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   Chapter 6 THE MINIATURE

Celt and Saxon -- Complete By George Meredith Characters: 21601

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Patrick returned to Earlsfont very late; he had but ten minutes to dress for dinner; a short allowance after a heated ride across miry tracks, though he would have expended some of them, in spite of his punctilious respect for the bell of the house entertaining him, if Miss Adister had been anywhere on the stairs or corridors as he rushed away to his room. He had things to tell; he had not been out over the country for nothing.

Fortunately for his good social principles, the butler at Earlsfont was a wary supervisor of his man; great guest or little guest; Patrick's linen was prepared for him properly studded; he had only to spring out of one suit into another; and still more fortunately the urgency for a rapid execution of the manoeuvre prevented his noticing a large square envelope posted against the looking-glass of his toilette-table. He caught sight of it first when pulling down his shirt-cuffs with an air of recovered ease, not to say genial triumph, to think that the feat of grooming himself, washing, dressing and stripping, the accustomed persuasive final sweep of the brush to his hair-crop, was done before the bell had rung. His name was on the envelope; and under his name, in smaller letters,

Adiante.

'Shall I?' said he, doing the thing he asked himself about doing tearing open the paper cover of the portrait of her who had flitted in his head for years unseen. And there she was, remote but present.

His underlip dropped; he had the look of those who bate breath and swarm their wits to catch a sound. At last he remembered that the summoning bell had been in his ears a long time back, without his having been sensible of any meaning in it. He started to and fro. The treasure he held declined to enter the breast-pocket of his coat, and the other pockets he perhaps, if sentimentally, justly discarded as being beneath the honour of serving for a temporary casket. He locked it up, with a vow to come early to rest. Even then he had thoughts whether it might be safe.

Who spoke, and what they uttered at the repast, and his own remarks, he was unaware of. He turned right and left a brilliant countenance that had the glitter of frost-light; it sparkled and was unreceptive. No wonder Miss Adister deemed him wilder and stranger than ever. She necessarily supposed the excess of his peculiarities to be an effect of the portrait, and would have had him, according to her ideas of a young man of some depth of feeling, dreamier. On the contrary, he talked sheer commonplace. He had ridden to the spur of the mountains, and had put up the mare, and groomed and fed her, not permitting another hand to touch her: all very well, and his praises of the mare likewise, but he had not a syllable for the sublime of the mountains. He might have careered over midland flats for any susceptibility that he betrayed to the grandeur of the scenery she loved. Ultimately she fancied the miniature had been overlooked in his hurry to dress, and that he was now merely excited by his lively gallop to a certain degree of hard brightness noticeable in hunting men at their dinner.

The elixir in Patrick carried him higher than mountain crests. Adiante illumined an expanded world for him, miraculous, yet the real one, only wanting such light to show its riches. She lifted it out of darkness with swift throbs of her heavenliness as she swam to his eyelids, vanished and dazzled anew, and made these gleams of her and the dark intervals his dream of the winged earth on her flight from splendour to splendour, secresy to secresy;-follow you that can, the youth whose heart is an opened mine, whose head is an irradiated sky, under the spell of imagined magical beauty. She was bugle, banner, sunrise, of his inmost ambition and rapture.

And without a warning, she fled; her features were lost; his power of imagining them wrestled with vapour; the effort contracted his outlook. But if she left him blind of her, she left him with no lessened bigness of heart. He frankly believed in her revelation of a greater world and a livelier earth, a flying earth and a world wealthier than grouped history in heroic marvels: he fell back on the exultation of his having seen her, and on the hope for the speedy coming of midnight, when the fountain of her in the miniature would be seen and drunk of at his full leisure, and his glorious elation of thrice man almost up to mounting spirit would be restored to make him worthy of the vision.

Meanwhile Caroline had withdrawn and the lord of Earlsfont was fretting at his theme. He had decided not to be a party in the sale of either of his daughter's estates: let her choose other agents: if the iniquity was committed, his hands would be clean of it. Mr. Adister spoke by way of prelude to the sketch of 'this prince' whose title was a lurid delusion. Patrick heard of a sexagenarian rake and Danube adventurer, in person a description of falcon-Caliban, containing his shagginess in a frogged hussar-jacket and crimson pantaloons, with hook-nose, fox-eyes, grizzled billow of frowsy moustache, and chin of a beast of prey. This fellow, habitually one of the dogs lining the green tables of the foreign Baths, snapping for gold all day and half the night, to spend their winnings in debauchery and howl threats of suicide, never fulfilled early enough, when they lost, claimed his princedom on the strength of his father's murder of a reigning prince and sitting in his place for six months, till a merited shot from another pretender sent him to his account. 'What do you say to such a nest of assassins, and one of them, an outcast and blackleg, asking an English gentleman to acknowledge him as a member of his family! I have,' said Mr. Adister, 'direct information that this gibbet-bird is conspiring to dethrone-they call it-the present reigning prince, and the proceeds of my daughter's estates are, by her desire-if she has not written under compulsion of the scoundrel-intended to speed their blood-mongering. There goes a Welshwoman's legacy to the sea, with a herd of swine with devils in them!'

Mr. Camminy kept his head bent, his hand on his glass of port. Patrick stared, and the working of his troubled brows gave the unhappy gentleman such lean comfort as he was capable of taking. Patrick in sooth was engaged in the hard attempt at the same time to do two of the most difficult things which can be proposed to the ingenuity of sensational youth: he was trying to excuse a respected senior for conduct that he could not approve, while he did inward battle to reconcile his feelings with the frightful addition to his hoard of knowledge: in other words, he sought strenuously to mix the sketch of the prince with the dregs of the elixir coming from the portrait of Adiante; and now she sank into obscurity behind the blackest of brushes, representing her incredible husband; and now by force of some natural light she broke through the ugly mist and gave her adored the sweet lines and colours of the features he had lost. There was an ebb and flow of the struggle, until, able to say to himself that he saw her clearly as though the portrait was in the palm of his hand, the battle of the imagination ceased and she was fairer for him than if her foot had continued pure of its erratic step: fairer, owing to the eyes he saw with; he had shaken himself free of the exacting senses which consent to the worship of women upon the condition of their possessing all the precious and the miraculous qualities; among others, the gift of an exquisite fragility that cannot break; in short, upon terms flattering to the individual devotee. Without knowing it he had done it and got some of the upholding strength of those noblest of honest men who not merely give souls to women-an extraordinary endowment of them-but also discourse to them with their souls.

Patrick accepted Adiante's husband: the man was her husband. Hideous (for there was no combating her father's painting of him), he was almost interesting through his alliance:-an example of how much earth the worshipper can swallow when he is quite sincere. Instead of his going under eclipse, the beauty of his lady eclipsed her monster. He believed in her right to choose according to her pleasure since her lover was denied her. Sitting alone by his fire, he gazed at her for hours and bled for Philip. There was a riddle to be answered in her cutting herself away from Philip; he could not answer it; her face was the vindication and the grief. The usual traverses besetting true lovers were suggested to him, enemies and slanders and intercepted letters. He rejected them in the presence of the beautiful inscrutable. Small marvel that Philip had loved her. 'Poor fellow' Patrick cried aloud, and drooped on a fit of tears.

The sleep he had was urgently dream-ridden to goals that eluded him and broadened to fresh races and chases waving something to be won which never was won, albeit untiringly pursued amid a series of adventures, tragic episodes; wild enthusiasm. The whole of it was featureless, a shifting agitation; yet he must have been endowed to extricate a particular meaning applied to himself out of the mass of tumbled events, and closely in relation to realities, for he quitted his bed passionately regretting that he had not gone through a course of drill and study of the military art. He remembered Mr. Adister's having said that military training was good for all gentlemen.

'I could join the French Foreign Legion,' he thought.

Adiante was as beautiful by day as by night. He looked. The riddle of her was more burdensome in the daylight.

He sighed, and on another surging of his admiration launched the resolve that he would serve her blindly, without one question. How, when, where, and the means and the aim, he did not think of. There was she, and here was he, and heaven and a great heart would show the way.

Adiante at eighteen, the full length of her, fresh in her love of Philip, was not the same person to him, she had not the same secret; she was beautiful differently. By right he should have loved the portrait best: but he had not seen it first; he had already lived through a life of emotions with the miniature, and could besides clasp the frame; and moreover he fondled an absurd notion that the miniature would be entrusted to him for a time, and was almost a possession. The pain of the thought of relinquishing it was the origin of this foolishness. And again, if it be fair to prove him so deeply, true to his brother though he was (admiration of a woman does thus influence the tides of our blood to render the noblest of us guilty of some unconscious wavering of our loyalty), Patrick dedicated the full-length of Adiante to Philip, and reserved the other, her face and neck, f

or himself.

Obediently to Mr. Adister's order, the portrait had been taken from one of his private rooms and placed in the armoury, the veil covering the canvas of late removed. Guns and spears and swords overhead and about, the youthful figure of Adiante was ominously encompassed. Caroline stood with Patrick before the portrait of her cousin; she expected him to show a sign of appreciation. He asked her to tell him the Church whose forms of faith the princess had embraced. She answered that it was the Greek Church. 'The Greek,' said he, gazing harder at the portrait. Presently she said: 'It was a perfect likeness.' She named the famous artist who had painted it. Patrick's 'Ah' was unsatisfactory.

'We,' said she, 'think it a living image of her as she was then.'

He would not be instigated to speak.

'You do not admire it, Mr. O'Donnell?' she cried.

'Oh, but I do. That's how she looked when she was drawing on her gloves with good will to go out to meet him. You can't see her there and not be sure she had a heart. She part smiles; she keeps her mouth shut, but there's the dimple, and it means a thought, like a bubble bursting up from the heart in her breast. She's tall. She carries herself like a great French lady, and nothing beats that. It's the same colour, dark eyebrows and fair hair. And not thinking of her pride. She thinks of her walk, and the end of it, where he's waiting. The eyes are not the same.'

'The same?' said Caroline.

'As this.' He tapped on the left side. She did not understand it at all.

'The bit of work done in Vienna,' said he.

She blushed. 'Do you admire that so much?'

'I do.'

'We consider it not to be compared to this.'

'Perhaps not. I like it better.'

'But why do you like that better?' said Caroline, deeming it his wilfulness.

Patrick put out a finger. 'The eyes there don't seem to say, "I'm yours to make a hero of you." But look,' he drew forth from under his waistcoat the miniature, 'what don't they say here! It's a bright day for the Austrian capital that has her by the river Danube. Yours has a landscape; I've made acquaintance with the country, I caught the print of it on my ride yesterday; and those are your mountains. But mine has her all to herself while she's thinking undisturbed in her boudoir. I have her and her thoughts; that's next to her soul. I've an idea it ought to be given to Philip.' He craned his head round to woo some shadow of assent to the daring suggestion. 'Just to break the shock 'twill be to my brother, Miss Adister. If I could hand him this, and say, "Keep it, for you'll get nothing more of her; and that's worth a kingdom."'

Caroline faltered: 'Your brother does not know?'

'Pity him. His blow 's to come. He can't or he 'd have spoken of it to me. I was with him a couple of hours and he never mentioned a word of it, nor did Captain Con. We talked of Ireland, and the service, and some French cousins we have.'

'Ladies?' Caroline inquired by instinct.

'And charming,' said Patrick, 'real dear girls. Philip might have one, if he would, and half my property, to make it right with her parents. There'd be little use in proposing it. He was dead struck when the shaft struck him. That's love! So I determined the night after I'd shaken his hand I'd be off to Earlsfont and try my hardest for him. It's hopeless now. Only he might have the miniature for his bride. I can tell him a trifle to help him over his agony. She would have had him, she would, Miss Adister, if she hadn't feared he'd be talked of as Captain Con has been-about the neighbourhood, I mean, because he,' Patrick added hurriedly, 'he married an heiress and sank his ambition for distinction like a man who has finished his dinner. I'm certain she would. I have it on authority.'

'What authority?' said Caroline coldly.

'Her own old nurse.'

'Jenny Williams?'

'The one! I had it from her. And how she loves her darling Miss Adiante! She won't hear of "princess." She hates that marriage. She was all for my brother Philip. She calls him "Our handsome lieutenant." She'll keep the poor fellow a subaltern all his life.'

'You went to Jenny's inn?'

'The Earlsfont Arms, I went to. And Mrs. Jenny at the door, watching the rain. Destiny directed me. She caught the likeness to Philip on a lift of her eye, and very soon we sat conversing like old friends. We were soon playing at old cronies over past times. I saw the way to bring her out, so I set to work, and she was up in defence of her darling, ready to tell me anything to get me to think well of her. And that was the main reason, she said, why Miss Adiante broke with him and went abroad her dear child wouldn't have Mr. Philip abused for fortune-hunting. As for the religion, they could each have practised their own: her father would have consented to the fact, when it came on him in that undeniable shape of two made one. She says, Miss Adiante has a mighty soul; she has brave ideas. Miss Deenly, she calls her. Ay, and so has Philip: though the worst is, they're likely to drive him out of the army into politics and Parliament; and an Irishman there is a barrow trolling a load of grievances. Ah, but she would have kept him straight. Not a soldier alive knows the use of cavalry better than my brother. He wanted just that English wife to steady him and pour drops of universal fire into him; to keep him face to face with the world, I mean; letting him be true to his country in a fair degree, but not an old rainpipe and spout. She would have held him to his profession. And, Oh dear! She's a friend worth having, lost to Ireland. I see what she could have done there. Something bigger than an island, too, has to be served in our days: that is, if we don't forget our duty at home. Poor Paddy, and his pig, and his bit of earth! If you knew what we feel for him! I'm a landlord, but I'm one with my people about evictions. We Irish take strong root. And honest rent paid over to absentees, through an agent, if you think of it, seems like flinging the money that's the sweat of the brow into a stone conduit to roll away to a giant maw hungry as the sea. It's the bleeding to death of our land! Transactions from hand to hand of warm human flesh-nothing else will do: I mean, for men of our blood. Ah! she would have kept my brother temperate in his notions and his plans. And why absentees, Miss Adister? Because we've no centre of home life: the core has been taken out of us; our country has no hearth-fire. I'm for union; only there should be justice, and a little knowledge to make allowance for the natural cravings of a different kind of people. Well, then, and I suppose that inter-marriages are good for both. But here comes a man, the boldest and handsomest of his race, and he offers himself to the handsomest and sweetest of yours, and she leans to him, and the family won't have him. For he's an Irishman and a Catholic. Who is it then opposed the proper union of the two islands? Not Philip. He did his best; and if he does worse now he's not entirely to blame. The misfortune is, that when he learns the total loss of her on that rock-promontory, he'll be dashing himself upon rocks sure to shiver him. There's my fear. If I might take him this...?' Patrick pleaded with the miniature raised like the figure of his interrogation.

Caroline's inward smile threw a soft light of humour over her features at the simple cunning of his wind-up to the lecture on his country's case, which led her to perceive a similar cunning simplicity in his identification of it with Philip's. It startled her to surprise, for the reason that she'd been reviewing his freakish hops from Philip to Ireland and to Adiante, and wondering in a different kind of surprise, how and by what profitless ingenuity he contrived to weave them together. Nor was she unmoved, notwithstanding her fancied perception of his Jesuitry: his look and his voice were persuasive; his love of his brother was deep; his change of sentiment toward Adiante after the tale told him by her old nurse Jenny, stood for proof of a generous manliness.

Before she had replied, her uncle entered the armoury, and Patrick was pleading still, and she felt herself to be a piece of damask, a very fiery dye.

To disentangle herself, she said on an impulse, desperately

'Mr. O'Donnell begs to have the miniature for his brother.'

Patrick swung instantly to Mr. Adister. 'I presumed to ask for it, sir, to carry it to Philip. He is ignorant about the princess as yet; he would like to have a bit of the wreck. I shan't be a pleasant messenger to him. I should be glad to take him something. It could be returned after a time. She was a great deal to Philip-three parts of his life. He has nothing of her to call his own.'

'That!' said Mr. Adister. He turned to the virgin Adiante, sat down and shut his eyes, fetching a breath. He looked vacantly at Patrick.

'When you find a man purely destructive, you think him a devil, don't you?' he said.

'A good first cousin to one,' Patrick replied, watchful for a hint to seize the connection.

'If you think of hunting to-day, we have not many minutes to spare before we mount. The meet is at eleven, five miles distant. Go and choose your horse. Caroline will drive there.'

Patrick consulted her on a glance for counsel. 'I shall be glad to join you, sir, for to-morrow I must be off to my brother.'

'Take it,' Mr. Adister waved his hand hastily. He gazed at his idol of untouched eighteen. 'Keep it safe,' he said, discarding the sight of the princess. 'Old houses are doomed to burnings, and a devil in the family may bring us to ashes. And some day...!' he could not continue his thought upon what he might be destined to wish for, and ran it on to, 'Some day I shall be happy to welcome your brother, when it pleases him to visit me.'

Patrick bowed, oppressed by the mighty gift. 'I haven't the word to thank you with, sir.'

Mr. Adister did not wait for it.

'I owe this to you, Miss Adister,' said Patrick.

Her voice shook: 'My uncle loves those who loved her.'

He could see she was trembling. When he was alone his ardour of gratefulness enabled him to see into her uncle's breast: the inflexible frigidity; lasting regrets and remorse; the compassion for Philip in kinship of grief and loss; the angry dignity; the stately generosity.

He saw too, for he was clear-eyed when his feelings were not over-active, the narrow pedestal whereon the stiff figure of a man of iron pride must accommodate itself to stand in despite of tempests without and within; and how the statue rocks there, how much more pitiably than the common sons of earth who have the broad common field to fall down on and our good mother's milk to set them on their legs again.

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