George Meredith.

Lord Ormont and His Aminta — Complete online

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Produced by Pat Castevans and David Widger


By George Meredith








A procession of schoolboys having to meet a procession of schoolgirls on
the Sunday's dead march, called a walk, round the park, could hardly go
by without dropping to a hum in its chatter, and the shot of incurious
half-eyes the petticoated creatures - all so much of a swarm unless you
stare at them like lanterns. The boys cast glance because it relieved
their heaviness; things were lumpish and gloomy that day of the week.
The girls, who sped their peep of inquisition before the moment of
transit, let it be seen that they had minds occupied with thoughts of
their own.

Our gallant fellows forgot the intrusion of the foreign as soon as it
had passed. A sarcastic discharge was jerked by chance at the usher and
the governess - at the old game, it seemed; or why did they keep
steering columns to meet? There was no fun in meeting; it would never be
happening every other Sunday, and oftener, by sheer toss-penny accident.
They were moved like pieces for the pleasure of these two.

Sometimes the meeting occurred twice during the stupid march-out, when
it became so nearly vexatious to boys almost biliously oppressed by the
tedium of a day merely allowing them to shove the legs along, ironically
naming it animal excise, that some among them pronounced the sham
variation of monotony to be a bothering nuisance if it was going to
happen every Sunday, though Sunday required diversions. They hated
the absurdity in this meeting and meeting; for they were obliged to
anticipate it, as a part of their ignominious weekly performance; and
they could not avoid reflecting on it, as a thing done over again: it
had them in front and in rear; and it was a kind of broadside mirror,
flashing at them the exact opposite of themselves in an identically
similar situation, that forced a resemblance.

Touching the old game, Cuper's fold was a healthy school, owing to the
good lead of the head boy, Matey Weyburn, a lad with a heart for games
to bring renown, and no thought about girls. His emulation, the fellows
fancied, was for getting the school into a journal of the Sports. He
used to read one sent him by a sporting officer of his name, and talk
enviously of public schools, printed whatever they did - a privilege and
dignity of which, they had unrivalled enjoyment in the past, days, when
wealth was more jealously exclusive; and he was always prompting for
challenges and saving up to pay expenses; and the fellows were to laugh
at kicks and learn the art of self-defence - train to rejoice in whipcord
muscles. The son of a tradesman, if a boy fell under the imputation, was
worthy of honour with him, let the fellow but show grip and toughness.
He loathed a skulker, and his face was known for any boy who would
own to fatigue or confess himself beaten. "Go to bed," was one of his
terrible stings. Matey was good at lessons, too - liked them; liked Latin
and Greek; would help a poor stumbler.

Where he did such good work was in sharpening the fellows to excel.
He kept them to the grindstone, so that they had no time for rusty
brooding; and it was fit done by exhortations off a pedestal, like St.
Paul at the Athenians, it breathed out of him every day of the week. He
carried a light for followers. Whatever he demanded of them, he himself
did it easily. He would say to boys, "You're going to be men," meaning
something better than women. There was a notion that Matey despised
girls. Consequently, never much esteemed, they were in disfavour. The
old game was mentioned only because of a tradition of an usher and
governess leering sick eyes until they slunk away round a corner and
married, and set up a school for themselves - an emasculate ending.
Comment on it came of a design to show that the whole game had been
examined dismissed as uninteresting and profitless.

One of the boys alluded in Matey's presence to their general view upon
the part played by womankind on the stage, confident of a backing; and
he had it, in a way: their noble chief whisked the subject, as not worth
a discussion; but he turned to a younger chap, who said he detested
girls, and asked him how about a sister at home; and the youngster
coloured, and Matey took him and spun him round, with a friendly tap on
the shoulder.

Odd remarks at intervals caused it to be suspected that he had ideas
concerning girls. They were high as his head above the school; and there
they were left, with Algebra and Homer, for they were not of a sort to
inflame; until the boys noticed how he gave up speaking, and fell to
hard looking, though she was dark enough to get herself named Browny.
In the absence of a fair girl of equal height to set beside her, Browny

She had a nice mouth, ready for a smile at the corners, or so it was
before Matey let her see that she was his mark. Now she kept her mouth
asleep and her eyes half down, up to the moment of her nearing to pass,
when the girl opened on him, as if lifting her eyelids from sleep to the
window, a full side - look, like a throb, and no disguise - no slyness
or boldness either, not a bit of languishing. You might think her heart
came quietly out.

The look was like the fall of light on the hills from the first
of morning. It lasted half a minute, and left a ruffle for a good
half-hour. Even the younger fellows, without knowing what affected
them, were moved by the new picture of a girl, as if it had been
a frontispiece of a romantic story some day to be read. She looked
compelled to look, but consenting and unashamed; at home in submission;
just the look that wins observant boys, shrewd as dogs to read by signs,
if they are interested in the persons. They read Browny's meaning: that
Matey had only to come and snatch her; he was her master, and she was a
brave girl, ready to go all over the world with him; had taken to him
as he to her, shot for shot. Her taking to the pick of the school was a
capital proof that she was of the right sort. To be sure, she could not
much help herself.

Some of the boys regretted her not being fair. But, as they felt, and
sought to explain, in the manner of the wag of a tail, with elbows and
eyebrows to one another's understanding, fair girls could never have let
fly such look; fair girls are softer, woollier, and when they mean to
look serious, overdo it by craping solemn; or they pinafore a jigging
eagerness, or hoist propriety on a chubby flaxen grin; or else they
dart an eye, or they mince and prim and pout, and are sigh-away and
dying-ducky, given to girls' tricks. Browny, after all, was the girl for

She won a victory right away and out of hand, on behalf of her
cloud-and-moon sisters, as against the sunny-meadowy; for slanting
intermediates are not espied of boys in anything: conquered by Browny;
they went over to her colour, equal to arguing, that Venus at her
mightiest must have been dark, or she would not have stood a comparison
with the forest Goddess of the Crescent, swanning it through a lake - on
the leap for run of the chase - watching the dart, with her humming
bow at breast. The fair are simple sugary thing's, prone to fat,
like broad-sops in milk; but the others are milky nuts, good to bite,
Lacedaemonian virgins, hard to beat, putting us on our mettle; and they
are for heroes, and they can be brave. So these boys felt, conquered
by Browny. A sneaking native taste for the forsaken side, known to
renegades, hauled at them if her image waned during the week; and it
waned a little, but Sunday restored and stamped it.

By a sudden turn the whole upper-school had fallen to thinking of girls,
and the meeting on the Sunday was a prospect. One of the day-boarders
had a sister in the seminary of Miss Vincent. He was plied to obtain
information concerning Browny's name and her parents. He had it pat to
hand in answer. No parents came to see her; an aunt came now and then.
Her aunt's name was not wanted. Browny's name was Aminta Farrell.

Farrell might pass; Aminta was debated. This female Christian name had
a foreign twang; it gave dissatisfaction. Boy after boy had a try at it,
with the same effect: you could not speak the name without a pursing
of the month and a puckering of the nose, beastly to see, as one little
fellow reminded them on a day when Matey was in more than common favour,
topping a pitch of rapture, for clean bowling, first ball, middle stump
on the kick, the best bat of the other eleven in a match; and, says this
youngster, drawling, soon after the cheers and claps had subsided to
business, "Aminta."

He made it funny by saying it as if to himself and the ground, in a
subdued way, while he swung his leg on a half-circle, like a skater,
hands in pockets. He was a sly young rascal, innocently precocious
enough, and he meant no disrespect either to Browny or to Matey; but he
had to run for it, his delivery of the name being so like what was in
the breasts of the senior fellows, as to the inferiority of any Aminta
to old Matey, that he set them laughing; and Browny was on the field, to
reprove them, left of the tea-booth, with her school-mates, part of her
head under a scarlet parasol.

A girl with such a name as Aminta might not be exactly up to the
standard of old Matey, still, if he thought her so and she had spirit,
the school was bound to subscribe; and that look of hers warranted her
for taking her share in the story, like the brigand's wife loading
gnus for him while he knocks over the foremost carabineer on the
mountain-ledge below, who drops on his back with a hellish expression.

Browny was then clearly seen all round, instead of only front-face, as
on the Sunday in the park, when fellows could not spy backward after
passing. The pleasure they had in seeing her all round involved no fresh
stores of observation, for none could tell how she tied her back-hair,
which was the question put to them by a cynic of a boy, said to be
queasy with excess of sisters. They could tell that she was tall for a
girl, or tallish - not a maypole. She drank a cup of tea, and ate a slice
of bread-and-butter; no cake.

She appeared undisturbed when Matey, wearing his holiday white ducks,
and all aglow, entered the booth. She was not expected to faint, only
she stood for the foreign Aminta more than for their familiar Browny in
his presence. Not a sign of the look which had fired the school did she
throw at him. Change the colour and you might compare her to a lobster
fixed on end, with a chin and no eyes. Matey talked to Miss Vincent up
to the instant of his running to bat. She would have liked to guess how
he knew she had a brother on the medical staff of one of the regiments
in India: she asked him twice, and his cheeks were redder than cricket
in the sun. He said he read all the reports from India, and asked her
whether she did not admire Lord Ormont, our general of cavalry, whose
charge at the head of fifteen hundred horse in the last great battle
shattered the enemy's right wing, and gave us the victory - rolled him up
and stretched him out like a carpet for dusting. Miss Vincent exclaimed
that it was really strange, now, he should speak of Lord Ormont, for she
had been speaking of him herself in morning to one of her young ladies,
whose mind was bent on his heroic deeds. Matey turned his face to the
group of young ladies, quite pleased that one of them loved his hero;
and he met a smile here and there - not from Miss Aminta Farrell. She was
a complete disappointment to the boys that day. "Aminta" was mouthed at
any allusions to her.

So, she not being a match for Matey, they let her drop. The flush that
had swept across the school withered to a dry recollection, except when
on one of their Sunday afternoons she fanned the desert. Lord Ormont
became the subject of inquiry and conversation; and for his own
sake - not altogether to gratify Matey. The Saturday autumn evening's
walk home, after the race out to tea at a distant village, too late
in the year for cricket, too early for regular football, suited Matey,
going at long strides, for the story of his hero's adventures; and it
was nicer than talk about girls, and puzzling. Here lay a clear field;
for he had the right to speak of a cavalry officer: his father died
of wounds in the service, and Matey naturally intended to join the
Dragoons; if he could get enough money to pay for mess, he said,
laughing. Lord Ormont was his pattern of a warrior. We had in him a
lord who cast off luxury to live like a Spartan when under arms, with
a passion to serve his country and sustain the glory of our military
annals. He revived respect for the noble class in the hearts of
Englishmen. He was as good an authority on horseflesh as any Englishman
alive; the best for the management of cavalry: there never was a better
cavalry leader. The boys had come to know that Browny admired Lord
Ormont, so they saw a double reason why Matey should; and walking home
at his grand swing in the October dusk, their school hero drew their
national hero closer to them.

Every fellow present was dead against the usher, Mr. Shalders, when he
took advantage of a pause to strike in with his "Murat!"

He harped on Murat whenever he had a chance. Now he did it for the
purpose of casting eclipse upon Major-General Lord Ormont, the son and
grandson of English earls; for he was an earl by his title, and Murat
was the son of an innkeeper. Shalders had to admit that Murat might
have served in the stables when a boy. Honour to Murat, of course,
for climbing the peaks! Shalders, too, might interest him in military
affairs and Murat; he did no harm, and could be amusing. It rather added
to his amount of dignity. It was rather absurd, at the same time, for an
English usher to be spouting and glowing about a French general, who had
been a stable-boy and became a king, with his Murat this, Murat that,
and hurrah Murat in red and white and green uniform, tunic and breeches,
and a chimney-afire of feathers; and how the giant he was charged at the
head of ten thousand horse, all going like a cataract under a rainbow
over the rocks, right into the middle of the enemy and through; and he a
spark ahead, and the enemy streaming on all sides flat away, as you see
puffed smoke and flame of a bonfire. That was fun to set boys jigging.
No wonder how in Russia the Cossacks feared him, and scampered from the
shadow of his plumes - were clouds flying off his breath! That was a
fine warm picture for the boys on late autumn or early winter evenings,
Shalders warming his back at the grate, describing bivouacs in the snow.
They liked well enough to hear him when he was not opposing Matey and
Lord Ormont. He perked on his toes, and fetched his hand from behind him
to flourish it when his Murat came out. The speaking of his name clapped
him on horseback - the only horseback he ever knew. He was as fond of
giving out the name Murat as you see in old engravings of tobacco-shops
men enjoying the emission of their whiff of smoke.

Matey was not inclined to class Lord Ormont alongside Murat, a
first-rate horseman and an eagle-eye, as Shalders rightly said; and
Matey agreed that forty thousand cavalry under your orders is a toss
above fifteen hundred; but the claim for a Frenchman of a superlative
merit to swallow and make nothing of the mention of our best cavalry
generals irritated him to call Murat a mountebank.

Shalders retorted, that Lord Ormont was a reprobate.

Matey hoped he would some day write us an essay on the morale of
illustrious generals of cavalry; and Shalders told him he did not
advance his case by talking nonsense.

Each then repeated to the boys a famous exploit of his hero. Their
verdict was favourable to Lord Ormont. Our English General learnt riding
before he was ten years old, on the Pampas, where you ride all day, and
cook your steak for your dinner between your seat and your saddle. He
rode with his father and his uncle, Muncastle, the famous traveller,
into Paraguay. He saw fighting before he was twelve. Before he was
twenty he was learning outpost duty in the Austrian frontier cavalry. He
served in the Peninsula, served in Canada, served in India, volunteered
for any chance of distinction. No need to say much of his mastering the
picked Indian swordsmen in single combat: he knew their trick, and
was quick to save his reins when they made a dash threatening the
headstroke - about the same as disabling sails in old naval engagements.

That was the part for the officer; we are speaking of the General. For
that matter, he had as keen an eye for the field and the moment for his
arm to strike as any Murat. One world have liked to see Murat matched
against the sabre of a wily Rajpoot! As to campaigns and strategy, Lord
Ormont's head was a map. What of Murat and Lord Ormont horse to horse
and sword to sword? Come, imagine that, if you are for comparisons. And
if Lord Ormont never headed a lot of thousands, it does not prove he was
unable. Lord Ormont was as big as Murat. More, he was a Christian to his
horses. How about Murat in that respect? Lord Ormont cared for his men:
did Murat so particularly much? And he was as cunning fronting odds,
and a thunderbolt at the charge. Why speak of him in the past? He is an
English lord, a lord by birth, and he is alive; things may be expected
of him to-morrow or next day.

Shalders here cut Matey short by meanly objecting to that.

"Men are mortal," he said, with a lot of pretended stuff, deploring
our human condition in the elegy strain; and he fell to reckoning the
English hero's age - as that he, Lord Ormont, had been a name in the
world for the last twenty-five years or more. The noble lord could be no
chicken. We are justified in calculating, by the course of nature, that
his term of activity is approaching, or has approached, or, in fact, has
drawn to its close.

"If your estimate, sir, approaches to correctness," rejoined
Matey - tellingly, his comrades thought.

"Sixty, as you may learn some day, is a serious age, Matthew Weyburn."

Matey said he should be happy to reach it with half the honours Lord
Ormont had won.

"Excepting the duels," Shalders had the impudence to say.

"If the cause is a good one!" cried Matey.

"The cause, or Lord Ormont has been maligned, was reprehensible in the
extremest degree." Shalders cockhorsed on his heels to his toes and back
with a bang.

"What was the cause, if you please, sir?" a boy, probably naughty,
inquired; and as Shalders did not vouchsafe a reply, the bigger boys

They revelled in the devilish halo of skirts on the whirl encircling
Lord Ormont's laurelled head.

That was a spark in their blood struck from a dislike of the tone
assumed by Mr. Shalders to sustain his argument; with his "men are
mortal," and talk of a true living champion as "no chicken," and the
wordy drawl over "justification for calculating the approach of a close
to a term of activity" - in the case of a proved hero!

Guardians of boys should make sure that the boys are on their side
before they raise the standard of virtue. Nor ought they to summon
morality for support of a polemic. Matey Weyburn's object of worship
rode superior to a morality puffing its phrasy trumpet. And, somehow,
the sacrifice of an enormous number of women to Lord Ormont's glory
seemed natural; the very thing that should be, in the case of a
first-rate military hero and commander - Scipio notwithstanding. It
brightens his flame, and it is agreeable to them. That is how they come
to distinction: they have no other chance; they are only women; they
are mad to be singed, and they rush pelf-mall, all for the honour of the

Shortly after this discussion Matey was heard informing some of the
bigger fellows he could tell them positively that Lord Ormont's age was
under fifty-four - the prime of manhood, and a jolly long way off death!
The greater credit to him, therefore, if he had been a name in the world
for anything like the period Shalders insinuated, "to get himself out of
a sad quandary." Matey sounded the queer word so as to fix it sticking
to the usher, calling him Mr. Peter Bell Shalders, at which the boys
roared, and there was a question or two about names, which belonged to
verses, for people caring to read poems.

To the joy of the school he displayed a greater knowledge of Murat than
Shalders had: named the different places in Europe where Lord Ormont and
Murat were both springing to the saddle at the same time - one a Marshal,
the other a lieutenant; one a king, to be off his throne any day, the
other a born English nobleman, seated firm as fate. And he accused Murat
of carelessness of his horses, ingratitude to his benefactor, circussy
style. Shalders went so far as to defend Murat for attending to the
affairs of his kingdom, instead of galloping over hedges and ditches
to swell Napoleon's ranks in distress. Matey listened to him there; he
became grave; he nodded like a man saying, "I suppose we must examine
it in earnest." The school was damped to hear him calling it a nice
question. Still, he said he thought he should have gone; and that
settled it.

The boys inclined to speak contemptuously of Shalders. Matey world
not let them; he contrasted Shalders with the other ushers, who had
no enthusiasms. He said enthusiasms were salt to a man; and he liked
Shalders for spelling at his battles and thinking he understood them,
and admiring Murat, and leading Virgil and parts of Lucan for his
recreation. He said he liked the French because they could be splendidly
enthusiastic. He almost lost his English flavour when he spoke in
downright approval of a small French fellow, coming from Orthez, near
the Pyrenees, for senselessly dashing and kicking at a couple of English
who jeered to hear Orthez named - a place trampled under Wellington's
heels, on his march across conquered France. The foreign little cockerel
was a clever lad, learning English fast, and anxious to show he had got
hold of the English trick of not knowing when he was beaten. His French
vanity insisted on his engaging the two, though one of them stood aside,
and the other let him drive his nose all the compass round at a poker
fist. What was worse, Matey examined these two, in the interests of fair
play, as if he doubted.

Little Emile Grenat set matters right with his boast to vindicate his
country against double the number, and Matey praised him, though he knew
Emile had been floored without effort by the extension of a single fist.
He would not hear the French abused; he said they were chivalrous, they
were fine fellows, topping the world in some things; his father had
fought them and learnt to respect them. Perhaps his father had learnt to
respect Jews, for there was a boy named Abner, he protected, who smelt
Jewish; he said they ran us Gentiles hard, and carried big guns.

Only a reputation like Matey's could have kept his leadership from
a challenge. Joseph Masner, formerly a rival, went about hinting and
shrugging; all to no purpose, you find boys born to be chiefs. On the
day of the snow-fight Matey won the toss, and chose J. Masner first
pick; and Masner, aged seventeen and some months, big as a navvy,
lumbered across to him and took his directions, proud to stand in the
front centre, at the head of the attack, and bear the brunt - just what

Online LibraryGeorge MeredithLord Ormont and His Aminta — Complete → online text (page 1 of 25)