The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, by George Meredith

Chapter 43

Again the Magian Conflict

They heard at Raynham that Richard was coming. Lucy had the news first in a letter from Ripton Thompson, who met him at Bonn. Ripton did not say that he had employed his vacation holiday on purpose to use his efforts to induce his dear friend to return to his wife; and finding Richard already on his way, of course Ripton said nothing to him, but affected to be travelling for his pleasure like any cockney. Richard also wrote to her. In case she should have gone to the sea he directed her to send word to his hotel that he might not lose an hour. His letter was sedate in tone, very sweet to her. Assisted by the faithful female Berry, she was conquering an Aphorist.

“Woman’s reason is in the milk of her breasts,” was one of his rough notes, due to an observation of Lucy’s maternal cares. Let us remember, therefore, we men who have drunk of it largely there, that she has it.

Mrs. Berry zealously apprised him how early Master Richard’s education had commenced, and the great future historian he must consequently be. This trait in Lucy was of itself sufficient to win Sir Austin.

“Here my plan with Richard was false,” he reflected: “in presuming that anything save blind fortuity would bring him such a mate as he should have.” He came to add: “And has got!”

He could admit now that instinct had so far beaten science; for as Richard was coming, as all were to be happy, his wisdom embraced them all paternally as the author of their happiness. Between him and Lucy a tender intimacy grew.

“I told you she could talk, sir,” said Adrian.

“She thinks!” said the baronet.

The delicate question how she was to treat her uncle, he settled generously. Farmer Blaize should come up to Raynham when he would: Lucy must visit him at least three times a week. He had Farmer Blaize and Mrs. Berry to study, and really excellent Aphorisms sprang from the plain human bases this natural couple presented.

“It will do us no harm,” he thought, “some of the honest blood of the soil in our veins.” And he was content in musing on the parentage of the little cradled boy. A common sight for those who had the entry to the library was the baronet cherishing the hand of his daughter-inlaw.

So Richard was crossing the sea, and hearts at Raynham were beating quicker measures as the minutes progressed. That night he would be with them. Sir Austin gave Lucy a longer, warmer salute when she came down to breakfast in the morning. Mrs. Berry waxed thrice amorous. “It’s your second bridals, ye sweet livin’ widow!” she said. “Thanks be the Lord! it’s the same man too! and a baby over the bed-post,” she appended seriously.

“Strange,” Berry declared it to be, “strange I feel none o’ this to my Berry now. All my feelin’s o’ love seem t’ave gone into you two sweet chicks.”

In fact, the faithless male Berry complained of being treated badly, and affected a superb jealousy of the baby; but the good dame told him that if he suffered at all he suffered his due. Berry’s position was decidedly uncomfortable. It could not be concealed from the lower household that he had a wife in the establishment, and for the complications this gave rise to, his wife would not legitimately console him. Lucy did intercede, but Mrs. Berry was obdurate. She averred she would not give up the child till he was weaned. “Then, perhaps,” she said prospectively. “You see I ain’t so soft as you thought for.”

“You’re a very unkind, vindictive old woman,” said Lucy.

“Belike I am,” Mrs. Berry was proud to agree. We like a new character, now and then. Berry had delayed too long.

Were it not notorious that the straightlaced prudish dare not listen to the natural chaste, certain things Mrs. Berry thought it advisable to impart to the young wife with regard to Berry’s infidelity, and the charity women should have towards sinful men, might here be reproduced. Enough that she thought proper to broach the matter, and cite her own Christian sentiments, now that she was indifferent in some degree.

Oily calm is on the sea. At Raynham they look up at the sky and speculate that Richard is approaching fairly speeded. He comes to throw himself on his darling’s mercy. Lucy irradiated over forest and sea, tempest and peace — to her the hero comes humbly. Great is that day when we see our folly! Ripton and he were the friends of old. Richard encouraged him to talk of the two he could be eloquent on, and Ripton, whose secret vanity was in his powers of speech, never tired of enumerating Lucy’s virtues, and the peculiar attributes of the baby.

“She did not say a word against me, Rip?”

“Against you, Richard! The moment she knew she was to be a mother, she thought of nothing but her duty to the child. She’s one who can’t think of herself.”

“You’ve seen her at Raynham, Rip?”

“Yes, once. They asked me down. And your father’s so fond of her — I’m sure he thinks no woman like her, and he’s right. She is so lovely, and so good.”

Richard was too full of blame of himself to blame his father: too British to expose his emotions. Ripton divined how deep and changed they were by his manner. He had cast aside the hero, and however Ripton had obeyed him and looked up to him in the heroic time, he loved him tenfold now. He told his friend how much Lucy’s mere womanly sweetness and excellence had done for him, and Richard contrasted his own profitless extravagance with the patient beauty of his dear home angel. He was not one to take her on the easy terms that offered. There was that to do which made his cheek burn as he thought of it, but he was going to do it, even though it lost her to him. Just to see her and kneel to her was joy sufficient to sustain him, and warm his blood in the prospect. They marked the white cliffs growing over the water. Nearer, the sun made them lustrous. Houses and people seemed to welcome the wild youth to common sense, simplicity, and home.

They were in town by mid-day. Richard had a momentary idea of not driving to his hotel for letters. After a short debate he determined to go there. The porter said he had two letters for Mr. Richard Feverel — one had been waiting some time. He went to the box and fetched them. The first Richard opened was from Lucy, and as he read it, Ripton observed the colour deepen on his face, while a quivering smile played about his mouth. He opened the other indifferently. It began without any form of address. Richard’s forehead darkened at the signature. This letter was in a sloping feminine hand, and flourished with light strokes all over, like a field of the bearded barley. Thus it ran:

“I know you are in a rage with me because I would not consent to ruin you, you foolish fellow. What do you call it? Going to that unpleasant place together. Thank you, my milliner is not ready yet, and I want to make a good appearance when I do go. I suppose I shall have to some day. Your health, Sir Richard. Now let me speak to you seriously. Go home to your wife at once. But I know the sort of fellow you are, and I must be plain with you. Did I ever say I loved you? You may hate me as much as you please, but I will save you from being a fool.

“Now listen to me. You know my relations with Mount. That beast Brayder offered to pay all my debts and set me afloat, if I would keep you in town. I declare on my honour I had no idea why, and I did not agree to it. But you were such a handsome fellow — I noticed you in the park before I heard a word of you. But then you fought shy — you were just as tempting as a girl. You stung me. Do you know what that is? I would make you care for me, and we know how it ended, without any intention of mine, I swear. I’d have cut off my hand rather than do you any harm, upon my honour. Circumstances! Then I saw it was all up between us. Brayder came and began to chaff about you. I dealt the animal a stroke on the face with my riding-whip — I shut him up pretty quick. Do you think I would let a man speak about you? — I was going to swear. You see I remember Dick’s lessons. O my God! I do feel unhappy. — Brayder offered me money. Go and think I took it, if you like. What do I care what anybody thinks! Something that blackguard said made me suspicious. I went down to the Isle of Wight where Mount was, and your wife was just gone with an old lady who came and took her away. I should so have liked to see her. You said, you remember, she would take me as a sister, and treat me — I laughed at it then. My God! how I could cry now, if water did any good to a devil, as you politely call poor me. I called at your house and saw your man-servant, who said Mount had just been there. In a minute it struck me. I was sure Mount was after a woman, but it never struck me that woman was your wife. Then I saw why they wanted me to keep you away. I went to Brayder. You know how I hate him. I made love to the man to get it out of him. Richard! my word of honour, they have planned to carry her off, if Mount finds he cannot seduce her. Talk of devils! He’s one; but he is not so bad as Brayder. I cannot forgive a mean dog his villainy.

“Now after this, I am quite sure you are too much of a man to stop away from her another moment. I have no more to say. I suppose we shall not see each other again, so good-bye, Dick! I fancy I hear you cursing me. Why can’t you feel like other men on the subject? But if you were like the rest of them I should not have cared for you a farthing. I have not worn lilac since I saw you last. I’ll be buried in your colour, Dick. That will not offend you — will it?

“You are not going to believe I took the money? If I thought you thought that — it makes me feel like a devil only to fancy you think it.

“The first time you meet Brayder, cane him publicly.

“Adieu! Say it’s because you don’t like his face. I suppose devils must not say Adieu. Here’s plain old good-bye, then, between you and me. Good-bye, dear Dick! You won’t think that of me?

“May I eat dry bread to the day of my death if I took or ever will touch a scrap of their money.

Bella.”

Richard folded up the letter silently.

“Jump into the cab,” he said to Ripton.

“Anything the matter, Richard?”

“No.”

The driver received instructions. Richard sat without speaking. His friend knew that face. He asked whether there was bad news in the letter. For answer, he had the lie circumstantial. He ventured to remark that they were going the wrong way.

“It’s the right way,” cried Richard, and his jaws were hard and square, and his eyes looked heavy and full.

Ripton said no more, but thought.

The cabman pulled up at a Club. A gentleman, in whom Ripton recognized the Hon. Peter Brayder, was just then swinging a leg over his horse, with one foot in the stirrup. Hearing his name called, the Hon. Peter turned about, and stretched an affable hand.

“Is Mountfalcon in town?” said Richard, taking the horse’s reins instead of the gentlemanly hand. His voice and aspect were quite friendly.

“Mount?” Brayder replied, curiously watching the action; “yes. He’s off this evening.”

“He is in town?” Richard released his horse. “I want to see him. Where is he?”

The young man looked pleasant: that which might have aroused Brayder’s suspicions was an old affair in parasitical register by this time. “Want to see him? What about?” he said carelessly, and gave the address.

“By the way,” he sang out, “we thought of putting your name down, Feverel.” He indicated the lofty structure. “What do you say?”

Richard nodded back at him, crying, “Hurry.” Brayder returned the nod, and those who promenaded the district soon beheld his body in elegant motion to the stepping of his well-earned horse.

“What do you want to see Lord Mountfalcon for, Richard?” said Ripton.

“I just want to see him,” Richard replied.

Ripton was left in the cab at the door of my lord’s residence. He had to wait there a space of about ten minutes, when Richard returned with a clearer visage, though somewhat heated. He stood outside the cab, and Ripton was conscious of being examined by those strong grey eyes. As clear as speech he understood them to say to him, “You won’t do,” but which of the many things on earth he would not do for he was at a loss to think.

“Go down to Raynham, Ripton. Say I shall be there to-night certainly. Don’t bother me with questions. Drive off at once. Or wait. Get another cab. I’ll take this.”

Ripton was ejected, and found himself standing alone in the street. As he was on the point of rushing after the galloping cab-horse to get a word of elucidation, he heard some one speak behind him.

“You are Feverel’s friend?”

Ripton had an eye for lords. An ambrosial footman, standing at the open door of Lord Mountfalcon’s house, and a gentleman standing on the door-step, told him that he was addressed by that nobleman. He was requested to step into the house. When they were alone, Lord Mountfalcon, slightly ruffled, said: “Feverel has insulted me grossly. I must meet him, of course. It’s a piece of infernal folly! — I suppose he is not quite mad?”

Ripton’s only definite answer was a gasping iteration of “My lord.”

My lord resumed: “I am perfectly guiltless of offending him, as far as I know. In fact, I had a friendship for him. Is he liable to fits of this sort of thing?”

Not yet at conversation-point, Ripton stammered: “Fits, my lord?”

“Ah!” went the other, eying Ripton in lordly cognizant style. “You know nothing of this business, perhaps!”

Ripton said he did not.

“Have you any influence with him?”

“Not much, my lord. Only now and then — a little.”

“You are not in the Army?”

The question was quite unnecessary. Ripton confessed to the law, and my lord did not look surprised.

“I will not detain you,” he said, distantly bowing.

Ripton gave him a commoner’s obeisance; but getting to the door, the sense of the matter enlightened him.

“It’s a duel, my lord?”

“No help for it, if his friends don’t shut him up in Bedlam between this and tomorrow morning.”

Of all horrible things a duel was the worst in Ripton’s imagination. He stood holding the handle of the door, revolving this last chapter of calamity suddenly opened where happiness had promised.

“A duel! but he won’t, my lord — he mustn’t fight, my lord.”

“He must come on the ground,” said my lord, positively.

Ripton ejaculated unintelligible stuff. Finally Lord Mountfalcon said: “I went out of my way, sir, in speaking to you. I saw you from the window. Your friend is mad. Deuced methodical, I admit, but mad. I have particular reasons to wish not to injure the young man, and if an apology is to be got out of him when we’re on the ground, I’ll take it, and we’ll stop the damned scandal, if possible. You understand? I’m the insulted party, and I shall only require of him to use formal words of excuse to come to an amicable settlement. Let him just say he regrets it. Now, sir,” the nobleman spoke with considerable earnestness, “should anything happen — I have the honour to be known to Mrs. Feverel — and I beg you will tell her. I very particularly desire you to let her know that I was not to blame.”

Mountfalcon rang the bell, and bowed him out. With this on his mind Ripton hurried down to those who were waiting in joyful trust at Raynham.

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