naturally be. Study of the animated varieties of that one
thing excited him sufficiently to think life a pleasant play; and the
faculties he had forfeited to hold his elevated position he could
serenely enjoy by contemplation of them in others. Thus:--wonder at
Master Richard's madness: though he himself did not experience it, he was
eager to mark the effect on his beloved relatives. As he carried along
his vindictive hunch of cake, he shaped out their different attitudes of
amaze, bewilderment, horror; passing by some personal chagrin in the
prospect. For his patron had projected a journey, commencing with Paris,
culminating on the Alps, and lapsing in Rome: a delightful journey to
show Richard the highways of History and tear him from the risk of
further ignoble fascinations, that his spirit might be altogether bathed
in freshness and revived. This had been planned during Richard's absence
to surprise him.

Now the dream of travel was to Adrian what the love of woman is to the
race of young men. It supplanted that foolishness. It was his Romance,
as we say; that buoyant anticipation on which in youth we ride the airs,
and which, as we wax older and too heavy for our atmosphere, hardens to
the Hobby, which, if an obstinate animal, is a safer horse, and conducts
man at a slower pace to the sexton. Adrian had never travelled. He was
aware that his romance was earthly and had discomforts only to be evaded
by the one potent talisman possessed by his patron. His Alp would hardly
be grand to him without an obsequious landlord in the foreground: he must
recline on Mammon's imperial cushions in order to moralize becomingly on
the ancient world. The search for pleasure at the expense of discomfort,
as frantic lovers woo their mistresses to partake the shelter of a but
and batten on a crust, Adrian deemed the bitterness of beggarliness. Let
his sweet mistress be given him in the pomp and splendour due to his
superior emotions, or not at all. Consequently the wise youth had long
nursed an ineffectual passion, and it argued a great nature in him, that
at the moment when his wishes were to be crowned, he should look with
such slight touches of spleen at the gorgeous composite fabric of
Parisian cookery and Roman antiquities crumbling into unsubstantial
mockery. Assuredly very few even of the philosophers would have turned
away uncomplainingly to meaner delights the moment after.

Hippias received the first portion of the cake.

He was sitting by the window in his hotel, reading. He had fought down
his breakfast with more than usual success, and was looking forward to
his dinner at the Foreys' with less than usual timidity.

"Ah! glad you've come, Adrian," he said, and expanded his chest. "I was
afraid I should have to ride down. This is kind of you. We'll walk down
together through the park. It's absolutely dangerous to walk alone in
these streets. My opinion is, that orange-peel lasts all through the
year now, and will till legislation puts a stop to it. I give you my
word I slipped on a piece of orange-peel yesterday afternoon in
Piccadilly, and I thought I was down! I saved myself by a miracle."

"You have an appetite, I hope?" asked Adrian.

"I think I shall get one, after a bit of a walk," chirped Hippias. "Yes.
I think I feel hungry now."

"Charmed to hear it," said Adrian, and began unpinning his parcel on his
knees. "How should you define Folly?" he checked the process to inquire.

"Hm!" Hippias meditated; he prided himself on being oracular when such
questions were addressed to him. "I think I should define it to be a

"Very good definition. In other words, a piece of orange-peel; once on
it, your life and limbs are in danger, and you are saved by a miracle.
You must present that to the Pilgrim. And the monument of folly, what
would that be?"

Hippias meditated anew. "All the human race on one another's shoulders."
He chuckled at the sweeping sourness of the instance.

"Very good," Adrian applauded, "or in default of that, some symbol of the
thing, say; such as this of which I have here brought you a chip."

Adrian displayed the quarter of the cake.

"This is the monument made portable--eh?"

"Cake!" cried Hippias, retreating to his chair to dramatize his intense
disgust. "You're right of them that eat it. If I--if I don't mistake,"
he peered at it, "the noxious composition bedizened in that way is what
they call wedding-cake. It's arrant poison! Who is it you want to kill?
What are you carrying such stuff about for?"

Adrian rang the bell for a knife. "To present you with your due and
proper portion. You will have friends and relatives, and can't be saved
from them, not even by miracle. It is a habit which exhibits, perhaps,
the unconscious inherent cynicism of the human mind, for people who
consider that they have reached the acme of mundane felicity, to
distribute this token of esteem to their friends, with the object
probably" (he took the knife from a waiter and went to the table to slice
the cake) "of enabling those friends (these edifices require very
delicate incision--each particular currant and subtle condiment hangs to
its neighbour--a wedding-cake is evidently the most highly civilized of
cakes, and partakes of the evils as well as the advantages of
civilization!)--I was saying, they send us these love-tokens, no doubt
(we shall have to weigh out the crumbs, if each is to have his fair
share) that we may the better estimate their state of bliss by passing
some hours in purgatory. This, as far as I can apportion it without
weights and scales, is your share, my uncle!"

He pushed the corner of the table bearing the cake towards Hippias.

"Get away!" Hippias vehemently motioned, and started from his chair.
"I'll have none of it, I tell you! It's death! It's fifty times worse
than that beastly compound Christmas pudding! What fool has been doing
this, then? Who dares send me cake? Me! It's an insult."

"You are not compelled to eat any before dinner," said Adrian, pointing
the corner of the table after him, "but your share you must take, and
appear to consume. One who has done so much to bring about the marriage
cannot in conscience refuse his allotment of the fruits. Maidens, I
hear, first cook it under their pillows, and extract nuptial dreams
therefrom--said to be of a lighter class, taken that way. It's a capital
cake, and, upon my honour, you have helped to make it--you have indeed!
So here it is."

The table again went at Hippias. He ran nimbly round it, and flung
himself on a sofa exhausted, crying: "There!... My appetite's gone for

"Then shall I tell Richard that you won't touch a morsel of his cake?"
said Adrian, leaning on his two hands over the table and looking at his


"Yes, your nephew: my cousin: Richard! Your companion since you've been
in town. He's married, you know. Married this morning at Kensington
parish church, by licence, at half-past eleven of the clock, or twenty
to. Married, and gone to spend his honeymoon in the Isle of Wight, a
very delectable place for a month's residence. I have to announce to you
that, thanks to your assistance, the experiment is launched, sir!"

"Richard married!"

There was something to think and to say in objection to it, but the wits
of poor Hippias were softened by the shock. His hand travelled half-way
to his forehead, spread out to smooth the surface of that seat of reason,
and then fell.

"Surely you knew all about it? you were so anxious to have him in town
under your charge...."

"Married?" Hippias jumped up--he had it. "Why, he's under age! he's an

"So he is. But the infant is not the less married. Fib like a man and
pay your fee--what does it matter? Any one who is breeched can obtain a
licence in our noble country. And the interests of morality demand that
it should not be difficult. Is it true--can you persuade anybody that
you have known nothing about it?"

"Ha! infamous joke! I wish, sir, you would play your pranks on somebody
else," said Hippias, sternly, as he sank back on the sofa. "You've done
me up for the day, I can assure you."

Adrian sat down to instil belief by gentle degrees, and put an artistic
finish to the work. He had the gratification of passing his uncle
through varied contortions, and at last Hippias perspired in conviction,
and exclaimed, "This accounts for his conduct to me. That boy must have
a cunning nothing short of infernal! I feel...I feel it just here, he
drew a hand along his midriff.

"I'm not equal to this world of fools," he added faintly, and shut his
eyes. "No, I can't dine. Eat? ha! Go without me!"

Shortly after, Hippias went to bed, saying to himself, as he undressed,
"See what comes of our fine schemes! Poor Austin!" and as the pillow
swelled over his ears, "I'm not sure that a day's fast won't do me good."
The Dyspepsy had bought his philosophy at a heavy price; he had a right
to use it.

Adrian resumed the procession of the cake.

He sighted his melancholy uncle Algernon hunting an appetite in the Row,
and looking as if the hope ahead of him were also one-legged. The
Captain did not pass with out querying the ungainly parcel.

"I hope I carry it ostentatiously enough?" said Adrian.

"Enclosed is wherewithal to quiet the alarm of the land. Now may the
maids and wives of Merry England sleep secure. I had half a mind to fix
it on a pole, and engage a band to parade it. This is our dear Richard's
wedding-cake. Married at half-past eleven this morning, by licence, at
the Kensington parish church; his own ring being lost he employed the
ring of his beautiful bride's lachrymose land-lady, she standing adjacent
by the altar. His farewell to you as a bachelor, and hers as a maid, you
can claim on the spot if you think proper, and digest according to your

Algernon let off steam in a whistle. "Thompson, the solicitor's
daughter!" he said. "I met them the other day, somewhere about here. He
introduced me to her. A pretty little baggage.

"No." Adrian set him right. "'Tis a Miss Desborough, a Roman Catholic
dairymaid. Reminds one of pastoral England in the time of the
Plantagenets! He's quite equal to introducing her as Thompson's
daughter, and himself as Beelzebub's son. However, the wild animal is in
Hymen's chains, and the cake is cut. Will you have your morsel?"

"Oh, by all means!--not now." Algernon had an unwonted air of
reflection.--" Father know it?"

"Not yet. He will to-night by nine o'clock."

"Then I must see him by seven. Don't say you met me." He nodded, and
pricked his horse.

"Wants money!" said Adrian, putting the combustible he carried once more
in motion.

The women were the crowning joy of his contemplative mind. He had
reserved them for his final discharge. Dear demonstrative creatures!
Dyspepsia would not weaken their poignant outcries, or self-interest
check their fainting fits. On the generic woman one could calculate.
Well might The Pilgrim's Scrip say of her that, "She is always at
Nature's breast"; not intending it as a compliment. Each woman is Eve
throughout the ages; whereas the Pilgrim would have us believe that the
Adam in men has become warier, if not wiser; and weak as he is, has
learnt a lesson from time. Probably the Pilgrim's meaning may be taken
to be, that Man grows, and Woman does not.

At any rate, Adrian hoped for such natural choruses as you hear in the
nursery when a bauble is lost. He was awake to Mrs. Doria's maternal
predestinations, and guessed that Clare stood ready with the best form of
filial obedience. They were only a poor couple to gratify his
Mephistophelian humour, to be sure, but Mrs. Doria was equal to twenty,
and they would proclaim the diverse ways with which maidenhood and
womanhood took disappointment, while the surrounding Forey girls and
other females of the family assembly were expected to develop the finer
shades and tapering edges of an agitation to which no woman could be

All went well. He managed cleverly to leave the cake unchallenged in a
conspicuous part of the drawing-room, and stepped gaily down to dinner.
Much of the conversation adverted to Richard. Mrs. Doria asked him if he
had seen the youth, or heard of him.

"Seen him? no! Heard of him? yes!" said Adrian. "I have heard of him.
I heard that he was sublimely happy, and had eaten such a breakfast that
dinner was impossible; claret and cold chicken, cake and"--

"Cake at breakfast!" they all interjected.,

"That seems to be his fancy just now."

"What an extraordinary taste!"

"You know, he is educated on a System."

One fast young male Forey allied the System and the cake in a miserable
pun. Adrian, a hater of puns, looked at him, and held the table silent,
as if he were going to speak; but he said nothing, and the young
gentleman vanished from the conversation in a blush, extinguished by his
own spark.

Mrs. Doria peevishly exclaimed, "Oh! fish-cake, I suppose! I wish he
understood a little better the obligations of relationship."

"Whether he understands them, I can't say," observed Adrian, "but I
assure you he is very energetic in extending them."

The wise youth talked innuendoes whenever he had an opportunity, that his
dear relative might be rendered sufficiently inflammable by and by at the
aspect of the cake; but he was not thought more than commonly mysterious
and deep.

"Was his appointment at the house of those Grandison people?" Mrs. Doria
asked, with a hostile upper-lip.

Adrian warmed the blindfolded parties by replying, "Do they keep a beadle
at the door?"

Mrs. Doria's animosity to Mrs. Grandison made her treat this as a piece
of satirical ingenuousness. "I daresay they do," she said.

"And a curate on hand?"

"Oh, I should think a dozen!"

Old Mr. Forey advised his punning grandson Clarence to give that house a
wide berth, where he might be disposed of and dished-up at a moment's
notice, and the scent ran off at a jest.

The Foreys gave good dinners, and with the old gentleman the excellent
old fashion remained in permanence of trooping off the ladies as soon as
they had taken their sustenance and just exchanged a smile with the
flowers and the dessert, when they rose to fade with a beautiful accord,
and the gallant males breathed under easier waistcoats, and settled to
the business of the table, sure that an hour for unbosoming and imbibing
was their own. Adrian took a chair by Brandon Forey, a barrister of

"I want to ask you," he said, "whether an infant in law can legally bind

"If he's old enough to affix his signature to an instrument, I suppose he
can," yawned Brandon.

"Is he responsible for his acts?"

"I've no doubt we could hang him."

"Then what he could do for himself, you could do for him?"

"Not quite so much; pretty near."

"For instance, he can marry?"

"That's not a criminal case, you know."

"And the marriage is valid?"

"You can dispute it."

"Yes, and the Greeks and the Trojans can fight. It holds then?"

"Both water and fire!"

The patriarch of the table sang out to Adrian that he stopped the
vigorous circulation of the claret.

"Dear me, sir!" said Adrian, "I beg pardon. The circumstances must
excuse me. The fact is, my cousin Richard got married to a dairymaid
this morning, and I wanted to know whether it held in law."

It was amusing to watch the manly coolness with which the announcement
was taken. Nothing was heard more energetic than, "Deuce he has!" and,
"A dairymaid!"

"I thought it better to let the ladies dine in peace," Adrian continued.
"I wanted to be able to console my aunt"--

"Well, but--well, but," the old gentleman, much the most excited, puffed-
-"eh, Brandon? He's a boy, this young ass! Do you mean to tell me a boy
can go and marry when he pleases, and any troll he pleases, and the
marriage is good? If I thought that I'd turn every woman off my
premises. I would! from the housekeeper to the scullery-maid. I'd have
no woman near him till--till"--

"Till the young greenhorn was grey, sir?" suggested Brandon.

"Till he knew what women are made of, sir!" the old gentleman finished
his sentence vehemently. "What, d'ye think, will Feverel say to it, Mr.

"He has been trying the very System you have proposed sir--one that does
not reckon on the powerful action of curiosity on the juvenile
intelligence. I'm afraid it's the very worst way of solving the

"Of course it is," said Clarence. "None but a fool!"--

"At your age," Adrian relieved his embarrassment, "it is natural, my dear
Clarence, that you should consider the idea of an isolated or imprisoned
manhood something monstrous, and we do not expect you to see what amount
of wisdom it contains. You follow one extreme, and we the other. I
don't say that a middle course exists. The history of mankind shows our
painful efforts to find one, but they have invariably resolved themselves
into asceticism, or laxity, acting and reacting. The moral question is,
if a naughty little man, by reason of his naughtiness, releases himself
from foolishness, does a foolish little man, by reason of his
foolishness, save himself from naughtiness?"

A discussion, peculiar to men of the world, succeeded the laugh at Mr.
Clarence. Then coffee was handed round and the footman informed Adrian,
in a low voice, that Mrs. Doria Forey particularly wished to speak with
him. Adrian preferred not to go in alone. "Very well," he said, and
sipped his coffee. They talked on, sounding the depths of law in Brandon
Forey, and receiving nought but hollow echoes from that profound cavity.
He would not affirm that the marriage was invalid: he would not affirm
that it could not be annulled. He thought not: still he thought it would
be worth trying. A consummated and a non-consummated union were two
different things....

"Dear me!" said Adrian, "does the Law recognize that? Why, that's almost

Another message was brought to Adrian that Mrs. Doria Forey very
particularly wished to speak with him.

"What can be the matter?" he exclaimed, pleased to have his faith in
woman strengthened. The cake had exploded, no doubt.

So it proved, when the gentlemen joined the fair society. All the
younger ladies stood about the table, whereon the cake stood displayed,
gaps being left for those sitting to feast their vision, and intrude the
comments and speculations continually arising from fresh shocks of wonder
at the unaccountable apparition. Entering with the half-guilty air of
men who know they have come from a grosser atmosphere, the gallant males
also ranged themselves round the common object of curiosity.

"Here! Adrian!" Mrs. Doria cried. "Where is Adrian? Pray, come here.
Tell me! Where did this cake come from? Whose is it? What does it do
here? You know all about it, for you brought it. Clare saw you bring it
into the room. What does it mean? I insist upon a direct answer. Now
do not make me impatient, Adrian."

Certainly Mrs. Doria was equal to twenty. By her concentrated rapidity
and volcanic complexion it was evident that suspicion had kindled.

"I was really bound to bring it," Adrian protested.

"Answer me!"

The wise youth bowed: "Categorically. This cake came from the house of a
person, a female, of the name of Berry. It belongs to you partly, partly
to me, partly to Clare, and to the rest of our family, on the principle
of equal division for which purpose it is present...."

"Yes! Speak!"

"It means, my dear aunt, what that kind of cake usually does mean."

"This, then, is the Breakfast! And the ring! Adrian! where is Richard?"

Mrs. Doria still clung to unbelief in the monstrous horror.

But when Adrian told her that Richard had left town, her struggling hope
sank. "The wretched boy has ruined himself!" she said, and sat down

Oh! that System! The delicate vituperations gentle ladies use instead of
oaths, Mrs. Doria showered on that System. She hesitated not to say that
her brother had got what he deserved. Opinionated, morbid, weak, justice
had overtaken him. Now he would see! but at what a price! at what a

Mrs. Doria, commanded Adrian to confirm her fears.

Sadly the wise youth recapitulated Berry's words. "He was married this
morning at half-past eleven of the clock, or twenty to twelve, by
licence, at the Kensington parish church."

"Then that was his appointment!" Mrs. Doria murmured.

"That was the cake for breakfast!" breathed a second of her sex.

"And it was his ring!" exclaimed a third.

The men were silent, and made long faces.

Clare stood cold and sedate. She and her mother avoided each other's

"Is it that abominable country person, Adrian?"

"The happy damsel is, I regret to say, the Papist dairymaid," said
Adrian, in sorrowful but deliberate accents.

Then arose a feminine hum, in the midst of which Mrs. Doria cried,
"Brandon!" She was a woman of energy. Her thoughts resolved to action

"Brandon," she drew the barrister a little aside, "can they not be
followed, and separated? I want your advice. Cannot we separate them?
A boy! it is really shameful if he should be allowed to fall into the
toils of a designing creature to ruin himself irrevocably. Can we not,

The worthy barrister felt inclined to laugh, but he answered her
entreaties: "From what I hear of the young groom I should imagine the
office perilous."

"I'm speaking of law, Brandon. Can we not obtain an order from one of
your Courts to pursue them and separate them instantly?"

"This evening?"


Brandon was sorry to say she decidedly could not.

"You might call on one of your Judges, Brandon."

Brandon assured her that the Judges were a hard-worked race, and to a man
slept heavily after dinner.

"Will you do so to-morrow, the first thing in the morning? Will you
promise me to do so, Brandon?--Or a magistrate! A magistrate would send
a policeman after them. My dear Brandon! I beg--I beg you to assist us
in this dreadful extremity. It will be the death of my poor brother. I
believe he would forgive anything but this. You have no idea what his
notions are of blood."

Brandon tipped Adrian a significant nod to step in and aid.

"What is it, aunt?" asked the wise youth. "You want them followed and
torn asunder by wild policemen?"

"To-morrow!" Brandon queerly interposed.

"Won't that be--just too late?" Adrian suggested.

Mrs. Doria, sighed out her last spark of hope.

"You see," said Adrian....

"Yes! yes!" Mrs. Doria did not require any of his elucidations. "Pray be
quiet, Adrian, and let me speak. Brandon! it cannot be! it's quite
impossible! Can you stand there and tell me that boy is legally married?
I never will believe it! The law cannot be so shamefully bad as to
permit a boy--a mere child--to do such absurd things. Grandpapa!" she
beckoned to the old gentleman. "Grandpapa! pray do make Brandon speak.
These lawyers never will. He might stop it, if he would. If I were a
man, do you think I would stand here?"

"Well, my dear," the old gentleman toddled to compose her, "I'm quite of
your opinion. I believe he knows no more than you or I. My belief is
they none of them know anything till they join issue and go into Court.
I want to see a few female lawyers."

"To encourage the bankrupt perruquier, sir?" said Adrian. "They would
have to keep a large supply of wigs on hand."

"And you can jest, Adrian!" his aunt reproached him. "But I will not be
beaten. I know--I am firmly convinced that no law would ever allow a boy
to disgrace his family and ruin himself like that, and nothing shall
persuade me that it is so. Now, tell me, Brandon, and pray do speak in
answer to my questions, and please to forget you are dealing with a
woman. Can my nephew be rescued from the consequences of his folly? Is
what he has done legitimate? Is he bound for life by what he has done
while a boy?

"Well--a," Brandon breathed through his teeth. "A--hm! the matter's so
very delicate, you see, Helen."

"You're to forget that," Adrian remarked.

"A--hm! well!" pursued Brandon. "Perhaps if you could arrest and divide
them before nightfall, and make affidavit of certain facts"...

"Yes?" the eager woman hastened his lagging mouth.

"! that case...a... Or if a lunatic, you could prove him
to have been of unsound mind."...

"Oh! there's no doubt of his madness on my mind, Brandon."

"Yes! well! in that case... Or if of different religious persuasions"...

"She is a Catholic!" Mrs. Doria joyfully interjected.

"Yes! well! in that case...objections might be taken to the form of the
marriage... Might be proved fictitious... Or if he's under, say,
eighteen years"...

"He can't be much more," cried Mrs. Doria. "I think," she appeared to
reflect, and then faltered imploringly to Adrian, "What is Richard's

The kind wise youth could not find it in his heart to strike away the
phantom straw she caught at.

"Oh! about that, I should fancy," he muttered; and found it necessary at
the same time to duck and turn his head for concealment. Mrs. Doria
surpassed his expectations.

"Yes I well, then..." Brandon was resuming with a shrug, which was meant
to say he still pledged himself to nothing, when Clare's voice was heard
from out the buzzing circle of her cousins: "Richard is nineteen years
and six months old to-day, mama."

"Nonsense, child."

"He is, mama." Clare's voice was very steadfast.

"Nonsense, I tell you. How can you know?"

"Richard is one year and nine months older than me, mama."

Mrs. Doria fought the fact by years and finally by months. Clare was too
strong for her.

"Singular child!" she mentally apostrophized the girl who scornfully
rejected straws while drowning.

"But there's the religion still!" she comforted herself, and sat down to

The men smiled and looked vacuous.

Music was proposed. There are times when soft music hath not charms;
when it is put to as base uses as Imperial Caesar's dust and is taken to
fill horrid pauses. Angelica Forey thumped the piano, and sang: "I'm a
laughing Gitana, ha-ha! ha-ha!" Matilda Forey and her cousin Mary
Branksburne wedded their voices, and songfully incited all young people
to Haste to the bower that love has built, and defy the wise ones of the
world; but the wise ones of the world were in a majority there, and very
few places of assembly will be found where they are not; so the glowing
appeal of the British ballad-monger passed into the bosom of the
emptiness he addressed. Clare was asked to entertain the company. The
singular child calmly marched to the instrument, and turned over the
appropriate illustrations to the ballad-monger's repertory.

Clare sang a little Irish air. Her duty done, she marched from the
piano. Mothers are rarely deceived by their daughters in these matters;
but Clare deceived her mother; and Mrs. Doria only persisted in feeling
an agony of pity for her child, that she might the more warrantably pity
herself--a not uncommon form of the emotion, for there is no juggler like
that heart the ballad-monger puts into our mouths so boldly. Remember
that she saw years of self-denial, years of a ripening scheme, rendered
fruitless in a minute, and by the System which had almost reduced her to
the condition of constitutional hypocrite. She had enough of bitterness
to brood over, and some excuse for self-pity.

Still, even when she was cooler, Mrs. Doria's energetic nature prevented
her from giving up. Straws were straws, and the frailer they were the
harder she clutched them.

She rose from her chair, and left the room, calling to Adrian to follow

"Adrian," she said, turning upon him in the passage, "you mentioned a
house where this horrible cake...where he was this morning. I desire you
to take me to that woman immediately."

The wise youth had not bargained for personal servitude. He had hoped he
should be in time for the last act of the opera that night, after
enjoying the comedy of real life.

"My dear aunt"...he was beginning to insinuate.

"Order a cab to be sent for, and get your hat," said Mrs. Doria.

There was nothing for it but to obey. He stamped his assent to the
Pilgrim's dictum, that Women are practical creatures, and now reflected
on his own account, that relationship to a young fool may be a vexation
and a nuisance. However, Mrs. Doria compensated him.

What Mrs. Doria intended to do, the practical creature did not plainly
know; but her energy positively demanded to be used in some way or other,
and her instinct directed her to the offender on whom she could use it in
wrath. She wanted somebody to be angry with, somebody to abuse. She
dared not abuse her brother to his face: him she would have to console.
Adrian was a fellow-hypocrite to the System, and would, she was aware,
bring her into painfully delicate, albeit highly philosophic, ground by a
discussion of the case. So she drove to Bessy Berry simply to inquire
whither her nephew had flown.

When a soft woman, and that soft woman a sinner, is matched with a woman
of energy, she does not show much fight, and she meets no mercy. Bessy
Berry's creditor came to her in female form that night. She then beheld
it in all its terrors. Hitherto it had appeared to her as a male, a
disembodied spirit of her imagination possessing male attributes, and the
peculiar male characteristic of being moved, and ultimately silenced, by
tears. As female, her creditor was terrible indeed. Still, had it not
been a late hour, Bessy Berry would have died rather than speak openly
that her babes had sped to make their nest in the Isle of Wight. They
had a long start, they were out of the reach of pursuers, they were safe,
and she told what she had to tell. She told more than was wise of her to
tell. She made mention of her early service in the family, and of her
little pension. Alas! her little pension! Her creditor had come
expecting no payment--come; as creditors are wont in such moods, just to
take it out of her--to employ the familiar term. At once Mrs. Doria
pounced upon the pension.

"That, of course, you know is at an end," she said in the calmest manner,
and Berry did not plead for the little bit of bread to her. She only
asked a little consideration for her feelings.

True admirers of women had better stand aside from the scene.
Undoubtedly it was very sad for Adrian to be compelled to witness it.
Mrs. Doria was not generous. The Pilgrim may be wrong about the sex not
growing; but its fashion of conducting warfare we must allow to be
barbarous, and according to what is deemed the pristine, or wild cat,
method. Ruin, nothing short of it, accompanied poor Berry to her bed
that night, and her character bled till morning on her pillow.

The scene over, Adrian reconducted Mrs. Doria to her home. Mice had been
at the cake during her absence apparently. The ladies and gentlemen
present put it on the greedy mice, who were accused of having gorged and
gone to bed.

"I'm sure they're quite welcome," said Mrs. Doria. "It's a farce, this
marriage, and Adrian has quite come to my way of thinking. I would not
touch an atom of it. Why, they were married in a married woman's ring!
Can that be legal, as you call it? Oh, I'm convinced! Don't tell me.
Austin will be in town to-morrow, and if he is true to his principles, he
will instantly adopt measures to rescue his son from infamy. I want no
legal advice. I go upon common sense, common decency. This marriage is

Mrs. Doria's fine scheme had become so much a part of her life, that she
could not give it up. She took Clare to her bed, and caressed and wept
over her, as she would not have done had she known the singular child,
saying, "Poor Richard! my dear poor boy! we must save him, Clare! we must
save him!" Of the two the mother showed the greater want of iron on this
occasion. Clare lay in her arms rigid and emotionless, with one of her
hands tight-locked. All she said was: "I knew it in the morning, mama."
She slept clasping Richard's nuptial ring.

By this time all specially concerned in the System knew it. The
honeymoon was shoring placidly above them. Is not happiness like another
circulating medium? When we have a very great deal of it, some poor
hearts are aching for what is taken away from them. When we have gone
out and seized it on the highways, certain inscrutable laws are sure to
be at work to bring us to the criminal bar, sooner or later. Who knows
the honeymoon that did not steal somebody's sweetness? Richard Turpin
went forth, singing "Money or life" to the world: Richard Feverel has
done the same, substituting "Happiness" for "Money," frequently synonyms.
The coin he wanted he would have, and was just as much a highway robber
as his fellow Dick, so that those who have failed to recognize him as a
hero before, may now regard him in that light. Meanwhile the world he
has squeezed looks exceedingly patient and beautiful. His coin chinks
delicious music to him. Nature and the order of things on earth have no
warmer admirer than a jolly brigand or a young man made happy by the


And now the author of the System was on trial under the eyes of the lady
who loved him. What so kind as they? Yet are they very rigorous, those
soft watchful woman's eyes. If you are below the measure they have made
of you, you will feel it in the fulness of time. She cannot but show you
that she took you for a giant, and has had to come down a bit. You feel
yourself strangely diminishing in those sweet mirrors, till at last they
drop on you complacently level. But, oh beware, vain man, of ever waxing
enamoured of that wonderful elongation of a male creature you saw
reflected in her adoring upcast orbs! Beware of assisting to delude her!
A woman who is not quite a fool will forgive your being but a man, if you
are surely that: she will haply learn to acknowledge that no mortal
tailor could have fitted that figure she made of you respectably, and
that practically (though she sighs to think it) her ideal of you was on
the pattern of an overgrown charity-boy in the regulation jacket and
breech. For this she first scorns the narrow capacities of the tailor,
and then smiles at herself. But shouldst thou, when the hour says
plainly, Be thyself, and the woman is willing to take thee as thou art,
shouldst thou still aspire to be that thing of shanks and wrests, wilt
thou not seem contemptible as well as ridiculous? And when the fall
comes, will it not be flat on thy face, instead of to the common height
of men? You may fall miles below her measure of you, and be safe:
nothing is damaged save an overgrown charity-boy; but if you fall below
the common height of men, you must make up your mind to see her rustle
her gown, spy at the looking-glass, and transfer her allegiance. The
moral of which is, that if we pretend to be what we are not, woman, for
whose amusement the farce is performed, will find us out and punish us
for it. And it is usually the end of a sentimental dalliance.

Had Sir Austin given vent to the pain and wrath it was natural he should
feel, he might have gone to unphilosophic excesses, and, however much he
lowered his reputation as a sage, Lady Blandish would have excused him:
she would not have loved him less for seeing him closer. But the poor
gentleman tasked his soul and stretched his muscles to act up to her
conception of him. He, a man of science in life, who was bound to be
surprised by nothing in nature, it was not for him to do more than lift
his eyebrows and draw in his lips at the news delivered by Ripton
Thompson, that ill bird at Raynham.

All he said, after Ripton had handed the letters and carried his
penitential headache to bed, was: "You see, Emmeline, it is useless to
base any system on a human being."

A very philosophical remark for one who has been busily at work building
for nearly twenty years. Too philosophical to seem genuine. It revealed
where the blow struck sharpest. Richard was no longer the Richard of his
creation--his pride and his joy--but simply a human being with the rest.
The bright star had sunk among the mass.

And yet, what had the young man done? And in what had the System failed?

The lady could not but ask herself this, while she condoled with the
offended father.

"My friend," she said, tenderly taking his hand before she retired, "I
know how deeply you must be grieved. I know what your disappointment
must be. I do not beg of you to forgive him now. You cannot doubt his
love for this young person, and according to his light, has he not
behaved honourably, and as you would have wished, rather than bring her
to shame? You will think of that. It has been an accident--a
misfortune--a terrible misfortune"...

"The God of this world is in the machine--not out of it," Sir Austin
interrupted her, and pressed her hand to get the good-night over.

At any other time her mind would have been arrested to admire the phrase;
now it seemed perverse, vain, false, and she was tempted to turn the
meaning that was in it against himself, much as she pitied him.

"You know, Emmeline," he added, "I believe very little in the fortune, or
misfortune, to which men attribute their successes and reverses. They
are useful impersonations to novelists; but my opinion is sufficiently
high of flesh and blood to believe that we make our own history without
intervention. Accidents?--Terrible misfortunes?--What are they?--Good-

"Good-night," she said, looking sad and troubled. "When I said,
'misfortune,' I meant, of course, that he is to blame; but--shall I leave
you his letter to me?"

"I think I have enough to meditate upon," he replied, coldly bowing.

"God bless you," she whispered. "And--may I say it? do not shut your

He assured her that he hoped not to do so and the moment she was gone he
set about shutting it as tight as he could.

If, instead of saying, Base no system on a human being, he had said,
Never experimentalize with one, he would have been nearer the truth of
his own case. He had experimented on humanity in the person of the son
he loved as his life, and at once, when the experiment appeared to have
failed, all humanity's failings fell on the shoulders of his son.
Richard's parting laugh in the train--it was explicable now: it sounded
in his ears like the mockery of this base nature of ours at every
endeavour to exalt and chasten it. The young man had plotted this. From
step to step Sir Austin traced the plot. The curious mask he had worn
since his illness; the selection of his incapable uncle Hippias for a
companion in preference to Adrian; it was an evident, well-perfected
plot. That hideous laugh would not be silenced: Base, like the rest,
treacherous, a creature of passions using his abilities solely to gratify
them--never surely had humanity such chances as in him! A Manichaean
tendency, from which the sententious eulogist of nature had been
struggling for years (and which was partly at the bottom of the System),
now began to cloud and usurp dominion of his mind. As he sat alone in
the forlorn dead-hush of his library, he saw the devil.

How are we to know when we are at the head and fountain of the fates of
them we love?

There by the springs of Richard's future, his father sat: and the devil
said to him: "Only be quiet: do nothing: resolutely do nothing: your
object now is to keep a brave face to the world, so that all may know you
superior to this human nature that has deceived you. For it is the
shameless deception, not the marriage, that has wounded you."

"Ay!" answered the baronet, "the shameless deception, not the marriage:
wicked and ruinous as it must be; a destroyer of my tenderest hopes! my
dearest schemes! Not the marriage--the shameless deception!" and he
crumpled up his son's letter to him, and tossed it into the fire.

How are we to distinguish the dark chief of the Manichaeans when he talks
our own thoughts to us?

Further he whispered, "And your System:--if you would be brave to the
world, have courage to cast the dream of it out of you: relinquish an
impossible project; see it as it is--dead: too good for men!"

"Ay!" muttered the baronet: "all who would save them perish on the

And so he sat nursing the devil.

By and by he took his lamp, and put on the old cloak and cap, and went to
gaze at Ripton. That exhausted debauchee and youth without a destiny
slept a dead sleep. A handkerchief was bound about his forehead, and his
helpless sunken chin and snoring nose projected up the pillow, made him
look absurdly piteous. The baronet remembered how often he had compared
his boy with this one: his own bright boy! And where was the difference
between them?

"Mere outward gilding!" said his familiar.

"Yes," he responded, "I daresay this one never positively plotted to
deceive his father: he followed his appetites unchecked, and is
internally the sounder of the two."

Ripton, with his sunken chin and snoring nose under the light of the
lamp, stood for human nature, honest, however abject.

"Miss Random, I fear very much, is a necessary establishment!" whispered
the monitor.

"Does the evil in us demand its natural food, or it corrupts the whole?"
ejaculated Sir Austin. "And is no angel of avail till that is drawn off?
And is that our conflict--to see whether we can escape the contagion of
its embrace, and come uncorrupted out of that?"

"The world is wise in its way," said the voice.

"Though it look on itself through Port wine?" he suggested, remembering
his lawyer Thompson.

"Wise in not seeking to be too wise," said the voice.

"And getting intoxicated on its drug of comfort!"

"Human nature is weak."

"And Miss Random is an establishment, and Wild Oats an institution!"

"It always has been so."

"And always will be?"

"So I fear! in spite of your very noble efforts."

"And leads--whither? And ends--where?"

Richard's laugh, taken up by horrid reverberations, as it were through
the lengths of the Lower Halls, replied.

This colloquy of two voices in a brain was concluded by Sir Austin asking
again if there were no actual difference between the flower of his hopes
and yonder drunken weed, and receiving for answer that there was a
decided dissimilarity in the smell of the couple; becoming cognizant of
which he retreated.

Sir Austin did not battle with the tempter. He took him into his bosom
at once, as if he had been ripe for him, and received his suggestions and
bowed to his dictates. Because he suffered, and decreed that he would
suffer silently, and be the only sufferer, it seemed to him that he was
great-minded in his calamity. He had stood against the world. The world
had beaten him. What then? He must shut his heart and mask his face;
that was all. To be far in advance of the mass, is as fruitless to
mankind, he reflected, as straggling in the rear. For how do we know
that they move behind us at all, or move in our track? What we win for
them is lost; and where we are overthrown we lie!

It was thus that a fine mind and a fine heart at the bounds of a nature
not great, chose to colour his retrogression and countenance his
shortcoming; and it was thus that he set about ruining the work he had
done. He might well say, as he once did, that there are hours when the
clearest soul becomes a cunning fox. For a grief that was private and
peculiar, he unhesitatingly cast the blame upon humanity; just as he had
accused it in the period of what he termed his own ordeal. How had he
borne that? By masking his face. And he prepared the ordeal for his son
by doing the same. This was by no means his idea of a man's duty in
tribulation, about which he could be strenuously eloquent.

But it was his instinct so to act, and in times of trial great natures
alone are not at the mercy of their instincts. Moreover it would cost
him pain to mask his face; pain worse than that he endured when there
still remained an object for him to open his heart to in proportion; and
he always reposed upon the Spartan comfort of bearing pain and being
passive. "Do nothing," said the devil he nursed; which meant in his
case, "Take me into you and don't cast me out." Excellent and sane is
the outburst of wrath to men, when it stops short of slaughter. For who
that locks it up to eat in solitary, can say that it is consumed? Sir
Austin had as weak a digestion for wrath, as poor Hippias for a green
duckling. Instead of eating it, it ate him. The wild beast in him was
not the less deadly because it did not roar, and the devil in him not the
less active because he resolved to do nothing.

He sat at the springs of Richard's future, in the forlorn dead-hush of
his library there, hearing the cinders click in the extinguished fire,
and that humming stillness in which one may fancy one hears the midnight
Fates busily stirring their embryos. The lamp glowed mildly on the bust
of Chatham.

Toward morning a gentle knock fell at his door. Lady Blandish glided in.
With hasty step she came straight to him, and took both his hands.

"My friend," she said, speaking tearfully, and trembling, "I feared I
should find you here. I could not sleep. How is it with you?"

"Well! Emmeline, well!" he replied, torturing his brows to fix the mask.

He wished it had been Adrian who had come to him. He had an
extraordinary longing for Adrian's society. He knew that the wise youth
would divine how to treat him, and he mentally confessed to just enough
weakness to demand a certain kind of management. Besides, Adrian, he had
not a doubt, would accept him entirely as he seemed, and not pester him
in any way by trying to unlock his heart; whereas a woman, he feared,
would be waxing too womanly, and swelling from tears and supplications to
a scene, of all things abhorred by him the most. So he rapped the floor
with his foot, and gave the lady no very welcome face when he said it was
well with him.

She sat down by his side, still holding one hand firmly, and softly
detaining the other.

"Oh, my friend! may I believe you? May I speak to you?" She leaned
close to him. "You know my heart. I have no better ambition than to be
your friend. Surely I divide your grief, and may I not claim your
confidence? Who has wept more over your great and dreadful sorrows? I
would not have come to you, but I do believe that sorrow shared relieves
the burden, and it is now that you may feel a woman's aid, and something
of what a woman could be to you...."

"Be assured," he gravely said, "I thank you, Emmeline, for your

"No, no! not for my intentions! And do not thank me. Think of
him...think of your dear boy... Our Richard, as we have called him.--Oh!
do not think it a foolish superstition of mine, but I have had a thought
this night that has kept me in torment till I rose to speak to you...
Tell me first you have forgiven him."

"A father bears no malice to his son, Emmeline."

"Your heart has forgiven him?"

My heart has taken what he gave."

"And quite forgiven him?"

"You will hear no complaints of mine."

The lady paused despondingly, and looked at him in a wistful manner,
saying with a sigh, "Yes! I know how noble you are, and different from

He drew one of his hands from her relaxed hold.

"You ought to be in bed, Emmeline."

"I cannot sleep."

"Go, and talk to me another time."

"No, it must be now. You have helped me when I struggled to rise into a
clearer world, and I think, humble as I am, I can help you now. I have
had a thought this night that if you do not pray for him and bless will end miserably. My friend, have you done so?"

He was stung and offended, and could hardly help showing it in spite of
his mask.

"Have you done so, Austin?"

"This is assuredly a new way of committing fathers to the follies of
their sons, Emmeline!"

"No, not that. But will you pray for your boy, and bless him, before the
day comes?"

He restrained himself to pronounce his words calmly:--"And I must do
this, or it will end in misery? How else can it end? Can I save him
from the seed he has sown? Consider, Emmeline, what you say. He has
repeated his cousin's sin. You see the end of that."

"Oh, so different! This young person is not, is not of the class poor
Austin Wentworth allied himself to. Indeed it is different. And he--be
just and admit his nobleness. I fancied you did. This young person has
great beauty, she has the elements of good breeding, she--indeed I think,
had she been in another position, you would not have looked upon her

"She may be too good for my son!" The baronet spoke with sublime

"No woman is too good for Richard, and you know it."

"Pass her."

"Yes, I will speak only of him. He met her by a fatal accident. We
thought his love dead, and so did he till he saw her again. He met her,
he thought we were plotting against him, he thought he should lose her
for ever, and is the madness of an hour he did this...."

"My Emmeline pleads bravely for clandestine matches."

"Ah! do not trifle, my friend. Say: would you have had him act as young
men in his position generally do to young women beneath them?"

Sir Austin did not like the question. It probed him very severely.

"You mean," he said, "that fathers must fold their arms, and either
submit to infamous marriages, or have these creatures ruined."

"I do not mean that," exclaimed the lady, striving for what she did mean,
and how to express it. "I mean that he loved her. Is it not a madness
at his age? But what I chiefly mean is--save him from the consequences.
No, you shall not withdraw your hand. Think of his pride, his
sensitiveness, his great wild nature--wild when he is set wrong: think
how intense it is, set upon love; think, my friend, do not forget his
love for you."

Sir Austin smiled an admirable smile of pity.

"That I should save him, or any one, from consequences, is asking more
than the order of things will allow to you, Emmeline, and is not in the
disposition of this world. I cannot. Consequences are the natural
offspring of acts. My child, you are talking sentiment, which is the
distraction of our modern age in everything--a phantasmal vapour
distorting the image of the life we live. You ask me to give him a
golden age in spite of himself. All that could be done, by keeping him
in the paths of virtue and truth, I did. He is become a man, and as a
man he must reap his own sowing."

The baffled lady sighed. He sat so rigid: he spoke so securely, as if
wisdom were to him more than the love of his son. And yet he did love
his son. Feeling sure that he loved his son while he spoke so loftily,
she reverenced him still, baffled as she was, and sensible that she had
been quibbled with.

"All I ask of you is to open your heart to him," she said.

He kept silent.

"Call him a man,--he is, and must ever be the child of your education, my

"You would console me, Emmeline, with the prospect that, if he ruins
himself, he spares the world of young women. Yes, that is something!"

Closely she scanned the mask. It was impenetrable. He could meet her
eyes, and respond to the pressure of her hand, and smile, and not show
what he felt. Nor did he deem it hypocritical to seek to maintain his
elevation in her soft soul, by simulating supreme philosophy over
offended love. Nor did he know that he had an angel with him then: a
blind angel, and a weak one, but one who struck upon his chance.

"Am I pardoned for coming to you?" she said, after a pause.

"Surely I can read my Emmeline's intentions," he gently replied.

"Very poor ones. I feel my weakness. I cannot utter half I have been
thinking. Oh, if I could!"

"You speak very well, Emmeline."

"At least, I am pardoned!"

"Surely so."

"And before I leave you, dear friend, shall I be forgiven?--may I beg
it?--will you bless him?"

He was again silent.

"Pray for him, Austin! pray for him ere the night is over."

As she spoke she slid down to his feet and pressed his hand to her bosom.

The baronet was startled. In very dread of the soft fit that wooed him,
he pushed back his chair, and rose, and went to the window.

"It's day already!" he said with assumed vivacity, throwing open the
shutters, and displaying the young light on the lawn.

Lady Blandish dried her tears as she knelt, and then joined him, and
glanced up silently at Richard's moon standing in wane toward the West.
She hoped it was because of her having been premature in pleading so
earnestly, that she had failed to move him, and she accused herself more
than the baronet. But in acting as she had done, she had treated him as
no common man, and she was compelled to perceive that his heart was at
present hardly superior to the hearts of ordinary men, however composed
his face might be, and apparently serene his wisdom. From that moment
she grew critical of him, and began to study her idol--a process
dangerous to idols. He, now that she seemed to have relinquished the
painful subject, drew to her, and as one who wished to smooth a foregone
roughness, murmured: "God's rarest blessing is, after all, a good woman!
My Emmeline bears her sleepless night well. She does not shame the day."
He gazed down on her with a fondling tenderness.

"I could bear many, many!" she replied, meeting his eyes, "and you would
see me look better and better, if...if only..." but she had no
encouragement to end the sentence.

Perhaps he wanted some mute form of consolation; perhaps the handsome
placid features of the dark-eyed dame touched him: at any rate their
Platonism was advanced by his putting an arm about her. She felt the arm
and talked of the morning.

Thus proximate, they by and by both heard something very like a groan
behind them, and looking round, beheld the Saurian eye. Lady Blandish
smiled, but the baronet's discomposure was not to be concealed. By a
strange fatality every stage of their innocent loves was certain to have
a human beholder.

"Oh, I'm sure I beg pardon," Benson mumbled, arresting his head in a
melancholy pendulosity. He was ordered out of the room.

"And I think I shall follow him, and try to get forty winks," said Lady
Blandish. They parted with a quiet squeeze of hands.

The baronet then called in Benson.

"Get me my breakfast as soon as you can," he said, regardless of the
aspect of injured conscience Benson sombrely presented to him. "I am
going to town early. And, Benson," he added, "you will also go to town
this afternoon, or to-morrow, if it suits you, and take your book with
you to Mr. Thompson. You will not return here. A provision will be made
for you. You can go."

The heavy butler essayed to speak, but the tremendous blow and the
baronet's gesture choked him. At the door he made another effort which
shook the rolls of his loose skin pitiably. An impatient signal sent him
out dumb,--and Raynham was quit of the one believer in the Great Shaddock


Although it blew hard when Caesar crossed the Rubicon
As when nations are secretly preparing for war
The world is wise in its way
The danger of a little knowledge of things is disputable
Wise in not seeking to be too wise
Yet, though Angels smile, shall not Devils laugh


Back to Full Books