THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD FEVEREL
By George Meredith
CONTENTS OF THE ENTIRE SERIES:
I. THE INMATES OF RAYNHAM ABBEY
II. THE FOURTEENTH BIRTHDAY TO TRY THE STRENGTH OF THE SYSTEM
III. THE MAGIAN CONFLICT
V. ADRIAN PLIES HIS HOOK
VI. JUVENILE STRATAGEMS
VII. DAPHNE'S BOWER
VIII. THE BITTER CUP
IX. A FINE DISTINCTION
X. RICHARD PASSES THROUGH HIS PRELIMINARY ORDEAL
XI. THE LAST ACT OF THE BAKEWELL COMEDY IS CLOSED IN A LETTER
XII. THE BLOSSOMING SEASON
XIII. THE MAGNETIC AGE
XIV. AN ATTRACTION
XV. FERDINAND AND MIRANDA
XVI. UNMASKING OF MASTER RIPTON THOMPSON
XVII. GOOD WINE AND GOOD BLOOD
XVIII. THE SYSTEM ENCOUNTERS THE WILD OATS SPECIAL PLEA
XIX. A DIVERSION PLAYED ON A PENNY WHISTLE
XX. CELEBRATES THE TIME-HONOURED TREATMENT OF A DRAGON BY THE HERO
XXI. RICHARD IS SUMMONED TO TOWN TO HEAR A SERMON
XXII. INDICATES THE APPROACHES OF FEVER
XXIII. CRISIS IN THE APPLE-DISEASE
XXIV. OF THE SPRING PRIMROSE AND THE AUTUMNAL
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XXV. IN WHICH THE HERO TAKES A STEP
XXVI. RECORDS THE RAPID DEVELOPMENT OF THE HERO
XXVII. CONTAINS AN INTERCESSION FOR THE HEROINE
XXVIII. PREPARATIONS FOR ACTION WERE CONDUCTED UNDER THE APRIL OF LOVERS
XIX. IN WHICH THE LAST ACT OF THE COMEDY TAKES THE PLACE OF THE FIRST
XXX. CELEBRATES THE BREAKFAST
XXXI. THE PHILOSOPHER APPEARS IN PERSON
XXXII. PROCESSION OF THE CAKE
XXXIII. NURSING THE DEVIL
XXXIV. CONQUEST OF AN EPICURE
XXXV. CLARE'S MARRIAGE
XXXVI. A DINNER-PARTY AT RICHMOND
XXXVII. MRS. BERRY ON MATRIMONY
XXXVIII. AN ENCHANTRESS
XXXIX. THE LITTLE BIRD AND THE FALCON: A BERRY TO THE RESCUE!
XL. CLARE'S DIARY
XLI. AUSTIN RETURNS
XLII. NATURE SPEAKS
XLIII. AGAIN THE MAGIAN CONFLICT
XLIV. THE LAST SCENE
XLV. LADY BLANDISH TO AUSTIN WENTWORTH
I. THE INMATES OF RAYNHAM ABBEY
II. SHOWING HOW THE FATES SELECTED THE FOURTEENTH BIRTHDAY TO TRY
THE STRENGTH OF THE SYSTEM
III. THE MAGIAN CONFLICT
V. ADRIAN PLIES HIS HOOK
VI. JUVENILE STRATAGEMS
VII. DAPHNE'S BOWER
VIII. THE BITTER CUP
IX. A FINE DISTINCTION
X. RICHARD PASSES THROUGH HIS PRELIMINARY ORDEAL, AND IS THE
OCCASION OF AN APHORISM
XI. IN WHICH THE LAST ACT OF THE BAKEWELL COMEDY IS CLOSED IN
Some years ago a book was published under the title of "The Pilgrim's
Scrip." It consisted of a selection of original aphorisms by an
anonymous gentleman, who in this bashful manner gave a bruised heart to
He made no pretension to novelty. "Our new thoughts have thrilled dead
bosoms," he wrote; by which avowal it may be seen that youth had
manifestly gone from him, since he had ceased to be jealous of the
ancients. There was a half-sigh floating through his pages for those
days of intellectual coxcombry, when ideas come to us affecting the
embraces of virgins, and swear to us they are ours alone, and no one else
have they ever visited: and we believe them.
For an example of his ideas of the sex he said:
"I expect that Woman will be the last thing civilized by Man."
Some excitement was produced in the bosoms of ladies by so monstrous a
scorn of them.
One adventurous person betook herself to the Heralds' College, and there
ascertained that a Griffin between two Wheatsheaves, which stood on the
title-page of the book, formed the crest of Sir Austin Absworthy Bearne
Feverel, Baronet, of Raynham Abbey, in a certain Western county folding
Thames: a man of wealth and honour, and a somewhat lamentable history.
The outline of the baronet's story was by no means new. He had a wife,
and he had a friend. His marriage was for love; his wife was a beauty;
his friend was a sort of poet. His wife had his whole heart, and his
friend all his confidence. When he selected Denzil Somers from among his
college chums, it was not on account of any similarity of disposition
between them, but from his intense worship of genius, which made him
overlook the absence of principle in his associate for the sake of such
brilliant promise. Denzil had a small patrimony to lead off with, and
that he dissipated before he left college; thenceforth he was dependent
upon his admirer, with whom he lived, filling a nominal post of bailiff
to the estates, and launching forth verse of some satiric and sentimental
quality; for being inclined to vice, and occasionally, and in a quiet
way, practising it, he was of course a sentimentalist and a satirist,
entitled to lash the Age and complain of human nature. His earlier
poems, published under the pseudonym of Diaper Sandoe, were so pure and
bloodless in their love passages, and at the same time so biting in their
moral tone, that his reputation was great among the virtuous, who form
the larger portion of the English book-buying public. Election-seasons
called him to ballad-poetry on behalf of the Tory party. Dialer
possessed undoubted fluency, but did tittle, though Sir Austin was ever
expecting much of him.
A languishing, inexperienced woman, whose husband in mental and in moral
stature is more than the ordinary height above her, and who, now that her
first romantic admiration of his lofty bearing has worn off, and her
fretful little refinements of taste and sentiment are not instinctively
responded to, is thrown into no wholesome household collision with a
fluent man, fluent in prose and rhyme. Lady Feverel, when she first
entered on her duties at Raynham, was jealous of her husband's friend.
By degrees she tolerated him. In time he touched his guitar in her
chamber, and they played Rizzio and Mary together.
"For I am not the first who found
The name of Mary fatal!"
says a subsequent sentimental alliterative love-poem of Diaper's.
Such was the outline of the story. But the baronet could fill it up. He
had opened his soul to these two. He had been noble Love to the one, and
to the other perfect Friendship. He had bid them be brother and sister
whom he loved, and live a Golden Age with him at Raynham. In fact, he
had been prodigal of the excellences of his nature, which it is not good
to be, and, like Timon, he became bankrupt, and fell upon bitterness.
The faithless lady was of no particular family; an orphan daughter of an
admiral who educated her on his half-pay, and her conduct struck but at
the man whose name she bore.
After five years of marriage, and twelve of friendship, Sir Austin was
left to his loneliness with nothing to ease his heart of love upon save a
little baby boy in a cradle. He forgave the man: he put him aside as
poor for his wrath. The woman he could not forgive; she had sinned every
way. Simple ingratitude to a benefactor was a pardonable transgression,
for he was not one to recount and crush the culprit under the heap of his
good deeds. But her he had raised to be his equal, and he judged her as
his equal. She had blackened the world's fair aspect for him.
In the presence of that world, so different to him now, he preserved his
wonted demeanor, and made his features a flexible mask. Mrs. Doria
Forey, his widowed sister, said that Austin might have retired from his
Parliamentary career for a time, and given up gaieties and that kind of
thing; her opinion, founded on observation of him in public and private,
was, that the light thing who had taken flight was but a feather on her
brother's Feverel-heart, and his ordinary course of life would be
resumed. There are times when common men cannot bear the weight of just
so much. Hippias Feverel, one of his brothers, thought him immensely
improved by his misfortune, if the loss of such a person could be so
designated; and seeing that Hippias received in consequence free quarters
at Raynham, and possession of the wing of the Abbey she had inhabited, it
is profitable to know his thoughts. If the baronet had given two or
three blazing dinners in the great hall he would have deceived people
generally, as he did his relatives and intimates. He was too sick for
that: fit only for passive acting.
The nursemaid waking in the night beheld a solitary figure darkening a
lamp above her little sleeping charge, and became so used to the sight as
never to wake with a start. One night she was strangely aroused by a
sound of sobbing. The baronet stood beside the cot in his long black
cloak and travelling cap. His fingers shaded a lamp, and reddened
against the fitful darkness that ever and anon went leaping up the wall.
She could hardly believe her senses to see the austere gentleman, dead
silent, dropping tear upon tear before her eyes. She lay stone-still in
a trance of terror and mournfulness, mechanically counting the tears as
they fell, one by one. The hidden face, the fall and flash of those
heavy drops in the light of the lamp he held, the upright, awful figure,
agitated at regular intervals like a piece of clockwork by the low
murderous catch of his breath: it was so piteous to her poor human nature
that her heart began wildly palpitating. Involuntarily the poor girl
cried out to him, "Oh, sir!" and fell a-weeping. Sir Austin turned the
lamp on her pillow, and harshly bade her go to sleep, striding from the
room forthwith. He dismissed her with a purse the next day.
Once, when he was seven years old, the little fellow woke up at night to
see a lady bending over him. He talked of this the neat day, but it was
treated as a dream; until in the course of the day his uncle Algernon was
driven home from Lobourne cricket-ground with a broken leg. Then it was
recollected that there was a family ghost; and, though no member of the
family believed in the ghost, none would have given up a circumstance
that testified to its existence; for to possess a ghost is a distinction
Algernon Feverel lost his leg, and ceased to be a gentleman in the
Guards. Of the other uncles of young Richard, Cuthbert, the sailor,
perished in a spirited boat expedition against a slaving negro chief up
the Niger. Some of the gallant lieutenant's trophies of war decorated
the little boy's play-shed at Raynham, and he bequeathed his sword to
Richard, whose hero he was. The diplomatist and beau, Vivian, ended his
flutterings from flower to flower by making an improper marriage, as is
the fate of many a beau, and was struck out of the list of visitors.
Algernon generally occupied the baronet's disused town-house, a wretched
being, dividing his time between horse and card exercise: possessed, it
was said, of the absurd notion that a man who has lost his balance by
losing his leg may regain it by sticking to the bottle. At least,
whenever he and his brother Hippias got together, they never failed to
try whether one leg, or two, stood the bottle best. Much of a puritan as
Sir Austin was in his habits, he was too good a host, and too thorough a
gentleman, to impose them upon his guests. The brothers, and other
relatives, might do as they would while they did not disgrace the name,
and then it was final: they must depart to behold his countenance no
Algernon Feverel was a simple man, who felt, subsequent to his
misfortune, as he had perhaps dimly fancied it before, that his career
lay in his legs, and was now irrevocably cut short. He taught the boy
boxing, and shooting, and the arts of fence, and superintended the
direction of his animal vigour with a melancholy vivacity. The remaining
energies of Algernon's mind were devoted to animadversions on swift
bowling. He preached it over the county, struggling through laborious
literary compositions, addressed to sporting newspapers, on the Decline
of Cricket. It was Algernon who witnessed and chronicled young Richard's
first fight, which was with young Tom Blaize of Belthorpe Farm, three
years the boy's senior.
Hippias Feverel was once thought to be the genius of the family. It was
his ill luck to have strong appetites and a weak stomach; and, as one is
not altogether fit for the battle of life who is engaged in a perpetual
contention with his dinner, Hippias forsook his prospects at the Bar,
and, in the embraces of dyspepsia, compiled his ponderous work on the
Fairy Mythology of Europe. He had little to do with the Hope of Raynham
beyond what he endured from his juvenile tricks.
A venerable lady, known as Great-Aunt Grantley, who had money to bequeath
to the heir, occupied with Hippias the background of the house and shared
her candles with him. These two were seldom seen till the dinner hour,
for which they were all day preparing, and probably all night
remembering, for the Eighteenth Century was an admirable trencherman, and
cast age aside while there was a dish on the table.
Mrs. Doris Foray was the eldest of the three sisters of the baronet, a
florid affable woman, with fine teeth, exceedingly fine light wavy hair,
a Norman nose, and a reputation for understanding men; and that, with
these practical creatures, always means the art of managing them. She
had married an expectant younger son of a good family, who deceased
before the fulfilment of his prospects; and, casting about in her mind
the future chances of her little daughter and sole child, Clare, she
marked down a probability. The far sight, the deep determination, the
resolute perseverance of her sex, where a daughter is to be provided for
and a man to be overthrown, instigated her to invite herself to Raynham,
where, with that daughter, she fixed herself.
The other two Feverel ladies were the wife of Colonel Wentworth and the
widow of Mr. Justice Harley: and the only thing remarkable about them was
that they were mothers of sons of some distinction.
Austin Wentworth's story was of that wretched character which to be
comprehended, that justice should be dealt him, must be told out and
openly; which no one dares now do.
For a fault in early youth, redeemed by him nobly, according to his
light, he was condemned to undergo the world's harsh judgment: not for
the fault - for its atonement.
" - Married his mother's housemaid," whispered Mrs. Doria, with a ghastly
look, and a shudder at young men of republican sentiments, which he was
reputed to entertain. "'The compensation for Injustice,' says the
'Pilgrim's Scrip,' is, that in that dark Ordeal we gather the worthiest
And the baronet's fair friend, Lady Blandish, and some few true men and
women, held Austin Wentworth high.
He did not live with his wife; and Sir Austin, whose mind was bent on the
future of our species, reproached him with being barren to posterity,
while knaves were propagating.
The principal characteristic of the second nephew, Adrian Harley, was his
sagacity. He was essentially the wise youth, both in counsel and in
"In action," the "Pilgrim's Scrip" observes, "Wisdom goes by majorities."
Adrian had an instinct for the majority, and, as the world invariably
found him enlisted in its ranks, his appellation of wise youth was
acquiesced in without irony.
The wise youth, then, had the world with him, but no friends. Nor did he
wish for those troublesome appendages of success. He caused himself to
be required by people who could serve him; feared by such as could
injure. Not that he went out of the way to secure his end, or risked the
expense of a plot. He did the work as easily as he ate his daily bread.
Adrian was an epicurean; one whom Epicurus would have scourged out of his
garden, certainly: an epicurean of our modern notions. To satisfy his
appetites without rashly staking his character, was the wise youth's
problem for life. He had no intimates except Gibbon and Horace, and the
society of these fine aristocrats of literature helped him to accept
humanity as it had been, and was; a supreme ironic procession, with
laughter of Gods in the background. Why not laughter of mortals also?
Adrian had his laugh in his comfortable corner. He possessed peculiar
attributes of a heathen God. He was a disposer of men: he was polished,
luxurious, and happy - at their cost. He lived in eminent self-content,
as one lying on soft cloud, lapt in sunshine. Nor Jove, nor Apollo, cast
eye upon the maids of earth with cooler fire of selection, or pursued
them in the covert with more sacred impunity. And he enjoyed his
reputation for virtue as something additional. Stolen fruits are said to
be sweet; undeserved rewards are exquisite.
The best of it was, that Adrian made no pretences. He did not solicit
the favourable judgment of the world. Nature and he attempted no other
concealment than the ordinary mask men wear. And yet the world would
proclaim him moral, as well as wise, and the pleasing converse every way
of his disgraced cousin Austin.
In a word, Adrian Harley had mastered his philosophy at the early age of
one-and-twenty. Many would be glad to say the same at that age twice-
told: they carry in their breasts a burden with which Adrian's was not
loaded. Mrs. Doria was nearly right about his heart. A singular mishap
(at his birth, possibly, or before it) had unseated that organ, and
shaken it down to his stomach, where it was a much lighter, nay, an
inspiring weight, and encouraged him merrily onward. Throned there it
looked on little that did not arrive to gratify it. Already that region
was a trifle prominent in the person of the wise youth, and carried, as
it were, the flag of his philosophical tenets in front of him. He was
charming after dinner, with men or with women: delightfully sarcastic:
perhaps a little too unscrupulous in his moral tone, but that his moral
reputation belied him, and it must be set down to generosity of
Such was Adrian Harley, another of Sir Austin's intellectual favourites,
chosen from mankind to superintend the education of his son at Raynham.
Adrian had been destined for the Church. He did not enter into Orders.
He and the baronet had a conference together one day, and from that time
Adrian became a fixture in the Abbey. His father died in his promising
son's college term, bequeathing him nothing but his legal complexion, and
Adrian became stipendiary officer in his uncle's household.
A playfellow of Richard's occasionally, and the only comrade of his age
that he ever saw, was Master Ripton Thompson, the son of Sir Austin's
solicitor, a boy without a character.
A comrade of some description was necessary, for Richard was neither to
go to school nor to college. Sir Austin considered that the schools were
corrupt, and maintained that young lads might by parental vigilance be
kept pretty secure from the Serpent until Eve sided with him: a period
that might be deferred, he said. He had a system of education for his
son. How it worked we shall see.
October, shone royally on Richard's fourteenth birthday. The brown
beechwoods and golden birches glowed to a brilliant sun. Banks of
moveless cloud hung about the horizon, mounded to the west, where slept
the wind. Promise of a great day for Raynham, as it proved to be, though
not in the manner marked out.
Already archery-booths and cricketing-tents were rising on the lower
grounds towards the river, whither the lads of Bursley and Lobourne, in
boats and in carts, shouting for a day of ale and honour, jogged merrily
to match themselves anew, and pluck at the lining laurel from each
other's brows, line manly Britons. The whole park was beginning to be
astir and resound with holiday cries. Sir Austin Feverel, a thorough
good Tory, was no game-preserver, and could be popular whenever he chose,
which Sir Males Papworth, on the other side of the river, a fast-handed
Whig and terror to poachers, never could be. Half the village of
Lobourne was seen trooping through the avenues of the park. Fiddlers and
gipsies clamoured at the gates for admission: white smocks, and slate,
surmounted by hats of serious brim, and now and then a scarlet cloak,
smacking of the old country, dotted the grassy sweeps to the levels.
And all the time the star of these festivities was receding further and
further, and eclipsing himself with his reluctant serf Ripton, who kept
asking what they were to do and where they were going, and how late it
was in the day, and suggesting that the lads of Lobourne would be calling
out for them, and Sir Austin requiring their presence, without getting
any attention paid to his misery or remonstrances. For Richard had been
requested by his father to submit to medical examination like a boor
enlisting for a soldier, and he was in great wrath.
He was flying as though he would have flown from the shameful thought of
what had been asked of him. By-and-by he communicated his sentiments to
Ripton, who said they were those of a girl: an offensive remark,
remembering which, Richard, after they had borrowed a couple of guns at
the bailiff's farm, and Ripton had fired badly, called his friend a fool.
Feeling that circumstances were making him look wonderfully like one,
Ripton lifted his head and retorted defiantly, "I'm not!"
This angry contradiction, so very uncalled for, annoyed Richard, who was
still smarting at the loss of the birds, owing to Ripton's bad shot, and
was really the injured party. He, therefore bestowed the abusive epithet
on Ripton anew, and with increase of emphasis.
"You shan't call me so, then, whether I am or not," says Ripton, and
sucks his lips.
This was becoming personal. Richard sent up his brows, and stared at his
defier an instant. He then informed him that he certainly should call
him so, and would not object to call him so twenty times.
"Do it, and see!" returns Ripton, rocking on his feet, and breathing
With a gravity of which only boys and other barbarians are capable,
Richard went through the entire number, stressing the epithet to increase
the defiance and avoid monotony, as he progressed, while Ripton bobbed
his head every time in assent, as it were, to his comrade's accuracy, and
as a record for his profound humiliation. The dog they had with them
gazed at the extraordinary performance with interrogating wags of the
Twenty times, duly and deliberately, Richard repeated the obnoxious word.
At the twentieth solemn iteration of Ripton's capital shortcoming, Ripton
delivered a smart back-hander on Richard's mouth, and squared
precipitately; perhaps sorry when the deed was done, for he was a kind-
hearted lad, and as Richard simply bowed in acknowledgment of the blow he
thought he had gone too far. He did not know the young gentleman he was
dealing with. Richard was extremely cool.
"Shall we fight here?" he said.
"Anywhere you like," replied Ripton.
"A little more into the wood, I think. We may be interrupted." And
Richard led the way with a courteous reserve that somewhat chilled
Ripton's ardour for the contest. On the skirts of the wood, Richard
threw off his jacket and waistcoat, and, quite collected, waited for
Ripton to do the same. The latter boy was flushed and restless; older
and broader, but not so tight-limbed and well-set. The Gods, sole
witnesses of their battle, betted dead against him. Richard had mounted
the white cockade of the Feverels, and there was a look in him that asked
for tough work to extinguish. His brows, slightly lined upward at the
temples, converging to a knot about the well-set straight nose; his full
grey eyes, open nostrils, and planted feet, and a gentlemanly air of calm
and alertness, formed a spirited picture of a young combatant. As for
Ripton, he was all abroad, and fought in school-boy style - that is, he
rushed at the foe head foremost, and struck like a windmill. He was a
lumpy boy. When he did hit, he made himself felt; but he was at the
mercy of science. To see him come dashing in, blinking and puffing and
whirling his arms abroad while the felling blow went straight between
them, you perceived that he was fighting a fight of desperation, and knew
it. For the dreaded alternative glared him in the face that, if he
yielded, he must look like what he had been twenty times calumniously
called; and he would die rather than yield, and swing his windmill till
he dropped. Poor boy! he dropped frequently. The gallant fellow fought
for appearances, and down he went. The Gods favour one of two parties.
Prince Turnus was a noble youth; but he had not Pallas at his elbow.
Ripton was a capital boy; he had no science. He could not prove he was
not a fool! When one comes to think of it, Ripton did choose the only