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   Chapter 6 AMINTA TO HER LORD

Lord Ormont and His Aminta -- V By George Meredith Characters: 9557

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


On Friday, on Saturday, on Sunday, Lady Charlotte waited for her brother Rowsley, until it was a diminished satisfaction that she had held her ground and baffled his mighty will to subdue her. She did not sleep for thinking of him on the Sunday night. Toward morning a fit of hazy horrors, which others would have deemed imaginings, drove her from her bed to sit and brood over Rowsley in a chair. What if it was a case of heart with him too? Heart disease had been in the family. A man like Rowsley, still feeling the world before him, as a man of his energies and aptitudes, her humour added in the tide of his anxieties, had a right to feel, would not fall upon resignation like a woman.

She was at the physician's door at eight o'clock. Dr. Rewkes reported reassuringly; it was a simple disturbance in Lord Ormont's condition of health, and he conveyed just enough of disturbance to send the impetuous lady knocking and ringing at her brother's door upon the hour of nine.

The announcement of Lady Charlotte's early visit informed my lord that Dr. Rewkes had done the spiriting required of him. He descended to the library and passed under scrutiny.

'You don't look ill, Rowsley,' she said, reluctantly in the sound.

'I am the better for seeing you here, Charlotte. Shall I order breakfast for you? I am alone.'

'I know you are. I've eaten. Rewkes tells me you've not lost appetite.'

'Have I the appearance of a man who has lost anything?' Prouder man, and heartier and ruddier, could not be seen, she thought.

'You're winning the country to right you; that I know.'

'I don't ask it.'

'The country wants your services.'

'I have heard some talk of it. That lout comes to a knowledge of his wants too late. If they promoted and offered me the command in India to- morrow-'My lord struck the arm of his chair. 'I live at Steignton henceforth; my wife is at a seaside place eastward. She left the jewel- case when on her journey through London for safety; she is a particularly careful person, forethoughtful. I take her down to Steignton two days after her return. We entertain there in the autumn. You come?'

'I don't. I prefer decent society.'

'You are in her house now, ma'am.'

'If I have to meet the person, you mean, I shall be civil. The society you've given her, I won't meet.'

'You will have to greet the Countess of Ormont if you care to meet your brother.'

'Part, then, on the best terms we can. I say this, the woman who keeps you from serving your country, she 's your country's enemy.'

'Hear my answer. The lady who is my wife has had to suffer for what you call my country's treatment of me. It 's a choice between my country and her. I give her the rest of my time.'

'That's dotage.'

'Fire away your epithets.'

'Sheer dotage. I don't deny she's a handsome young woman.'

'You'll have to admit that Lady Ormont takes her place in our family with the best we can name.'

'You insult my ears, Rowsley.'

'The world will say it when it has the honour of her acquaintance.'

'An honour suspiciously deferred.'

'That's between the world and me.'

'Set your head to work, you'll screw the world to any pitch you like- that I don't need telling.'

Lord Ormont's head approved the remark.

'Now,' said Lady Charlotte, 'you won't get the Danmores, the Dukerlys, the Carminters, the Oxbridges any more than you get me.'

'You are wrong, ma'am. I had yesterday a reply from Lady Danmore to a communication of mine.'

'It 's thickening. But while I stand, I stand for the family; and I 'm not in it, and while I stand out of it, there 's a doubt either of your honesty or your sanity.'

'There's a perfect comprehension of my sister!'

'I put my character in the scales against your conduct, and your Countess of Ormont's reputation into the bargain.'

'You have called at her house; it 's a step. You 'll be running at her heels next. She 's not obdurate.'

'When you see me running at her heels, it'll be with my head off. Stir your hardest, and let it thicken. That man Morsfield's name mixed up with a sham Countess of Ormont, in the stories flying abroad, can't hurt anybody. A true Countess of Ormont-we 're cut to the quick.'

'We 're cut! Your quick, Charlotte, is known to court the knife.'

Letters of the morning's post were brought in.

The earl turned over a couple and took up a third, saying: 'I 'll attend to you in two minutes'; and thinking once more: Queer world it is, where, when you sheath the sword, you have to be at play with bodkins!

Lady Charlotte gazed on the carpet, effervescent with retorts to his last observation, rightly conjecturing that the letter he selected to read was from 'his Aminta.'

The letter apparently was interesting, or it was o

f inordinate length.

He seemed still to be reading. He reverted to the first page.

At the sound of the paper, she discarded her cogitations and glanced up. His countenance had become stony. He read on some way, with a sudden drop on the signature, a recommencement, a sound in the throat, as when men grasp a comprehensible sentence of a muddled rigmarole and begin to have hopes of the remainder. But the eye on the page is not the eye which reads.

'No bad news, Rowsley?'

The earl's breath fell heavily.

Lady Charlotte left her chair, and walked about the room.

'Rowsley, I 'd like to hear if I can be of use.'

'Ma'am?' he said; and pondered on the word 'use,' staring at her.

'I don't intend to pry. I can't see my brother look like that, and not ask.'

The letter was tossed on the table to her. She read these lines, dated from Felixstowe:

'MY DEAR LORD,

'The courage I have long been wanting in has come at last, to break a tie that I have seen too clearly was a burden on you from the beginning. I will believe that I am chiefly responsible for inducing you to contract it. The alliance with an inexperienced girl of inferior birth, and a perhaps immoderate ambition, has taxed your generosity; and though the store may be inexhaustible, it is not truly the married state when a wife subjects the husband to such a trial. The release is yours, the sadness is for me. I have latterly seen or suspected a design on your part to meet my former wishes for a public recognition of the wife of Lord Ormont. Let me now say that these foolish wishes no longer exist. I rejoice to think that my staying or going will be alike unknown to the world. I have the means of a livelihood, in a modest way, and shall trouble no one.

'I have said, the sadness is for me. That is truth. But I have to add, that I, too, am sensible of the release. My confession of a change of feeling to you as a wife, writes the close of all relations between us. I am among the dead for you; and it is a relief to me to reflect on the little pain I give . . .'

'Has she something on her conscience about that man Morsfield?' Lady

Charlotte cried.

Lord Ormont's prolonged Ah! of execration rolled her to a bundle.

Nevertheless her human nature and her knowledge of woman's, would out with the words: 'There's a man!'

She allowed her brother to be correct in repudiating the name of the dead Morsfield-chivalrous as he was on this Aminta's behalf to the last!-and struck along several heads, Adderwood's, Weyburn's, Randeller's, for the response to her suspicion. A man there certainly was. He would be probably a young man. He would not necessarily be a handsome man. . . . or a titled or a wealthy man. She might have set eyes on a gypsy somewhere round Great Marlow-blood to blood; such things have been. Imagining a wildish man for her, rather than a handsome one and one devoted staidly to the founding of a school, she overlooked Weyburn, or reserved him with others for subsequent speculation.

The remainder of Aminta's letter referred to her delivery of the Ormont jewel-case at Lord Ormont's London house, under charge of her maid Carstairs. The affairs of the household were stated very succinctly, the drawer for labelled keys, whatever pertained to her management, in London or at Great Marlow.

'She 's cool,' Lady Charlotte said, after reading out the orderly array of items, in a tone of rasping irony, to convince her brother he was well rid of a heartless wench.

Aminta's written statement of those items were stabs at the home she had given him, a flashed picture of his loss. Nothing written by her touched him to pierce him so shrewdly; nothing could have brought him so closely the breathing image in the flesh of the woman now a phantom for him.

'Will she be expecting you to answer, Rowsley?'

'Will that forked tongue cease hissing!' he shouted, in the agony of a strong man convulsed both to render and conceal the terrible, shameful, unexampled gush of tears.

Lady Charlotte beheld her bleeding giant. She would rather have seen the brother of her love grimace in woman's manner than let loose those rolling big drops down the face of a rock. The big sob shook him, and she was shaken to the dust by the sight. Now she was advised by her deep affection for her brother to sit patient and dumb, behind shaded eyes: praising in her heart the incomparable force of the man's love of the woman contrasted with the puling inclinations of the woman for the man.

Neither opened mouth when they separated. She pressed and kissed a large nerveless hand. Lord Ormont stood up to bow her forth. His ruddied skin had gone to pallor resembling the berg of ice on the edge of Arctic seas, when sunlight has fallen away from it.

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