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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 44
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Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 44 Post by :Amaranta720 Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2487

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Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 44


She watched her father as he went across the field and into the lane. Her breathing was suppressed till he appeared in view at different points, more and more distant, and then she sighed heavily, stopped her breathing, and hoped her unshaped hope again. The last time he was in sight, she found herself calling to him with a voice like that of a burdened sleeper: her thought being, "How can you act so cruelly to Robert!" He passed up Wrexby Heath, and over the black burnt patch where the fire had caught the furzes on a dry Maynight, and sank on the side of the Hall.

When we have looked upon a picture of still green life with a troubled soul, and the blow falls on us, we accuse Nature of our own treachery to her. Rhoda hurried from the dairy-door to shut herself up in her room and darken the light surrounding her. She had turned the lock, and was about systematically to pull down the blind, when the marvel of beholding Dahlia stepping out of the garden made her for a moment less the creature of her sickened senses. Dahlia was dressed for a walk, and she went very fast. The same paralysis of motion afflicted Rhoda as when she was gazing after her father; but her hand stretched out instinctively for her bonnet when Dahlia had crossed the green and the mill-bridge, and was no more visible. Rhoda drew her bonnet on, and caught her black silk mantle in her hand, and without strength to throw it across her shoulders, dropped before her bed, and uttered a strange prayer. "Let her die rather than go back to disgrace, my God! my God!"

She tried to rise, and failed in the effort, and superstitiously renewed her prayer. "Send death to her rather!"--and Rhoda's vision under her shut eyes conjured up clouds and lightnings, and spheres in conflagration.

There is nothing so indicative of fevered or of bad blood as the tendency to counsel the Almighty how he shall deal with his creatures. The strain of a long uncertainty, and the late feverish weeks had distempered the fine blood of the girl, and her acts and words were becoming remoter exponents of her character.

She bent her head in a blind doze that gave her strength to rise. As swiftly as she could she went in the track of her sister.

That morning, Robert had likewise received a letter. It was from Major Waring, and contained a bank-note, and a summons to London, as also an enclosure from Mrs. Boulby of Warbeach; the nature of which was an advertisement cut out of the county paper, notifying to one Robert Eccles that his aunt Anne had died, and that there was a legacy for him, to be paid over upon application. Robert crossed the fields, laughing madly at the ironical fate which favoured him a little and a little, and never enough, save just to keep him swimming.

The letter from Major Waring said:--

"I must see you immediately. Be quick and come. I begin to be of your opinion--there are some things which we must take into our own hands and deal summarily with."

"Ay!--ay!" Robert gave tongue in the clear morning air, scenting excitement and eager for it as a hound.

More was written, which he read subsequently

"I wrong," Percy's letter continued, "the best of women. She was driven to my door. There is, it seems, some hope that Dahlia will find herself free. At any rate, keep guard over her, and don't leave her. Mrs. Lovell has herself been moving to make discoveries down at Warbeach. Mr. Blancove has nearly quitted this sphere. She nursed him--I was jealous!--the word's out. Truth, courage, and suffering touch Margaret's heart.



Jumping over a bank, Robert came upon Anthony, who was unsteadily gazing at a donkey that cropped the grass by a gate.

"Here you are," said Robert, and took his arm.

Anthony struggled, though he knew the grasp was friendly; but he was led along: nor did Robert stop until they reached Greatham, five miles beyond Wrexby, where he entered the principal inn and called for wine.

"You want spirit: you want life," said Robert.

Anthony knew that he wanted no wine, whatever his needs might be. Yet the tender ecstacy of being paid for was irresistible, and he drank, saying, "Just one glass, then."

Robert pledged him. They were in a private room, of which, having ordered up three bottles of sherry, Robert locked the door. The devil was in him. He compelled Anthony to drink an equal portion with himself, alternately frightening and cajoling the old man.

"Drink, I tell you. You've robbed me, and you shall drink!"

"I haven't, I haven't," Anthony whined.

"Drink, and be silent. You've robbed me, and you shall drink! and by heaven! if you resist, I'll hand you over to bluer imps than you've ever dreamed of, old gentleman! You've robbed me, Mr. Hackbut. Drink! I tell you."

Anthony wept into his glass.

"That's a trick I could never do," said Robert, eyeing the drip of the trembling old tear pitilessly. "Your health, Mr. Hackbut. You've robbed me of my sweetheart. Never mind. Life's but the pop of a gun. Some of us flash in the pan, and they're the only ones that do no mischief. You're not one of them, sir; so you must drink, and let me see you cheerful."

By degrees, the wine stirred Anthony's blood, and he chirped feebly, as one who half remembered that he ought to be miserable. Robert listened to his maundering account of his adventure with the Bank money, sternly replenishing his glass. His attention was taken by the sight of Dahlia stepping forth from a chemist's shop in the street nearly opposite to the inn. "This is my medicine," said Robert; "and yours too," he addressed Anthony.

The sun had passed its meridian when they went into the streets again. Robert's head was high as a cock's, and Anthony leaned on his arm; performing short half-circles headlong to the front, until the mighty arm checked and uplifted him. They were soon in the fields leading to Wrexby. Robert saw two female figures far ahead. A man was hastening to join them. The women started and turned suddenly: one threw up her hands, and darkened her face. It was in the pathway of a broad meadow, deep with grass, wherein the red sorrel topped the yellow buttercup, like rust upon the season's gold. Robert hastened on. He scarce at the moment knew the man whose shoulder he seized, but he had recognised Dahlia and Rhoda, and he found himself face to face with Sedgett.

"It's you!"

"Perhaps you'll keep your hands off; before you make sure, another time."

Robert said: "I really beg your pardon. Step aside with me."

"Not while I've a ha'p'orth o' brains in my noddle," replied Sedgett, drawling an imitation of his enemy's courteous tone. "I've come for my wife. I'm just down by train, and a bit out of my way, I reckon. I'm come, and I'm in a hurry. She shall get home, and have on her things--boxes packed, and we go."

Robert waved Dahlia and Rhoda to speed homeward. Anthony had fallen against the roots of a banking elm, and surveyed the scene with philosophic abstractedness. Rhoda moved, taking Dahlia's hand.

"Stop," cried Sedgett. "Do you people here think me a fool? Eccles, you know me better 'n that. That young woman's my wife. I've come for her, I tell ye."

"You've no claim on her," Rhoda burst forth weakly, and quivered, and turned her eyes supplicatingly on Robert. Dahlia was a statue of icy fright.

"You've thrown her off, man, and sold what rights you had," said Robert, spying for the point of his person where he might grasp the wretch and keep him off.

"That don't hold in law," Sedgett nodded. "A man may get in a passion, when he finds he's been cheated, mayn't he?"

"I have your word of honour," said Rhoda; muttering, "Oh! devil come to wrong us!"

"Then, you shouldn't ha' run ferreting down in my part o' the country. You, or Eccles--I don't care who 'tis--you've been at my servants to get at my secrets. Some of you have. You've declared war. You've been trying to undermine me. That's a breach, I call it. Anyhow, I've come for my wife. I'll have her."

"None of us, none of us; no one has been to your house," said Rhoda, vehemently. "You live in Hampshire, sir, I think; I don't know any more. I don't know where. I have not asked my sister. Oh! spare us, and go."

"No one has been down into your part of the country," said Robert, with perfect mildness.

To which Sedgett answered bluffly, "There ye lie, Bob Eccles;" and he was immediately felled by a tremendous blow. Robert strode over him, and taking Dahlia by the elbow, walked three paces on, as to set her in motion. "Off!" he cried to Rhoda, whose eyelids cowered under the blaze of his face.

It was best that her sister should be away, and she turned and walked swiftly, hurrying Dahlia, and touching her. "Oh! don't touch my arm," Dahlia said, quailing in the fall of her breath. They footed together, speechless; taking the woman's quickest gliding step. At the last stile of the fields, Rhoda saw that they were not followed. She stopped, panting: her heart and eyes were so full of that flaming creature who was her lover. Dahlia took from her bosom the letter she had won in the morning, and held it open in both hands to read it. The pause was short. Dahlia struck the letter into her bosom again, and her starved features had some of the bloom of life. She kept her right hand in her pocket, and Rhoda presently asked,--

"What have you there?"

"You are my enemy, dear, in some things," Dahlia replied, a muscular shiver passing over her.

"I think," said Rhoda, "I could get a little money to send you away. Will you go? I am full of grief for what I have done. God forgive me."

"Pray, don't speak so; don't let us talk," said Dahlia.

Scorched as she felt both in soul and body, a touch or a word was a wound to her. Yet she was the first to resume: "I think I shall be saved. I can't quite feel I am lost. I have not been so wicked as that."

Rhoda gave a loving answer, and again Dahlia shrank from the miserable comfort of words.

As they came upon the green fronting the iron gateway, Rhoda perceived that the board proclaiming the sale of Queen Anne's Farm had been removed, and now she understood her father's readiness to go up to Wrexby Hall. "He would sell me to save the farm." She reproached herself for the thought, but she could not be just; she had the image of her father plodding relentlessly over the burnt heath to the Hall, as conceived by her agonized sensations in the morning, too vividly to be just, though still she knew that her own indecision was to blame.

Master Gammon met them in the garden.

Pointing aloft, over the gateway, "That's down," he remarked, and the three green front teeth of his quiet grin were stamped on the impressionable vision of the girls in such a way that they looked at one another with a bare bitter smile. Once it would have been mirth.

"Tell father," Dahlia said, when they were at the back doorway, and her eyes sparkled piteously, and she bit on her underlip. Rhoda tried to detain her; but Dahlia repeated, "Tell father," and in strength and in will had become more than a match for her sister.

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Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48 Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48

Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48
BOOK V CHAPTER XLVIIIMajor Waring came to Wrexby Hall at the close of the October month. He came to plead his own cause with Mrs. Lovell; but she stopped him by telling him that his friend Robert was in some danger of losing his love. "She is a woman, Percy; I anticipate your observation. But, more than that, she believes she is obliged to give her hand to my cousin, the squire. It's an intricate story relating to money. She does not care for Algy a bit, which is not a matter that greatly influences him. He has served her in

Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 43 Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 43

Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 43
BOOK V CHAPTER XLIIIAnthony had robbed the Bank. The young squire was aware of the fact, and had offered to interpose for him, and to make good the money to the Bank, upon one condition. So much, Rhoda had gathered from her uncle's babbling interjections throughout the day. The farmer knew only of the young squire's proposal, which had been made direct to him; and he had left it to Robert to state the case to Rhoda, and plead for himself. She believed fully, when she came downstairs into the room where Robert was awaiting her, that she had but to