The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, by George Meredith

36. A Dinner-Party at Richmond

A lady driving a pair of greys was noticed by Richard in his rides and walks. She passed him rather obviously and often. She was very handsome; a bold beauty, with shining black hair, red lips, and eyes not afraid of men. The hair was brushed from her temples, leaving one of those fine reckless outlines which the action of driving, and the pace, admirably set off. She took his fancy. He liked the air of petulant gallantry about her, and mused upon the picture, rare to him, of a glorious dashing woman. He thought, too, she looked at him. He was not at the time inclined to be vain, or he might have been sure she did. Once it struck him she nodded slightly.

He asked Adrian one day in the park—who she was.

“I don’t know her,” said Adrian. “Probably a superior priestess of Paphos.”

“Now that’s my idea of Bellona,” Richard exclaimed. “Not the fury they paint, but a spirited, dauntless, eager-looking creature like that.”

“Bellona?” returned the wise youth. “I don’t think her hair was black. Red, wasn’t it? I shouldn’t compare her to Bellona; though, no doubt, she’s as ready to spill blood. Look at her! She does seem to scent carnage. I see your idea. No; I should liken her to Diana emerged from the tutorship of Master Endymion, and at nice play among the gods. Depend upon it—they tell us nothing of the matter—Olympus shrouds the story—but you may be certain that when she left the pretty shepherd she had greater vogue than Venus up aloft.”

Brayder joined them.

“See Mrs. Mount go by?” he said.

“Oh, that’s Mrs. Mount!” cried Adrian.

“Who’s Mrs. Mount?” Richard inquired.

“A sister to Miss Random, my dear boy.”

“Like to know her?” drawled the Hon. Peter.

Richard replied indifferently, “No,” and Mrs. Mount passed out of sight and out of the conversation.

The young man wrote submissive letters to his father. “I have remained here waiting to see you now five weeks,” he wrote. “I have written to you three letters, and you do not reply to them. Let me tell you again how sincerely I desire and pray that you will come, or permit me to come to you and throw myself at your feet, and beg my forgiveness, and hers. She as earnestly implores it. Indeed, I am very wretched, sir. Believe me, there is nothing I would not do to regain your esteem and the love I fear I have unhappily forfeited. I will remain another week in the hope of hearing from you, or seeing you. I beg of you, sir, not to drive me mad. Whatever you ask of me I will consent to.”

“Nothing he would not do!” the baronet commented as he read. “There is nothing he would not do! He will remain another week and give me that final chance! And it is I who drive him mad! Already he is beginning to cast his retribution on my shoulders.”

Sir Austin had really gone down to Wales to be out of the way. A Shaddock–Dogmatist does not meet misfortune without hearing of it, and the author of THE PILGRIM’S SCRIP in trouble found London too hot for him. He quitted London to take refuge among the mountains; living there in solitary commune with a virgin Note-book.

Some indefinite scheme was in his head in this treatment of his son. Had he construed it, it would have looked ugly; and it settled to a vague principle that the young man should be tried and tested.

“Let him learn to deny himself something. Let him live with his equals for a term. If he loves me he will read my wishes.” Thus he explained his principle to Lady Blandish.

The lady wrote: “You speak of a term. Till when? May I name one to him? It is the dreadful uncertainty that reduces him to despair. That, and nothing else. Pray be explicit.”

In return, he distantly indicated Richard’s majority.

How could Lady Blandish go and ask the young man to wait a year away from his wife? Her instinct began to open a wide eye on the idol she worshipped.

When people do not themselves know what they mean, they succeed in deceiving and imposing upon others. Not only was Lady Blandish mystified; Mrs. Doria, who pierced into the recesses of everybody’s mind, and had always been in the habit of reading off her brother from infancy, and had never known herself to be once wrong about him, she confessed she was quite at a loss to comprehend Austin’s principle. “For principle he has,” said Mrs. Doria; “he never acts without one. But what it is, I cannot at present perceive. If he would write, and command the boy to await his return, all would be clear. He allows us to go and fetch him, and then leaves us all in a quandary. It must be some woman’s influence. That is the only way to account for it.”

“Singular!” interjected Adrian, “what pride women have in their sex! Well, I have to tell you, my dear aunt, that the day after tomorrow I hand my charge over to your keeping. I can’t hold him in an hour longer. I’ve had to leash him with lies till my invention’s exhausted. I petition to have them put down to the chief’s account, but when the stream runs dry I can do no more. The last was, that I had heard from him desiring me to have the South-west bedroom ready for him on Tuesday proximate. ‘So!’ says my son, ‘I’ll wait till then,’ and from the gigantic effort he exhibited in coming to it, I doubt any human power’s getting him to wait longer.”

“We must, we must detain him,” said Mrs. Doria. “If we do not, I am convinced Austin will do something rash that he will for ever repent. He will marry that woman, Adrian. Mark my words. Now with any other young man! . . . But Richard’s education! that ridiculous System! . . . Has he no distraction? nothing to amuse him?”

“Poor boy! I suppose he wants his own particular playfellow.”

The wise youth had to bow to a reproof.

“I tell you, Adrian, he will marry that woman.”

“My dear aunt! Can a chaste man do aught more commendable?”

“Has the boy no object we can induce him to follow?—If he had but a profession!”

“What say you to the regeneration of the streets of London, and the profession of moral-scavenger, aunt? I assure you I have served a month’s apprenticeship with him. We sally forth on the tenth hour of the night. A female passes. I hear him groan. ‘Is she one of them, Adrian?’ I am compelled to admit she is not the saint he deems it the portion of every creature wearing petticoats to be. Another groan; an evident internal, ‘It cannot be-and yet!’ . . . that we hear on the stage. Rollings of eyes: impious questionings of the Creator of the universe; savage mutterings against brutal males; and then we meet a second young person, and repeat the performance—of which I am rather tired. It would be all very well, but he turns upon me, and lectures me because I don’t hire a house, and furnish it for all the women one meets to live in in purity. Now that’s too much to ask of a quiet man. Master Thompson has latterly relieved me, I’m happy to say.”

Mrs. Doria thought her thoughts.

“Has Austin written to you since you were in town?”

“Not an Aphorism!” returned Adrian.

“I must see Richard tomorrow morning,” Mrs. Doria ended the colloquy by saying.

The result of her interview with her nephew was, that Richard made no allusion to a departure on the Tuesday; and for many days afterward he appeared to have an absorbing business on his hands: but what it was Adrian did not then learn, and his admiration of Mrs. Doria’s genius for management rose to a very high pitch.

On a morning in October they had an early visitor in the person of the Hon. Peter, whom they had not seen for a week or more.

“Gentlemen,” he said, flourishing his cane in his most affable manner, “I’ve come to propose to you to join us in a little dinner-party at Richmond. Nobody’s in town, you know. London’s as dead as a stock-fish. Nothing but the scrapings to offer you. But the weather’s fine: I flatter myself you’ll find the company agreeable. What says my friend Feverel?”

Richard begged to be excused.

“No, no: positively you must come,” said the Hon. Peter. “I’ve had some trouble to get them together to relieve the dulness of your incarceration. Richmond’s within the rules of your prison. You can be back by night. Moonlight on the water—lovely woman. We’ve engaged a city-barge to pull us back. Eight oars—I’m not sure it isn’t sixteen. Come—the word!”

Adrian was for going. Richard said he had an appointment with Ripton.

“You’re in for another rick, you two,” said Adrian. “Arrange that we go. You haven’t seen the cockney’s Paradise. Abjure Blazes, and taste of peace, my son.”

After some persuasion, Richard yawned wearily, and got up, and threw aside the care that was on him, saying, “Very well. Just as you like. We’ll take old Rip with us.”

Adrian consulted Brayder’s eye at this. The Hon. Peter briskly declared he should be delighted to have Feverel’s friend, and offered to take them all down in his drag.

“If you don’t get a match on to swim there with the tide—eh, Feverel, my boy?”

Richard replied that he had given up that sort of thing, at which Brayder communicated a queer glance to Adrian, and applauded the youth.

Richmond was under a still October sun. The pleasant landscape, bathed in Autumn, stretched from the foot of the hill to a red horizon haze. The day was like none that Richard vividly remembered. It touched no link in the chain of his recollection. It was quiet, and belonged to the spirit of the season.

Adrian had divined the character of the scrapings they were to meet. Brayder introduced them to one or two of the men, hastily and in rather an undervoice, as a thing to get over. They made their bow to the first knot of ladies they encountered. Propriety was observed strictly, even to severity. The general talk was of the weather. Here and there a lady would seize a button-hole or any little bit of the habiliments, of the man she was addressing; and if it came to her to chide him, she did it with more than a forefinger. This, however, was only here and there, and a privilege of intimacy.

Where ladies are gathered together, the Queen of the assemblage may be known by her Court of males. The Queen of the present gathering leaned against a corner of the open window, surrounded by a stalwart Court, in whom a practised eye would have discerned guardsmen, and Ripton, with a sinking of the heart, apprehended lords. They were fine men, offering inanimate homage. The trim of their whiskerage, the cut of their coats, the high-bred indolence in their aspect, eclipsed Ripton’s sense of self-esteem. But they kindly looked over him. Occasionally one committed a momentary outrage on him with an eye-glass, seeming to cry out in a voice of scathing scorn, “Who’s this?” and Ripton got closer to his hero to justify his humble pretensions to existence and an identity in the shadow of him. Richard gazed about. Heroes do not always know what to say or do; and the cold bath before dinner in strange company is one of the instances. He had recognized his superb Bellona in the lady by the garden window. For Brayder the men had nods and jokes, the ladies a pretty playfulness. He was very busy, passing between the groups, chatting, laughing, taking the feminine taps he received, and sometimes returning them in sly whispers. Adrian sat down and crossed his legs, looking amused and benignant.

“Whose dinner is it?” Ripton heard a mignonne beauty ask of a cavalier.

“Mount’s, I suppose,” was the answer.

“Where is he? Why don’t he come?”

“An affaire, I fancy.”

“There he is again! How shamefully he treats Mrs. Mount!”

“She don’t seem to cry over it.”

Mrs. Mount was flashing her teeth and eyes with laughter at one of her Court, who appeared to be Fool.

Dinner was announced. The ladies proclaimed extravagant appetites. Brayder posted his three friends. Ripton found himself under the lee of a dame with a bosom. On the other side of him was the mignonne. Adrian was at the lower end of the table. Ladies were in profusion, and he had his share. Brayder drew Richard from seat to seat. A happy man had established himself next to Mrs. Mount. Him Brayder hailed to take the head of the table. The happy man objected, Brayder continued urgent, the lady tenderly insisted, the happy man grimaced, dropped into the post of honour, strove to look placable. Richard usurped his chair, and was not badly welcomed by his neighbour.

Then the dinner commenced, and had all the attention of the company, till the flying of the first champagne-cork gave the signal, and a hum began to spread. Sparkling wine, that looseneth the tongue, and displayeth the verity, hath also the quality of colouring it. The ladies laughed high; Richard only thought them gay and natural. They flung back in their chairs and laughed to tears; Ripton thought only of the pleasure he had in their society. The champagne-corks continued a regular file-firing.

“Where have you been lately? I haven’t seen you in the park,” said Mrs. Mount to Richard.

“No,” he replied, “I’ve not been there.” The question seemed odd: she spoke so simply that it did not impress him. He emptied his glass, and had it filled again.

The Hon. Peter did most of the open talking, which related to horses, yachting, opera, and sport generally: who was ruined, by what horse, or by what woman. He told one or two of Richard’s feats. Fair smiles rewarded the hero.

“Do you bet?” said Mrs. Mount.

“Only on myself,” returned Richard.

“Bravo!” cried his Bellona, and her eye sent a lingering delirious sparkle across her brimming glass at him.

“I’m sure you’re a safe one to back,” she added, and seemed to scan his points approvingly.

Richard’s cheeks mounted bloom.

“Don’t you adore champagne?” quoth the dame with a bosom to Ripton.

“Oh, yes!” answered Ripton, with more candour than accuracy, “I always drink it.”

“Do you indeed?” said the enraptured bosom, ogling him. “You would be a friend, now! I hope you don’t object to a lady joining you now and then. Champagne’s my folly.”

A laugh was circling among the ladies of whom Adrian was the centre; first low, and as he continued some narration, peals resounded, till those excluded from the fun demanded the cue, and ladies leaned behind gentlemen to take it up, and formed an electric chain of laughter. Each one, as her ear received it, caught up her handkerchief, and laughed, and looked shocked afterwards, or looked shocked and then spouted laughter. The anecdote might have been communicated to the bewildered cavaliers, but coming to a lady of a demurer cast, she looked shocked without laughing, and reproved the female table, in whose breasts it was consigned to burial: but here and there a man’s head was seen bent, and a lady’s mouth moved, though her face was not turned toward him, and a man’s broad laugh was presently heard, while the lady gazed unconsciously before her, and preserved her gravity if she could escape any other lady’s eyes; failing in which, handkerchiefs were simultaneously seized, and a second chime arose, till the tickling force subsided to a few chance bursts.

What nonsense it is that my father writes about women! thought Richard. He says they can’t laugh, and don’t understand humour. It comes, he reflected, of his shutting himself from the world. And the idea that he was seeing the world, and feeling wiser, flattered him. He talked fluently to his dangerous Bellona. He gave her some reminiscences of Adrian’s whimsies.

“Oh!” said she, “that’s your tutor, is it!” She eyed the young man as if she thought he must go far and fast.

Ripton felt a push. “Look at that,” said the bosom, fuming utter disgust. He was directed to see a manly arm round the waist of the mignonne. “Now that’s what I don’t like in company,” the bosom inflated to observe with sufficient emphasis. “She always will allow it with everybody. Give her a nudge.”

Ripton protested that he dared not; upon which she said, “Then I will”; and inclined her sumptuous bust across his lap, breathing wine in his face, and gave the nudge. The mignonne turned an inquiring eye on Ripton; a mischievous spark shot from it. She laughed, and said: “Aren’t you satisfied with the old bird?”

“Impudence!” muttered the bosom, growing grander and redder.

“Do, do fill her glass, and keep her quiet—she drinks port when there’s no more champagne,” said the mignonne.

The bosom revenged herself by whispering to Ripton scandal of the mignonne, and between them he was enabled to form a correcter estimate of the company, and quite recovered from his original awe: so much so as to feel a touch of jealousy at seeing his lively little neighbour still held in absolute possession.

Mrs. Mount did not come out much; but there was a deferential manner in the bearing of the men toward her, which those haughty creatures accord not save to clever women; and she contrived to hold the talk with three or four at the head of the table while she still had passages aside with Richard.

The port and claret went very well after the champagne. The ladies here did not ignominiously surrender the field to the gentlemen; they maintained their position with honour. Silver was seen far out on Thames. The wine ebbed, and the laughter. Sentiment and cigars took up the wondrous tale.

“Oh, what a lovely night!” said the ladies, looking above.

“Charming,” said the gentlemen, looking below.

The faint-smelling cool Autumn air was pleasant after the feast. Fragrant weeds burned bright about the garden.

“We are split into couples,” said Adrian to Richard, who was standing alone, eying the landscape. “’Tis the influence of the moon! Apparently we are in Cyprus. How has my son enjoyed himself? How likes he the society of Aspasia? I feel like a wise Greek to-night.”

Adrian was jolly, and rolled comfortably as he talked. Ripton had been carried off by the sentimental bosom. He came up to them and whispered: “By Jove, Ricky! do you know what sort of women these are?”

Richard said he thought them a nice sort.

“Puritan!” exclaimed Adrian, slapping Ripton on the back. “Why didn’t you get tipsy, sir? Don’t you ever intoxicate yourself except at lawful marriages? Reveal to us what you have done with the portly dame?”

Ripton endured his bantering that he might hang about Richard, and watch over him. He was jealous of his innocent Beauty’s husband being in proximity with such women. Murmuring couples passed them to and fro.

“By Jove, Ricky!” Ripton favoured his friend with another hard whisper, “there’s a woman smoking!”

“And why not, O Riptonus?” said Adrian. “Art unaware that woman cosmopolitan is woman consummate? and dost grumble to pay the small price for the splendid gem?”

“Well, I don’t like women to smoke,” said plain Ripton.

“Why mayn’t they do what men do?” the hero cried impetuously. “I hate that contemptible narrow-mindedness. It’s that makes the ruin and horrors I see. Why mayn’t they do what men do? I like the women who are brave enough not to be hypocrites. By heaven! if these women are bad, I like them better than a set of hypocritical creatures who are all show, and deceive you in the end.”

“Bravo!” shouted Adrian. “There speaks the regenerator.”

Ripton, as usual, was crushed by his leader. He had no argument. He still thought women ought not to smoke; and he thought of one far away, lonely by the sea, who was perfect without being cosmopolitan.

THE PILGRIM’S SCRIP remarks that: “Young men take joy in nothing so much as the thinking women Angels: and nothing sours men of experience more than knowing that all are not quite so.”

The Aphorist would have pardoned Ripton Thompson his first Random extravagance, had he perceived the simple warm-hearted worship of feminine goodness Richard’s young bride had inspired in the breast of the youth. It might possibly have taught him to put deeper trust in our nature.

Ripton thought of her, and had a feeling of sadness. He wandered about the grounds by himself, went through an open postern, and threw himself down among some bushes on the slope of the hill. Lying there, and meditating, he became aware of voices conversing.

“What does he want?” said a woman’s voice. “It’s another of his villainies, I know. Upon my honour, Brayder, when I think of what I have to reproach him for, I think I must go mad, or kill him.”

“Tragic!” said the Hon. Peter. “Haven’t you revenged yourself, Bella, pretty often? Best deal openly. This is a commercial transaction. You ask for money, and you are to have it—on the conditions: double the sum, and debts paid.”

“He applies to me!”

“You know, my dear Bella, it has long been all up between you. I think Mount has behaved very well, considering all he knows. He’s not easily hoodwinked, you know. He resigns himself to his fate, and follows other game.”

“Then the condition is, that I am to seduce this young man?”

“My dear Bella! you strike your bird like a hawk. I didn’t say seduce. Hold him in-play with him. Amuse him.”

“I don’t understand half-measures.”

“Women seldom do.”

“How I hate you, Brayder!”

“I thank your ladyship.”

The two walked farther. Ripton had heard some little of the colloquy. He left the spot in a serious mood, apprehensive of something dark to the people he loved, though he had no idea of what the Hon. Peter’s stipulation involved.

On the voyage back to town, Richard was again selected to sit by Mrs. Mount. Brayder and Adrian started the jokes. The pair of parasites got on extremely well together. Soft fell the plash of the oars; softly the moonlight curled around them; softly the banks glided by. The ladies were in a state of high sentiment. They sang without request. All deemed the British ballad-monger an appropriate interpreter of their emotions. After good wine, and plenty thereof, fair throats will make men of taste swallow that remarkable composer. Eyes, lips, hearts; darts and smarts and sighs; beauty, duty; bosom, blossom; false one, farewell! To this pathetic strain they melted. Mrs. Mount, though strongly requested, declined to sing. She preserved her state. Under the tall aspens of Brentford-ait, and on they swept, the white moon in their wake. Richard’s hand lay open by his side. Mrs. Mount’s little white hand by misadventure fell into it. It was not pressed, or soothed for its fall, or made intimate with eloquent fingers. It lay there like a bit of snow on the cold ground. A yellow leaf wavering down from the aspens struck Richard’s cheek, and he drew away the very hand to throw back his hair and smooth his face, and then folded his arms, unconscious of offence. He was thinking ambitiously of his life: his blood was untroubled, his brain calmly working.

“Which is the more perilous?” is a problem put by the PILGRIM: “To meet the temptings of Eve, or to pique her?”

Mrs. Mount stared at the young man as at a curiosity, and turned to flirt with one of her Court. The Guardsmen were mostly sentimental. One or two rattled, and one was such a good-humoured fellow that Adrian could not make him ridiculous. The others seemed to give themselves up to a silent waxing in length of limb. However far they sat removed, everybody was entangled in their legs. Pursuing his studies, Adrian came to the conclusion, that the same close intellectual and moral affinity which he had discovered to exist between our nobility and our yeomanry, is to be observed between the Guardsman class, and that of the corps de ballet: they both live by the strength of their legs, where also their wits, if they do not altogether reside there, are principally developed: both are volage; wine, tobacco, and the moon, influence both alike; and admitting the one marked difference that does exist, it is, after all, pretty nearly the same thing to be coquetting and sinning on two legs as on the point of a toe.

A long Guardsman with a deep bass voice sang a doleful song about the twining tendrils of the heart ruthlessly torn, but required urgent persuasions and heavy trumpeting of his lungs to get to the end: before he had accomplished it, Adrian had contrived to raise a laugh in his neighbourhood, so that the company was divided, and the camp split: jollity returned to one-half, while sentiment held the other. Ripton, blotted behind the bosom, was only lucky in securing a higher degree of heat than was possible for the rest. “Are you cold?” she would ask, smiling charitably.

I am,” said the mignonne, as if to excuse her conduct.

“You always appear to be,” the fat one sniffed and snapped.

“Won’t you warm two, Mrs. Mortimer?” said the naughty little woman.

Disdain prevented any further notice of her. Those familiar with the ladies enjoyed their sparring, which was frequent. The mignonne was heard to whisper: “That poor fellow will certainly be stewed.”

Very prettily the ladies took and gave warmth, for the air on the water was chill and misty. Adrian had beside him the demure one who had stopped the circulation of his anecdote. She in nowise objected to the fair exchange, but said “Hush!” betweenwhiles.

Past Kew and Hammersmith, on the cool smooth water; across Putney reach; through Battersea bridge; and the City grew around them, and the shadows of great mill-factories slept athwart the moonlight.

All the ladies prattled sweetly of a charming day when they alighted on land. Several cavaliers crushed for the honour of conducting Mrs. Mount to her home.

“My brougham’s here; I shall go alone,” said Mrs. Mount. “Some one arrange my shawl.”

She turned her back to Richard, who had a view of a delicate neck as he manipulated with the bearing of a mailed knight.

“Which way are you going?” she asked carelessly, and, to his reply as to the direction, said: “Then I can give you a lift,” and she took his arm with a matter-of-course air, and walked up the stairs with him.

Ripton saw what had happened. He was going to follow: the portly dame retained him, and desired him to get her a cab.

“Oh, you happy fellow!” said the bright-eyed mignonne, passing by.

Ripton procured the cab, and stuffed it full without having to get into it himself.

“Try and let him come in too?” said the persecuting creature, again passing.

“Take liberties with your men—you shan’t with me,” retorted the angry bosom, and drove off.

“So she’s been and gone and run away and left him after all his trouble!” cried the pert little thing, peering into Ripton’s eyes. “Now you’ll never be so foolish as to pin your faith to fat women again. There! he shall be made happy another time.” She gave his nose a comical tap, and tripped away with her possessor.

Ripton rather forgot his friend for some minutes: Random thoughts laid hold of him. Cabs and carriages rattled past. He was sure he had been among members of the nobility that day, though when they went by him now they only recognized him with an effort of the eyelids. He began to think of the day with exultation, as an event. Recollections of the mignonne were captivating. “Blue eyes—just what I like! And such a little impudent nose, and red lips, pouting—the very thing I like! And her hair? darkish, I think—say brown. And so saucy, and light on her feet. And kind she is, or she wouldn’t have talked to me like that.” Thus, with a groaning soul, he pictured her. His reason voluntarily consigned her to the aristocracy as a natural appanage: but he did amorously wish that Fortune had made a lord of him.

Then his mind reverted to Mrs. Mount, and the strange bits of the conversation he had heard on the hill. He was not one to suspect anybody positively. He was timid of fixing a suspicion. It hovered indefinitely, and clouded people, without stirring him to any resolve. Still the attentions of the lady toward Richard were queer. He endeavoured to imagine they were in the nature of things, because Richard was so handsome that any woman must take to him. “But he’s married,” said Ripton, “and he mustn’t go near these people if he’s married.” Not a high morality, perhaps: better than none at all: better for the world were it practised more. He thought of Richard along with that sparkling dame, alone with her. The adorable beauty of his dear bride, her pure heavenly face, swam before him. Thinking of her, he lost sight of the mignonne who had made him giddy.

He walked to Richard’s hotel, and up and down the street there, hoping every minute to hear his step; sometimes fancying he might have returned and gone to bed. Two o’clock struck. Ripton could not go away. He was sure he should not sleep if he did. At last the cold sent him homeward, and leaving the street, on the moonlight side of Piccadilly he met his friend patrolling with his head up and that swing of the feet proper to men who are chanting verses.

“Old Rip!” cried Richard, cheerily. “What on earth are you doing here at this hour of the morning?”

Ripton muttered of his pleasure at meeting him. “I wanted to shake your hand before I went home.”

Richard smiled on him in an amused kindly way. “That all? You may shake my hand any day, like a true man as you are, old Rip! I’ve been speaking about you. Do you know, that—Mrs. Mount—never saw you all the time at Richmond, or in the boat!”

“Oh!” Ripton said, well assured that he was a dwarf: “you saw her safe home?”

“Yes. I’ve been there for the last couple of hours—talking. She talks capitally: she’s wonderfully clever. She’s very like a man, only much nicer. I like her.”

“But, Richard, excuse me—I’m sure I don’t mean to offend you—but now you’re married . . . perhaps you couldn’t help seeing her home, but I think you really indeed oughtn’t to have gone upstairs.”

Ripton delivered this opinion with a modest impressiveness.

“What do you mean?” said Richard. “You don’t suppose I care for any woman but my little darling down there.” He laughed.

“No; of course not. That’s absurd. What I mean is, that people perhaps will—you know, they do—they say all manner of things, and that makes unhappiness, and . . . I do wish you were going home tomorrow, Ricky. I mean, to your dear wife.” Ripton blushed and looked away as he spoke.

The hero gave one of his scornful glances. “So you’re anxious about my reputation. I hate that way of looking on women. Because they have been once misled—look how much weaker they are!—because the world has given them an ill fame, you would treat them as contagious, and keep away from them for the sake of your character!”

“It would be different with me,” quoth Ripton.

“How?” asked the hero.

“Because I’m worse than you,” was all the logical explanation Ripton was capable of.

“I do hope you will go home soon,” he added.

“Yes,” said Richard, “and I, so do I hope so. But I’ve work to do now. I dare not, I cannot, leave it. Lucy would be the last to ask me—you saw her letter yesterday. Now listen to me, Rip. I want to make you be just to women.”

Then he read Ripton a lecture on erring women, speaking of them as if he had known them and studied them for years. Clever, beautiful, but betrayed by love, it was the first duty of all true men to cherish and redeem them. “We turn them into curses, Rip; these divine creatures.” And the world suffered for it. That—that was the root of all the evil in the world!

“I don’t feel anger or horror at these poor women, Rip! It’s strange. I knew what they were when we came home in the boat. But I do—it tears my heart to see a young girl given over to an old man—a man she doesn’t love. That’s shame!—Don’t speak of it.”

Forgetting to contest the premise, that all betrayed women are betrayed by love, Ripton was quite silenced. He, like most young men, had pondered somewhat on this matter, and was inclined to be sentimental when he was not hungry. They walked in the moonlight by the railings of the park. Richard harangued at leisure, while Ripton’s teeth chattered. Chivalry might be dead, but still there was something to do, went the strain. The lady of the day had not been thrown in the hero’s path without an object, he said; and he was sadly right there. He did not express the thing clearly; nevertheless Ripton understood him to mean, he intended to rescue that lady from further transgressions, and show a certain scorn of the world. That lady, and then other ladies unknown, were to be rescued. Ripton was to help. He and Ripton were to be the knights of this enterprise. When appealed to, Ripton acquiesced, and shivered. Not only were they to be knights, they would have to be Titans, for the powers of the world, the spurious ruling Social Gods, would have to be defied and overthrown. And Titan number one flung up his handsome bold face as if to challenge base Jove on the spot; and Titan number two strained the upper button of his coat to meet across his pocket-handkerchief on his chest, and warmed his fingers under his coat-tails. The moon had fallen from her high seat and was in the mists of the West, when he was allowed to seek his blankets, and the cold acting on his friend’s eloquence made Ripton’s flesh very contrite. The poor fellow had thinner blood than the hero; but his heart was good. By the time he had got a little warmth about him, his heart gratefully strove to encourage him in the conception of becoming a knight and a Titan; and so striving Ripton fell asleep and dreamed.

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