The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, by George Meredith

Chapter 27

Contains an Intercession for the Heroine

“In all cases where two have joined to commit an offence, punish one of the two lightly,” is the dictum of THE PILGRIM’S SCRIP.

It is possible for young heads to conceive proper plans of action, and occasionally, by sheer force of will, to check the wild horses that are ever fretting to gallop off with them. But when they have given the reins and the whip to another, what are they to do? They may go down on their knees, and beg and pray the furious charioteer to stop, or moderate his pace. Alas! each fresh thing they do redoubles his ardour. There is a power in their troubled beauty women learn the use of, and what wonder? They have seen it kindle Ilium to flames so often! But ere they grow matronly in the house of Menelaus, they weep, and implore, and do not, in truth, know how terribly two-edged is their gift of loveliness. They resign themselves to an incomprehensible frenzy; pleasant to them, because they attribute it to excessive love. And so the very sensible things which they can and do say, are vain.

I reckon it absurd to ask them to be quite in earnest. Are not those their own horses in yonder team? Certainly, if they were quite in earnest, they might soon have my gentleman as sober as a carter. A hundred different ways of disenchanting him exist, and Adrian will point you out one or two that shall be instantly efficacious. For Love, the charioteer, is easily tripped, while honest jog-trot Love keeps his legs to the end. Granted dear women are not quite in earnest, still the mere words they utter should be put to their good account. They do mean them, though their hearts are set the wrong way. ’Tis a despairing, pathetic homage to the judgment of the majority, in whose faces they are flying. Punish Helen, very young, lightly. After a certain age you may select her for special chastisement. An innocent with Theseus, with Paris she is an advanced incendiary.

The fair young girl was sitting as her lover had left her; trying to recall her stunned senses. Her bonnet was unremoved, her hands clasped on her knees; dry tears in her eyes. Like a dutiful slave, she rose to him. And first he claimed her mouth. There was a speech, made up of all the pretty wisdom her wild situation and true love could gather, awaiting him there; but his kiss scattered it to fragments. She dropped to her seat weeping, and hiding her shamed cheeks.

By his silence she divined his thoughts, and took his hand and drew it to her lips.

He bent beside her, bidding her look at him.

“Keep your eyes so.”

She could not.

“Do you fear me, Lucy?”

A throbbing pressure answered him.

“Do you love me, darling?”

She trembled from head to foot.

“Then why do you turn from me?”

She wept: “O Richard, take me home! take me home!”

“Look at me, Lucy!”

Her head shrank timidly round.

“Keep your eyes on me, darling! Now speak!”

But she could not look and speak too. The lover knew his mastery when he had her eyes.

“You wish me to take you home?”

She faltered: “O Richard? it is not too late.”

“You regret what you have done for me?”

“Dearest! it is ruin.”

“You weep because you have consented to be mine?”

“Not for me! O Richard!”

“For me you weep? Look at me! For me?”

“How will it end! O Richard!”

“You weep for me?”

“Dearest! I would die for you!”

“Would you see me indifferent to everything in the world? Would you have me lost? Do you think I will live another day in England without you? I have staked all I have on you, Lucy. You have nearly killed me once. A second time, and the earth will not be troubled by me. You ask me to wait, when they are plotting against us on all sides? Darling Lucy! look on me. Fix your fond eyes on me. You ask me to wait when here you are given to me — when you have proved my faith — when we know we love as none have loved. Give me your eyes! Let them tell me I have your heart!”

Where was her wise little speech? How could she match such mighty eloquence? She sought to collect a few more of the scattered fragments.

“Dearest! your father may be brought to consent by and by, and then — oh! if you take me home now”——

The lover stood up. “He who has been arranging that fine scheme to disgrace and martyrize you? True, as I live! that’s the reason of their having you back. Your old servant heard him and your uncle discussing it. He! — Lucy! he’s a good man, but he must not step in between you and me. I say God has given you to me.”

He was down by her side again, his arms enfolding her.

She had hoped to fight a better battle than in the morning, and she was weaker and softer.

Ah! why should she doubt that his great love was the first law to her? Why should she not believe that she would wreck him by resisting? And if she suffered, oh sweet to think it was for his sake! Sweet to shut out wisdom; accept total blindness, and be led by him!

The hag Wisdom annoyed them little further. She rustled her garments ominously, and vanished.

“Oh, my own Richard!” the fair girl just breathed.

He whispered, “Call me that name.”

She blushed deeply.

“Call me that name,” he repeated. “You said it once today.”

“Dearest!”

“Not that.”

“O darling!”

“Not that.”

“Husband!”

She was won. The rosy gate from which the word had issued was closed with a seal.

Ripton did not enjoy his introduction to the caged bird of beauty that night. He received a lesson in the art of pumping from the worthy landlady below, up to an hour when she yawned, and he blinked, and their common candle wore with dignity the brigand’s hat of midnight, and cocked a drunken eye at them from under it.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11