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   Chapter 2 CAROLINE

Celt and Saxon -- Volume 1 By George Meredith Characters: 18939

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Men of the Adister family having taken to themselves brides of a very dusty pedigree from the Principality, there were curious rough heirlooms to be seen about the house, shields on the armoury walls and hunting- horns, and drinking-horns, and spears, and chain-belts bearing clasps of heads of beasts; old gold ornaments, torques, blue-stone necklaces, under glass-cases, were in the library; huge rings that must have given the wearers fearful fists; a shirt of coarse linen with a pale brown spot on the breast, like a fallen beech-leaf; and many sealed parchment-skins, very precious, for an inspection of which, as Patrick was bidden to understand, History humbly knocked at the Earlsfont hall-doors; and the proud muse made her transcripts of them kneeling. He would have been affected by these wonders had any relic of Adiante appeased his thirst. Or had there been one mention of her, it would have disengaged him from the incessant speculations regarding the daughter of the house, of whom not a word was uttered. No portrait of her was shown. Why was she absent from her home so long? where was she? How could her name be started? And was it she who was the sinner in her father's mind? But the idolatrous love between Adiante and her father was once a legend: they could not have been cut asunder. She had offered up her love of Philip as a sacrifice to it: Patrick recollected that, and now with a softer gloom on his brooding he released her from the burden of his grand charge of unfaithfulness to the truest of lovers, by acknowledging that he was in the presence of the sole rival of his brother. Glorious girl that she was, her betrayal of Philip had nothing of a woman's base caprice to make it infamous: she had sacrificed him to her reading of duty; and that was duty to her father; and the point of duty was in this instance rather a sacred one. He heard voices murmur that she might be praised. He remonstrated with them, assuring them, as one who knew, that a woman's first duty is her duty to her lover; her parents are her second thought. Her lover, in the consideration of a real soul among the shifty creatures, is her husband; and have we not the word of heaven directing her to submit herself to him who is her husband before all others? That peerless Adiante had previously erred in the upper sphere where she received her condemnation, but such a sphere is ladder and ladder and silver ladder high above your hair-splitting pates, you children of earth, and it is not for you to act on the verdict in decrying her: rather 'tis for you to raise hymns of worship to a saint.

Thus did the ingenious Patrick change his ground and gain his argument with the celerity of one who wins a game by playing it without an adversary. Mr. Adister had sprung a new sense in him on the subject of the renunciation of the religion. No thought of a possible apostasy had ever occurred to the youth, and as he was aware that the difference of their faith had been the main cause of the division of Adiante and Philip, he could at least consent to think well of her down here, that is, on our flat surface of earth. Up there, among the immortals, he was compelled to shake his head at her still, and more than sadly in certain moods of exaltation, reprovingly; though she interested him beyond all her sisterhood above, it had to be confessed.

They traversed a banqueting-hall hung with portraits, to two or three of which the master of Earlsfont carelessly pointed, for his guest to be interested in them or not as he might please. A reception-hall flung folding-doors on a grand drawing-room, where the fires in the grates went through the ceremony of warming nobody, and made a show of keeping the house alive. A modern steel cuirass, helmet and plume at a corner of the armoury reminded Mr. Adister to say that he had worn the uniform in his day. He cast an odd look at the old shell containing him when he was a brilliant youth. Patrick was marched on to Colonel Arthur's rooms, and to Captain David's, the sailor. Their father talked of his two sons. They appeared to satisfy him. If that was the case, they could hardly have thrown off their religion. Already Patrick had a dread of naming the daughter. An idea struck him that she might be the person who had been guilty of it over there on the Continent. What if she had done it, upon a review of her treatment of her lover, and gone into a convent to wait for Philip to come and claim her?-saying, 'Philip, I've put the knife to my father's love of me; love me double'; and so she just half swoons, enough to show how the dear angel looks in her sleep: a trick of kindness these heavenly women have, that we heathen may get a peep of their secret rose-enfolded selves; and dream 's no word, nor drunken, for the blessed mischief it works with us.

Supposing it so, it accounted for everything: for her absence, and her father's abstention from a mention of her, and the pretty good sort of welcome Patrick had received; for as yet it was unknown that she did it all for an O'Donnell.

These being his reflections, he at once accepted a view of her that so agreeably quieted his perplexity, and he leapt out of his tangle into the happy open spaces where the romantic things of life are as natural as the sun that rises and sets. There you imagine what you will; you live what you imagine. An Adiante meets her lover another Adiante, the phantom likeness of her, similar to the finger-tips, hovers to a meeting with some one whose heart shakes your manful frame at but a thought of it. But this other Adiante is altogether a secondary conception, barely descried, and chased by you that she may interpret the mystical nature of the happiness of those two, close-linked to eternity, in advance. You would learn it, if she would expound it; you are ready to learn it, for the sake of knowledge; and if you link yourself to her and do as those two are doing, it is chiefly in a spirit of imitation, in sympathy with the darting couple ahead . . . .

Meanwhile he conversed, and seemed, to a gentleman unaware of the vaporous activities of his brain, a young fellow of a certain practical sense.

'We have not much to teach you in: horseflesh,' Mr. Adister said, quitting the stables to proceed to the gardens.

'We must look alive to keep up our breed, sir,' said Patrick. 'We're breeding too fine: and soon we shan't be able to horse our troopers. I call that the land for horses where the cavalry's well-mounted on a native breed.'

'You have your brother's notions of cavalry, have you!'

'I leave it to Philip to boast what cavalry can do on the field. He knows: but he knows that troopers must be mounted: and we're fineing more and more from bone: with the sales to foreigners! and the only chance of their not beating us is that they'll be so good as follow our bad example. Prussia's well horsed, and for the work it's intended to do, the Austrian light cavalry's a model. So I'm told. I'll see for myself. Then we sit our horses too heavy. The Saxon trooper runs headlong to flesh. 'Tis the beer that fattens and swells him. Properly to speak, we've no light cavalry. The French are studying it, and when they take to studying, they come to the fore. I'll pay a visit to their breeding establishments. We've no studying here, and not a scrap of system that I see. All the country seems armed for bullying the facts, till the periodical panic arrives, and then it 's for lying flat and roaring- and we'll drop the curtain, if you please.'

'You say we,' returned Mr. Adister. 'I hear you launched at us English by the captain, your cousin, who has apparently yet to learn that we are one people.'

'We 're held together and a trifle intermixed; I fancy it's we with him and with me when we're talking of army or navy,' said Patrick. 'But Captain Con's a bit of a politician: a poor business, when there's nothing to be done.'

'A very poor business!' Mr. Adister rejoined,

'If you'd have the goodness to kindle his enthusiasm, he'd be for the first person plural, with his cap in the air,' said Patrick.

'I detest enthusiasm.

'You're not obliged to adore it to give it a wakener.

'Pray, what does that mean?'

Patrick cast about to reply to the formal challenge for an explanation.

He began on it as it surged up to him: 'Well, sir, the country that's got hold of us, if we 're not to get loose. We don't count many millions in Europe, and there's no shame in submitting to force majeure, if a stand was once made; and we're mixed up, 'tis true, well or ill; and we're stronger, both of us, united than tearing to strips: and so, there, for the past! so long as we can set our eyes upon something to admire, instead of a bundle squatting fat on a pile of possessions and vowing she won't budge; and taking kicks from a big foot across the Atlantic, and shaking bayonets out of her mob-cap for a little one's cock of the eye at her: and she's all for the fleshpots, and calls the rest of mankind fools because they're not the same: and so long as she can trim her ribands and have her hot toast and tea, with a suspicion of a dram in it, she doesn't mind how heavy she sits: nor that 's not the point, nor 's the land question, nor the potato crop, if only she wore the right sort of face to look at, with a bit of brightness about it, to show an idea inside striking alight from the day that's not yet nodding at us, as the tops of big mountains do: or

if she were only braced and gallant, and cried, Ready, though I haven't much outlook! We'd be satisfied with her for a handsome figure. I don't know whether we wouldn't be satisfied with her for politeness in her manners. We'd like her better for a spice of devotion to alight higher up in politics and religion. But the key of the difficulty's a sparkle of enthusiasm. It's part business, and the greater part sentiment. We want a rousing in the heart of us; or else we'd be pleased with her for sitting so as not to overlap us entirely: we'd feel more at home, and behold her more respectfully. We'd see the policy of an honourable union, and be joined to you by more than a telegraphic cable. That's Captain Con, I think, and many like him.'

Patrick finished his airy sketch of the Irish case in a key signifying that he might be one among the many, but unobtrusive.

'Stick to horses!' observed Mr. Adister.

It was pronounced as the termination to sheer maundering.

Patrick talked on the uppermost topic for the remainder of their stroll.

He noticed that his host occasionally allowed himself to say, 'You Irish': and he reflected that the saying, 'You English,' had been hinted as an offence.

He forgot to think that he had possibly provoked this alienation in a scornfully proud spirit. The language of metaphor was to Mr. Adister fool's froth. He conceded the use of it to the Irish and the Welsh as a right that stamped them for what they were by adopting it; and they might look on a country as a 'she,' if it amused them: so long as they were not recalcitrant, they were to be tolerated, they were a part of us; doubtless the nether part, yet not the less a part for which we are bound to exercise a specially considerate care, or else we suffer, for we are sensitive there: this is justice but the indications by fiddle-faddle verbiage of anything objectionable to the whole in the part aroused an irritability that speedily endued him with the sense of sanity opposing lunacy; when, not having a wide command of the undecorated plain speech which enjoyed his approval, he withdrew into the entrenchments of contempt.

Patrick heard enough to let him understand why the lord of Earlsfont and Captain Con were not on the best of terms. Once or twice he had a twinge or suspicion of a sting from the tone of his host, though he was not political and was of a mood to pity the poor gentleman's melancholy state of solitariness, with all his children absent, his wife dead, only a niece, a young lady of twenty, to lend an air of grace and warmth to his home.

She was a Caroline, and as he had never taken a liking to a Caroline, he classed her in the tribe of Carolines. To a Kathleen, an Eveleen, a Nora, or a Bessy, or an Alicia, he would have bowed more cordially on his introduction to her, for these were names with portraits and vistas beyond, that shook leaves of recollection of the happiest of life-the sweet things dreamed undesiringly in opening youth. A Caroline awakened no soft association of fancies, no mysterious heaven and earth. The others had variously tinted skies above them; their features wooed the dream, led it on as the wooded glen leads the eye till we are deep in richness. Nor would he have throbbed had one of any of his favourite names appeared in the place of Caroline Adister. They had not moved his heart, they had only stirred the sources of wonder. An Eveleen had carried him farthest to imagine the splendours of an Adiante, and the announcement of the coming of an Eveleen would perchance have sped a little wild fire, to which what the world calls curiosity is frozenly akin, through his veins.

Mr. Adister had spoken of his niece Caroline. A lacquey, receiving orders from his master, mentioned Miss Adister. There was but one Miss Adister for Patrick. Against reason, he was raised to anticipate the possible beholding of her, and Caroline's entrance into the drawing-room brought him to the ground. Disappointment is a poor term for the descent from an immoderate height, but the acknowledgment that we have shot up irrationally reconciles even unphilosophical youth to the necessity of the fall, though we must continue sensible of a shock. She was the Miss Adister; and how, and why? No one else accompanied them on their march to the dinner-table. Patrick pursued his double task of hunting his thousand speculations and conversing fluently, so that it is not astonishing if, when he retired to his room, the impression made on him by this young Caroline was inefficient to distinguish her from the horde of her baptismal sisters. And she had a pleasant face: he was able to see that, and some individuality in the look of it, the next morning; and then he remembered the niceness of her manners. He supposed her to have been educated where the interfusion of a natural liveliness with a veiling retenue gives the title of lady. She had enjoyed the advantage of having an estimable French lady for her governess, she informed him, as they sauntered together on the terrace.

'A Protestant, of course,' Patrick spoke as he thought.

'Madame Dugue is a Catholic of Catholics, and the most honourable of women.'

'That I'll believe; and wasn't for proselytisms,' said he.

'Oh, no: she was faithful to her trust.'

'Save for the grand example!'

'That,' said Caroline, 'one could strive to imitate without embracing her faith.'

'There's my mind clear as print!' Patrick exclaimed. 'The Faith of my fathers! and any pattern you like for my conduct, if it's a good one.'

Caroline hesitated before she said: 'You have noticed my Uncle Adister's prepossession; I mean, his extreme sensitiveness on that subject.'

'He blazed on me, and he seemed to end by a sort of approval.'

She sighed. 'He has had cause for great unhappiness.'

'Is it the colonel, or the captain? Forgive me!'

Her head shook.

'Is it she? Is it his daughter? I must ask!'

'You have not heard?'

Oh! then, I guessed it,' cried Patrick, with a flash of pride in his arrowy sagacity. 'Not a word have I heard, but I thought it out for myself; because I love my brother, I fancy. And now, if you'll be so good, Miss Caroline, let me beg, it's just the address, or the city, or the country-where she is, can you tell me?-just whereabouts! You're surprised: but I want her address, to be off, to see her; I'm anxious to speak to her. It's anywhere she may be in a ring, only show me the ring, I'll find her, for I've a load; and there's nothing like that for sending you straight, though it's in the dark; it acts like an instinct. But you know the clear address, and won't let me be running blindfold. She's on the Continent and has been a long time, and it was the capital of Austria, which is a Catholic country, and they've Irish blood in the service there, or they had. I could drop on my knees to you!'

The declaration was fortunately hushed by a supplicating ardour, or Mr. Adister would have looked more surprised than his niece. He stepped out of the library window as they were passing, and, evidently with a mind occupied by his own affairs, held up an opened letter for Caroline's perusal. She took a view of the handwriting.

'Any others?' she said.

'You will consider that one enough for the day,' was his answer.

Patrick descended the terrace and strolled by the waterside, grieved at their having bad news, and vexed with himself for being a stranger, unable to console them.

Half an hour later they were all three riding to the market-town, where

Mr. Adister paid a fruitless call on his lawyer.

'And never is at home! never was known to be at home when wanted!' he said, springing back to the saddle.

Caroline murmured some soothing words. They had a perverse effect.

'His partner! yes, his partner is at home, but I do not communicate upon personal business with his partner; and by and by there will be, I suppose, a third partner. I might as well deposit my family history in the hands of a club. His partner is always visible. It is my belief that Camminy has taken a partner that he may act the independent gentleman at his leisure. I, meantime, must continue to be the mark for these letters. I shall expect soon to hear myself abused as the positive cause of the loss of a Crown!'

'Mr. Camminy will probably appear at the dinner hour,' said Caroline.

'Claret attracts him: I wish I could say as much of duty,' rejoined her uncle.

Patrick managed to restrain a bubbling remark on the respective charms of claret and duty, tempting though the occasion was for him to throw in a conversational word or two.

He was rewarded for listening devoutly.

Mr. Adister burst out again: 'And why not come over here to settle this transaction herself?-provided that I am spared the presence of her Schinderhannes! She could very well come. I have now received three letters bearing on this matter within as many months. Down to the sale of her hereditary jewels! I profess no astonishment. The jewels may well go too, if Crydney and Welvas are to go. Disrooted body and soul! -for a moonshine title!-a gaming-table foreign knave!-Known for a knave!-A young gentlewoman?-a wild Welsh . . . !'

Caroline put her horse to a canter, and the exclamations ended, leaving Patrick to shuffle them together and read the riddle they presented, and toss them to the wind, that they might be blown back on him by the powers of air in an intelligible form.

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