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One of Our Conquerors, v1 by George Meredith

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'But an hour, with him! It means a good deal.'

'Ah, friend, I take your words. He sinks terribly when he sinks at all.
--Spare us a little while.--We have to judge of what is good in the
circumstances: I hear your reply! But the principal for me to study is
Victor. You have accused me of being the voice of the enamoured woman.
I follow him, I know; I try to advise; I find it is wisdom to submit.
My people regard my behaviour as a wickedness or a madness. I did save
him. I joined my fate with his. I am his mate, to help, and I cannot
oppose him, to distract him. I do my utmost for privacy. He must
entertain. Believe me, I feel for them--sisters and brother. And now
that my sisters are married . . . My brother has a man's hardness.'

'Colonel Dreighton did not speak harshly, at our last meeting.'

'He spoke of me?'

'He spoke in the tone of a brother.'

'Victor promises--I won't repeat it. Yes, I see the house! There
appears to be a prospect, a hope--I cannot allude to it. Craye and
Creckholt may have been some lesson to him. Selwyn spoke of me kindly?
Ah, yes, it is the way with my people to pretend that Victor has been the
ruin of me, that they may come round to family sentiments. In the same
way, his relatives, the Duvidney ladies, have their picture of the woman
misleading him. Imagine me the naughty adventuress!'--Nataly falsified
the thought insurgent at her heart, in adding: 'I do not say I am
blameless.' It was a concession to the circumambient enemy, of whom even
a good friend was apart, and not better than a respectful emissary. The
dearest of her friends belonged to that hostile world. Only Victor, no
other, stood with her against the world. Her child, yes; the love of her
child she had; but the child's destiny was an alien phantom, looking at
her with harder eyes than she had vision of in her family. She did not
say she was blameless, did not affect the thought. She would have wished
to say, for small encouragement she would have said, that her case could
be pleaded.

Colney's features were not inviting, though the expression was not
repellent. She sighed deeply; and to count on something helpful by
mentioning it, reverted to the 'prospect' which there appeared to be.
'Victor speaks of the certainty of his release.'

His release! Her language pricked a satirist's gallbladder. Colney
refrained from speaking to wound, and enjoyed a silence that did it.

'Do you see any possibility?--you knew her,' she said coldly.

'Counting the number of times he has been expecting the release, he is
bound to believe it near at hand.'

'You don't?' she asked: her bosom was up in a crisis of expectation for
the answer: and on a pause of half-a-minute, she could have uttered the
answer herself.

He perceived the insane eagerness through her mask, and despised it,
pitying the woman. 'And you don't,' he said. 'You catch at delusions,
to excuse the steps you consent to take. Or you want me to wear the
blinkers, the better to hoodwink your own eyes. You see it as well as I:
If you enter that house, you have to go through the same as at
Creckholt:--and he'll be the first to take fright.'

'He finds you in tears: he is immensely devoted; he flings up all to
protect "his Nataly."'

'No: you are unjust to him. He would fling up all:'--

'But his Nataly prefers to be dragged through fire? As you please!'

She bowed to her chastisement. One motive in her consultation with him
came of the knowledge of his capacity to inflict it and his honesty in
the act, and a thirst she had to hear the truth loud-tongued from him;
together with a feeling that he was excessive and satiric, not to be read
by the letter of his words: and in consequence, she could bear the lash
from him, and tell her soul that he overdid it, and have an unjustly-
treated self to cherish.--But in very truth she was a woman who loved to
hear the truth; she was formed to love the truth her position reduced her
to violate; she esteemed the hearing it as medical to her; she selected
for counsellor him who would apply it: so far she went on the straight
way; and the desire for a sustaining deception from the mouth of a
trustworthy man set her hanging on his utterances with an anxious hope of
the reverse of what was to come and what she herself apprehended, such as
checked her pulses and iced her feet and fingers. The reason being, not
that she was craven or absurd or paradoxical, but that, living at an
intenser strain upon her nature than she or any around her knew, her
strength snapped, she broke down by chance there where Colney was
rendered spiteful in beholding the display of her inconsequent if not
puling sex.

She might have sought his counsel on another subject, if a paralyzing
chill of her frame in the foreview of it had allowed her to speak: she
felt grave alarms in one direction, where Nesta stood in the eye of her
father; besides an unformed dread that the simplicity in generosity of
Victor's nature was doomed to show signs of dross ultimately, under the
necessity he imposed upon himself to run out his forecasts, and scheme,
and defensively compel the world to serve his ends, for the protection of
those dear to him.

At night he was particularly urgent with her for the harmonious duet in
praise of Lakelands; and plied her with questions all round and about it,
to bring out the dulcet accord. He dwelt on his choice of costly
marbles, his fireplace and mantelpiece designs, the great hall, and
suggestions for imposing and beautiful furniture; concordantly enough,
for the large, the lofty and rich of colour won her enthusiasm; but
overwhelmingly to any mood of resistance; and strangely in a man who had
of late been adopting, as if his own, a modern tone, or the social and
literary hints of it, relating to the right uses of wealth, and the duty
as well as the delight of living simply.

'Fredi was pleased.'

'Yes, she was, dear.'

'She is our girl, my love. "I could live and die here!" Live, she may.
There's room enough.'

Nataly saw the door of a covert communication pointed at in that remark.
She gathered herself for an effort to do battle.

'She's quite a child, Victor.'

'The time begins to run. We have to look forward now:--I declare, it's
I who seem the provident mother for Fredi!'

'Let our girl wait; don't hurry her mind to . . . She is happy with
her father and mother. She is in the happiest time of her life, before
those feelings distract.'

'If we see good fortune for her, we can't let it pass her.'

A pang of the resolution now to debate the case with Victor, which would
be of necessity to do the avoided thing and roll up the forbidden curtain
opening on their whole history past and prospective, was met in Nataly's
bosom by the more bitter immediate confession that she was not his match.
To speak would be to succumb; and shamefully after the effort; and
hopelessly after being overborne by him. There was not the anticipation
of a set contest to animate the woman's naturally valiant heart; he was
too strong: and his vividness in urgency overcame her in advance,
fascinated her sensibility through recollection; he fanned an
inclination, lighted it to make it a passion, a frenzied resolve--she
remembered how and when. She had quivering cause to remember the fateful
day of her step, in a letter received that morning from a married sister,
containing no word of endearment or proposal for a meeting. An
unregretted day, if Victor would think of the dues to others; that is,
would take station with the world to see his reflected position, instead
of seeing it through their self-justifying knowledge of the honourable
truth of their love, and pressing to claim and snatch at whatsoever the
world bestows on its orderly subjects.

They had done evil to no one as yet. Nataly thought that; not-
withstanding the outcry of the ancient and withered woman who bore
Victor Radnor's name: for whom, in consequence of the rod the woman had
used, this tenderest of hearts could summon no emotion. If she had it,
the thing was not to be hauled up to consciousness. Her feeling was,
that she forgave the wrinkled Malignity: pity and contrition dissolving
in the effort to produce the placable forgiveness. She was frigid
because she knew rightly of herself, that she in the place of power would
never have struck so meanly. But the mainspring of the feeling in an
almost remorseless bosom drew from certain chance expressions of
retrospective physical distaste on Victor's part;--hard to keep from a
short utterance between the nuptial two, of whom the unshamed exuberant
male has found the sweet reverse in his mate, a haven of heavenliness,
to delight in:--these conjoined with a woman's unspoken pleading ideas
of her own, on her own behalf, had armed her jealously in vindication
of Nature.

Now, as long as they did no palpable wrong about them, Nataly could argue
her case in her conscience--deep down and out of hearing, where women
under scourge of the laws they have not helped decree may and do deliver
their minds. She stood in that subterranean recess for Nature against
the Institutions of Man: a woman little adapted for the post of revel;
but to this, by the agency of circumstances, it had come; she who was
designed by nature to be an ornament of those Institutions opposed them
and when thinking of the rights and the conduct of the decrepit
Legitimate--virulent in a heathen vindictiveness declaring itself holy--
she had Nature's logic, Nature's voice, for self-defence. It was
eloquent with her, to the deafening of other voices in herself, even to
the convincing of herself, when she was wrought by the fires within to
feel elementally. The other voices within her issued of the acknowledged
dues to her family and to the world--the civilization protecting women:
sentences thereanent in modern books and Journals. But the remembrance
of moods of fiery exaltation, when the Nature she called by name of Love
raised the chorus within to stop all outer buzzing, was, in a perpetual
struggle with a whirlpool, a constant support while she and Victor were
one at heart. The sense of her standing alone made her sway; and a
thought of differences with him caused frightful apprehensions of the

Luxuriously she applied to his public life for witness that he had
governed wisely as well as affectionately so long; and he might
therefore, with the chorussing of the world of public men, expect a woman
blindfold to follow his lead. But no; we may be rebels against our time
and its Laws: if we are really for Nature, we are not lawless. Nataly's
untutored scruples, which came side by side with her ability to plead for
her acts, restrained her from complicity in the ensnaring of a young man
of social rank to espouse the daughter of a couple socially insurgent-
stained, to common thinking, should denunciation come. The Nature
upholding her fled at a vision of a stranger entangled. Pitiable to
reflect, that he was not one of the adventurer-lords of prey who hunt
and run down shadowed heiresses and are congratulated on their luck in a
tolerating country! How was the young man to be warned? How, under the
happiest of suppositions, propitiate his family! And such a family,
if consenting with knowledge, would consent only for the love of money.
It was angling with as vile a bait as the rascal lord's. Humiliation
hung on the scheme; it struck to scorching in the contemplation of it.
And it darkened her reading of Victor's character.

She did not ask for the specification of a 'good fortune that might
pass'; wishing to save him from his wonted twists of elusiveness, and
herself with him from the dread discussion it involved upon one point.

'The day was pleasant to all, except perhaps poor mademoiselle,' she

'Peridon should have come?'

'Present or absent, his chances are not brilliant, I fear.'

'And Pempton and Priscy!'

'They are growing cooler!'

'With their grotesque objections to one another's habits at table!'

'Can we ever hope to get them over it?'

'When Priscy drinks Port and Pempton munches beef, Colney says.'

'I should say, when they feel warmly enough to think little of their

'Fire smoothes the creases, yes; and fire is what they're both wanting
in. Though Priscy has Concert-pathos in her voice:--couldn't act a bit!
And Pempton's 'cello tones now and then have gone through me--simply from
his fiddle-bow, I believe. Don't talk to me of feeling in a couple,
within reach of one another and sniffing objections.--Good, then, for a
successful day to-day so far?'

He neared her, wooing her; and she assented, with a franker smile than
she had worn through the day.

The common burden on their hearts--the simple discussion to come of the
task of communicating dire actualities to their innocent Nesta--was laid


Admiration of an enemy or oppressor doing great deeds
Aristocratic assumption of licence
But what is it we do (excepting cricket, of course)
Consent of circumstances
Continued trust in the man--is the alternative of despair
Critical fashion of intimates who know as well as hear
Despises hostile elements and goes unpunished
Dithyrambic inebriety of narration
Feminine; coming when she willed and flying when wanted
Fire smoothes the creases
Frankness as an armour over wariness
Half a dozen dozen left
Hard to bear, at times unbearable
Haremed opinion of the unfitness of women
He neared her, wooing her; and she assented
He never acknowledged a trouble, he dispersed it
He prattled, in the happy ignorance of compulsion
He sinks terribly when he sinks at all
Heathen vindictiveness declaring itself holy
If we are really for Nature, we are not lawless
In bottle if not on draught (oratory)
In the pay of our doctors
Intrusion of hard material statements, facts
Kelts, as they are called, can't and won't forgive injuries
Man with a material object in aim, is the man of his object
Nature and Law never agreed
Nature's logic, Nature's voice, for self-defence
Next door to the Last Trump
Obeseness is the most sensitive of our ailments
Once out of the rutted line, you are food for lion and jackal
One wants a little animation in a husband
People of a provocative prosperity
Self-deceiver may be a persuasive deceiver of another
She was not his match--To speak would be to succumb
Slap and pinch and starve our appetites
Smallest of our gratifications in life could give a happy tone
Smothered in its pudding-bed of the grotesque (obesity)
Snuffle of hypocrisy in her prayer
State of feverish patriotism
Statistics are according to their conjurors
Subterranean recess for Nature against the Institutions of Man
Tale, which leaves the man's mind at home
The effects of the infinitely little
The old confession, that we cannot cook(The English)
They do not live; they are engines
They helped her to feel at home with herself
Thought of differences with him caused frightful apprehensions
Unshamed exuberant male has found the sweet reverse in his mate
We cannot relinquish an idea that was ours
We've all a parlous lot too much pulpit in us

[The End]


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