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   Chapter 7 CONCLUSION

Lord Ormont and His Aminta -- V By George Meredith Characters: 28696

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The peaceful little home on the solitary sandy shore was assailed, unwarned, beneath a quiet sky, some hours later, by a whirlwind, a dust- storm, and rattling volleys. Miss Vincent's discovery, in the past school-days, of Selina Collett's 'wicked complicity in a clandestine correspondence' had memorably chastened the girl, who vowed at the time when her schoolmistress, using the rod of Johnsonian English for the purpose, exposed the depravity of her sinfulness, that she would never again be guilty of a like offence. Her dear and lovely Countess of Ormont, for whom she then uncomplainingly suffered, who deigned now to call her friend, had spoken the kind good-bye, and left the house after Mr. Weyburn's departure that same day; she, of course, to post by Harwich to London; he to sail by packet from the port of Harwich for Flushing. The card of an unknown lady, a great lady, the Lady Charlotte Eglett, was handed to her mother at eight o'clock in the evening.

Lady Charlotte was introduced to the innocent country couple; the mother knitting, the daughter studying a book of the botany of the Swiss Alps, dreaming a distant day's journey over historic lands of various hues to the unimaginable spectacle of earth's grandeur. Her visit lasted fifteen minutes. From the moment of her entry, the room was in such turmoil as may be seen where a water-mill wheel's paddles are suddenly set rounding to pour streams of foam on the smooth pool below. A relentless catechism bewildered their hearing. Mrs. Collett attempted an opposition of dignity to those vehement attacks for answers. It was flooded and rolled over. She was put upon her honour to reply positively to positive questions: whether the Countess of Ormont was in this house at present; whether the Countess of Ormont left the house alone or in company; whether a gentleman had come to the house during the stay of the Countess of Ormont; whether Lady Ormont had left the neighbourhood; the exact time of the day when she quitted the house, and the stated point of her destination.

Ultimately, protesting that they were incapable of telling what they did not know-which Lady Charlotte heard with an incredulous shrug-they related piecemeal what they did know, and Weyburn's name gave her scent. She paid small heed to the tale of Mr. Weyburn's having come there in the character of young Mr. Collett's old schoolmate. Mr. Weyburn had started for the port of Harwich. This day, and not long subsequently, Lady Ormont had started for the port of Harwich, on her way to London, if we like to think it. Further corroboration was quite superfluous.

'Is there a night packet-boat from this port of yours?' Lady Charlotte asked.

The household servants had to be consulted; and she, hurriedly craving the excuse of their tedious mistress, elicited, as far as she could understand them, that there might be and very nearly was, a night packet- boat starting for Flushing. The cook, a native of Harwich, sent up word of a night packet-boat starting at about eleven o'clock last year.

Lady Charlotte saw the chance as a wind-blown beacon-fire under press of shades. Changeing her hawkish manner toward the simple pair, she gave them view of a smile magical by contrast, really beautiful-the smile she had in reserve for serviceable persons whom she trusted-while thanking them and saying, that her anxiety concerned Lady Ormont's welfare.

Her brother had prophesied she would soon be 'running at his wife's heels,' and so she was, but not 'with her head off,' as she had rejoined. She might prove, by intercepting his Aminta, that her head was on. The windy beacon-fire of a chance blazed at the rapid rolling of her carriage-wheels, and sank to stifling smoke at any petty obstruction. Let her but come to an interview with his Aminta, she would stop all that nonsense of the woman's letter; carry her off-and her Weyburn plucking at her other hand to keep her. Why, naturally, treated as she was by Rowsley, she dropped soft eyes on a good-looking secretary. Any woman would-confound the young fellow! But all 's right yet if we get to Harwich in time; unless . . . as a certain coldfish finale tone of the letter playing on the old string, the irrevocable, peculiar to women who are novices in situations of the kind, appeared to indicate; they see in their conscience-blasted minds a barrier to a return home, high as the Archangelical gate behind Mother Eve, and they are down on their knees blubbering gratitude and repentance if the gate swings open to them. It is just the instant, granting the catastrophe, to have a woman back to her duty. She has only to learn she has a magnanimous husband. If she learns into the bargain how he suffers, how he loves her,-well, she despises a man like that Lawrence Finchley all the more for the 'magnanimity' she has the profit of, and perceives to be feebleness. But there 's woman in her good and her bad; she'll trick a man of age, and if he forgives her, owning his own faults in the case, she won't scorn him for it; the likelihood is, she 'll feel bound in honour to serve him faithfully for the rest of their wedded days.

A sketch to her of Rowsley's deep love. . . . Lady Charlotte wandered into an amazement at it. A sentence of her brother's recent speaking danced in her recollection. He said of his country: That Lout comes to a knowledge of his wants too late. True, Old England is always louting to the rear, and has to be pricked in the rear and pulled by the neck before she 's equal to the circumstances around her. But what if his words were flung at him in turn! Short of 'Lout,' it rang correctly. 'Too late,' we hope to clip from the end of the sentence likewise. We have then, if you stress it-'comes to a knowledge of his wants;-a fair example of the creatures men are; the greatest of men; who have to learn from the loss of the woman-or a fear of the loss-how much they really do love her.

Well, and she may learn the same or something sufficiently like it, if she 's caught in time, called to her face, Countess of Ormont, sister-in- law, and smoothed, petted, made believe she 's now understood and won't be questioned on a single particular-in fact, she marches back in a sort of triumph; and all the past in a cupboard, locked up, without further inquiry.

Her brother Rowsley's revealed human appearance of the stricken man -stricken right into his big heart-precipitated Lady Charlotte's reflections and urged her to an unavailing fever of haste during the circuitous drive in moonlight to the port. She alighted at the principal inn, and was there informed that the packetboat, with a favouring breeze and tide, had started ten minutes earlier. She summoned the landlord, and described a lady, as probably one of the passengers: 'Dark, holds herself up high. Some such lady had dined at the inn on tea, and gone aboard the boat soon after.

Lady Charlotte burned with the question: Alone? She repressed her feminine hunger and asked to see the book of visitors. But the lady had not slept at the inn, so had not been requested to write her name.

The track of the vessel could be seen from the pier, on the line of a bar of moonlight; and thinking, that the abominable woman, if aboard she was, had coolly provided herself with a continental passport-or had it done for two by her accomplice, that Weyburn, before she left London-Lady Charlotte sent a loathing gaze at the black figure of the boat on the water, untroubled by any reminder of her share in the conspiracy of events, which was to be her brother's chastisement to his end.

Years are the teachers of the great rocky natures, whom they round and sap and pierce in caverns, having them on all sides, and striking deep inward at moments. There is no resisting the years, if we have a heart, and a common understanding. They constitute, in the sum of them, the self-examination, whence issues, acknowledged or not, a belated self- knowledge, to direct our final actions. She had the heart. Sight of the high-minded, proud, speechless man suffering for the absence of a runaway woman, not ceasing to suffer, never blaming the woman, and consequently, it could be fancied, blaming himself, broke down Lady Charlotte's defences and moved her to review her part in her brother Rowsley's unhappiness. For supposing him to blame himself, her power to cast a shadow of blame on him went from her, and therewith her vindication of her conduct. He lived at Olmer. She read him by degrees, as those who have become absolutely tongueless have to be read; and so she gathered that this mortally (or lastingly) wounded brother of hers was pleased by an allusion to his Aminta. He ran his finger on the lines of a map of Spain, from Barcelona over to Granada; and impressed his nail at a point appearing to be mountainous or woody. Lady Charlotte suggested that he and his Aminta had passed by there. He told a story of a carriage accident: added, 'She was very brave.' One day, when he had taken a keepsake book of England's Beauties off the drawing-room table, his eyes dwelt on a face awhile, and he handed it, with a nod, followed by a slight depreciatory shrug. 'Like her, not so handsome,' Lady Charlotte said.

He nodded again. She came to a knowledge of Aminta's favourite colours through the dwelling of his look on orange and black, deepest rose, light yellow, light blue. Her grand-daughters won the satisfied look if they wore a combination touching his memory. The rocky are not imaginative, and have to be struck from without for a kindling of them. Submissive though she was to court and soothe her brother Rowsley, a spur of jealousy burned in the composition of her sentiments, to set her going. He liked visiting Mrs. Lawrence Finchley at her effaced good man's country seat, Brockholm in Berkshire, and would stay there a month at a time. Lady Charlotte learnt why. The enthusiast for Aminta, without upholding her to her late lord, whom she liked well, talked of her openly with him, confessed to a fondness for her. How much Mrs. Lawrence ventured to say, Lady Charlotte could not know. But rivalry pushed her to the extreme of making Aminta partially a topic; and so ready was he to follow her lead in the veriest trifles recalling the handsome runaway; that she had to excite his racy diatribes against the burgess English and the pulp they have made of a glorious nation, in order not to think him inclining upon dotage.

Philippa's occasional scoff in fun concerning 'grandmama's tutor,' hurt Lady Charlotte for more reasons than one, notwithstanding the justification of her fore-thoughtfulness. The girl, however, was privileged; she was Bobby Benlew's dearest friend, and my lord loved the boy; with whom nothing could be done at school, nor could a tutor at Olmer control him. In fine, Bobby saddened the family and gained the earl's anxious affection by giving daily proofs of his being an Ormont in a weak frame; patently an Ormont, recurrently an invalid. His moral qualities hurled him on his physical deficiencies. The local doctor and Dr. Rewkes banished him twice to the seashore, where he began to bloom the first week and sickened the next, for want of playfellows, jolly fights and friendships. Ultimately they prescribed mountain air, Swiss air, easy travelling to Switzerland, and several weeks of excursions at the foot of the Alps. Bobby might possibly get an aged tutor, or find an English clergyman taking pupils, on the way.

Thus it happened, that seven years after his bereavement, Lord Ormont and Philippa and Bobby were on the famous Bernese Terrace, grandest of terrestrial theatres where soul of man has fronting him earth's utmost majesty. Sublime: but five minutes of it fetched sounds as of a plug in an empty phial from Bobby's bosom, and his heels became electrical.

He was observed at play with a gentleman of Italian complexion. Past guessing how it had come about, for the gentleman was an utter stranger. He had at any rate the tongue of an Englishman. He had the style, too, the slang and cries and tricks of an English schoolboy, though visibly a foreigner. And he had the art of throwing his heart into that bit of improvised game, or he would never have got hold of Bobby, shrewd to read a masker.

Lugged-up by the boy to my lord and the young lady, he doffed and bowed. 'Forgive me, pray,' he said; 'I can't see an English boy without having a spin with him; and I make so bold as to speak to English people wherever I meet them, if they give me the chance. Bad manners? Better than that. You are of the military profession, sir, I see. I am a soldier, fresh from Monte Video. Italian, it is evident, under an Italian chief there. A clerk on a stool, and hey presto plunged into the war a month after, shouldering a gun and marching. Fifteen battles in eighteen months; and Death a lady at a balcony we kiss hands to on the march below. Not a bit more terrible! Ah, but your pardon, sir,' he hastened to say, observing rigidity on the features of the English gentleman; 'would I boast? Not I. Accept it as my preface for why I am moved to speak the English wherever I meet them:-Uruguay, Buenos Ayres, La Plata, or Europe. I cannot resist it. At least, he bent gracefully, 'I do not. We come to the grounds of my misbehaviour. I have shown at every call I fear nothing, kiss hand of welcome or adieu to Death. And I, a boy of the age of this youngster-he 's not like me, I can declare!-I was a sneak and a coward. It follows, I was a liar and a traitor. Who cured me of that vileness, that scandal? I will tell you-an Englishman and an Englishwoman: my schoolmaster and his wife. My schoolmaster-my friend! He is the comrade of his boys: English, French, Germans, Italians, a Spaniard in my time-a South American I have sent him-two from Boston, Massachusetts-and clever!-all emulous to excel, none boasting. But, to myself; I was that mean fellow. I did-I could let you know: before this young lady-she would wither me with her scorn, Enough, I sneaked, I lied. I let the blame fall on a schoolfellow and a housemaid. Oh! a small thing, but I coveted it-a scarf. It reminded me of Rome. Enough, there at the bottom of that pit, behold me. It was not discovered, but my schoolfellow was unpunished, the housemaid remained in service; I thought, I thought, a

nd I thought until I could not look in my dear friend Matthew's face. He said to me one day: "Have you nothing to tell me, Giulio?" as if to ask the road to right or left. Out it all came. And no sermon, no! He set me the hardest task I could have. That was a penance!-to go to his wife, and tell it all to her. Then I did think it an easier thing to go and face death-and death had been my nightmare. I went, she listened, she took my hand she said: "You will never do this again, I know, Giulio." She told me no English girl would ever look on a man who was a coward and lied. From that day I have made Truth my bride. And what the consequence? I know not fear! I could laugh, knowing I was to lie down in my six-foot measure to-morrow. If I have done my duty and look in the face of my dear Matthew and his wife! Ah, those two! They are loved. They will be loved all over Europe. He works for Europe and America-all civilized people-to be one country. He is the comrade of his boys. Out of school hours, it is Christian names all round-Matthew, Emile, Adolf, Emilio, Giulio, Robert, Marcel, Franz, et caetera. Games or lessons, a boy can't help learning with him. He makes happy fellows and brave soldiers of them without drill. Sir, do I presume when I say I have your excuse for addressing you because you are his countryman? I drive to the old school in half an hour, and next week he and his dear wife and a good half of the boys will be on the tramp over the Simplon, by Lago Maggiore, to my uncle's house in Milan for a halt. I go to Matthew before I see my own people.'

He swept another bow of apology, chiefly to Philippa, as representative of the sex claiming homage.

Lord Ormont had not greatly relished certain of the flowery phrases employed by this young foreigner. 'Truth his bride,' was damnable: and if a story had to be told, he liked it plain, without jerks and evolutions. Many offences to our taste have to be overlooked in foreigners-Italians! considered, before they were proved in fire, a people classed by nature as operatic declaimers. Bobby had shown himself on the road out to Bern a difficult boy, and stupefyingly ignorant. My lord had two or three ideas working to cloudy combination in his head when he put a question, referring to the management of the dormitories at the school. Whereupon the young Italian introduced himself as Giulio Calliani, and proposed a drive to inspect the old school, with its cricket and football fields, lake for rowing and swimming, gymnastic fixtures, carpenter's shed, bowling alley, and four European languages in the air by turns daily; and the boys, too, all the boys rosy and jolly, according to the last report received of them from his friend Matthew. Enthusiasm struck and tightened the loose chord of scepticism in Lord Ormont; somewhat as if a dancing beggar had entered a kennel-dog's yard, designing to fascinate the faithful beast. It is a chord of one note, that is tightened to sound by the violent summons to accept, which is a provocation to deny. At the same time, the enthusiast's dance is rather funny; he is not an ordinary beggar; to see him trip himself in his dance would be rather funnier. This is to say, inspect the trumpeted school and retire politely. My lord knew the Bern of frequent visits: the woman was needed beside him to inspire a feeling for scenic mountains. Philippa's admiration of them was like a new- pressed grape-juice after a draught of the ripe vintage. Moreover, Bobby was difficult: the rejected of his English schools was a stiff Ormont at lessons, a wheezy Benlew in the playground: exactly the reverse of what should have been. A school of four languages in bracing air, if a school with healthy dormitories, and a school of the trained instincts we call gentlemanly, might suit Master Bobby for a trial. An eye on the boys of the school would see in a minute what stuff they were made of. Supposing this young Italianissimo with the English tongue to be tolerably near the mark, with a deduction of two-thirds of the enthusiasm, Bobby might stop at the school as long as his health held out, or the master would keep him. Supposing half a dozen things and more, the meeting with this Mr. Calliand was a lucky accident. But lucky accidents are anticipated only by fools.

Lord Ormont consented to visit the school. He handed his card and invited his guest; he had a carriage in waiting for the day, he said; and obedient to Lady Charlotte's injunctions, he withheld Philippa from the party. She and her maid were to pass the five hours of his absence in efforts to keep their monkey Bobby out of the well of the solicitious bears.

My lord left his carriage at the inn of the village lying below the school-house on a green height. The young enthusiast was dancing him into the condition of livid taciturnity, which could, if it would, flash out pungent epigrams of the actual world at Operatic recitative.

'There's the old school-clock! Just in time for the half-hour before dinner,' said Calliani, chattering two hundred to the minute, of the habits and usages of the school, and how all had meals together, the master, his wife, the teachers, the boys. 'And she-as for her!' Calliani kissed finger up to the furthest skies: into which a self- respecting sober Northener of the Isles could imagine himself to kick enthusiastic gesticulators, if it were polite to do so.

The school-house faced the master's dwelling house, and these, with a block of building, formed a three-sided enclosure, like barracks! Forth from the school-house door burst a dozen shouting lads, as wasps from the hole of their nest from a charge of powder. Out they poured whizzing; and the frog he leaped, and pussy ran and doubled before the hounds, and hockey-sticks waved, and away went a ball. Cracks at the ball anyhow, was the game for the twenty-five minutes breather before dinner.

'French day!' said Calliani, hearing their cries. Then he bellowed

'Matthew!-Giulio !'

A lusty inversion of the order of the names and an Oberland jodel returned his hail. The school retreating caught up the Alpine cry in the distance. Here were lungs! Here were sprites!

Lord Ormont bethought him of the name of the master. 'Mr. Matthew, I think you said, sir,' he was observing to Calliani, as the master came nearer; and Calliani replied: 'His Christian name. But if the boys are naughty boys, it is not the privilege. Mr. Weyburn.'

There was not any necessity to pronounce that name Calliani spoke it on the rush to his friend.

Lord Ormont and Weyburn advanced the steps to the meeting. Neither of them flinched in eye or limb.

At a corridor window of the dwelling-house a lady stood. Her colour was the last of a summer day over western seas; her thought: 'It has come!' Her mind was in her sight; her other powers were frozen.

The two men conversed. There was no gesture.

This is one of the lightning moments of life for the woman, at the meeting of the two men between whom her person has been in dispute, may still be; her soul being with one. And that one, dearer than the blood of her body, imperilled by her.

She could ask why she exists, if a question were in her grasp. She would ask for the meaning of the gift of beauty to the woman, making her desireable to those two men, making her a cause of strife, a thing of doom. An incessant clamour dinned about her: 'It has come!'

The two men walked conversing into the school-house. She was unconscious of the seeing of a third, though she saw and at the back of her mind believed she knew a friend in him. The two disappeared. She was insensible stone, except for the bell-clang: 'It has come'; until they were in view again, still conversing: and the first of her thought to stir from petrifaction was: 'Life holds no secret.'

She tried, in shame of the inanimate creature she had become, to force herself to think: and had, for a chastising result, a series of geometrical figures shooting across her brain, mystically expressive of the situation, not communicably. The most vivid and persistent was a triangle. Interpret who may. The one beheld the two pass from view again, still conversing.

They are on the gravel; they bow; they separate. He of the grey head poised high has gone.

Her arm was pressed by a hand. Weyburn longed to enfold her, and she desired it, and her soul praised him for refraining. Both had that delicacy.

'You have seen, my darling,' Weyburn said. 'It has come, and we take our chance. He spoke not one word, beyond the affairs of the school. He has a grandnephew in want of a school: visited the dormitories, refectory, and sheds: tasted the well-water, addressed me as Mr. Matthew. He had it from Giulio. Came to look at the school of Giulio's "friend Matthew,": -you hear him. Giulio little imagines!-Well, dear love, we stand with a squad in front, and wait the word. It mayn't be spoken. We have counted long before that something like it was bound to happen. And you are brave. Ruin's an empty word for us two.'

'Yes, dear, it is: we will pay what is asked of us,' Aminta said. 'It will be heavy, if the school . . . and I love our boys. I am fit to be the school-housekeeper; for nothing else.'

'I will go to the boys' parents. At the worst, we can march into new territory. Emile will stick to us. Adolf, too. The fresh flock will come.'

Aminta cried in the voice of tears: 'I love the old so!'

'The likelihood is, we shall hear nothing further.'

'You had to bear the shock, Matthew.'

'Whatever I bore, and you saw, you shared.'

'Yes,' she said.

'Mais, n'oublions pas que c'est aujourd'hui jour francais; si, madame, vous avez assez d'appetit pour diner avec nous?

'Je suis, comme toujours, aux ordres de Monsieur.' She was among the bravest of women. She had a full ounce of lead in her breast when she sat with the boys at their midday meal, showing them her familiar pleasant face.

Shortly after the hour of the evening meal, a messenger from Bern delivered a letter addressed to the Headmaster. Weyburn and Aminta were strolling to the playground, thinking in common, as they usually did. They read the letter together. These were the lines:

'Lord Ormont desires to repeat his sense of obligation to Mr. Matthew for the inspection of the school under his charge, and will be thankful to Mr. Calliani, if that gentleman will do him the favour to call at his hotel at Bern to-morrow, at as early an hour as is convenient to him, for the purpose of making arrangements, agreeable to the Head-master's rules, for receiving his grandnephew Robert Benlew as a pupil at the school.'

The two raised eyes on one another, pained in their deep joy by the religion of the restraint upon their hearts, to keep down the passion to embrace.

'I thank heaven we know him to be one of the true noble men,' said Aminta, now breathing, and thanking Lord Ormont for the free breath she drew.

Weyburn spoke of an idea he had gathered from the earl's manner. But he had not imagined the proud lord's great-heartedness would go so far as to trust him with the guardianship of the boy. That moved, and that humbled him, though it was far from humiliating.

Six months later, the brief communication arrived from Lady Charlotte

'She is a widow.

'Unlikely you will hear from me again. Death is always next door, you said once. I look on the back of life.

'Tell Bobby, capital for him to write he has no longing for home holidays. If any one can make a man of him, you will. That I know.



Affected misapprehensions

Any excess pushes to craziness

Bad laws are best broken

Being in heart and mind the brother to the sister with women

Bounds of his intelligence closed their four walls

Boys, of course-but men, too!

But had sunk to climb on a firmer footing

Challenged him to lead up to her desired stormy scene

Could we-we might be friends

Death is always next door

Desire of it destroyed it

Detestable feminine storms enveloping men weak enough

Distaste for all exercise once pleasurable

Divided lovers in presence

Enthusiasm struck and tightened the loose chord of scepticism

Exult in imagination of an escape up to the moment of capture

Greatest of men; who have to learn from the loss of the woman

He gave a slight sign of restiveness, and was allowed to go

He had gone, and the day lived again for both of them

I look on the back of life

I married a cook She expects a big appetite

I want no more, except to be taught to work

If the world is hostile we are not to blame it

Increase of dissatisfaction with the more she got

Learn-principally not to be afraid of ideas

Look well behind

Lucky accidents are anticipated only by fools

Magnify an offence in the ratio of our vanity

Man who helps me to read the world and men as they are

Meant to vanquish her with the dominating patience

Napoleon's treatment of women is excellent example

Necessity's offspring

One has to feel strong in a delicate position

Our love and labour are constantly on trial

Perhaps inspire him, if he would let her breathe

Person in another world beyond this world of blood

Practical for having an addiction to the palpable

Screams of an uninjured lady

Selfishness and icy inaccessibility to emotion

She had a thirsting mind

She had to be the hypocrite or else-leap

Silence was doing the work of a scourge

Smile she had in reserve for serviceable persons

Snatch her from a possessor who forfeited by undervaluing her

So says the minute Years are before you

The next ten minutes will decide our destinies

The woman side of him

There are women who go through life not knowing love

There is no history of events below the surface

They want you to show them what they 'd like the world to be

Things are not equal

Titles showered on the women who take free breath of air

Violent summons to accept, which is a provocation to deny

We don't go together into a garden of roses

Why he enjoyed the privilege of seeing, and was not beside her

Women are happier enslaved

World against us It will not keep us from trying to serve

Years are the teachers of the great rocky natures

[The End]

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