Part 4 out of 9
with a soul. Here and there the thing has been found in women. It is
priceless when found, and she could not be acting. One might swear the
creature had no power to act.
She spoke without offence, the simplest of words, affected no
solicitudes, put on no gilt smiles, wore no reproaches: spoke to him as
if so it happened--he had necessarily a journey to perform. One could
see all the while big drops falling from the wound within. One could
hear it in her voice. Imagine a crack of the string at the bow's deep
stress. Or imagine the bow paralyzed at the moment of the deepest
sounding. And yet the voice did not waver. She had now the richness of
tone carrying on a music through silence.
Well, then, at least, he had not been the utterly duped fool he thought
himself since the consent was pledged to wed her.
More, she had beauty--of its kind. Or splendour or grandeur, was the
term for it. But it bore no name. None of her qualities--if they were
qualities--had a name. She stood with a dignity that the word did not
express. She endured meekly, when there was no meekness. Pain breathed
out of her, and not a sign of pain was visible. She had, under his
present observation of her, beauty, with the lines of her face breaking
in revolt from beauty--or requiring a superterrestrial illumination to
show the harmony. He, as he now saw, had erred grossly in supposing her
insensitive, and therefore slow of a woman's understanding. She drew the
breath of pain through the lips: red lips and well cut. Her brown eyes
were tearless, not alluring or beseeching or repelling; they did but
look, much like the skies opening high aloof on a wreck of storm. Her
reddish hair-chestnut, if you will--let fall a skein over one of the
rugged brows, and softened the ruggedness by making it wilder, as if a
great bird were winging across a shoulder of the mountain ridges.
Conceived of the mountains, built in their image, the face partook
alternately of mountain terror or splendour; wholly, he remembered,
of the splendour when her blood ran warm. No longer the chalk-quarry
face,--its paleness now was that of night Alps beneath a moon chasing the
She might be casting her spells again.
'You remember I told you,' he said, 'I have given my word--I don't break
it--to be at a Ball. Your uncle was urgent to have the ceremony over.
These clashes occur. The people here--I have spoken of that: people of
good repute for attention to guests. I am uncertain of the time . . .
we have all to learn to wait. So then, good-bye till we meet.'
He was experiencing a novel nip of torment, of just the degree which
takes a partial appeasement from the inflicting of it, and calls up a
loathed compassion. She might have been in his arms for a step, though
she would not have been the better loved.
He was allowed his escape, bearing with him enough of husband to execrate
another enslaving pledge of his word, that begat a frenzy to wreak some
caresses on the creature's intolerably haunting image. Of course, he
could not return to her. How would she receive him? There was no salt
in the thought of it; she was too submissive.
However, there would be fun with Chummy Potts on the drive to Canleys;
fun with Rufus Abrane at Mrs. Cowper Quillett's; and with the Countess
Livia, smothered, struggling, fighting for life with the title of
Dowager. A desire for unbridled fun had hold of any amount of it, to
excess in any direction. And though this cloud as a dry tongue after
much wine craves water, glimpses of his tramp's walk with a fellow tramp
on a different road, enjoying strangely healthy vagabond sensations and
vast ideas; brought the vagrant philosopher refreshfully to his mind:
chiefly for the reason that while in Woodseer's company he had hardly
suffered a stroke of pain from the thought of Henrietta. She was now a
married woman, he was a married man by the register. Stronger proof of
the maddest of worlds could not be furnished.
Sane in so mad a world, a man is your flabby citizen among outlaws, good
for plucking. Fun, at any cost, is the one object worth a shot in such a
world. And the fun is not to stop. If it does, we are likely to be got
hold of, and lugged away to the altar--the terminus. That foul disaster
has happened, through our having temporarily yielded to a fit of the
dumps and treated a mad world's lunatic issue with some seriousness. But
fun shall be had with the aid of His Highness below. The madder the
world, the madder the fun. And the mixing in it of another element,
which it has to beguile us--romance--is not at all bad cookery. Poetic
romance is delusion--a tale of a Corsair; a poet's brain, a bottle of
gin, and a theatrical wardrobe. Comic romance is about us everywhere,
alive for the tapping.
A daughter of the Old Buccaneer should participate in it by right of
birth: she would expect it in order to feel herself perfectly at home.
Then, be sure, she finds an English tongue and prattles away as merrily
as she does when her old scapegrace of a father is the theme. Son-in-law
to him! But the path of wisdom runs in the line of facts, and to have
wild fun and romance on this pantomime path, instead of kicking to break
away from it, we follow things conceived by the genius of the situation,
for the delectation of the fair Countess of Fleetwood and the earl, her
delighted husband, quite in the spirit of the Old Buccaneer, father of
Carinthia sat beside the fire, seeing nothing in the room or on the road.
Up in her bedchamber, the girl Madge was at her window. She saw Lord
Fleetwood standing alone, laughing, it seemed, at some thought; he threw
up his head. Was it a newly married man leaving his bride and laughing?
The bride was a dear lady, fit for better than to be driven to look on at
a prize-fight--a terrible scene to a lady. She was left solitary: and
this her wedding day? The earl had said it, he had said she bore his
name, spoke of coming from the altar, and the lady had blushed to hear
herself called Miss. The pressure of her hand was warm with Madge: her
situation roused the fervid latent sisterhood in the breast of women.
Before he mounted the coach, Lord Fleetwood talked to Kit Ives. He
pointed at an upper window, seemed to be issuing directions. Kit nodded;
he understood it, whatever it was. You might have said, a pair of
burglars. The girl ran downstairs to bid her lover good-bye and show him
she really rejoiced in his victory. Kit came to her saying: 'Given my
word of honour I won't make a beast of myself to-night. Got to watch
over you and your lady.'
Lord Fleetwood started his fresh team, casting no glance at the windows
of the room where his bride was. He and the gentlemen on the coach were
His leaving of his young bride to herself this day was classed among the
murky flashes which distinguished the deeds of noblemen. But his
laughter on leaving her stamped it a cruelty; of the kind that plain
mortals, who can be monsters, commit. Madge conceived a pretext for
going into the presence of her mistress, whose attitude was the same as
when she first sat in the chair. The lady smiled and said: 'He is not
hurt much?' She thought for them about her.
The girl's, heart of sympathy thumped, and her hero became a very minute
object. He had spoken previously of the making or not making a beast of
himself; without inflicting a picture of the beast. His words took shape
now, and in consequence a little self-pity began to move. It stirred to
swell the great wave of pity for the lady, that was in her bosom. 'Oh,
he!' she said, and extinguished the thought of him; and at once her
under-lip was shivering, her eyes filled and poured.
Carinthia rose anxiously. The girl dropped at her feet. 'You have been
so good to me to-day, my lady! so good to me to-day! I can't help it--
I don't often just for this moment; I've been excited. Oh, he's well, he
will do; he's nothing. You say "poor child!" But I'm not; it's only.
excitement. I do long to serve you the best I can.'
She stood up in obedience and had the arms of her young mistress pressing
her. Tears also were streaming from Carinthia's eyes. Heartily she
thanked the girl for the excuse to cry.
They were two women. On the road to Canleys, the coach conveying men
spouted with the lusty anecdote, relieved of the interdict of a
DOWN WHITECHAPEL WAY
Contention begets contention in a land of the pirate races. Gigs were
at high rival speed along the road from the battle-field to London.
They were the electrical wires of the time for an expectant population
bursting to have report of so thundering an event as the encounter of two
champion light weights, nursed and backed by a pair of gallant young
noblemen, pick of the whole row of coronets above. London panted gaping
and the gigs flew with the meat to fill it.
Chumley Potts offered Ambrose Mallard fair odds that the neat little trap
of the chief sporting journal, which had a reputation to maintain, would
be over one or other of the bridges crossing the Thames first. Mallard
had been struck by the neat little trap of an impudent new and lower-
priced journal, which had a reputation to gain. He took the proffered
odds, on the cry as of a cracker splitting. Enormous difficulties in
regard to the testimony and the verifications were discussed; they were
overcome. Potts was ready for any amount of trouble; Mallard the same.
There was clearly a race. There would consequently be a record. Visits
to the offices of those papers, perhaps half a day at the south end of
London or on Westminster bridge, examining witnesses, corner shopmen,
watermen, and the like, would or should satisfactorily establish the
Fleetwood had his fun; insomuch that he laughed himself into a sentiment
of humaneness toward the couple of donkeys and forgot his contempt of
them. Their gamblings and their bets increased his number of dependents;
and imbeciles were preferable to dolts or the dry gilt figures of the
circle he had to move in. Matter for some astonishment had been
furnished to the latter this day; and would cause an icy Signor stare
and rather an angry Signora flutter. A characteristic of that upper
circle, as he knew it, is, that the good are dull, the vicious very bad.
They had nothing to please him but manners. Elsewhere this land is a
land of no manners. Take it and make the most of it, then, for its
quality of brute honesty: which is found to flourish best in the British
His irony landed him there. It struck the country a ringing blow. But
it struck an almost effacing one at the life of the young nobleman of
boundless wealth, whose highest renown was the being a patron of
prizefighters. Husband of the daughter of the Old Buccaneer as well!
perchance as a result. That philosopher tramp named her 'beautiful
Gorgon.' She has no beauty; and as for Gorgon, the creature has a look
of timid softness in waiting behind her rocky eyes. A barbaric damsel
beginning to nibble at civilization, is nearer the mark; and ought she to
Fleetwood's wrath with his position warned him against the dupery of any
such alcove thoughts. For his wrath revenged him, and he feared the
being stripped of it, lest a certain fund of his own softness, that he
knew of; though few did, should pull him to the creature's feet. She
belonged to him indeed; so he might put her to the trial of whether she
had a heart and personal charm, without the ceremony of wooing--which,
in his case, tempted to the feeling desperately earnest and becoming
enslaved. He speculated upon her eyelids and lips, and her voice, when
melting, as women do in their different ways; here and there with an
execrable--perhaps pardonable--art; one or two divinely. The vision drew
him to a headlong plunge and swim of the amorous mind, occupying a
minute, filling an era. He corrected the feebleness, and at the same
time threw a practical coachman's glance on peculiarities of the road,
requiring some knowledge of it if traversed backward at a whipping pace
on a moonless night. The drive from Canleys to the Royal Sovereign could
be done by good pacers in an hour and a half, little more--with Ives and
the stables ready, and some astonishment in a certain unseen chamber.
Fleetwood chuckled at a vision of romantic devilry--perfectly legitimate
too. Something, more to inflict than enjoy, was due to him.
He did, not phrase it, that a talk with the fellow Woodseer of his
mountains and his forests, and nature, philosophy, poetry, would have
been particularly healthy for him, almost as good as the good counsel be
needed and solicited none to give him. It swept among his ruminations
while he pricked Potts and Mallard to supply his craving for satanical
Gower Woodseer; the mention of whom is a dejection to the venerable
source of our story, was then in the act of emerging from the Eastward
into the Southward of the line of Canterbury's pilgrims when they set
forth to worship, on his homeward course, after a walk of two days out of
Dover. He descended London's borough, having exactly twopence halfpenny
for refreshment; following a term of prudent starvation, at the end of
the walk. It is not a district seductive to the wayfarer's appetite;
as, for example, one may find the Jew's fry of fish in oil, inspiriting
the Shoreditch region, to be. Nourishment is afforded, according to the
laws of England's genius in the arts of refection, at uninviting shops,
to the necessitated stomach. A penn'orth of crumb of bread, assisted on
its laborious passage by a penn'orth of the rinsings of beer, left the
natural philosopher a ha'penny for dessert at the stall of an applewoman,
where he withstood an inclination toward the juicy fruit and chose nuts.
They extend a meal, as a grimace broadens the countenance, illusorily;
but they help to cheat an emptiness in time, where it is nearly as
offensive to our sensations as within us; and that prolonged occupation
of the jaws goes a length to persuade us we are filling. All the better
when the substance is indigestible. Tramps of the philosophical order,
who are the practically sagacious, prefer tough grain for the teeth.
Woodseer's munching of his nuts awakened to fond imagination the picture
of his father's dinner, seen one day and little envied: a small slice of
cold boiled mutton-flesh in a crescent of white fat, with a lump of dry
bread beside the plate.
Thus he returned to the only home he had, not disheartened, and bearing
scenes that outvied London's print-shops for polychrome splendour, an
exultation to recall. His condition, moreover, threw his father's life
and work into colour: the lean Whitechapel house of the minister among
the poor; the joy in the saving of souls, if he could persuade himself
that such good labour advanced: and at the fall of light, the pastime
task of bootmaking--a desireable occupation for a thinker. Thought flies
best when the hands are easily busy. Cobblers have excursive minds.
Their occasional rap at the pegs diversifies the stitchings and is often
happily timed to settle an internal argument. Seek in a village for
information concerning the village or the state of mankind, you will be
less disappointed at the cobbler's than elsewhere, it has been said.
As Gower had anticipated, with lively feelings of pleasure, Mr. Woodseer
was at the wonted corner of his back room, on the stool between two
tallow candleflames, leather scented strongly, when the wanderer stood
before him, in the image of a ball that has done with circling about a
'Back?' the minister sang out at once, and his wrinkles gleamed:
Their hands grasped.
'Hungry, sir, rather.'
'To be sure, you are. One can read it on your boots. Mrs. Jones will
spread you a table. How many miles to-day? Show the soles. They tell a
tale of wear.'
They had worn to resemble the thin-edged layers of still upper cloud
round the peep of coming sky.
'About forty odd to-day, sir. They've done their hundreds of miles and
have now come to dock. I 'll ask Mrs. Jones to bring me a plate here.'
Gower went to the housekeeper in the kitchen. His father's front door
was unfastened by day; she had not set eyes on him yet, and Mr. Woodseer
'Now she's got the boy. There 's clasping and kissing. He's all wild
Wales to her.'
The plate of meat was brought by Mary Jones with Gower beside her, and a
sniffle of her happiness audible. She would not, although invited to
stay and burning to hear Gower, wait in the room where father and son had
to talk together after a separation, long to love's counting. She was a
Welshwoman of the pure blood, therefore delicately mannered by nature.
'Yes, dear lad, tobacco helps you on to the marrow of your story, and I
too will blow the cloud,' said Mr. Woodseer, when the plate was pushed
aside and the pipe appeared.
So Gower's recital of his wanderings began, more puffs than speech at the
commencement. He was alternately picturesque and sententious until he
reached Baden; there he became involved, from thinking of a revelation of
beauty in woman.
Mr. Woodseer rapped the leather on his block.
'A place where they have started public gambling, I am told.'
'We must look into all the corners of the world to know it, sir, and the
world has to be riddled or it riddles us.'
'Ah. Did you ever tell a lie, Gower Woodseer?'
'You played. The Lord be thanked you have kept your straight tongue!
The Lord can always enter a heart of truth. Sin cannot dwell with it.
But you played for gain, and that was a licenced thieving; and that was a
backsliding; and there will have to be a climbing up. And what that
means, your hold on truth will learn. Touch sin and you accommodate
yourself to its vileness. Ay, you love nature. Nature is not anchorage
for vessels like men. If you loved the Book you would float in harbour.
You played. I do trust you lost.'
'You have your wish, sir.'
'To have won their money, Gower! Rather starve.'
'Your reason for playing, poor lad?'
'The reason eludes reason.'
'Not in you.'
'Sight of the tables; an itch to try them--one's self as well; a notion
that the losers were playing wrong. In fine, a bit of a whirl of a
medley of atoms; I can't explain it further.'
'Ah. The tippler's fumes in his head! Spotty business, Gower Woodseer.
"Lead us not into temptation" is worldly wisdom in addition to heavenly.'
After listening to an extended homily, with a general assent and
tobacco's phlegm, Gower replied to his father's 'You starved manfully?'
nodding: 'From Baden to Nancy. An Alsatian cottager at times helped me
along, milk and bread.'
'Wholesome for body and for soul.'
'Entering Nancy I subscribed to the dictum of our first fathers, which
dogs would deliver, if they could speak: that there is no driver like
stomach: and I went head on to the College, saw the Principal: plea of
urgency. No engagement possible, to teach either French or English. But
he was inquisitive touching the urgency. That was my chance. The French
are humane when they are not suspicious of you. They are generous, if
you put a light to their minds. As I was dealing with a scholarly one,
I made use of such ornamental literary skill as I possessed, to prove
urgency. He supplied me with bread, fruit, and wine. In the end he
procured me pupils. I lodged over a baker's shop. I had food walks, and
learnt something of forestry there--a taking study. When I had saved
enough to tramp it home, I said my adieux to that good friend and tramped
away, entering London with about the same amount in small coin as when I
entered Nancy. A manner of exactly hitting the mark, that some would not
find so satisfactory as it is to me.'
The minister sighed. 'There comes in the "philosophy," I suppose. When
will you understand, that this "philosophy" is only the passive of a
religious faith? It seems to suit you gentlemen of the road while you
are young. Work among the Whitechapel poor. It would be a way for
discovering the shallows of your "philosophy" earlier.'
Gower asked him: 'Going badly here, sir?'
'Murders, robberies, misusage of women, and misconduct of women!--Drink,
in short: about the same amount. Drink is their death's river, rolling
them on helpless as corpses, on to--may they find mercy! I and a few
stand--it's in the tide we stand here, to stop them, pluck them out, make
life a bit sweet to them before the poor bodies go beneath. But come!
all's not dark, we have our gleams. I speak distressed by one of our
girls: a good girl, I believe; and the wilfullest that ever had command
of her legs. A well-favoured girl! You'll laugh, she has given her
heart to a prize-fighter. Well, you can say, she might have chosen
worse. He drinks, she hates it; she loves the man and hates his vice.
He swears amendment, is hiccupping at night; fights a match on the
morrow, and gets beaten out of formation. No matter: whenever, wherever,
that man goes to his fight, that girl follows to nurse him after it.
He's her hero. Women will have one, and it's their lottery. You read of
such things; here we have it alive and walking. I am led to think they
're an honest couple. They come of established families. Her mother was
out of Caermarthen; died under my ministration, saintly, forgiving the
drunkard. You may remember the greengrocer, Tobias Winch? He passed
away in shrieks for one drop. I had to pitch my voice to the top notes
to get hearing for the hymn. He was a reverent man, with the craving by
fits. That should have been a lesson to Madge.'
'A little girl at the greengrocer's hard by? She sold me apples; rather
pretty,' said Gower.
'A fine grown girl now--Madge Winch; a comely wench she is. It breaks
her sister Sarah's heart. They both manage the little shop; they make it
prosper in a small way; enough, and what need they more? Then
Christopher Ines has on one of his matches. Madge drives her cart out,
if it 's near town. She's off down into Kent to-day by coach, Sarah
tells me. A great nobleman patronizes Christopher; a Lord Fleetwood,
a lord of wealth. And he must be thoughtful for these people: he sent
Sarah word that Christopher should not touch drink. You may remember a
butcher Ines in the street next to us. Christopher was a wild lad,
always at "best man" with every boy he met: went to sea--ran away. He
returned a pugilist. The girl will be nursing him now. I have spoken to
her of him; and I trust to her; but I mourn her attachment to the man who
'The lord's name?' said Gower.
'Lord Fleetwood, Sarah named him. And so it pleases him to spend his
'He has other tastes. I know something of him, sir. He promises to be a
patron of Literature as well. His mother was a South Wales woman.'
'Could he be persuaded to publish a grand edition of the Triads?' Mr.
Woodseer said at once.
'No man more likely.'
'If you see him, suggest it.'
'Very little chance of my meeting him again. But those Triads! They're
in our blood. They spring to tie knots in the head. They push me to
condense my thoughts to a tight ball. They were good for primitive
times: but they--or the trick of the mind engendered by them--trip my
steps along the lines of composition. I produce pellets instead of
flowing sheets. It'll come right. At present I 'm so bent to pick and
perfect, polish my phrase, that I lose my survey. As a consequence, my
'Ah,' Mr. Woodseer breathed and smote. 'This Literature is to be your
profession for the means of living?'
'Nothing else. And I'm so low down in the market way of it, that I could
not count on twenty pounds per annum. Fifty would give me standing, an
'To whom are you crying, Gower?'
'Not to gamble, you may be sure.'
'You have a home.'
'Good work of the head wants an easy conscience. I've too much of you in
me for a comfortable pensioner.'
'Or is it not, that you have been living the gentleman out there, with
just a holiday title to it?'
Gower was hit by his father's thrust. 'I shall feel myself a pieman's
chuckpenny as long as I'm unproductive, now I 've come back and have to
own to a home,' he said.
Tea brought in by Mrs. Mary Jones rather brightened him until he
considered that the enlivenment was due to a purchase by money,
of which he was incapable, and he rejected it, like an honourable man.
Simultaneously, the state of depression threw critic shades on a prized
sentence or two among his recent confections. It was rejected for the
best of reasons and the most discomforting: because it racked our
English; signifying, that he had not yet learnt the right use of his
He was in this wrestle, under a placid demeanour, for several days,
hearing the shouts of Whitechapel Kit's victory, and hearing of Sarah
Winch's anxiety on account of her sister Madge; unaffected by sounds of
joy or grief, in his effort to produce a supple English, with Baden's
Madonna for sole illumination of his darkness. To her, to the
illimitable gold-mist of perspective and the innumerable images the
thought of her painted for him, he owed the lift which withdrew him from
contemplation of himself in a very disturbing stagnant pool of the
wastes; wherein often will strenuous youth, grown faint, behold a face
beneath a scroll inscribed Impostor. All whose aim was high have spied
into that pool, and have seen the face. His glorious lady would not let
it haunt him.
The spell she cast had likewise power to raise him clean out of a
neighbourhood hinting Erebus to the young man with thirst for air,
solitudes, and colour. Scarce imaginable as she was, she reigned here,
in the idea of her, more fixedly than where she had been visible; as it
were, by right of her being celestially removed from the dismal place.
He was at the same time not insensible to his father's contented
ministrations among these homes of squalor; they pricked the curiosity,
which was in the youthful philosopher a form of admiration. For his
father, like all Welshmen, loved the mountains. Yet here he lived,
exhorting, ministering, aiding, supported up to high good cheer by some,
it seemed, superhuman backbone of uprightness;--his religious faith?
Well, if so, the thing might be studied. But things of the frozen
senses, lean and hueless things, were as repellent to Gower's imagination
as his father's dishes to an epicure. What he envied was, the worthy old
man's heart of feeling for others: his feeling at present for the girl
Sarah Winch and her sister Madge, who had not been heard of since she
started for the fight. Mr. Woodseer had written to her relatives at the
Wells, receiving no consolatory answer.
He was relieved at last; and still a little perplexed. Madge had
returned, he informed Gower. She was well, she was well in health; he
had her assurances that she was not excited about herself.
'She has brought a lady with her, a great lady to lodge with her. She
has brought the Countess of Fleetwood to lodge with her.'
Gower heard those words from his father; and his father repeated them.
To the prostrate worshipper of the Countess of Fleetwood, they were a
blow on the head; madness had set in here, was his first recovering
thought, or else a miracle had come to pass. Or was it a sham Countess
of Fleetwood imposing upon the girl? His father was to go and see the
great lady, at the greengrocer's shop; at her request, according to
Madge. Conjectures shot their perishing tracks across a darkness that
deepened and made shipwreck of philosophy. Was it the very Countess of
Fleetwood penitent for her dalliance with the gambling passion, in
feminine need of pastor's aid, having had report from Madge of this good
shepherd? His father expressed a certain surprise; his countenance was
mild. He considered it a merely strange occurrence.
Perhaps, in a crisis, a minister of religion is better armed than a
philosopher. Gower would not own that, but he acknowledged the
evidences, and owned to envy; especially when he accompanied his father
to the greengrocer's shop, and Mr. Woodseer undisturbedly said:
'Here is the place.' The small stuffed shop appeared to grow
portentously cavernous and waveringly illumined.
THE GIRL MADGE
Customers were at the counter of the shop, and these rational figures,
together with the piles of cabbages, the sacks of potatoes, the pale
small oranges here and there, the dominant smell of red herrings, denied
the lurking of an angelical presence behind them.
Sarah Winch and a boy served at the counter. Sarah led the Mr. Woodseers
into a corner knocked off the shop and called a room. Below the top bars
of a wizened grate was a chilly fire. London's light came piecemeal
through a smut-streaked window. If the wonderful was to occur, this was
the place to heighten it.
'My son may be an intruder,' Mr. Woodseer said. 'He is acquainted with a
Lord Fleetwood . . .'
'Madge will know, sir,' replied Sarah, and she sent up a shrill cry for
Madge from the foot of the stairs.
The girl ran down swiftly. She entered listening to Sarah, looking at
Gower; to whom, after a bob and pained smile where reverence was owing,
she said, 'Can you tell me, sir, please, where we can find Lord Fleetwood
Gower was unable to tell. Madge turned to Mr. Woodseer, saying soon
after: 'Oh, she won't mind; she'll be glad, if he knows Lord Fleetwood.
I'll fetch her.'
The moments were of the palpitating order for Gower, although his common
sense lectured the wildest of hearts for expecting such a possibility as
the presence of his lofty lady here.
And, of course, common sense proved to be right: the lady was quite
another. But she struck on a sleeping day of his travels. Her face was
not one to be forgotten, and to judge by her tremble of a smile, she
remembered him instantly.
They were soon conversing, each helping to paint the scene of the place
where they had met.
'Lord Fleetwood has married me,' she said.
Gower bent his head; all stood silent.
'May I?' said Madge to her. 'It is Lord Fleetwood's wedded wife, sir.
He drove her from her uncle's, on her wedding day, the day of a prize-
fight, where I was; he told me to wait on his lady at an inn there, as I
've done and will. He drove away that evening, and he hasn't'--the
girl's black eyebrows worked: 'I've not seen him since. He's a great
nobleman, yes. He left his lady at the inn, expenses paid. He left her
with no money. She stayed on till her heart was breaking. She has come
to London to find him. She had to walk part of the way. She has only a
change of linen we brought in a parcel. She's a stranger to England: she
knows nobody in London. She had no place to come to but this poor hole
of ours she 's so good as let welcome her. We can't do better, and it 's
no use to be ashamed. She 's not a lady to scorn poor people.'
The girl's voice hummed through Gower.
He said: 'Lord Fleetwood may not be in London,' and chafed at himself for
such a quaver.
'It's his house we want, sir, he has not been at his house in Kent. We
want his London house.'
'My dear lady,' said Mr. Woodseer; 'it might be as well to communicate
the state of things to your family without delay. My son will call at
any address you name; or if it is a country address, I can write the
items, with my assurances of your safety under my charge, in my house,
which I beg you to make your home. My housekeeper is known to Sarah and
Madge for an excellent Christian woman.'
Carinthia replied: 'You are kind to me, sir. I am grateful. I have an
uncle; I would not disturb my uncle; he is inventing guns and he wishes
peace. It is my husband I have come to find. He did not leave me in
She coloured. With a dimple of tenderness at one cheek, looking from
Sarah to Madge, she said: 'I would not leave my friends; they are sisters
to me.' Sarah, at these words, caught up her apron. Madge did no more
than breathe deep and fast.
An unoccupied cold parlour in Mr. Woodseer's house that would be heated
for a guest, urged him to repeat his invitation, but he took the check
from Gower, who suggested the doubt of Mary Jones being so good an
attendant upon Lady Fleetwood as Madge. 'And Madge has to help in the
shop at times.'
Madge nodded, looked into the eyes of her mistress, which sanctioned her
saying: 'She will like it best here, she is my lady and I understand her
best. My lady gives no trouble: she is hardy, she's not like other
ladies. I and Sarah sleep together in the room next. I can hear
anything she wants. She takes us as if she was used to it.'
Sarah had to go to serve a customer. Madge made pretence of pricking her
ears and followed into the shop.
'Your first visit to London is in ugly weather, Lady Fleetwood,' said
'It is my first,' she answered.
How the marriage came about, how the separation, could not be asked and
was not related.
'Our district is not all London, my dear lady,' said Mr. Woodseer.
'Good hearts are here, as elsewhere, and as many, if one looks behind the
dirt. I have found it since I laboured amongst them, now twenty years.
Unwashed human nature, though it is natural to us to wash, is the most
human, we find.'
Gower questioned the naturalness of human nature's desire to wash; and
they wrangled good-humouredly, Carinthia's eyes dwelling on them each in
turn; until Mr. Woodseer, pursuing the theme started by him to interest
her, spoke of consolations derived from his labours here, in exchange for
the loss of his mountains. Her face lightened.
'You love the mountains?'
'I am a son of the mountains.'
'Ah, I love them! Father called me a daughter of the mountains. I was
born in the mountains. I was leaving my mountains on the day, I think it
yesterday, when I met this gentleman who is your son.'
'A glorious day it was!' Gower exclaimed.
'It was a day of great glory for me,' said Carinthia. 'Your foot did not
pain you for long?'
'The length of two pipes. You were with your brother.'
'With my brother. My brother has married a most beautiful lady. He is
now travelling his happy time--my Chillon !'
There came a radiance on her under-eyelids. There was no weeping.
Struck by the contrast between the two simultaneous honeymoons, and a
vision of the high-spirited mountain girl, seen in this place a young
bride seeking her husband, Gower Woodseer could have performed that
unphilosophical part. He had to shake himself. She seemed really a
soaring bird brought down by the fowler.
Lord Fleetwood's manner of abandoning her was the mystery.
Gower stood waiting for her initiative, when the minister interposed:
'There are books, books of our titled people-the Peers, books of the
Peerage. They would supply the address. My son will discover where to
examine them. He will find the address. Most of the great noblemen have
a London house.'
'My husband has a house in London,' Carinthia said.
'I know him, to some degree,' said Gower.
She remarked: 'I have heard that you do.'
Her lips were shut, as to any hint at his treatment of her.
Gower went into the shop to speak with Madge. The girl was talking in
the business tone to customers; she finished her commission hurriedly and
joined him on the pavement by the doorstep. Her voice was like the
change for the swing of a door from street to temple.
'You've seen how brave she is, sir. She has things to bear. Never
cries, never frets. Her marriage day--leastways . . . I can't, no
girl can tell. A great nobleman, yes. She waited, believing in him;
she does. She hasn't spoken to me of what she's had to bear. I don't
know; I guess; I'm sure I'm right--and him a man! Girls learn to know
men, call them gentlemen or sweeps. She thinks she has only to meet him
to persuade him she 's fit to be loved by him. She thinks of love.
Would he--our tongues are tied except among ourselves to a sister.
Leaves her by herself, with only me, after--it knocks me dumb! Many a
man commits a murder wouldn't do that. She could force him to--no, it
isn't a house she wants, she wants him. He's her husband, Mr. Woodseer.
You will do what you can to help; I judge by your father. I and Sarah
'll slave for her to be as comfortable--as we--can make her; we can't
give her what she 's used to. I shall count the hours.'
'You sold me apples when your head was just above the counter,' said
'Did I?--you won't lose time, sir?' she rejoined. 'Her box is down at
the beastly inn in Kent. Kind people, I dare say; their bill was paid
any extent, they said. And he might do as he liked in it--enter it like
a thief, if it pleased him, and off like one, and they no wiser. She
walked to his big house Esslemont for news of him. And I'm not a
snivelling wench either; but she speaks of him a way to make a girl
drink her tears, if they ain't to be let fall.'
'But you had a victory down there,' Gower hinted congratulations.
'Ah,' said she.
'Christopher Ines is all right now?'
'I've as good as lost my good name for Kit Ines, Mr. Woodseer.'
'Not with my dad, Madge.'
'The minister reads us at the heart. Shall we hear the street of his
house in London before night?'
'I may be late.'
'I'll be up, any hour, for a rap at the shutters. I want to take her to
the house early next morning. She won't mind the distance. She lies in
bed, her eyes shut or open, never sleeping, hears any mouse. It
shouldn't go on, if we can do a thing to help.'
'I'm off,' said Gower, unwontedly vexed at his empty pocket, that could
not offer the means for conveyance to a couple of young women.
The dark-browed girl sent her straight eyes at him. They pushed him to
hasten. On second thoughts, he stopped and hailed her; he was moved to
confirm an impression of this girl's features.
His mind was directed to the business burning behind them, honestly
enough, as soon as he had them in sight again.
'I ought to have the address of some of her people, in case,' he said.
'She won't go to her uncle, I 'm sure of that,' said Madge. 'He 's a
lord and can't be worried. It 's her husband to find first.'
'If he's to be found!--he's a lord, too. Has she no other relatives or
'She loves her brother. He's an officer. He's away on honeymoon.
There 's an admiral down Hampshire way, a place I've been near and seen.
I'd not have you go to any of them, sir, without trying all we can do to
find Lord Fleetwood. It's Admiral Fakenham she speaks of; she's fond of
him. She's not minded to bother any of her friends about herself.'
'I shall see you to-night,' said Gower, and set his face Westward,
remembering that his father had named Caermarthen as her mother's
Just in that tone of hers do Welshwomen talk of their country; of its
history, when at home, of its mountains, when exiled: and in a language
like hers, bare of superlatives to signify an ardour conveyed by the fire
of the breath. Her quick devotion to a lady exciting enthusiasm through
admiring pity for the grace of a much-tried quiet sweetness, was
explained; apart from other reasons, feminine or hidden, which might
exist. Only a Welsh girl would be so quick and all in it, with a voice
intimating a heated cauldron under her mouth. None but a Welsh-blooded
girl, risking her good name to follow and nurse the man she considered a
hero, would carry her head to look virgin eyes as she did. One could
swear to them, Gower thought. Contact with her spirited him out of his
He had the Cymric and Celtic respect of character; which puts aside the
person's environments to face the soul. He was also an impressionable
fellow among his fellows, a philosopher only at his leisure, in his
courted solitudes. Getting away some strides from this girl of the
drilling voice,--the shudder-voice, he phrased it,--the lady for whom she
pleaded came clearer into his view and gradually absorbed him; though it
was an emulation with the girl Madge, of which he was a trifle conscious,
that drove him to do his work of service in the directest manner. He
then fancied the girl had caught something of the tone of her lady: the
savage intensity or sincerity; and he brooded on Carinthia's position,
the mixture of the astounding and the woful in her misadventure. One
could almost laugh at our human fate, to think of a drop off the radiant
mountain heights upon a Whitechapel greengrocer's shop, gathering the
title of countess midway.
But nothing of the ludicrous touched her; no, and if we bring reason to
scan our laugh at pure humanity, it is we who are in the place of the
ridiculous, for doing what reason disavows. Had he not named her,
Carinthia, Saint and Martyr, from a first perusal of her face? And Lord
Fleetwood had read and repeated it. Lord Fleetwood had become the
instrument to martyrize her? That might be; there was a hoard of bad
stuff in his composition besides the precious: and this was a nobleman
owning enormous wealth, who could vitiate himself by disposing of a
multitude of men and women to serve his will, a shifty will. Wealth
creates the magician, and may breed the fiend within him. In the hands
of a young man, wealth is an invitation to devilry. Gower's idea of the
story of Carinthia inclined to charge Lord Fleetwood with every possible
false dealing. He then quashed the charge, and decided to wait for
At the second of the aristocratic Clubs of London's West, into which he
stepped like an easy member, the hall-porter did not examine his clothing
from German hat to boots, and gave him Lord Fleetwood's town address.
He could tell Madge at night by the door of the shuttered shop, that Lord
Fleetwood had gone down to Wales.
'It means her having to wait,' she said. 'The minister has been to the
coach-office, to order up her box from that inn. He did it in his name;
they can't refuse; no money's owing. She must have a change. Sally has
fifteen pounds locked up in case of need.'
Sally's capacity and economy fetched the penniless philosopher a slap.
'You've taken to this lady,' he said.
'She held my hand, while Kit Ines was at his work; and I was new to her,
and a prize-fighter's lass, they call me:--upon the top of that
nobleman's coach, where he made me sit, behind her, to see the fight;
and she his wedded lady that morning. A queer groom. He may keep Kit
Ines from drink, he's one of you men, and rides over anything in his way.
I can't speak about it; I could swear it before a judge, from what I
know. Those Rundles at that inn don't hear anything it suits him to do.
All the people down in those parts are slaves to him. And I thought he
was a real St. George before,--yes, ready I was to kiss the ground his
feet crossed. If you could, it's Chinningfold near where Admiral
Fakenham lives, down Hampshire way. Her friends ought to hear what's
happened to her. They'll find her in a queer place. She might go to the
minister's. I believe she's happier with us girls.'
Gower pledged his word to start for Chinningfold early as the light next
day. He liked the girl the better, in an amicable fashion, now that his
nerves had got free of the transient spell of her kettle tone--the hardly
varied one note of a heart boiling with sisterly devotion to a misused
stranger of her sex;--and, after the way of his race, imagination sprang
up in him, at the heels of the quieted senses, releasing him from the
personal and physical to grasp the general situation and place the
He thought of Carinthia, with full vision of her. Some wrong had been
done, or some violation of the right, to guess from the girl Madge's
molten words in avoidance of the very words. It implied--though it might
be but one of Love's shrewder discords--such suspected traitorous dealing
of a man with their sister woman as makes the world of women all woman
toward her. They can be that, and their being so illuminates their
hidden sentiments in relation to the mastering male, whom they uphold.
But our uninformed philosopher was merely picking up scraps of sheddings
outside the dark wood of the mystery they were to him, and playing
imagination upon them. This primary element of his nature soon enthroned
his chosen lady above their tangled obscurities. Beneath her tranquil
beams, with the rapture of the knowledge that her name on earth was
Livia, he threaded East London's thoroughfares,--on a morning when day
and night were made one by fog, to journey down to Chinningfold, by
coach, in the service of the younger Countess of Fleetwood, whose right
to the title he did not doubt, though it directed surprise movements at
his understanding from time to time.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Cock-sure has crowed low by sunset
Drink is their death's river, rolling them on helpless
Father and she were aware of one another without conversing
Fun, at any cost, is the one object worth a shot
He was the prisoner of his word
Heartily she thanked the girl for the excuse to cry
Hearts that make one soul do not separately count their gifts
Life is the burlesque of young dreams
Make a girl drink her tears, if they ain't to be let fall
On a morning when day and night were made one by fog
Poetic romance is delusion
Push me to condense my thoughts to a tight ball
She endured meekly, when there was no meekness
She seemed really a soaring bird brought down by the fowler
She stood with a dignity that the word did not express
There is no driver like stomach
Touch sin and you accommodate yourself to its vileness
You played for gain, and that was a licenced thieving
THE AMAZING MARRIAGE
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XX. STUDIES IN FOG, GOUT, AN OLD SEAMAN, A LOVELY SERPENT, AND THE
MORAL EFFECTS THAT MAY COME OF A BORROWED SHIRT
XXI. IN WHICH WE HAVE FURTHER GLIMPSES OF THE WONDROUS MECHANISM OF
OUR YOUNGER MAN
XXII. A RIGHT-MINDED GREAT LADY
XXIII. IN DAME GOSSIP'S VEIN
XXIV. A KIDNAPPING AND NO GREAT HARM
XXV. THE PHILOSOPHER MAN OF ACTION
XXVI. AFTER SOME FENCING THE DAME PASSES OUR GUARD
XXVII. WE DESCEND INTO A STEAMER'S ENGINE-ROOM
XXVIII. BY CONCESSIONS TO MISTRESS GOSSIP A FURTHER INTRUSION IS
STUDIES IN FOG, GOUT, AN OLD SEAMAN, A LOVELY SERPENT, AND THE MORAL
EFFECTS THAT MAY COME OF A BORROWED SHIRT
Money of his father's enabled Gower to take the coach; and studies in
fog, from the specked brown to the woolly white, and the dripping torn,
were proposed to the traveller, whose preference of Nature's face did not
arrest his observation of her domino and petticoats; across which blank
sheets he curiously read backward, that he journeyed by the aid of his
father's hard-earned, ungrudged piece of gold. Without it, he would have
been useless in this case of need. The philosopher could starve with
equanimity, and be the stronger. But one had, it seemed here clearly, to
put on harness and trudge along a line, if the unhappy were to have one's
help. Gradual experiences of his business among his fellows were
teaching an exercised mind to learn in regions where minds unexercised
were doctorial giants beside it.
The study of gout was offered at Chinningfold. Admiral Fakenham's butler
refused at first to take a name to his master. Gower persisted, stating
the business of his mission; and in spite of the very suspicious glib
good English spoken by a man wearing such a hat and suit, the butler was
induced to consult Mrs. Carthew.
She sprang up alarmed. After having seen the young lady happily married
and off with her lordly young husband, the arrival of a messenger from
the bride gave a stir the wrong way to her flowing recollections; the
scenes and incidents she had smothered under her love of the comfortable
stood forth appallingly. The messenger, the butler said, was no
gentleman. She inspected Gower and heard him speak. An anomaly had come
to the house; for he had the language of a gentleman, the appearance of a
nondescript; he looked indifferent, he spoke sympathetically; and he was
frank as soon as the butler was out of hearing. In return for the
compliment, she invited him to her sitting-room. The story of the young
countess, whom she had seen driven away by her husband from the church in
a coach and four, as being now destitute, praying to see her friends, in
the Whitechapel of London--the noted haunt of thieves and outcasts,
bankrupts and the abandoned; set her asking for the first time, who was
the man with dreadful countenance inside the coach? A previously
disregarded horror of a man. She went trembling to the admiral, though
his health was delicate, his temper excitable. It was, she considered,
an occasion for braving the doctor's interdict.
Gower was presently summoned to the chamber where Admiral Fakenham
reclined on cushions in an edifice of an arm-chair. He told a plain
tale. Its effect was to straighten the admiral's back, and enlarge in
grey glass a pair of sea-blue eyes. And, 'What's that? Whitechapel?'
the admiral exclaimed,--at high pitch, far above his understanding.
The particulars were repeated, whereupon the sick-room shook with,
'Greengrocer?' He stunned himself with another of the monstrous points in
his pet girl's honeymoon: 'A prizefight?'
To refresh a saving incredulity, he took a closer view of the messenger.
Gower's habiliments were those of the 'queer fish,' the admiral saw. But
the meeting at Carlsruhe was recalled to him, and there was a worthy
effort to remember it. 'Prize-fight!--Greengrocer! Whitechapel!' he
rang the changes rather more moderately; till, swelling and purpling, he
cried: 'Where's the husband?'
That was the emissary's question likewise.
'If I could have found him, sir, I should not have troubled you.'
'Disappeared? Plays the man of his word, then plays the madman! Prize-
fight the first day of her honeymoon? Good Lord! Leaves her at the
'She was left.'
'When was she left?'
'As soon as the fight was over--as far as I understand.'
The admiral showered briny masculine comments on that bridegroom.
'Her brother's travelling somewhere in the Pyrenees--married my daughter.
She has an uncle, a hermit.' He became pale. 'I must do it. The rascal
insults us all. Flings her off the day he married her! It 's a slap in
the face to all of us. You are acquainted with the lady, sir. Would you
call her a red-haired girl?'
'Red-gold of the ballads; chestnut-brown, with threads of fire.'
'She has the eyes for a man to swear by. I feel the loss of her, I can
tell you. She was wine and no penalty to me. Is she much broken under
it?--if I 'm to credit . . . I suppose I must. It floors me.'
Admiral Baldwin's frosty stare returned on him. Gower caught an image of
it, as comparable, without much straining, to an Arctic region smitten by
'Nothing breaks her courage,' he said.
'To be sure, my poor dear! Who could have guessed when she left my house
she was on her way to a prizefight and a greengrocer's in Whitechapel.
But the dog's not mad, though his bite 's bad; he 's an eccentric
mongrel. He wants the whip; ought to have had it regularly from his
first breeching. He shall whistle for her when he repents; and he will,
mark me. This gout here will be having a snap at the vitals if I don't
start to-night. Oblige me, half a minute.'
The admiral stretched his hand for an arm to give support, stood, and
dropped into the chair, signifying a fit of giddiness in the word 'Head.'
Before the stupor had passed, Mrs. Carthew entered, anxious lest the
admittance of a messenger of evil to her invalid should have been an
error of judgement. The butler had argued it with her. She belonged to
the list of persons appointed to cut life's thread when it strains, their
general kindness being so liable to misdirection.
Gower left the room and went into the garden. He had never seen a death;
and the admiral's peculiar pallor intimated events proper to days of cold
mist and a dripping stillness. How we go, was the question among his
problems:--if we are to go! his youthful frame insistingly added.
The fog down a wet laurel-walk contracted his mind with the chilling of
his blood, and he felt that he would have to see the thing if he was to
believe in it. Of course he believed, but life throbbed rebelliously,
and a picture of a desk near a lively fire-grate, books and pen and
paper, and a piece of writing to be approved of by the Hesper of ladies,
held ground with a pathetic heroism against the inevitable. He got his
wits to the front by walking faster; and then thought of the young
countess and the friend she might be about to lose. She could number her
friends on her fingers. Admiral Fakenham's exclamations of the name of
the place where she now was, conveyed an inky idea of the fall she had
undergone. Counting her absent brother, with himself, his father, and
the two Whitechapel girls, it certainly was an unexampled fall, to say of
her, that they and those two girls had become by the twist of
circumstances the most serviceable of her friends.
Her husband was the unriddled riddle we have in the wealthy young lord,--
burning to possess, and making, tatters of all he grasped, the moment it
was his own. Glints of the devilish had shot from him at the
gamingtables,--fine haunts for the study of our lower man. He could be
magnificent in generosity; he had little humaneness. He coveted beauty
in women hungrily, and seemed to be born hostile to them; or so Gower
judged by the light of the later evidence on unconsidered antecedent
observations of him. Why marry her to cast her off instantly? The crude
philosopher asked it as helplessly as the admiral. And, further, what
did the girl Madge mean by the drop of her voice to a hum of enforced
endurance under injury, like the furnace behind an iron door? Older men
might have understood, as he was aware; he might have guessed, only he
had the habit of scattering meditation upon the game of hawk and fowl.
Dame Gossip boils. Her one idea of animation is to have her dramatis
persona in violent motion, always the biggest foremost; and, indeed, that
is the way to make them credible, for the wind they raise and the
succession of collisions. The fault of the method is, that they do not
instruct; so the breath is out of them before they are put aside; for the
uninstructive are the humanly deficient: they remain with us like the
tolerated old aristocracy, which may not govern, and is but socially
seductive. The deuteragonist or secondary person can at times tell us
more of them than circumstances at furious heat will help them to reveal;
and the Dame will have him only as an index-post. Hence her endless
ejaculations over the mystery of Life, the inscrutability of character,
--in a plain world, in the midst of such readable people! To preserve
Romance (we exchange a sky for a ceiling if we let it go), we must be
inside the heads of our people as well as the hearts, more than shaking
the kaleidoscope of hurried spectacles, in days of a growing activity of
Gower Woodseer could not know that he was drawn on to fortune and the
sight of his Hesper by Admiral Fakenham's order that the visitor was to
stay at his house until he should be able to quit his bed, and journey
with him to London, doctor or no doctor. The doctor would not hear of
it. The admiral threatened it every night for the morning, every morning
for the night; and Gower had to submit to postponements balefully
affecting his linen. Remonstrance was not to be thought of; for at a
mere show of reluctance the courtly admiral flushed, frowned, and beat
the bed where he lay, a gouty volcano. Gower's one shirt was passing
through the various complexions, and had approached the Nubian on its way
to negro. His natural candour checked the downward course. He mentioned
to Mrs. Carthew, with incidental gravity, on a morning at breakfast, that
this article of his attire 'was beginning to resemble London snow.' She
was amused; she promised him a change more resembling country snow.
'It will save me from buttoning so high up,' he said, as he thanked her.
She then remembered the daily increase of stiffness in his figure: and a
reflection upon his patient waiting, and simpleness, and lexicographer
speech to expose his minor needs, touched her unused sense of humour on
the side where it is tender in women, from being motherly.
In consequence, she spoke of him with a pleading warmth to the Countess
Livia, who had come down to see the admiral 'concerning an absurd but
annoying rumour running over London.' Gower was out for a walk. He knew
of the affair, Mrs. Carthew said, for an introduction to her excuses of
'But I know the man,' said Livia. 'Lord Fleetwood picked him up
somewhere, and brought him to us. Clever: Why, is he here?'
'He is here, sent to the admiral, as I understand, my lady.'
'Sent by whom?'
Having but a weak vocabulary to defend a delicate position, Mrs. Carthew
stuttered into evasions, after the way of ill-armed persons; and naming
herself a stranger to the circumstances, she feebly suggested that the
admiral ought not to be disturbed before the doctor's next visit; Mr.
Woodseer had been allowed to sit by his bed yesterday only for ten
minutes, to divert him with his talk. She protected in this wretched
manner the poor gentleman she sacrificed and emitted such a smell of
secresy, that Livia wrote three words on her card, for it to be taken to
Admiral Baldwin at once. Mrs. Carthew supplicated faintly; she was
The Countess of Fleetwood mounted the stairs--to descend them with the
knowledge of her being the Dowager Countess of Fleetwood! Henrietta had
spoken of the Countess of Fleetwood's hatred of the title of Dowager.
But when Lady Fleetwood had the fact from the admiral, would she forbear
to excite him? If she repudiated it, she would provoke him to fire 'one
of his broadsides,'--as they said in the family, to assert its and that
might exhaust him; and there was peril in that. And who was guilty?
Mrs. Carthew confessed her guilt, asking how it could have been avoided.
She made appeal to Gower on his return, transfixing him.
Not only is he no philosopher who has an idol, he has to learn that he
cannot think rationally; his due sense of weight and measure is lost, the
choice of his thoughts as well. He was in the house with his devoutly,
simply worshipped, pearl of women, and his whole mind fell to work
without ado upon the extravagant height of the admiral's shirt-collar
cutting his ears. The very beating of his heart was perplexed to know
whether it was for rapture or annoyance. As a result he was but
histrionically master of himself when the Countess Livia or the nimbus of
the lady appeared in the room.
She received his bow; she directed Mrs. Carthew to have the doctor
summoned immediately. The remorseful woman flew.
'Admiral Fakenham is very ill, Mr. Woodseer, he has had distracting news.
Oh, no, the messenger is not blamed. You are Lord Fleetwood's friend and
will not allow him to be prejudged. He will be in town shortly. I know
him well, you know him; and could you hear him accused of cruelty--and to
a woman? He is the soul of chivalry. So, in his way, is the admiral.
If he were only more patient! Let us wait for Lord Fleetwood's version.
I am certain it will satisfy me. The admiral wishes you to step up to
him. Be very quiet; you will be; consent to everything. I was unaware
of his condition: the things I heard were incredible. I hope the doctor
will not delay. Now go. Beg to retire soon.'
Livia spoke under her breath; she had fears.
Admiral Baldwin lay in his bed, submitting to a nurse-woman-sign of
extreme exhaustion. He plucked strength from the sight of Gower and
bundled the woman out of the room, muttering: 'Kill myself? Not half so
quick as they'd do it. I can't rest for that Whitechapel of yours.
Please fetch pen and paper: it's a letter.'
The letter began, 'Dear Lady Arpington.'
The dictation of it came in starts. Atone moment it seemed as if life's
ending shook the curtains on our stage and were about to lift. An old
friend in the reader of the letter would need no excuse for its jerky
brevity. It said that his pet girl, Miss Kirby, was married to the Earl
of Fleetwood in the first week of last month, and was now to be found at
a shop No. 45 Longways, Whitechapel; that the writer was ill, unable to
stir; that he would be in London within eight-and-forty hours at
furthest. He begged Lady Arpington to send down to the place and have
the young countess fetched to her, and keep her until he came.
Admiral Baldwin sat up to sign the letter.
'Yes, and write "miracles happen when the devil's abroad"--done it !' he
said, sinking back. 'Now seal, you'll find wax--the ring at my watch-
He sighed, as it were the sound of his very last; he lay like a sleeper
twitched by a dream. There had been a scene with Livia. The dictating
of the letter took his remainder of strength out of him.
Gower called in the nurse, and went downstairs. He wanted the address of
Lady Arpington's town house.
'You have a letter for her?' said Livia, and held her hand for it in a
way not to be withstood.
'There's no superscription,' he remarked.
'I will see to that, Mr. Woodseer.'
'I fancy I am bound, Lady Fleetwood.'
'By no means.' She touched his arm. 'You are Lord Fleetwood's friend.'
A slight convulsion of the frame struck the admiral's shirt-collar at his
ears; it virtually prostrated him under foot of a lady so benign in
overlooking the spectacle he presented. Still, he considered; he had
wits alive enough, just to perceive a duty.
'The letter was entrusted to me, Lady Fleetwood.'
'You are afraid to entrust it to the post?'
'I was thinking of delivering it myself in town.'
'You will entrust it to me.'
'Anything on earth of my own.'
'The treasure would be valued. This you confide to my care.'
'It is important.'
'Indeed it is.'
'Say that it is, then. It is quite safe with me. It may be important
that it should not be delivered. Are you not Lord Fleetwood's friend?
Lady Arpington is not so very, very prominent in the list with you and
me. Besides, I don't think she has come to town yet. She generally sees
out the end of the hunting season. Leave the letter to me: it shall go.
You, with your keen observation missing nothing, have seen that my uncle
has not his whole judgement at present. There are two sides to a case.
Lord Fleetwood's friend will know that it would be unfair to offer him up
to his enemies while he is absent. Things going favourably here, I drive
back to town to-morrow, and I hope you will accept a seat in my
He delivered his courtliest; he was riding on cloud.
They talked of Baden. His honourable surrender of her defeated purse was
a subject for gentle humour with her, venturesome compliment with him.
He spoke well; and though his hands were clean of Sir Meeson Corby's
reproach of them, the caricature of presentable men blushed absurdly and
seemed uneasy in his monstrous collar. The touching of him again would
not be required to set him pacing to her steps. His hang of the head
testified to the unerring stamp of a likeness Captain Abrane could affix
with a stroke: he looked the fiddler over his bow, playing wonderfully to
conceal the crack of a string. The merit of being one of her army of
admirers was accorded to him. The letter to Lady Arpington was retained.
Gower deferred the further mention of the letter until a visit to the
admiral's chamber should furnish an excuse; and he had to wait for it.
Admiral Baldwin's condition was becoming ominous. He sent messages
downstairs by the doctor, forbidding his guest's departure until they two
could make the journey together next day. The tortured and blissful
young man, stripped of his borrowed philosopher's cloak, hung conscience-
ridden in this delicious bower, which was perceptibly an antechamber of
the vaults, offering him the study he thirsted for, shrank from, and
mixed with his cup of amorous worship.
IN WHICH WE HAVE FURTHER GLIMPSES OF THE WONDROUS MECHANISM OF OUR
The report of Admiral Baldwin Fakenham as having died in the arms of a
stranger visiting the house, hit nearer the mark than usual. He yielded
his last breath as Gower Woodseer was lowering him to his pillow, shortly
after a husky whisper of the letter to Lady Arpington; and that was one
of Gower's crucial trials. It condemned him, for the pacifying of a
dying man, to the murmur and shuffle, which was a lie; and the lie burnt
him, contributed to the brand on his race. He and his father upheld a
solitary bare staff, where the Cambrian flag had flown, before their
people had been trampled in mire, to do as the worms. His loathing of
any shadow of the lie was a protest on behalf of Welsh blood against an
English charge, besides the passion for spiritual cleanliness: without
which was no comprehension, therefore no enjoyment, of Nature possible to
him. For Nature is the Truth.
He begged the countess to let him have the letter; he held to the
petition, with supplications; he spoke of his pledged word, his honour;
and her countenance did not deny to such an object as she beheld the
right to a sense of honour. 'We all have the sentiment, I hope, Mr.
Woodseer,' she said, stupefying the worshipper, who did not see it
manifested. There was a look of gentle intimacy, expressive of common
grounds between them, accompanying the dead words. Mistress of the
letter, and the letter safe under lock, the admiral dead, she had not to
bestow a touch of her hand on his coatsleeve in declining to return it.
A face languidly and benevolently querulous was bent on him, when he,
so clever a man, resumed his very silly petition.
She was moon out of cloud at a change of the theme. Gower journeyed to
London without the letter, intoxicated, and conscious of poison;
enamoured of it, and straining for health. He had to reflect at the
journey's end, that he had picked up nothing on the road, neither a thing
observed nor a thing imagined; he was a troubled pool instead of a
The best help to health for him was a day in his father's house. We are
perpetually at our comparisons of ourselves with others; and they are
mostly profitless; but the man carrying his religious light, to light the
darkest ways of his fellows, and keeping good cheer, as though the heart
of him ran a mountain water through the grimy region, plucked at Gower
with an envy to resemble him in practice. His philosophy, too,
reproached him for being outshone. Apart from his philosophy, he stood
confessed a bankrupt; and it had dwindled to near extinction. Adoration
of a woman takes the breath out of philosophy. And if one had only to
say sheer donkey, he consenting to be driven by her! One has to say
worse in this case; for the words are, liar and traitor.
Carinthia's attitude toward his father conduced to his emulous respect
for the old man, below whom, and indeed below the roadway of ordinary
principles hedged with dull texts, he had strangely fallen. The sight of
her lashed him. She made it her business or it was her pleasure to go
the rounds beside Mr. Woodseer visiting his poor people. She spoke of
the scenes she witnessed, and threw no stress on the wretchedness, having
only the wish to assist in ministering. Probably the great wretchedness
bubbling over the place blunted her feeling of loss at the word of
Admiral Baldwin's end; her bosom sprang up: 'He was next to father,'
was all she said; and she soon reverted to this and that house of the
lodgings of poverty. She had descended on the world. There was of
course a world outside Whitechapel, but Whitechapel was hot about her;
the nests of misery, the sharp note of want in the air, tricks of an
urchin who had amused her.
As to the place itself, she had no judgement to pronounce, except that:
'They have no mornings here'; and the childish remark set her quivering
on her heights, like one seen through a tear, in Gower's memory. Scarce
anything of her hungry impatience to meet her husband was visible: she
had come to London to meet him; she hoped to meet him soon: before her
brother's return, she could have added. She mentioned the goodness of
Sarah Winch in not allowing that she was a burden to support. Money and
its uses had impressed her; the quantity possessed by some, the utter
need of it for the first of human purposes by others. Her speech was not
of so halting or foreign an English. She grew rapidly wherever she was
Speculation on the conduct of her husband, empty as it might be, was
necessitated in Gower. He pursued it, and listened to his father
similarly at work: 'A young lady fit for any station, the kindest of
souls, a born charitable human creature, void of pride, near in all she
--does and thinks to the Shaping Hand, why should her husband forsake her
on the day of their nuptials.
She is most gracious; the simplicity of an infant. Can you imagine the
doing of an injury by a man to a woman like her?'
Then it was that Gower screwed himself to say:
'Yes, I can imagine it, I'm doing it myself. I shall be doing it till
I've written a letter and paid a visit.'
He took a meditative stride or two in the room, thinking without
revulsion of the Countess Livia under a similitude of the bell of the
plant henbane, and that his father had immunity from temptation because
of the insensibility to beauty. Out of which he passed to the writing of
the letter to Lord Fleetwood, informing his lordship that he intended
immediately to deliver a message to the Marchioness of Arpington from
Admiral Baldwin Fakenham, in relation to the Countess of Fleetwood. A
duty was easily done by Gower when he had surmounted the task of
conceiving his resolution to do it; and this task, involving an offence
to the Lady Livia and intrusion of his name on a nobleman's recollection,
ranked next in severity to the chopping off of his fingers by a man
suspecting them of the bite of rabies.
An interview with Lady Arpington was granted him the following day.
She was a florid, aquiline, loud-voiced lady, evidently having no seat
for her wonderments, after his account of the origin of his acquaintance
with the admiral had quieted her suspicions. The world had only to stand
beside her, and it would hear what she had heard. She rushed to the
conclusion that Lord Fleetwood had married a person of no family.
'Really, really, that young man's freaks appear designed for the express
purpose of heightening our amazement!' she exclaimed. 'He won't easily
get beyond a wife in the east of London, at a shop; but there's no
knowing. Any wish of Admiral Baldwin Fakenham's I hold sacred. At least
I can see for myself. You can't tell me more of the facts? If Lord
Fleetwood's in town, I will call him here at once. I will drive down to
this address you give me. She is a civil person?'
'Her breeding is perfect,' said Gower.
'Perfect breeding, you say?' Lady Arpington was reduced to a murmur.
She considered the speaker: his outlandish garb, his unprotesting self-
possession. He spoke good English by habit, her ear told her. She was
of an eminence to judge of a man impartially, even to the sufferance of
an opinion from him, on a subject that lesser ladies would have denied to
his clothing. Outwardly simple, naturally frank, though a tangle of the
complexities inwardly, he was a touchstone for true aristocracy, as the
humblest who bear the main elements of it must be. Certain humorous
turns in his conversation won him an amicable smile when he bowed to
leave: they were the needed finish of a favourable impression.
One day later the earl arrived in town, read Gower Woodseer's brief
words, and received the consequently expected summons, couched in a great
lady's plain imperative. She was connected with his family on the
He went obediently; not unwillingly, let the deputed historian of the
Marriage, turning over documents, here say. He went to Lady Arpington
disposed for marital humaneness and jog-trot harmony, by condescension;
equivalent to a submitting to the drone of an incessant psalm at the drum
of the ear. He was, in fact, rather more than inclined that way. When
very young, at the age of thirteen, a mood of religious fervour had
spiritualized the dulness of Protestant pew and pulpit for him. Another
fit of it, in the Roman Catholic direction, had proposed, during his
latest dilemma, to relieve him of the burden of his pledged word. He had
plunged for a short space into the rapturous contemplation of a monastic
life--'the clean soul for the macerated flesh,' as that fellow Woodseer
said once: and such as his friend, the Roman Catholic Lord Feltre,
moodily talked of getting in his intervals. He had gone down to a young
and novel trial establishment of English penitents in the forest of a
Midland county, and had watched and envied, and seen the escape from a
lifelong bondage to the 'beautiful Gorgon,' under cover of a white
flannel frock. The world pulled hard, and he gave his body into chains
of a woman, to redeem his word.
But there was a plea on behalf of this woman. The life she offered
might have psalmic iteration; the dead monotony of it in prospect did,
nevertheless, exorcise a devil. Carinthia promised, it might seem to
chase and keep the black beast out of him permanently, as she could,
he now conceived: for since the day of the marriage with her, the devil
inhabiting him had at least been easier, 'up in a corner.'
He held an individual memory of his bride, rose-veiled, secret to them
both, that made them one, by subduing him. For it was a charm; an actual
feminine, an unanticipated personal, charm; past reach of tongue to name,
wordless in thought. There, among the folds of the incense vapours of
our heart's holy of holies, it hung; and it was rare, it was distinctive
of her, and alluring, if one consented to melt to it, and accepted for
compensation the exorcising of a devil.
Oh, but no mere devil by title!--a very devil. It was alert and frisky,
flushing, filling the thin cold idea of Henrietta at a thought; and in
the thought it made Carinthia's intimate charm appear as no better than a
thing to enrich a beggar, while he knew that kings could never command
the charm. Not love, only the bathing in Henrietta's incomparable beauty
and the desire to be, desire to have been, the casket of it, broke the
world to tempest and lightnings at a view of Henrietta the married woman
--married to the brother of the woman calling him husband:--'It is my
husband.' The young tyrant of wealth could have avowed that he did not
love Henrietta; but not the less was he in the swing of a whirlwind at
the hint of her loving the man she had married. Did she? It might be
She? That Henrietta is one of the creatures who love pleasure, love
flattery, love their beauty: they cannot love a man. Or the love is a
ship that will not sail a sea.
Now, if the fact were declared and attested, if her shallowness were seen
proved, one might get free of the devil she plants in the breast.
Absolutely to despise her would be release, and it would allow of his
tasting Carinthia's charm, reluctantly acknowledged; not 'money of the
country' beside that golden Henrietta's.
Yet who can say?--women are such deceptions. Often their fairest,
apparently sweetest, when brought to the keenest of the tests, are
graceless; or worse, artificially consonant; in either instance barren of
the poetic. Thousands of the confidently expectant among men have been
unbewitched; a lamentable process; and the grimly reticent and the loudly
discursive are equally eloquent of the pretty general disillusion. How
they loathe and tear the mask of the sham attraction that snatched them
to the hag yoke, and fell away to show its grisly horrors within the
round of the month, if not the second enumeration of twelve by the clock!
Fleetwood had heard certain candid seniors talk, delivering their minds
in superior appreciation of unpretentious boor wenches, nature's
products, not esteemed by him. Well, of a truth, she--'Red Hair and
Rugged Brows,' as the fellow Woodseer had called her, in alternation with
'Mountain Face to Sun'--she at the unveiling was gentle, surpassingly;
graceful in the furnace of the trial. She wore through the critic ordeal
his burning sensitiveness to grace and delicacy cast about a woman, and
was rather better than not withered by it.
On the borders between maidenly and wifely, she, a thing of flesh like
other daughters of earth, had impressed her sceptical lord, inclining to
contempt of her and detestation of his bargain, as a flitting hue,
ethereal, a transfiguration of earthliness in the core of the earthly
furnace. And how?--but that it must have been the naked shining forth of
her character, startled to show itself:--'It is my husband':--it must
have been love.
The love that they versify, and strum on guitars, and go crazy over, and
end by roaring at as the delusion; this common bloom of the ripeness of a
season; this would never have utterly captured a sceptic, to vanquish him
in his mastery, snare him in her surrender. It must have been the
veritable passion: a flame kept alive by vestal ministrants in the
yewwood of the forest of Old Romance; planted only in the breasts of very
favourite maidens. Love had eyes, love had a voice that night,-love was
the explicable magic lifting terrestrial to seraphic. Though, true, she
had not Henrietta's golden smoothness of beauty. Henrietta, illumined
with such a love, would outdo all legends, all dreams of the tale of
love. Would she? For credulous men she would be golden coin of the
currency. She would not have a particular wild flavour: charm as of the
running doe that has taken a dart and rolls an eye to burst the hunter's
heart with pity.
Fleetwood went his way to Lady Arpington almost complacently, having
fought and laid his wilder self. He might be likened to the doctor's
patient entering the chemist's shop, with a prescription for a drug of
healing virtue, upon which the palate is as little consulted as a
robustious lollypop boy in the household of ceremonial parents, who have
rung for the troop of their orderly domestics to sit in a row and hearken
the intonation of good words.
A RIGHT-MINDED GREAT LADY
The bow, the welcome, and the introductory remarks passed rapidly as the
pull at two sides of a curtain opening on a scene that stiffens
courtliness to hard attention.
After the names of Admiral Baldwin and 'the Mr. Woodseer,' the name of
Whitechapel was mentioned by Lady Arpington. It might have been the name
of any other place.
'Ah, so far, then, I have to instruct you,' she said, observing the young
earl. 'I drove down there yesterday. I saw the lady calling herself
Countess of Fleetwood. By right? She was a Miss Kirby.'
'She has the right,' Fleetwood said, standing well up out of a discharge
'Marriage not contested. You knew of her being in that place?--I can't
'Your ladyship will pardon me?'
London's frontier of barbarism was named for him again, and in a tone to
He refrained from putting the question of how she had come there.
As iron as he looked, he said: 'She stays there by choice.'
The great lady tapped her foot on the floor.
'You are not acquainted with the district.'
'One of my men comes out of it.'
'The coming out of it ! . . . However, I understand her story, that
she travelled from a village inn, where she had been left-without
resources. She waited weeks; I forget how many. She has a description
of maid in attendance on her. She came to London to find her husband.
You were at the mines, we heard. Her one desire is to meet her husband.
But, goodness! Fleetwood, why do you frown? You acknowledge the
marriage, she has the name of the church; she was married out of that old
Lord Levellier's house. You drove her--I won't repeat the flighty
business. You left her, and she did her best to follow you. Will the
young men of our time not learn that life is no longer a game when they
have a woman for partner in the match!
You don't complain of her flavour of a foreign manner? She can't be so
very . . . Admiral Baldwin's daughter has married her brother; and he
is a military officer. She has germs of breeding, wants only a little
rub of the world to smooth her. Speak to the point:--do you meet her
here? Do you refuse?'
'At present? I do.'
'Something has to be done.'
'She was bound to stay where I left her.'
'You are bound to provide for her becomingly.'
'Provision shall be made, of course.'
'The story will . . . unless--and quickly, too.'
I know, I know!'
Fleetwood had the clang of all the bells of London chiming Whitechapel at
him in his head, and he betrayed the irritated tyrant ready to decree
fire and sword, for the defence or solace of his tender sensibilities.
The black flash flew.
'It 's a thing to mend as well as one can,' Lady Arpington said. 'I am
not inquisitive: you had your reasons or chose to act without any. Get
her away from that place. She won't come to me unless it 's to meet her
husband. Ah, well, temper does not solve your problem; husband you are,
if you married her. We'll leave the husband undiscussed: with this
reserve, that it seems to me men are now beginning to play the
'I hope they know themselves better,' said Fleetwood; and he begged for
the name and number of the house in the Whitechapel street, where she who
was discernibly his enemy, and the deadliest of enemies, had now her
Her immediate rush to that place, the fixing of herself there for an
assault on him, was a move worthy the daughter of the rascal Old
Buccaneer; it compelled to urgent measures. He, as he felt horribly in
pencilling her address, acted under compulsion; and a woman prodded the
goad. Her mask of ingenuousness was flung away for a look of craft,
which could be power; and with her changed aspect his tolerance changed
'A shop,' Lady Arpington explained for his better direction: 'potatoes,
vegetable stuff. Honest people, I am to believe. She is indifferent to
her food, she says. She works, helping one of their ministers--one of
their denominations: heaven knows what they call themselves! Anything to
escape from the Church! She's likely to become a Methodist. With Lord
Feltre proselytizing for his Papist creed, Lord Pitscrew a declared
Mohammedan, we shall have a pretty English aristocracy in time. Well,
she may claim to belong to it now. She would not be persuaded against
visitations to pestiferous hovels. What else is there to do in such a
place? She goes about catching diseases to avoid bilious melancholy in
the dark back room of a small greengrocer's shop in Whitechapel. There--
you have the word for the Countess of Fleetwood's present address.'
It drenched him with ridicule.
'I am indebted to your ladyship for the information,' he said, and
maintained his rigidity.
The great lady stiffened.
'I am obliged to ask you whether you intend to act on it at once. The
admiral has gone; I am in some sort deputed as a guardian to her, and I
warn you--very well, very well. In your own interests, it will be. If
she is left there another two or three days, the name of the place will
stick to her.'
'She has baptized herself with it already, I imagine,' said Fleetwood.
'She will have Esslemont to live in.'
'There will be more than one to speak as to that. You should know her.'
'I do not know her.'
'You married her.'
'The circumstances are admitted.'
'If I may hazard a guess, she is unlikely to come to terms without a
previous interview. She is bent on meeting you.'
'I am to be subjected to further annoyance, or she will take the name of
the place she at present inhabits, and bombard me with it. Those are the
'She has a brother living, I remind you.'
'State the deduction, if you please, my lady.'
'She is not of 'a totally inferior family.'
'She had a father famous over England as the Old Buccaneer, and is a
diligent reader of his book of MAXIMS FOR MEN.'
'Dear me! Then Kirby--Captain Kirby! I remember. That's her origin,
is it?' the great lady cried, illumined. 'My mother used to talk of the
Cressett scandal. Old Lady Arpington, too. At any rate, it ended in
their union--the formalities were properly respected, as soon as they
'I am unaware.'
'I detest such a tone of speaking. Speaking as you do now--married to
the daughter? You are not yourself, Lord Fleetwood.'
'Quite, ma'am, let me assure you. Otherwise the Kirby-Cressetts would be
dictating to me from the muzzle of one of the old rapscallion's Maxims.
They will learn that I am myself.'
'You don't improve as you proceed. I tell you this, you'll not have me
for a friend. You have your troops of satellites; but take it as equal
to a prophecy, you won't have London with you; and you'll hear of Lord
Fleetwood and his Whitechapel Countess till your ears ache.'
The preluding box on them reddened him.
'She will have the offer of Esslemont.'
'Undertake to persuade her in person.'
'I have spoken on that head.'
'Well, I may be mistaken,--I fancied it before I knew of the pair she
springs from: you won't get her consent to anything without your
consenting to meet her. Surely it's the manlier way. It might be
settled for to-morrow, here, in this room. She prays to meet you.'
With an indicated gesture of 'Save me from it,' Fleetwood bowed.
He left no friend thinking over the riddle of his conduct. She was a
loud-voiced lady, given to strike out phrases. The 'Whitechapel
Countess' of the wealthiest nobleman of his day was heard by her on
London's wagging tongue. She considered also that he ought at least have
propitiated her; he was in the position requiring of him to do something
of the kind, and he had shown instead the dogged pride which calls for a
whip. Fool as he must have been to go and commit himself to marriage
with a girl of whom he knew nothing or little, the assumption of pride
belonged to the order of impudent disguises intolerable to behold and
not, in a modern manner, castigate.
Notwithstanding a dislike of the Dowager Countess of Fleetwood, Lady
Arpington paid Livia an afternoon visit; and added thereby to the stock
of her knowledge and the grounds of her disapprobation.
Down in Whitechapel, it was known to the Winch girls and the Woodseers
that Captain Kirby and his wife had spent the bitterest of hours in
vainly striving to break their immoveable sister's will to remain there.
At the tea-time of simple people, who make it a meal, Gower's appetite
for the home-made bread of Mary Jones was checked by the bearer of a
short note from Lord Fleetwood. The half-dozen lines were cordial,
breathing of their walk in the Austrian highlands, and naming a renowned
city hotel for dinner that day, the hour seven, the reply yes or no by
'But we are man to man, so there's no "No" between us two,' the note
said, reviving a scene of rosy crag and pine forest, where there had been
philosophical fun over the appropriate sexes of those our most important
fighting-ultimately, we will hope, to be united-syllables, and the when
for men, the when for women, to select the one of them as their weapon.
Under the circumstances, Gower thought such a piece of writing to him
'It may be the solution,' his father remarked.
Both had the desire; and Gower's reply was the yes, our brave male word,
supposed to be not so compromising to men in the employment of it as a
form of acquiescence rather than insistent pressure.
IN DAME GOSSIP'S VEIN
Right soon the London pot began to bubble. There was a marriage.
'There are marriages by the thousand every day of the year that is not
consecrated to prayer for the forgiveness of our sins,' the Old
Buccaneer, writing it with simple intent, says, by way of preface to a
series of Maxims for men who contemplate acceptance of the yoke.
This was a marriage high as the firmament over common occurrences, black
as Erebus to confound; it involved the wreck of expectations, disastrous
eclipse of a sovereign luminary in the splendour of his rise, Phaethon's
descent to the Shades through a smoking and a crackling world. Asserted
here, verified there, the rumour gathered volume, and from a serpent of
vapour resolved to sturdy concrete before it was tangible. Contradiction
retired into corners, only to be swept out of them. For this marriage,
abominable to hear of, was of so wonderful a sort, that the story filled
the mind, and the discrediting of the story threatened the great world's
cranium with a vacuity yet more monstrously abominable.
For he, the planet Croesus of his time, recently, scarce later than last
night, a glorious object of the mid-heavens above the market, has been
enveloped, caught, gobbled up by one of the nameless little witches
riding after dusk the way of the wind on broomsticks-by one of them!
She caught him like a fly in the hand off a pane of glass, gobbled him
with the customary facility of a pecking pullet.
But was the planet Croesus of his time a young man to be so caught, so
There is the mystery of it. On his coming of age, that young man gave
sign of his having a city head. He put his guardians deliberately aside,
had his lawyers and bailiffs and stewards thoroughly under control:
managed a particularly difficult step-mother; escaped the snares of her
lovely cousin; and drove his team of sycophants exactly the road he chose
to go and no other. He had a will.
The world accounted him wildish?
Always from his own offset, to his own ends. Never for another's
dictation or beguilement. Never for a woman. He was born with a
suspicion of the sex. Poetry decorated women, he said, to lime and
drag men in the foulest ruts of prose.
We are to believe he has been effectively captured?
It is positively a marriage; he admits it.
There we are at hoodman-blind for the moment. Three counties claim the
church; two ends of London.
She is not a person of society, lineage?
Nor of beauty. She is a witch; ordinarily petticoated and not squeaking
like a shrew-mouse in her flights, but not a whit less a moon-shade
witch. The kind is famous. Fairy tales and terrible romances tell of
her; she is just as much at home in life, and springs usually from the
mire to enthral our knightliest. Is it a popular hero? She has him,
sooner or later. A planet Croesus? He falls to her.
That is, if his people fail to attach him in legal bonds to a damsel of a
corresponding birth on the day when he is breeched.
Small is her need to be young--especially if it is the man who is very
young. She is the created among women armed with the deadly instinct for
the motive force in men, and shameless to attract it. Self-respecting
women treat men as their tamed housemates. She blows the horn of the
wild old forest, irresistible to the animal. O the droop of the eyelids,
the curve of a lip, the rustle of silks, the much heart, the neat ankle;
and the sparkling agreement, the reserve--the motherly feminine petition
that she may retain her own small petted babe of an opinion, legitimate
or not, by permission of superior authority!--proof at once of her
intelligence and her appreciativeness. Her infinitesimal spells are
seen; yet, despite experience, the magnetism in their repulsive display
is barely apprehended by sedate observers until the astounding capture is
proclaimed. It is visible enough then:--and O men! O morals! If she
can but trick the smallest bit in stooping, she has the pick of men.
Our present sample shows her to be young: she is young and a foreigner.
Mr. Chumley Potts vouches for it. Speaks foreign English. He thinks her
more ninny than knave: she is the tool of a wily plotter, picked up off
the highway road by Lord Fleetwood as soon as he had her in his eye.
Sir Meeson Corby wrings his frilled hands to depict the horror of the
hands of that tramp the young lord had her from. They afflict him
malariously still. The man, he says, the man as well was an infatuation,
because he talks like a Dictionary Cheap Jack, and may have had an
education and dropped into vagrancy, owing to indiscretions. Lord
Fleetwood ran about in Germany repeating his remarks. But the man is
really an accomplished violinist, we hear. She dances the tambourine
business. A sister of the man, perhaps, if we must be charitable. They
are, some say, a couple of Hungarian gypsies Lord F. found at a show and
brought over to England, and soon had it on his conscience that he ought
to marry her, like the Quixote of honour that he is; which is equal to
saying crazy, as there is no doubt his mother was.
The marriage is no longer disputable; poor Lady Fleetwood, whatever her
faults as a step-mother, does no longer deny the celebration of a
marriage; though she might reasonably discredit any such story if he,
on the evening of the date of the wedding day, was at a Ball, seen by her
at the supper-table; though it is admitted he left the Ball-room at
night. But the next day he certainly was in his place among the Peers
and voted against the Government, and then went down to his estates in
Wales, being an excellent holder of the reins, whether on the coach box
or over the cash box.
More and more wonderful, we hear that he drove his bride straight from
the church to the field of a prizefight, arranged for her special
delectation. She doats on seeing blood-shed and drinking champagne.
Young Mr. Mallard is our authority; and he says, she enjoyed it, and
cheered the victor for being her husband's man. And after the shocking
exhibition, good-bye; the Countess of Fleetwood was left sole occupant of
a wayside inn, and may have learnt in her solitude that she would have
been wise to feign disgust; for men to the smallest degree cultivated are
unable to pardon a want of delicacy in a woman who has chosen them, as
they are taught to think by their having chosen her.
So talked, so twittered, piped and croaked the London world over the
early rumours of the marriage, this Amazing Marriage; which it got to be
called, from the number of items flocking to swell the wonder.
Ravens ravening by night, poised peregrines by day, provision-merchants
for the dispensing of dainty scraps to tickle the ears, to arm the
tongues, to explode reputations, those great ladies, the Ladies Endor,
Eldritch, and Cowry, fateful three of their period, avenged and scourged
both innocence and naughtiness; innocence, on the whole, the least, when
their withering suspicion of it had hunted the unhappy thing to the bank
of Ophelia's ditch. Mallard and Chumley Potts, Captain Abrane, Sir
Meeson Corby, Lord Brailstone, were plucked at and rattled, put to the
blush, by a pursuit of inquiries conducted with beaks. High-nosed dames
will surpass eminent judges in their temerity on the border-line where
Ahem sounds the warning note to curtained decency. The courtly M. de St.
Ombre had to stand confused. He, however, gave another version of
Captain Abrane's 'fiddler,' and precipitated the great ladies into the
reflection, that French gentlemen, since the execrable French Revolution,
have lost their proper sense of the distinctions of Class. Homme
d'esprit, applied to a roving adventurer, a scarce other than vagabond,
was either an undiscriminating epithet or else a further example of the
French deficiency in humour.
Dexterous contriver, he undoubtedly is. Lady Cowry has it from Sir
Meeson Corby, who had it from the poor dowager, that Lord Fleetwood has
installed the man in his house and sits at the opposite end of his table;
fished him up from Whitechapel, where the countess is left serving
oranges at a small fruit-shop. With her own eyes, Lady Arpington saw her
there; and she can't be got to leave the place unless her husband drives
his coach down to fetch her. That he declines to do; so she remains the
Whitechapel Countess, all on her hind heels against the offer of a
shilling of her husband's money, if she 's not to bring him to his knees;
and goes about at night with a low Methodist singing hymns along those
dreadful streets, while Lord Fleetwood gives gorgeous entertainments.
One signal from the man he has hired, and he stops drinking--he will stop
speaking as soon as the man's mouth is open. He is under a complete
fascination, attributable, some say, to passes of the hands, which the
man won't wash lest he should weaken their influence.
For it cannot be simply his violin playing. They say he was a pupil of
a master of the dark art in Germany, and can practise on us to make us
think his commonest utterances extraordinarily acute and precious. Lord
Fleetwood runs round quoting him to everybody, quite ridiculously. But
the man's influence is sufficient to induce his patron to drive down and
fetch the Whitechapel Countess home in state, as she insists--if the man
wishes it. Depend upon it he is the key of the mystery.
Totally the contrary, Lady Arpington declares! the man is a learned man,
formerly a Professor of English Literature in a German University, and no
connection of the Whitechapel Countess whatever, a chance acquaintance at
the most. He operates on Lord Fleetwood with doses of German philosophy;
otherwise, a harmless creature; and has consented to wash and dress. It
is my lord who has had the chief influence. And the Countess Livia now
backs him in maintaining that there is nowhere a more honest young man to
be found. She may have her reasons.
As for the Whitechapel Countess . . . the whole story of the Old
Buccaneer and Countess Fanny was retold, and it formed a terrific halo,
presage of rains and hurricane tempest, over the girl the young earl had
incomprehensibly espoused to discard. Those two had a son and a daughter
born aboard:--in wedlock, we trust. The girl may be as wild a one as the
mother. She has a will as determined as her husband's. She is offered
Esslemont, the earl's Kentish mansion, for a residence, and she will none
of it until she has him down in the east of London on his knees to
entreat her. The injury was deep on one side or the other. It may be
almost surely prophesied that the two will never come together. Will
either of them deal the stroke for freedom? And which is the likelier?
Meanwhile Lord Fleetwood and his Whitechapel Countess composed the laugh
of London. Straightway Invention, the violent propagator, sprang from
his shades at a call of the great world's appetite for more, and, rushing
upon stationary Fact, supplied the required. Marvel upon marvel was
recounted. The mixed origin of the singular issue could not be examined,
where all was increasingly funny.
Always the shout for more produced it. She and her band of Whitechapel
boys were about in ambush to waylay the earl wherever he went. She stood
knocking at his door through a whole night. He dared not lug her before
a magistrate for fear of exposure. Once, riding in the park with a troop
of friends he had a young woman pointed out to him, and her finger was
levelled, and she cried: 'There is the English nobleman who marries a
girl and leaves her to go selling cabbages!'
He left town for the Island, and beheld his yacht sailing the Solent:--
my lady the countess was on board! A pair of Tyrolese minstrels in the
square kindled his enthusiasm at one of his dinners; he sent them a
sovereign; their humble, hearty thanks were returned to him in the name
of Die Grafin von Fleetwood.
The Ladies Endor, Eldritch, and Cowry sifted their best. They let pass
incredible stories: among others, that she had sent cards to the nobility
and gentry of the West End of London, offering to deliver sacks of
potatoes by newly-established donkey-cart at the doors of their
residences, at so much per sack, bills quarterly; with the postscript,
Vive L'aristocratie! Their informant had seen a card, and the stamp of
the Fleetwood dragoncrest was on it.
He has enemies, was variously said of the persecuted nobleman. But it
was nothing worse than the parasite that he had. This was the parasite's
gentle treason. He found it an easy road to humour; it pricked the slug
fancy in him to stir and curl; gave him occasion to bundle and bustle his
patron kindly. Abrane, Potts, Mallard, and Sir Meeson Corby were
personages during the town's excitement, besought for having something to
say. Petrels of the sea of tattle, they were buoyed by the hubbub they
created, and felt the tipsy happiness of being certain to rouse the laugh
wherever they alighted. Sir Meeson Corby, important to himself in an
eminent degree, enjoyed the novel sense of his importance with his
fellows. They crowded round the bore who had scattered them.
He traced the miserable catastrophe in the earl's fortunes to the cunning
of the rascal now sponging on Fleetwood and trying to dress like a
gentleman: a convicted tramp, elevated by the caprice of the young
nobleman he was plotting to ruin. Sir Meeson quoted Captain Abrane's
latest effort to hit the dirty object's name, by calling him 'Fleetwood's
Mr. Woodlouse.' And was the rascal a sorcerer? Sir Meeson spoke of him
in the hearing of the Countess Livia, and she, previously echoing his
disgust, corrected him sharply, and said: 'I begin to be of Russett's
opinion, that his fault is his honesty.' The rascal had won or partly
won the empress of her sex! This Lady Livia, haughtiest and most
fastidious of our younger great dames, had become the indulgent critic of
the tramp's borrowed plumes! Nay, she would not listen to a depreciatory
word on him from her cousin Henrietta Kirby-Levellier.
Perhaps, after all, of all places for an encounter between the Earl of