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Lord Ormont and His Aminta -- V By George Meredith Characters: 23757

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The noise in London over Adolphus Morsfield's tragical end disturbed Lord Ormont much less than the cessation of letters from his Aminta; and that likewise, considering his present business on her behalf, he patiently shrugged at and pardoned, foreseeing her penitent air. He could do it lightly after going some way to pardon his offending country. For Aminta had not offended, his robust observation of her was moved to the kindly humorous by a reflective view here and there of the downright woman her clever little shuffles exposed her to be, not worse. It was her sex that made her one of the gliders in grasses, some of whom are venomous; but she belonged to the order only as an innocuous blindworm. He could pronounce her small by-play with Morsfield innocent, her efforts to climb the stairs into Society quite innocent; judging her, of course, by her title of woman. A woman's innocence has a rainbow skin. Set this one beside other women, she comes out well, fairly well, well enough.

Now that the engagement with Charlotte assumed proportions of a series of battle, properly to be entitled a campaign, he had, in his loneliness, fallen into the habit of reflecting at the close of his day's work; and the rubbing of that unused opaque mirror hanging inside a man of action had helped him piecemeal to perceive bits of his conduct, entirely approved by him, which were intimately connected, nevertheless, with a train of circumstances that he disliked and could not charge justly upon any other shoulders than his own. What was to be thought of it? He would not be undergoing this botheration of the prolonged attempt to bring a stubborn woman to a sense of her duty, if he had declared his marriage in the ordinary style, and given his young countess her legitimate place before the world. What impeded it? The shameful ingratitude of his countrymen to the soldier who did it eminent service at a crisis of the destinies of our Indian Empire! He could not condone the injury done to him by entering among them again. Too like the kicked cur, that! He retired-call it 'sulked in his tent,' if you like. His wife had to share his fortunes. He being slighted, she necessarily was shadowed. For a while she bore it contentedly enough; then began her mousy scratches to get into the room off the wainscot, without blame from him; she behaved according to her female nature.

Yes, but the battles with Charlotte forced on his recognition once more, and violently, the singular consequences of his retirement and Coriolanus quarrel with his countrymen. He had doomed himself ever since to a contest with women. First it was his Queen of Amazons, who, if vanquished, was not so easily vanquished, and, in fact, doubtfully, -for now, to propitiate her, he had challenged, and must overcome or be disgraced, the toughest Amazonian warrior man could stand against at cast of dart or lock of arms. No day scored an advantage; and she did not apparently suffer fatigue. He did: that is to say, he was worried and hurried to have the wrangle settled and Charlotte at Aminta's feet. He gained not an inch of ground. His principle in a contention of the sort was to leave the woman to the practice of her obvious artifices, and himself simply hammer, incessantly hammer. But Charlotte hammered as well. The modest position of the defensive negative was not to her taste. The moment he presented himself she flew out upon some yesterday's part of the argument and carried the war across the borders, in attacks on his character and qualities-his weakness regarding women, his incapacity to forgive, and the rest. She hammered on that head. As for any prospect of a termination of the strife, he could see none in her joyful welcome to him and regretful parting and pleased appointment of the next meeting day after day.

The absurdest of her devices for winding him off his aim was to harp on some new word she had got hold of as, for example, to point out to him his aptitudes, compliment him on his aptitudes, recommend him to study and learn the limitations of his aptitudes! She revelled in something the word unfolded to her.

However, here was the point: she had to be beaten. So, if she, too, persisted in hammering, he must employ her female weapon of artifice with her. One would gladly avoid the stooping to it in a civil dispute, in which one is not so gloriously absolved for lying and entrapping as in splendid war.

Weyburn's name was announced to him at an early hour on Thursday morning. My lord nodded to the footman; he nodded to himself over a suggestion started in a tactical intelligence by the name.

'Ah! you 're off?' he accosted the young man.

'I have come to take my leave, my lord.'

'Nothing new in the morning papers?'

'A report that Captain May intends to return and surrender.'

'Not before a month has passed, if he follows my counsel.'

'To defend his character.'

'He has none.'

'His reputation.'

'He has too much.'

'These charges against him must be intolerable.'

'Was he not a bit of a pupil of yours?'

'We practised two or three times-nothing more.'

'Morsfield was a wasp at a feast. Somebody had to crush him. I 've seen the kind of man twice in my life and exactly the kind of man. If their law puts down duelling, he rules the kingdom!'

'My lord, I should venture to say the kind of man can be a common annoyance because the breach of the law is countenanced.'

'Bad laws are best broken. A society that can't get a scouring now and then will be a dirty set.'

With a bend of the head, in apology for speaking of himself, Weyburn said: 'I have acted on my view. I declined a challenge from a sort of henchman of his.'

'Oh! a poacher's lurcher? You did right. Fight such fellows with constables. You have seen Lady Charlotte?'

'I am on my way to her ladyship.'

'Do me this favour. Fourteen doors up the street of her residence, my physician lives. I have to consult him at once. Dr. Rewkes.'

Weyburn bowed. Lady Charlotte could not receive him later than half-past ten of the morning, he said. 'This morning she can,' said my lord. 'You will tell Dr. Rewkes that it is immediate. I rather regret your going. I shall be in a controversy with the Horse Guards about our cavalry saddles. It would be regiments of raw backs the first fortnight of a campaign.'

The earl discoursed on saddles; and passed to high eulogy of our Hanoverian auxiliary troopers in the Peninsula; 'good husbands,' he named them quaintly, speaking of their management of their beasts. Thence he diverged to Frederic's cavalry, rarely matched for shrewdness and endurance; to the deeds of the Liechtenstein Hussars; to the great things Blucher did with his horsemen.

The subject was interesting; but Weyburn saw the clock at past the half after ten. He gave a slight sign of restiveness, and was allowed to go when the earl had finished his pro and con upon Arab horses and Mameluke saddles. Lord Ormont nicked his head, just as at their first interview: he was known to have an objection to the English shaking of hands. 'Good-morning,' he said; adding a remark or two, of which et cetera may stand for an explicit rendering. It concerned the young man's prosperity: my lord's conservative plain sense was in doubt of the prospering of a giddy pate, however good a worker. His last look at the young man, who had not served him badly, held an anticipation of possibly some day seeing a tatterdemalion of shipwreck, a rueful exhibition of ideas put to the business of life.

Weyburn left the message with Dr. Rewkes in person. It had not seemed to him that Lord Ormont was one requiring the immediate attendance of a physician. By way of accounting to Lady Charlotte for the lateness of his call, he mentioned the summons he had delivered.

'Oh, that's why he hasn't come yet,' said she. 'We'll sit and talk till he does come. I don't wonder if his bile has been stirred. He can't oil me to credit what he pumps into others. His Lady Ormont! I believe in it less than ever I did. Morsfield or no Morsfield-and now the poor wretch has got himself pinned to the plank, like my grandson Bobby's dragonflies, I don't want to say anything further of him-she doesn't have much of a welcome at Steignton! If I were a woman to wager as men do, I 'd stake a thousand pounds to five on her never stepping across the threshold of Steignton. All very well in London, and that place he hires up at Marlow. He respects our home. That 's how I know my brother Rowsley still keeps a sane man. A fortune on it!-and so says Mr. Eglett. Any reasonable person must think it. He made a fool of some Hampton-Evey at Madrid, if he went through any ceremony-and that I doubt. But she and old (what do they call her?) may have insisted upon the title, as much as they could. He sixty; she under twenty, I'm told. Pagnell 's the name. That aunt of a good-looking young woman sees a noble man of sixty admiring her five feet seven or so-she's tall-of marketable merchandise, and she doesn't need telling that at sixty he'll give the world to possess the girl. But not his family honour! He stops at that. Why? Lord Ormont 's made of pride! He'll be kind to her, he'll be generous, he won't forsake her; she'll have her portion in his will, and by the course of things in nature, she'll outlive him and marry, and be happy, I hope. Only she won't enter Steignton. You remember what I say. You 'll live when I 'm gone. It 's the thirst of her life to be mistress of Steignton. Not she!-though Lord Ormont would have us all open our doors to her; mine too, now he 's about it. He sets his mind on his plan, and he forgets rights and dues-everything; he must have it as his will dictates. That 's how he made such a capital soldier. You know the cavalry leader he was. If they'd given him a field in Europe! His enemies admit that. Twelve! and my clock's five minutes or more slow. What can Rowsley be doing?'

She rattled backward on the scene at Steignton, and her brother's handsome preservation of his dignity 'stood it like the king he is!' and to the Morsfield-May encounter, which had prevented another; and Mrs. May was rolled along in the tide, with a hint of her good reason for liking Lord Ormont; also the change of opinion shown by the Press as to Lord Ormont's grand exploit. Referring to it, she flushed and jigged on her chair for a saddle beneath her. And that glorious Indian adventure warmed her to the man who had celebrated it among his comrades when a boy at school.

'You 're to teach Latin and Greek, you said. For you 're right: we English can't understand the words we 're speaking, if we don't know a good deal of Latin and some Greek. "Conversing in tokens, not standard coin," you said, I remember; and there'll be a "general rabble tongue," unless we English are drilled in the languages we filched from. Lots of lords and ladies want the drilling, then! I'll send some over to you for Swiss air and roots of the English tongue. Oh, and you told me you supported Lord Ormont on his pet argument for corps d'elite; and you quoted Virgil to back it. Let me have that line again-in case of his condescending to write to the papers on the subject.'

Weyburn repeated the half-line.

'Good: I won't forget now. And you said the French act on that because they follow human nature, and the English don't. We "bully it," you said. That was on our drive down to Steignton. I hope you 'll succeed. You 'll be visiting England. Call on me in London or at Olmer-only mind and give me warning. I shall be glad to see you. I 've got some ideas from you. If I meet a man who helps me to read the world and men as they are, I 'm grateful to him; and most people are not, you 'll find. They want you to show them what they 'd like the world to be. We don't agree about a lady. You 're in the lists, lance in r

est, all for chivalry. You 're a man, and a young man. Have you taken your leave of her yet? She'll expect it, as a proper compliment.'

'I propose running down to take my leave of Lady Ormont to-morrow,' replied Weyburn.

'She is handsome?'

She is very handsome.'

'Beautiful, do you mean?'

'Oh, my lady, it would only be a man's notion!'

'Now, that 's as good an answer as could be made! You 're sure to succeed. I 'm not the woman's enemy. But let her keep her place. Why, Rowsley can't be coming to-day! Did Lord Ormont look ill?'

'It did not strike me so.'

'He 's between two fires. A man gets fretted. But I shan't move a step. I dare say she won't. Especially with that Morsfield out of the way. You do mean you think her a beauty. Well, then, there'll soon be a successor to Morsfield. Beauties will have their weapons, and they can hit on plenty; and it 's nothing to me, as long as I save my brother from their arts.'

Weyburn felt he had done his penance in return for kindness. He bowed and rose, Lady Charlotte stretched out her hand.

'We shall be sending you a pupil some day,' she said, and smiled.

'Forward your address as soon as you 're settled.' Her face gave a glimpse of its youth in a cordial farewell smile.

Lord Ormont had no capacity to do the like, although they were strictly brother and sister in appearance. The smallest difference in character rendered her complex and kept him simple. She had a thirsting mind.

Weyburn fancied that a close intimacy of a few months would have enabled him to lift her out of her smirching and depraving mean jealousies. He speculated, as he trod the street, on little plots and surprises, which would bring Lady Charlotte and Lady Ormont into presence, and end by making friends of them. Supposing that could be done, Lady Ormont might be righted by the intervention of Lady Charlotte after all.

Weyburn sent his dream flying with as dreamy an after-thought: 'Funny it will be then for Lady Charlotte to revert to the stuff she has been droning in my ear half an hour ago!-Look well behind, and we see spots where we buzzed, lowed, bit and tore; and not until we have cast that look and seen the brute are we human creatures.'

A crumb of reflection such as this could brace him, adding its modest maravedi to his prized storehouse of gain, fortifying with assurances of his having a concrete basis for his business in life. His great youthful ambition had descended to it, but had sunk to climb on a firmer footing.

Arthur Abner had his next adieu. They talked of Lady Ormont, as to whose position of rightful Countess of Ormont Mr. Abner had no doubt. He said of Lady Charlotte: 'She has a clear head; but she loves her "brother Rowsley" excessively; and any excess pushes to craziness.'

He spoke to Weyburn of his prospects in the usually, perhaps necessarily, cheerless tone of men who recognize by contrast the one mouse's nibbling at a mountain of evil. 'To harmonize the nationalities, my dear boy! teach Christians to look fraternally on Jews! David was a harper, but the setting of him down to roll off a fugue on one of your cathedral organs would not impose a heavier task than you are undertaking. You have my best wishes, whatever aid I can supply. But we 're nearer to King John's time than to your ideal, as far as the Jews go.'

'Not in England.'

'Less in England,' Abner shrugged.

'You have beaten the Christians on the field they challenged you to enter for a try. They feel the pinch in their interests and their vanity. That will pass. I 'm for the two sides, under the name of Justice; and I give the palm to whichever of the two first gets hold of the idea of Justice. My old schoolmate's well?'

'Always asking after Matey Weyburn !'

'He shall have my address in Switzerland. You and I will be corresponding.'

Now rose to view the visit to the lady who was Lady Ormont on the tongue, Aminta at heart; never to be named Aminta even to himself. His heart broke loose at a thought of it.

He might say Browny. For that was not serious with the intense present signification the name Aminta had. Browny was queen of the old school- time-enclosed it in her name; and that sphere enclosed her, not excluding him. And the dear name of Browny played gently, humorously, fervently, too, with life: not, pathetically, as that of Aminta did when came a whisper of her situation, her isolation, her friendlessness; hardly dissimilar to what could be imagined of a gazelle in the streets of London city. The Morsfields were not all slain. The Weyburns would be absent.

At the gate of his cottage garden Weyburn beheld a short unfamiliar figure of a man with dimly remembered features. Little Collett he still was in height. The schoolmates had not met since the old days of Cuper's.

Little Collett delivered a message of invitation from Selina, begging Mr. Weyburn to accompany her brother on the coach to Harwich next day, and spend two or three days by the sea. But Weyburn's mind had been set in the opposite direction-up Thames instead of down.

He was about to refuse, but he checked his voice and hummed. Words of Selina's letter jumped in italics. He perceived Lady Ormont's hand. For one thing, would she be at Great Marlow alone? And he knew that hand -how deftly it moved and moved others. Selina Collett would not have invited him with underlinings merely to see a shoreside house and garden. Her silence regarding a particular name showed her to be under injunction, one might guess. At worst, it would be the loss of a couple of days; worth the venture. They agreed to journey by coach next day.

Facing eastward in the morning, on a seat behind the coachman, Weyburn had a seafaring man beside him, bound for the good port of Harwich, where his family lived, and thence by his own boat to Flushing. Weyburn set him talking of himself, as the best way of making him happy; for it is the theme which pricks to speech, and so liberates an uncomfortably locked-up stranger; who, if sympathetic to human proximity, is thankful. They exchanged names, delighted to find they were both Matthews; whereupon Matthew of the sea demanded the paw of Matthew of the land, and there was a squeeze. The same with little Collett, after hearing of him as the old schoolmate of the established new friend. Then there was talk. Little Collett named Felixstowe as the village of his mother's house and garden sloping to the sands. 'That 's it-you have it,' said the salted Matthew: 'peace is in that spot, and there I 've sworn to pitch my tent when I 'm incapacitated for further exercise-profitable, so to speak. My eldest girl has a bar of amber she picked up one wash of the tide at Felixstowe, and there it had been lying sparkling, unseen, hours, the shore is that solitary. What I like!-a quiet shore and a peopled sea. Ever been to Brighton? There it 's t' other way.'

Not long after he had mentioned the time of early evening for their entry into his port of Harwich, the coach turned quietly over on a bank of the roadside, depositing outside passengers quite safely, in so matter-of- course a way, that only the screams of an uninjured lady inside repressed their roars of laughter. One of the wheels had come loose, half a mile off the nearest town. Their entry into Harwich was thereby delayed until half-past nine at night. Full of consideration for the new mates now fast wedded to his heart by an accident. Matthew Shale proposed to Matthew Weyburn, instead of the bother of crossing the ferry with a portmanteau and a bag at that late hour, to sup at his house, try the neighbouring inn for a short sleep, and ship on board his yawl, the honest Susan, to be rowed ashore off the Swin to Felixstowe sands no later than six o'clock of a summer's morning, in time for a bath and a swim before breakfast. It sounded well-it sounded sweetly. Weyburn suggested the counter proposal of supper for the three at the inn. But the other Matthew said: 'I married a cook. She expects a big appetite, and she always keeps warm when I 'm held away, no matter how late. Sure to be enough.'

Beds were secured at the inn; after which came the introduction to Mrs. Shale, the exhibition of Susan Shale's bar of amber, the dish of fresh- fried whiting, the steak pudding, a grog, tobacco, rest at the inn, and a rousing bang at the sleepers' doors when the unwonted supper in them withheld an answer to the intimating knock. Young Matthew Shale, who had slept on board the Susan, conducted them to her boat. His glance was much drawn to the very white duck trousers Weyburn had put on, for a souvenir of the approbation they had won at Marlow. They were on, and so it was of no use for young Matthew to say they were likely to bear away a token from the Susan. She was one among the damsels of colour, and free of her tokens, especially to the spotless.

How it occurred, nobody saw; though everybody saw how naturally it must occur for the white ducks to 'have it in the eye' by the time they had been on board a quarter of an hour. Weyburn got some fun out of them, for a counterbalance to a twitch of sentimental regret scarcely decipherable, as that the last view of him should bear a likeness of Browny's recollection of her first.

A glorious morning of flushed open sky and sun on sea chased all small thoughts out of it. The breeze was from the west, and the Susan, lightly laden, took the heave of smooth rollers with a flowing current-curtsey in the motion of her speed. Fore-sail and aft were at their gentle strain; her shadow rippled fragmentarily along to the silver rivulet and boat of her wake. Straight she flew to the ball of fire now at spring above the waters, and raining red gold on the line of her bows. By comparison she was an ugly yawl, and as the creature of wind and wave beautiful.

They passed an English defensive fort, and spared its walls, in obedience to Matthew Shale's good counsel that they should forbear from sneezing. Little Collett pointed to the roof of his mother's house twenty paces rearward of a belt of tamarisks, green amid the hollowed yellows of shorebanks yet in shade, crumbling to the sands. Weyburn was attracted by a diminutive white tent, of sentry-box shape, evidently a bather's, quite as evidently a fair bather's. He would have to walk on some way for his dip. He remarked to little Collett that ladies going into the water half-dressed never have more than half a bath. His arms and legs flung out contempt of that style of bathing, exactly in old Matey's well- remembered way. Half a mile off shore, the Susan was put about to flap her sails, and her boat rocked with the passengers. Turning from a final cheer to friendly Matthew, Weyburn at the rudder espied one of those unenfranchised ladies in marine uniform issuing through the tent-slit. She stepped firmly, as into her element. A plain look at her, and a curious look, and an intent look fixed her fast, and ran the shock on his heart before he knew of a guess. She waded, she dipped; a head across the breast of the waters was observed: this one of them could swim. She was making for sea, a stone's throw off the direction of the boat. Before his wits had grasped the certainty possessing them, fiery envy and desire to be alongside her set his fingers fretting at buttons. A grand smooth swell of the waters lifted her, and her head rose to see her world. She sank down the valley, where another wave was mounding for its onward roll: a gentle scene of Weyburn's favourite Sophoclean chorus. Now she was given to him-it was she. How could it ever have been any other! He handed his watch to little Collett, and gave him the ropes, pitched coat and waistcoat on his knees, stood free of boots and socks, and singing out, truly enough, the words of a popular cry, 'White ducks want washing,' went over and in.

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