The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, by George Meredith

30. Celebrates the Breakfast

And the next moment the bride is weeping as if she would dissolve to one of Dian’s Virgin Fountains from the clasp of the Sun–God. She has nobly preserved the mask imposed by comedies, till the curtain has fallen, and now she weeps, streams with tears. Have patience, O impetuous young man! It is your profession to be a hero. This poor heart is new to it, and her duties involve such wild acts, such brigandage, such terrors and tasks, she is quite unnerved. She did you honour till now. Bear with her now. She does not cry the cry of ordinary maidens in like cases. While the struggle went on her tender face was brave; but alas! Omens are against her: she holds an ever-present dreadful one on that fatal fourth finger of hers, which has coiled itself round her dream of delight, and takes her in its clutch like a horrid serpent. And yet she must love it. She dares not part from it. She must love and hug it, and feed on its strange honey, and all the bliss it gives her casts all the deeper shadow on what is to come.

Say: Is it not enough to cause feminine apprehension, for a woman to be married in another woman’s ring?

You are amazons, ladies, at Saragossa, and a thousand citadels—wherever there is strife, and Time is to be taken by the throat. Then shall few men match your sublime fury. But what if you see a vulture, visible only to yourselves, hovering over the house you are gaily led by the torch to inhabit? Will you not crouch and be cowards?

As for the hero, in the hour of victory he pays no heed to omens. He does his best to win his darling to confidence by caresses. Is she not his? Is he not hers? And why, when the battle is won, does she weep? Does she regret what she has done?

Oh, never! never! her soft blue eyes assure him, steadfast love seen swimming on clear depths of faith in them, through the shower.

He is silenced by her exceeding beauty, and sits perplexed waiting for the shower to pass.

Alone with Mrs. Berry, in her bedroom, Lucy gave tongue to her distress, and a second character in the comedy changed her face.

“O Mrs. Berry! Mrs. Berry! what has happened! what has happened!”

“My darlin’ child!” The bridal Berry gazed at the finger of doleful joy. “I’d forgot all about it! And that’s what’ve made me feel so queer ever since, then! I’ve been seemin’ as if I wasn’t myself somehow, without my ring. Dear! dear! what a wilful young gentleman! We ain’t a match for men in that state—Lord help us!”

Mrs. Berry sat on the edge of a chair: Lucy on the edge of the bed.

“What do you think of it, Mrs. Berry? Is it not terrible?”

“I can’t say I should’a liked it myself, my dear,” Mrs. Berry candidly responded.

“Oh! why, why, why did it happen!” the young bride bent to a flood of fresh tears, murmuring that she felt already old—forsaken.

“Haven’t you got a comfort in your religion for all accidents?” Mrs. Berry inquired.

“None for this. I know it’s wrong to cry when I am so happy. I hope he will forgive me.”

Mrs. Berry vowed her bride was the sweetest, softest, beautifulest thing in life.

“I’ll cry no more,” said Lucy. “Leave me, Mrs. Berry, and come back when I ring.”

She drew forth a little silver cross, and fell upon her knees to the bed. Mrs. Berry left the room tiptoe.

When she was called to return, Lucy was calm and tearless, and smiled kindly to her.

“It’s over now,” she said.

Mrs. Berry sedately looked for her ring to follow.

“He does not wish me to go in to the breakfast you have prepared, Mrs. Berry. I begged to be excused. I cannot eat.”

Mrs. Berry very much deplored it, as she had laid out a superior nuptial breakfast, but with her mind on her ring she nodded assentingly.

“We shall not have much packing to do, Mrs. Berry.”

“No, my dear. It’s pretty well all done.”

“We are going to the Isle of Wight, Mrs. Berry.”

“And a very suitable spot ye’ve chose, my dear!”

“He loves the sea. He wishes to be near it.”

“Don’t ye cross to-night, if it’s anyways rough, my dear. It isn’t advisable.” Mrs. Berry sank her voice to say, “Don’t ye be soft and give way to him there, or you’ll both be repenting it.”

Lucy had only been staving off the unpleasantness she had to speak. She saw Mrs. Berry’s eyes pursuing her ring, and screwed up her courage at last.

“Mrs. Berry.”

“Yes, my dear.”

“Mrs. Berry, you shall have another ring.”

“Another, my dear?” Berry did not comprehend. “One’s quite enough for the objeck,” she remarked.

“I mean,” Lucy touched her fourth finger, “I cannot part with this.” She looked straight at Mrs. Berry.

That bewildered creature gazed at her, and at the ring, till she had thoroughly exhausted the meaning of the words, and then exclaimed, horror-struck: “Deary me, now! you don’t say that? You’re to be married again in your own religion.”

The young wife repeated: “I can never part with it.”

“But, my dear!” the wretched Berry wrung her hands, divided between compassion and a sense of injury. “My dear!” she kept expostulating like a mute.

“I know all that you would say, Mrs. Berry. I am very grieved to pain you. It is mine now, and must be mine. I cannot give it back.”

There she sat, suddenly developed to the most inflexible little heroine in the three Kingdoms.

From her first perception of the meaning of the young bride’s words, Mrs. Berry, a shrewd physiognomist, knew that her case was hopeless, unless she treated her as she herself had been treated, and seized the ring by force of arms; and that she had not heart for.

“What!” she gasped faintly, “one’s own lawful wedding-ring you wouldn’t give back to a body?”

“Because it is mine, Mrs. Berry. It was yours, but it is mine now. You shall have whatever you ask for but that. Pray, forgive me! It must be so.”

Mrs. Berry rocked on her chair, and sounded her hands together. It amazed her that this soft little creature could be thus firm. She tried argument.

“Don’t ye know, my dear, it’s the fatalest thing you’re inflictin’ upon me, reelly! Don’t ye know that bein’ bereft of one’s own lawful wedding-ring’s the fatalest thing in life, and there’s no prosperity after it! For what stands in place o’ that, when that’s gone, my dear? And what could ye give me to compensate a body for the loss o’ that! Don’t ye know—Oh, deary me!” The little bride’s face was so set that poor Berry wailed off in despair.

“I know it,” said Lucy. “I know it all. I know what I do to you. Dear, dear Mrs. Berry! forgive me! If I parted with my ring I know it would be fatal.”

So this fair young freebooter took possession of her argument as well as her ring.

Berry racked her distracted wits for a further appeal.

“But, my child,” she counterargued, “you don’t understand. It ain’t as you think. It ain’t a hurt to you now. Not a bit, it ain’t. It makes no difference now! Any ring does while the wearer’s a maid. And your Mr. Richard’ll find the very ring he intended for ye. And, of course, that’s the one you’ll wear as his wife. It’s all the same now, my dear. It’s no shame to a maid. Now do—now do—there’s a darlin’!”

Wheedling availed as little as argument.

“Mrs. Berry,” said Lucy, “you know what my—he spoke: ‘With this ring I thee wed.’ It was with this ring. Then how could it be with another?”

Berry was constrained despondently to acknowledge that was logic.

She hit upon an artful conjecture:

“Won’t it be unlucky your wearin’ of the ring which served me so? Think o’ that!”

“It may! it may! it may!” cried Lucy.

“And arn’t you rushin’ into it, my dear?”

“Mrs. Berry,” Lucy said again, “it was this ring. It cannot—it never can be another. It was this. What it brings me I must bear. I shall wear it till I die!”

“Then what am I to do?” the ill-used woman groaned. “What shall I tell my husband when he come back to me, and see I’ve got a new ring waitin’ for him? Won’t that be a welcome?”

Quoth Lucy: “How can he know it is not the same, in a plain gold ring?”

“You never see so keen a eyed man in joolry as my Berry!” returned his solitary spouse. “Not know, my dear? Why, any one would know that’ve got eyes in his head. There’s as much difference in wedding-rings as there’s in wedding people! Now, do pray be reasonable, my own sweet!”

“Pray, do not ask me,” pleads Lucy.

“Pray, do think better of it,” urges Berry.

“Pray, pray, Mrs. Berry!” pleads Lucy.

“—And not leave your old Berry all forlorn just when you’re so happy!”

“Indeed I would not, you dear, kind old creature!” Lucy faltered.

Mrs. Berry thought she had her.

“Just when you’re going to be the happiest wife on earth—all you want yours!” she pursued the tender strain. “A handsome young gentleman! Love and Fortune smilin’ on ye!——”

Lucy rose up.

“Mrs. Berry,” she said, “I think we must not lose time in getting ready, or he will be impatient.”

Poor Berry surveyed her in abject wonder from the edge of her chair. Dignity and resolve were in the ductile form she had hitherto folded under her wing. In an hour the heroine had risen to the measure of the hero. Without being exactly aware what creature she was dealing with, Berry acknowledged to herself it was not one of the common run, and sighed, and submitted.

“It’s like a divorce, that it is!” she sobbed.

After putting the corners of her apron to her eyes, Berry bustled humbly about the packing. Then Lucy, whose heart was full to her, came and kissed her, and Berry bumped down and regularly cried. This over, she had recourse to fatalism.

“I suppose it was to be, my dear! It’s my punishment for meddlin’ wi’ such matters. No, I’m not sorry. Bless ye both. Who’d ‘a thought you was so wilful?—you that any one might have taken for one of the silly-softs! You’re a pair, my dear! indeed you are! You was made to meet! But we mustn’t show him we’ve been crying.—Men don’t like it when they’re happy. Let’s wash our faces and try to bear our lot.”

So saying the black-satin bunch careened to a renewed deluge. She deserved some sympathy, for if it is sad to be married in another person’s ring, how much sadder to have one’s own old accustomed lawful ring violently torn off one’s finger and eternally severed from one! But where you have heroes and heroines, these terrible complications ensue.

They had now both fought their battle of the ring, and with equal honour and success.

In the chamber of banquet Richard was giving Ripton his last directions. Though it was a private wedding, Mrs. Berry had prepared a sumptuous breakfast. Chickens offered their breasts: pies hinted savoury secrets: things mystic, in a mash, with Gallic appellatives, jellies, creams, fruits, strewed the table: as a tower in the midst, the cake colossal: the priestly vesture of its nuptial white relieved by hymeneal splendours.

Many hours, much labour and anxiety of mind, Mrs. Berry had expended upon this breakfast, and why? There is one who comes to all feasts that have their basis in Folly, whom criminals of trained instinct are careful to provide against: who will speak, and whose hateful voice must somehow be silenced while the feast is going on. This personage is THE PHILOSOPHER. Mrs. Berry knew him. She knew that he would come. She provided against him in the manner she thought most efficacious: that is, by cheating her eyes and intoxicating her conscience with the due and proper glories incident to weddings where fathers dilate, mothers collapse, and marriage settlements are flourished on high by the family lawyer: and had there been no show of the kind to greet her on her return from the church, she would, and she foresaw she would, have stared at squalor and emptiness, and repented her work. The Philosopher would have laid hold of her by the ear, and called her bad names. Entrenched behind a breakfast-table so legitimately adorned, Mrs. Berry defied him. In the presence of that cake he dared not speak above a whisper. And there were wines to drown him in, should he still think of protesting; fiery wines, and cool: claret sent purposely by the bridegroom for the delectation of his friend.

For one good hour, therefore, the labour of many hours kept him dumb. Ripton was fortifying himself so as to forget him altogether, and the word as well, till the next morning. Ripton was excited, overdone with delight. He had already finished one bottle, and listened, pleasantly flushed, to his emphatic and more abstemious chief. He had nothing to do but to listen, and to drink. The hero would not allow him to shout Victory! or hear a word of toasts; and as, from the quantity of oil poured on it, his eloquence was becoming a natural force in his bosom, the poor fellow was afflicted with a sort of elephantiasis of suppressed emotion. At times he half-rose from his chair, and fell vacuously into it again; or he chuckled in the face of weighty, severely-worded instructions; tapped his chest, stretched his arms, yawned, and in short behaved so singularly that Richard observed it, and said: “On my soul, I don’t think you know a word I’m saying.”

“Every word, Ricky!” Ripton spirted through the opening. “I’m going down to your governor, and tell him: Sir Austin! Here’s your only chance of being a happy father—no, no!—Oh! don’t you fear me, Ricky! I shall talk the old gentleman over.”

His chief said:

“Look here. You had better not go down to-night. Go down the first thing tomorrow, by the six o’clock train. Give him my letter. Listen to me—give him my letter, and don’t speak a word till he speaks. His eyebrows will go up and down, he won’t say much. I know him. If he asks you about her, don’t be a fool, but say what you think of her sensibly——”

No cork could hold in Ripton when she was alluded to He shouted: “She’s an angel!”

Richard checked him: “Speak sensibly, I say—quietly. You can say how gentle and good she is—my fleur-deluce! And say, this was not her doing. If any one’s to blame, it’s I. I made her marry me. Then go to Lady Blandish, if you don’t find her at the house. You may say whatever you please to her. Give her my letter, and tell her I want to hear from her immediately. She has seen Lucy, and I know what she thinks of her. You will then go to Farmer Blaize. I told you Lucy happens to be his niece—she has not lived long there. She lived with her aunt Desborough in France while she was a child, and can hardly be called a relative to the farmer—there’s not a point of likeness between them. Poor darling! she never knew her mother. Go to Mr. Blaize, and tell him. You will treat him just as you would treat any other gentleman. If you are civil, he is sure to be. And if he abuses me, for my sake and hers you will still treat him with respect. You hear? And then write me a full account of all that has been said and done. You will have my address the day after tomorrow. By the way, Tom will be here this afternoon. Write out for him where to call on you the day after tomorrow, in case you have heard anything in the morning you think I ought to know at once, as Tom will join me that night. Don’t mention to anybody about my losing the ring, Ripton. I wouldn’t have Adrian get hold of that for a thousand pounds. How on earth I came to lose it! How well she bore it, Rip! How beautifully she behaved!”

Ripton again shouted: “An angel!” Throwing up the heels of his second bottle, he said:

“You may trust your friend, Richard. Aha! when you pulled at old Mrs. Berry I didn’t know what was up. I do wish you’d let me drink her health?”

“Here’s to Penelope!” said Richard, just wetting his mouth. The carriage was at the door: a couple of dire organs, each grinding the same tune, and a vulture-scented itinerant band (from which not the secretest veiled wedding can escape) worked harmoniously without in the production of discord, and the noise acting on his nervous state made him begin to fume and send in messages for his bride by the maid.

By and by the lovely young bride presented herself dressed for her journey, and smiling from stained eyes.

Mrs. Berry was requested to drink some wine, which Ripton poured out for her, enabling Mrs. Berry thereby to measure his condition.

The bride now kissed Mrs. Berry, and Mrs. Berry kissed the bridegroom, on the plea of her softness. Lucy gave Ripton her hand, with a musical “Good-bye, Mr. Thompson,” and her extreme graciousness made him just sensible enough to sit down before he murmured his fervent hopes for her happiness.

“I shall take good care of him,” said Mrs. Berry, focussing her eyes to the comprehension of the company.

“Farewell, Penelope!” cried Richard. “I shall tell the police everywhere to look out for your lord.”

“Oh my dears! good-bye, and Heaven bless ye both!”

Berry quavered, touched with compunction at the thoughts of approaching loneliness. Ripton, his mouth drawn like a bow to his ears, brought up the rear to the carriage, receiving a fair slap on the cheek from an old shoe precipitated by Mrs. Berry’s enthusiastic female domestic.

White handkerchiefs were waved, the adieux had fallen to signs: they were off. Then did a thought of such urgency illumine Mrs. Berry, that she telegraphed, hand in air, awakening Ripton’s lungs, for the coachman to stop, and ran back to the house. Richard chafed to be gone, but at his bride’s intercession he consented to wait. Presently they beheld the old black-satin bunch stream through the street-door, down the bit of garden, and up the astonished street, halting, panting, capless at the carriage door, a book in her hand—a much-used, dog-leaved, steamy, greasy book, which, at the same time calling out in breathless jerks, “There! never ye mind looks! I ain’t got a new one. Read it, and don’t ye forget it!” she discharged into Lucy’s lap, and retreated to the railings, a signal for the coachman to drive away for good.

How Richard laughed at the Berry’s bridal gift! Lucy, too, lost the omen at her heart as she glanced at the title of the volume. It was Dr. Kitchener on Domestic Cookery!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57