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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48
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Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48 Post by :Amaranta720 Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2058

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Rhoda Fleming - Book 5 - Chapter 48


Major 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 some mysterious way; by relieving an old uncle of hers. Algy has got him the office of village postman for this district, I believe; if it's that; but I think it should be more, to justify her. At all events, she seems to consider that her hand is pledged. You know the kind of girl your friend fancies. Besides, her father insists she is to marry 'the squire,' which is certainly the most natural thing of all. So, don't you think, dear Percy, you had better take your friend on the Continent for some weeks? I never, I confess, exactly understood the intimacy existing between you, but it must be sincere."

"Are you?" said Percy.

"Yes, perfectly; but always in a roundabout way. Why do you ask me in this instance?"

"Because you could stop this silly business in a day."

"I know I could."

"Then, why do you not?"

"Because of a wish to be sincere. Percy, I have been that throughout, if you could read me. I tried to deliver my cousin Edward from what I thought was a wretched entanglement. His selfish falseness offended me, and I let him know that I despised him. When I found that he was a man who had courage, and some heart, he gained my friendship once more, and I served him as far as I could--happily, as it chanced. I tell you all this, because I don't care to forfeit your esteem, and heaven knows, I may want it in the days to come. I believe I am the best friend in the world--and bad anything else. No one perfectly pleases me, not even you: you are too studious of character, and, like myself, exacting of perfection in one or two points. But now hear what I have done, and approve it if you think fit. I have flirted--abominable word!--I am compelled to use the language of the Misses--yes, I have flirted with my cousin Algy. I do it too well, I know--by nature! and I hate it. He has this morning sent a letter down to the farm saying, that, as he believes he has failed in securing Rhoda's affections, he renounces all pretensions, etc., subject to her wishes, etc. The courting, I imagine, can scarcely have been pleasant to him. My delightful manner with him during the last fortnight has been infinitely pleasanter. So, your friend Robert may be made happy by-and-by; that is to say, if his Rhoda is not too like her sex."

"You're an enchantress," exclaimed Percy.

"Stop," said she, and drifted into seriousness. "Before you praise me you must know more. Percy, that duel in India--"

He put out his hand to her.

"Yes, I forgive," she resumed. "You were cruel then. Remember that, and try to be just now. The poor boy would go to his doom. I could have arrested it. I partly caused it. I thought the honour of the army at stake. I was to blame on that day, and I am to blame again, but I feel that I am almost excuseable, if you are not too harsh a judge. No, I am not; I am execrable; but forgive me."

Percy's face lighted up in horrified amazement as Margaret Lovell unfastened the brooch at her neck and took out the dull-red handkerchief.

"It was the bond between us," she pursued, "that I was to return this to you when I no longer remained my own mistress. Count me a miserably heartless woman. I do my best. You brought this handkerchief to me dipped in the blood of the poor boy who was slain. I have worn it. It was a safeguard. Did you mean it to serve as such? Oh, Percy! I felt continually that blood was on my bosom. I felt it fighting with me. It has saved me from much. And now I return it to you."

He could barely articulate "Why?"

"Dear friend, by the reading of the bond you should know. I asked you when I was leaving India, how long I was to keep it by me. You said, 'Till you marry.' Do not be vehement, Percy. This is a thing that could not have been averted."

"Is it possible," Percy cried, "that you carried the play out so far as to promise him to marry him?"

"Your forehead is thunder, Percy. I know that look."

"Margaret, I think I could bear to see our army suffer another defeat rather than you should be contemptible."

"Your chastisement is not given in half measures, Percy."

"Speak on," said he; "there is more to come. You are engaged to marry him?"

"I engaged that I would take the name of Blancove."

"If he would cease to persecute Rhoda Fleming!"

"The stipulation was exactly in those words."

"You mean to carry it out?"

"To be sincere? I do, Percy!

"You mean to marry Algernon Blancove?"

"I should be contemptible indeed if I did, Percy!

"You do not?"

"I do not."

"And you are sincere? By all the powers of earth and heaven, there's no madness like dealing with an animated enigma! What is it you do mean?"

"As I said--to be sincere. But I was also bound to be of service to your friend. It is easy to be sincere and passive."

Percy struck his brows. "Can you mean that Edward Blancove is the man?"

"Oh! no. Edward will never marry any one. I do him the justice to say that his vice is not that of unfaithfulness. He had but one love, and her heart is quite dead. There is no marriage for him--she refuses. You may not understand the why of that, but women will. She would marry him if she could bring herself to it;--the truth is, he killed her pride. Her taste for life has gone. She is bent on her sister's marrying your friend. She has no other thought of marriage, and never will have. I know the state. It is not much unlike mine."

Waring fixed her eyes. "There is a man?"

"Yes," she answered bluntly.

"It is somebody, then, whose banker's account is, I hope, satisfactory."

"Yes, Percy;" she looked eagerly forward, as thanking him for releasing her from a difficulty. "You still can use the whip, but I do not feel the sting. I marry a banker's account. Do you bear in mind the day I sent after you in the park? I had just heard that I was ruined. You know my mania for betting. I heard it, and knew when I let my heart warm to you that I could never marry you. That is one reason, perhaps, why I have been an enigma. I am sincere in telling Algy I shall take the name of Blancove. I marry the banker. Now take this old gift of yours."

Percy grasped the handkerchief, and quitted her presence forthwith, feeling that he had swallowed a dose of the sex to serve him for a lifetime. Yet he lived to reflect on her having decided practically, perhaps wisely for all parties. Her debts expunged, she became an old gentleman's demure young wife, a sweet hostess, and, as ever, a true friend: something of a miracle to one who had inclined to make a heroine of her while imagining himself to accurately estimate her deficiencies. Honourably by this marriage the lady paid for such wild oats as she had sown in youth.

There were joy-bells for Robert and Rhoda, but none for Dahlia and Edward.

Dahlia lived seven years her sister's housemate, nurse of the growing swarm. She had gone through fire, as few women have done in like manner, to leave their hearts among the ashes; but with that human heart she left regrets behind her. The soul of this young creature filled its place. It shone in her eyes and in her work, a lamp to her little neighbourhood; and not less a lamp of cheerful beams for one day being as another to her. In truth, she sat above the clouds. When she died she relinquished nothing. Others knew the loss. Between her and Robert there was deeper community on one subject than she let Rhoda share. Almost her last words to him, spoken calmly, but with the quaver of breath resembling sobs, were: "Help poor girls."

George Meredith's Novel: Rhoda Fleming

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