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By George Meredith





At a season when the pleasant South-western Island has few attractions to
other than invalids and hermits enamoured of wind and rain, the potent
nobleman, Lord Mountfalcon, still lingered there to the disgust of his
friends and special parasite. "Mount's in for it again," they said among
themselves. "Hang the women!" was a natural sequence. For, don't you
see, what a shame it was of the women to be always kindling such a very
inflammable subject! All understood that Cupid had twanged his bow, and
transfixed a peer of Britain for the fiftieth time: but none would
perceive, though he vouched for it with his most eloquent oaths, that
this was a totally different case from the antecedent ones. So it had
been sworn to them too frequently before. He was as a man with mighty
tidings, and no language: intensely communicative, but inarticulate.
Good round oaths had formerly compassed and expounded his noble emotions.
They were now quite beyond the comprehension of blasphemy, even when
emphasized, and by this the poor lord divinely felt the case was
different. There is something impressive in a great human hulk writhing
under the unutterable torments of a mastery he cannot contend with, or
account for, or explain by means of intelligible words. At first he took
refuge in the depths of his contempt for women. Cupid gave him line.
When he had come to vent his worst of them, the fair face now stamped on
his brain beamed the more triumphantly: so the harpooned whale rose to
the surface, and after a few convulsions, surrendered his huge length.
My lord was in love with Richard's young wife. He gave proofs of it by
burying himself beside her. To her, could she have seen it, he gave
further proofs of a real devotion, in affecting, and in her presence
feeling, nothing beyond a lively interest in her well-being. This
wonder, that when near her he should be cool and composed, and when away
from her wrapped in a tempest of desires, was matter for what powers of
cogitation the heavy nobleman possessed.

The Hon. Peter, tired of his journeys to and fro, urged him to press the
business. Lord Mountfalcon was wiser, or more scrupulous, than his
parasite. Almost every evening he saw Lucy. The inexperienced little
wife apprehended no harm in his visits. Moreover, Richard had commended
her to the care of Lord Mountfalcon, and Lady Judith. Lady Judith had
left the Island for London: Lord Mountfalcon remained. There could be no
harm. If she had ever thought so, she no longer did. Secretly, perhaps,
she was flattered. Lord Mountfalcon was as well educated as it is the
fortune of the run of titled elder sons to be: he could talk and
instruct: he was a lord: and he let her understand that he was wicked,
very wicked, and that she improved him. The heroine, in common with the
hero, has her ambition to be of use in the world - to do some good: and
the task of reclaiming a bad man is extremely seductive to good women.
Dear to their tender bosoms as old china is a bad man they are mending!
Lord Mountfalcon had none of the arts of a libertine: his gold, his
title, and his person had hitherto preserved him from having long to sigh
in vain, or sigh at all, possibly: the Hon. Peter did his villanies for
him. No alarm was given to Lucy's pure instinct, as might have been the
case had my lord been over-adept. It was nice in her martyrdom to have a
true friend to support her, and really to be able to do something for
that friend. Too simple-minded to think much of his lordship's position,
she was yet a woman. "He, a great nobleman, does not scorn to
acknowledge me, and think something of me," may have been one of the
half-thoughts passing through her now and then, as she reflected in self-
defence on the proud family she had married into.

January was watering and freezing old earth by turns, when the Hon. Peter
travelled down to the sun of his purse with great news. He had no sooner
broached his lordship's immediate weakness, than Mountfalcon began to
plunge like a heavy dragoon in difficulties. He swore by this and that
he had come across an angel for his sins, and would do her no hurt. The
next moment he swore she must be his, though she cursed like a cat. His
lordship's illustrations were not choice. "I haven't advanced an inch,"
he groaned. "Brayder! upon my soul, that little woman could do anything
with me. By heaven! I'd marry her to-morrow. Here I am, seeing her
every day in the week out or in, and what do you think she gets me to
talk about? - history! Isn't it enough to make a fellow mad? and there am
I lecturing like a prig, and by heaven! while I'm at it I feel a pleasure
in it; and when I leave the house I should feel an immense gratification
in shooting somebody. What do they say in town?"

"Not much," said Brayder, significantly.

"When's that fellow - her husband - coming down?"

"I rather hope we've settled him for life, Mount."

Nobleman and parasite exchanged looks.

"How d'ye mean?"

Brayder hummed an air, and broke it to say, "He's in for Don Juan at a
gallop, that's all."

"The deuce! Has Bella got him?" Mountfalcon asked with eagerness.

Brayder handed my lord a letter. It was dated from the Sussex coast,
signed "Richard," and was worded thus:

"My beautiful Devil! -

"Since we're both devils together, and have found each other out, come to
me at once, or I shall be going somewhere in a hurry. Come, my bright
hell-star! I ran away from you, and now I ask you to come to me! You
have taught me how devils love, and I can't do without you. Come an hour
after you receive this."

Mountfalcon turned over the letter to see if there was any more.
"Complimentary love-epistle!" he remarked, and rising from his chair and
striding about, muttered, "The dog! how infamously he treats his wife!"

"Very bad," said Brayder.

"How did you get hold of this?"

"Strolled into Belle's dressing-room, waiting for her turned over her
pincushion hap-hazard. You know her trick."

"By Jove! I think that girl does it on purpose. Thank heaven, I haven't
written her any letters for an age. Is she going to him?"

"Not she! But it's odd, Mount! - did you ever know her refuse money
before? She tore up the cheque in style, and presented me the fragments
with two or three of the delicacies of language she learnt at your
Academy. I rather like to hear a woman swear. It embellishes her!"

Mountfalcon took counsel of his parasite as to the end the letter could
be made to serve. Both conscientiously agreed that Richard's behaviour
to his wife was infamous, and that he at least deserved no mercy. "But,"
said his lordship, "it won't do to show the letter. At first she'll be
swearing it's false, and then she'll stick to him closer. I know the

"The rule of contrary," said Brayder, carelessly. "She must see the
trahison with her eyes. "They believe their eyes. There's your chance,
Mount. You step in: you give her revenge and consolation - two birds at
one shot. That's what they like."

"You're an ass, Brayder," the nobleman exclaimed. "You're an infernal
blackguard. You talk of this little woman as if she and other women were
all of a piece. I don't see anything I gain by this confounded letter.
Her husband's a brute - that's clear."

"Will you leave it to me, Mount?"

"Be damned before I do!" muttered my lord.

"Thank you. Now see how this will end: You're too soft, Mount. You'll
be made a fool of."

"I tell you, Brayder, there's nothing to be done. If I carry her off -
I've been on the point of doing it every day - what'll come of that?
She'll look - I can't stand her eyes - I shall be a fool - worse off with
her than I am now."

Mountfalcon yawned despondently. "And what do you think?" he pursued.
"Isn't it enough to make a fellow gnash his teeth? She's"...he mentioned
something in an underbreath, and turned red as he said it.

"Hm!" Brayder put up his mouth and rapped the handle of his cane on his
chin. "That's disagreeable, Mount. You don't exactly want to act in
that character. You haven't got a diploma. Bother!"

"Do you think I love her a bit less?" broke out my lord in a frenzy. "By
heaven! I'd read to her by her bedside, and talk that infernal history
to her, if it pleased her, all day and all night."

"You're evidently graduating for a midwife, Mount."

The nobleman appeared silently to accept the imputation.

"What do they say in town?" he asked again.

Brayder said the sole question was, whether it was maid, wife, or widow.

"I'll go to her this evening," Mountfalcon resumed, after - to judge by
the cast of his face - reflecting deeply. "I'll go to her this evening.
She shall know what infernal torment she makes me suffer."

"Do you mean to say she don't know it?"

"Hasn't an idea - thinks me a friend. And so, by heaven! I'll be to

"A - hm!" went the Honourable Peter. "This way to the sign of the Green
Man, ladies!"

"Do you want to be pitched out of the window, Brayder?"

"Once was enough, Mount. The Salvage Man is strong. I may have
forgotten the trick of alighting on my feet. There - there! I'll be
sworn she's excessively innocent, and thinks you a disinterested friend."

"I'll go to her this evening," Mountfalcon repeated. "She shall know
what damned misery it is to see her in such a position. I can't hold out
any longer. Deceit's horrible to such a girl as that. I'd rather have
her cursing me than speaking and looking as she does. Dear little girl!-
-she's only a child. You haven't an idea how sensible that little woman

"Have you?" inquired the cunning one.

"My belief is, Brayder, that there are angels among women," said
Mountfalcon, evading his parasite's eye as he spoke.

To the world, Lord Mountfalcon was the thoroughly wicked man; his
parasite simply ingeniously dissipated. Full many a man of God had
thought it the easier task to reclaim the Hon. Peter.

Lucy received her noble friend by firelight that evening, and sat much in
the shade. She offered to have the candles brought in. He begged her to
allow the room to remain as it was. "I have something to say to you," he
observed with a certain solemnity.

"Yes - to me?" said Lucy, quickly.

Lord Mountfalcon knew he had a great deal to say, but how to say it, and
what it exactly was, he did not know.'

"You conceal it admirably," he began, "but you must be very lonely here -
I fear, unhappy."

"I should have been lonely, but for your kindness, my lord," said Lucy.
"I am not unhappy." Her face was in shade and could not belie her.

"Is there any help that one who would really be your friend might give
you, Mrs. Feverel?"

"None indeed that I know of," Lucy replied. "Who can help us to pay for
our sins?"

"At least you may permit me to endeavour to pay my debts, since you have
helped me to wash out some of any sins."

"Ah, my lord!" said Lucy, not displeased. It is sweet for a woman to
believe she has drawn the serpent's teeth.

"I tell you the truth," Lord Mountfalcon went on. "What object could I
have in deceiving you? I know you quite above flattery - so different
from other women!"

"Oh, pray, do not say that," interposed Lucy.

"According to my experience, then."

"But you say you have met such - such very bad women."

"I have. And now that I meet a good one, it is my misfortune."

"Your misfortune, Lord Mountfalcon?"

"Yes, and I might say more."

His lordship held impressively mute.

"How strange men are!" thought Lucy. "He had some unhappy secret."

Tom Bakewell, who had a habit of coming into the room on various
pretences during the nobleman's visits, put a stop to the revelation, if
his lordship intended to make any.

When they were alone again, Lucy said, smiling: "Do you know, I am always
ashamed to ask you to begin to read."

Mountfalcon stared. "To read? - oh! ha! yes!" he remembered his evening
duties. "Very happy, I'm sure. Let me see. Where were we?"

"The life of the Emperor Julian. But indeed I feel quite ashamed to ask
you to read, my lord. It's new to me; like a new world - hearing about
Emperors, and armies, and things that really have been on the earth we
walk upon. It fills my mind. But it must have ceased to interest you,
and I was thinking that I would not tease you any more."

"Your pleasure is mine, Mrs. Feverel. 'Pon my honour, I'd read till I
was hoarse, to hear your remarks."

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Do I look so?"

Lord Mountfalcon had fine full eyes, and by merely dropping the lids he
could appear to endow them with mental expression.

"No, you are not," said Lucy. "I must thank you for your forbearance."

The nobleman went on his honour loudly.

Now it was an object of Lucy's to have him reading; for his sake, for her
sake, and for somebody else's sake; which somebody else was probably
considered first in the matter. When he was reading to her, he seemed to
be legitimizing his presence there; and though she had no doubts or
suspicions whatever, she was easier in her heart while she had him
employed in that office. So she rose to fetch the book, laid it open on
the table at his lordship's elbow, and quietly waited to ring for candles
when he should be willing to commence.

That evening Lord Mountfalcon could not get himself up to the farce, and
he felt a pity for the strangely innocent unprotected child with anguish
hanging over her, that withheld the words he wanted to speak, or
insinuate. He sat silent and did nothing.

"What I do not like him for," said Lucy, meditatively, "is his changing
his religion. He would have been such a hero, but for that. I could
have loved him."

"Who is it you could have loved, Mrs. Feverel?" Lord Mountfalcon asked.

"The Emperor Julian."

"Oh! the Emperor Julian! Well, he was an apostate but then, you know, he
meant what he was about. He didn't even do it for a woman."

"For a woman!" cried Lucy. "What man would for a woman?"

"I would."

"You, Lord Mountfalcon?"

"Yes. I'd turn Catholic to-morrow."

"You make me very unhappy if you say that, my lord."

"Then I'll unsay it."

Lucy slightly shuddered. She put her hand upon the bell to ring for

"Do you reject a convert, Mrs. Feverel?" said the nobleman.

"Oh yes! yes! I do. One who does not give his conscience I would not

"If he gives his heart and body, can he give more?"

Lucy's hand pressed the bell. She did not like the doubtful light with
one who was so unscrupulous. Lord Mountfalcon had never spoken in this
way before. He spoke better, too. She missed the aristocratic twang in
his voice, and the hesitation for words, and the fluid lordliness with
which he rolled over difficulties in speech.

Simultaneously with the sounding of the bell the door opened, and
presented Tom Bakewell. There was a double knock at the same instant at
the street door. Lucy delayed to give orders.

"Can it be a letter, Tom! - so late?" she said, changing colour. "Pray
run and see."

"That an't powst" Tom remarked, as he obeyed his mistress.

"Are you very anxious for a letter, Mrs. Feverel?" Lord Mountfalcon

"Oh, no! - yes, I am, very." said Lucy. Her quick ear caught the tones of
a voice she remembered. "That dear old thing has come to see me," she
cried, starting up.

Tom ushered a bunch of black satin into the room.

"Mrs. Berry!" said Lucy, running up to her and kissing her.

"Me, my darlin'!" Mrs. Berry, breathless and rosy with her journey,
returned the salute. "Me truly it is, in fault of a better, for I ain't
one to stand by and give the devil his licence - roamin'! and the salt
sure enough have spilte my bride-gown at the beginnin', which ain't the
best sign. Bless ye! - Oh, here he is." She beheld a male figure in a
chair by the half light, and swung around to address him. "You bad man!"
she held aloft one of her fat fingers, "I've come on ye like a bolt, I
have, and goin' to make ye do your duty, naughty boy! But your my
darlin' babe," she melted, as was her custom, "and I'll never meet you
and not give to ye the kiss of a mother."

Before Lord Mountfalcon could find time to expostulate the soft woman had
him by the neck, and was down among his luxurious whiskers.

"Ha!" She gave a smothered shriek, and fell back. "What hair's that?"

Tom Bakewell just then illumined the transaction.

"Oh, my gracious!" Mrs. Berry breathed with horror, "I been and kiss a
strange man!"

Lucy, half-laughing, but in dreadful concern, begged the noble lord to
excuse the woful mistake.

"Extremely flattered, highly favoured, I'm sure;" said his lordship, re-
arranging his disconcerted moustache; "may I beg the pleasure of an

"My husband's dear old nurse - Mrs. Berry," said Lucy, taking her hand to
lend her countenance. "Lord Mountfalcon, Mrs. Berry."

Mrs. Berry sought grace while she performed a series of apologetic bobs,
and wiped the perspiration from her forehead.

Lucy put her into a chair: Lord Mountfalcon asked for an account of her
passage over to the Island; receiving distressingly full particulars, by
which it was revealed that the softness of her heart was only equalled by
the weakness of her stomach. The recital calmed Mrs. Berry down.

"Well, and where's my - where's Mr. Richard? yer husband, my dear?" Mrs.
Berry turned from her tale to question.

"Did you expect to see him here?" said Lucy, in a broken voice.

"And where else, my love? since he haven't been seen in London a whole

Lucy did not speak.

"We will dismiss the Emperor Julian till to-morrow, I think," said Lord
Mountfalcon, rising and bowing.

Lucy gave him her hand with mute thanks. He touched it distantly,
embraced Mrs. Berry in a farewell bow, and was shown out of the house by
Tom Bakewell.

The moment he was gone, Mrs. Berry threw up her arms. "Did ye ever know
sich a horrid thing to go and happen to a virtuous woman!" she exclaimed.
"I could cry at it, I could! To be goin' and kissin' a strange hairy
man! Oh dear me! what's cornin' next, I wonder? Whiskers! thinks I - for
I know the touch o' whiskers - 't ain't like other hair - what! have he
growed a crop that sudden, I says to myself; and it flashed on me I been
and made a awful mistake! and the lights come in, and I see that great
hairy man - beggin' his pardon - nobleman, and if I could 'a dropped
through the floor out o' sight o' men, drat 'em! they're al'ays in the
way, that they are!" -

"Mrs. Berry," Lucy checked her, "did you expect to find him here?"

"Askin' that solemn?" retorted Berry. "What him? your husband? O'
course I did! and you got him - somewheres hid."

"I have not heard from my husband for fifteen days," said Lucy, and her
tears rolled heavily off her cheeks.

"Not heer from him! - fifteen days!" Berry echoed.

"O Mrs. Berry! dear kind Mrs. Berry! have you no news? nothing to tell
me! I've borne it so long. They're cruel to me, Mrs. Berry. Oh, do you
know if I have offended him - my husband? While he wrote I did not
complain. I could live on his letters for years. But not to hear from
him! To think I have ruined him, and that he repents! Do they want to
take him from me? Do they want me dead? O Mrs. Berry! I've had no one
to speak out my heart to all this time, and I cannot, cannot help crying,
Mrs. Berry!"

Mrs. Berry was inclined to be miserable at what she heard from Lucy's
lips, and she was herself full of dire apprehension; but it was never
this excellent creature's system to be miserable in company. The sight
of a sorrow that was not positive, and could not refer to proof, set her
resolutely the other way.

"Fiddle-faddle," she said. "I'd like to see him repent! He won't find
anywheres a beauty like his own dear little wife, and he know it. Now,
look you here, my dear - you blessed weepin' pet - the man that could see
ye with that hair of yours there in ruins, and he backed by the law, and
not rush into your arms and hold ye squeezed for life, he ain't got much
man in him, I say; and no one can say that of my babe! I was sayin',
look here, to comfort ye - oh, why, to be sure he've got some surprise for
ye. And so've I, my lamb! Hark, now! His father've come to town, like
a good reasonable man at last, to u-nite ye both, and bring your bodies
together, as your hearts is, for everlastin'. Now ain't that news?"

"Oh!" cried Lucy, "that takes my last hope away. I thought he had gone
to his father." She burst into fresh tears.

Mrs. Berry paused, disturbed.

"Belike he's travellin' after him," she suggested.

"Fifteen days, Mrs. Berry!"

"Ah, fifteen weeks, my dear, after sieh a man as that. He's a regular
meteor, is Sir Austin Feverel, Raynham Abbey. Well, so hark you here. I
says to myself, that knows him - for I did think my babe was in his
natural nest - I says, the bar'net'll never write for you both to come up
and beg forgiveness, so down I'll go and fetch you up. For there was
your mistake, my dear, ever to leave your husband to go away from ye one
hour in a young marriage. It's dangerous, it's mad, it's wrong, and it's
only to be righted by your obeyin' of me, as I commands it: for I has my
fits, though I am a soft 'un. Obey me, and ye'll be happy tomorrow - or
the next to it."

Lucy was willing to see comfort. She was weary of her self-inflicted
martyrdom, and glad to give herself up to somebody else's guidance

"But why does he not write to me, Mrs. Berry?"

"'Cause, 'cause - who can tell the why of men, my dear? But that he love
ye faithful, I'll swear. Haven't he groaned in my arms that he couldn't
come to ye? - weak wretch! Hasn't he swore how he loved ye to me, poor
young man! But this is your fault, my sweet. Yes, it be. You should 'a
followed my 'dvice at the fust - 'stead o' going into your 'eroics about
this and t'other." Here Mrs. Berry poured forth fresh sentences on
matrimony, pointed especially at young couples. "I should 'a been a fool
if I hadn't suffered myself," she confessed, "so I'll thank my Berry if I
makes you wise in season."

Lucy smoothed her ruddy plump cheeks, and gazed up affectionately into
the soft woman's kind brown eyes. Endearing phrases passed from mouth to
mouth. And as she gazed Lucy blushed, as one who has something very
secret to tell, very sweet, very strange, but cannot quite bring herself
to speak it.

"Well! these's three men in my life I kissed," said Mrs. Berry, too much
absorbed in her extraordinary adventure to notice the young wife's
struggling bosom, "three men, and one a nobleman! He've got more whisker
than my Berry, I wonder what the man thought. Ten to one he'll think,
now, I was glad o' my chance - they're that vain, whether they's lords or
commons. How was I to know? I nat'ral thinks none but her husband'd sit
in that chair. Ha! and in the dark? and alone with ye?" Mrs. Berry
hardened her eyes, "and your husband away? What do this mean? Tell to
me, child, what it mean his bein' here alone without ere a candle?"

"Lord Mountfalcon is the only friend I have here," said Lucy. "He is
very kind. He comes almost every evening."

"Lord Montfalcon - that his name!" Mrs. Berry exclaimed. "I been that
flurried by the man, I didn't mind it at first. He come every evenin',
and your husband out o' sight! My goodness me! it's gettin' worse and
worse. And what do he come for, now, ma'am? Now tell me candid what ye
do together here in the dark of an evenin'."

Mrs. Berry glanced severely.

"O Mrs. Berry! please not to speak in that way - I don't like it," said
Lucy, pouting.

"What do he come for, I ask?"

"Because he is kind, Mrs. Berry. He sees me very lonely, and wishes to
amuse me. And he tells me of things I know nothing about and" -

"And wants to be a-teachin' some of his things, mayhap," Mrs. Berry
interrupted with a ruffled breast.

"You are a very ungenerous, suspicious, naughty old woman," said Lucy,
chiding her.

"And you're a silly, unsuspectin' little bird," Mrs. Berry retorted, as
she returned her taps on the cheek. "You haven't told me what ye do
together, and what's his excuse for comin'."

"Well, then, Mrs. Berry, almost every evening that he comes we read
History, and he explains the battles, and talks to me about the great

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Online LibraryGeorge MeredithOrdeal of Richard Feverel — Volume 6 → online text (page 1 of 7)