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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 1 - Chapter 3
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The Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 1 - Chapter 3 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2403

Click below to download : The Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 1 - Chapter 3 (Format : PDF)

The Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 1 - Chapter 3

BOOK I CHAPTER III

Her hostess met her at the entrance of the rooms, murmuring that Alvan was present, and was there: a direction of a nod that any quick-witted damsel must pretend to think sufficient, so Clotilde slipped from her companion and gazed into the recess of a doorless inner room, where three gentlemen stood, backed by book cases, conversing in blue vapours of tobacco. They were indistinct; she could see that one of them was of good stature. One she knew; he was the master of the house, mildly Jewish. The third was distressingly branded with the slum and gutter signs of the Ahasuerus race. Three hats on his head could not have done it more effectively. The vindictive caricatures of the God Pan, executed by priests of the later religion burning to hunt him out of worship in the semblance of the hairy, hoofy, snouty Evil One, were not more loathsome. She sank on a sofa. That the man? Oh! Jew, and fifty times over Jew! nothing but Jew!

The three stepped into the long saloon, and she saw how veritably magnificent was the first whom she had noticed.

She sat at her lamb's-wool work in the little ivory frame, feeding on the contrast. This man's face was the born orator's, with the light-giving eyes, the forward nose, the animated mouth, all stamped for speechfulness and enterprise, of Cicero's rival in the forum before he took the headship of armies and marched to empire.

The gifts of speech, enterprise, decision, were marked on his features and his bearing, but with a fine air of lordly mildness. Alas, he could not be other than Christian, so glorious was he in build! One could vision an eagle swooping to his helm by divine election. So vigorously rich was his blood that the swift emotion running with the theme as he talked pictured itself in passing and was like the play of sheet lightning on the variations of the uninterrupted and many-glancing outpour. Looking on him was listening. Yes, the looking on him sufficed. Here was an image of the beauty of a new order of godlike men, that drained an Indian Bacchus of his thin seductions at a breath-reduced him to the state of nursery plaything, spangles and wax, in the contemplation of a girl suddenly plunged on the deeps of her womanhood. She shrank to smaller and smaller as she looked.

Be sure that she knew who he was. No, says she. But she knew. It terrified her soul to think he was Alvan. She feared scarcely less that it might not be he. Between these dreads of doubt and belief she played at cat and mouse with herself, escaped from cat, persecuted mouse, teased herself, and gloated. It is he! not he! he! not he! most certainly! impossible!--And then it ran: If he, oh me! If another, woe me! For she had come to see Alvan. Alvan and she shared ideas. They talked marvellously alike, so as to startle Count Kollin: and supposing he was not Alvan, it would be a bitter disappointment. The supposition that he was, threatened her with instant and life-long bondage.

Then again, could that face be the face of a Jew? She feasted. It was a noble profile, an ivory skin, most lustrous eyes. Perchance a Jew of the Spanish branch of the exodus, not the Polish. There is the noble Jew as well as the bestial Gentile. There is not in the sublimest of Gentiles a majesty comparable to that of the Jew elect. He may well think his race favoured of heaven, though heaven chastise them still. The noble Jew is grave in age, but in his youth he is the arrow to the bow of his fiery eastern blood, and in his manhood he is--ay, what you see there! a figure of easy and superb preponderance, whose fire has mounted to inspirit and be tempered by the intellect.

She was therefore prepared all the while for the surprise of learning that the gentleman so unlike a Jew was Alvan; and she was prepared to express her recordation of the circumstance in her diary with phrases of very eminent surprise. Necessarily it would be the greatest of surprises.

The three, this man and his two of the tribe, upon whom Clotilde's attention centred, with a comparison in her mind too sacred to be other than profane (comparisons will thrust themselves on minds disordered), dropped to the cushions of the double-seated sofa, by one side of which she cowered over her wool-work, willing to dwindle to a pin's head if her insignificance might enable her to hear the words of the speaker. He pursued his talk: there was little danger of not hearing him. There was only the danger of feeling too deeply the spell of his voice. His voice had the mellow fulness of the clarionet. But for the subject, she could have fancied a noontide piping of great Pan by the sedges. She had never heard a continuous monologue so musical, so varied in music, amply flowing, vivacious, interwovenly the brook, the stream, the torrent: a perfect natural orchestra in a single instrument. He had notes less pastorally imageable, notes that fired the blood, with the ranging of his theme. The subject became clearer to her subjugated wits, until the mental vivacity he roused on certain impetuous phrases of assertion caused her pride to waken up and rebel as she took a glance at herself, remembering that she likewise was a thinker, deemed in her society an original thinker, an intrepid thinker and talker, not so very much beneath this man in audacity of brain, it might be. He kindled her thus, and the close-shut but expanded and knew the fretting desire to breathe out the secret within it, and be appreciated in turn.

The young flower of her sex burned to speak, to deliver an opinion. She was unaccustomed to yield a fascinated ear. She was accustomed rather to dictate and be the victorious performer, and though now she was not anxious to occupy the pulpit--being too strictly bred to wish for a post publicly in any of the rostra--and meant still less to dispossess the present speaker of the place he filled so well, she yearned to join him: and as that could not be done by a stranger approving, she panted to dissent. A young lady cannot so well say to an unknown gentleman: 'You have spoken truly, sir,' as, 'That is false!' for to speak in the former case would be gratuitous, and in the latter she is excused by the moral warmth provoking her. Further, dissent rings out finely, and approval is a feeble murmur--a poor introduction of oneself. Her moral warmth was ready and waiting for the instigating subject, but of course she was unconscious of the goad within. Excitement wafted her out of herself, as we say, or out of the conventional vessel into the waves of her troubled nature. He had not yet given her an opportunity for dissenting; she was compelled to agree, dragged at his chariot-wheels in headlong agreement.

His theme was Action; the political advantages of Action; and he illustrated his view with historical examples, to the credit of the French, the temporary discredit of the German and English races, who tend to compromise instead. Of the English he spoke as of a power extinct, a people 'gone to fat,' who have gained their end in a hoard of gold and shut the door upon bandit ideas. Action means life to the soul as to the body. Compromise is virtual death: it is the pact between cowardice and comfort under the title of expediency. So do we gather dead matter about us. So are we gradually self-stifled, corrupt. The war with evil in every form must be incessant; we cannot have peace. Let then our joy be in war: in uncompromising Action, which need not be the less a sagacious conduct of the war.... Action energizes men's brains, generates grander capacities, provokes greatness of soul between enemies, and is the guarantee of positive conquest for the benefit of our species. To doubt that, is to doubt of good being to be had for the seeking. He drew pictures of the healthy Rome when turbulent, the doomed quiescent. Rome struggling grasped the world. Rome stagnant invited Goth and Vandal. So forth: alliterative antitheses of the accustomed pamphleteer. At last her chance arrived.

His opposition sketch of Inaction was refreshed by an analysis of the character of Hamlet. Then he reverted to Hamlet's promising youth. How brilliantly endowed was the Prince of Denmark in the beginning!

'Mad from the first!' cried Clotilde.

She produced an effect not unlike that of a sudden crack of thunder. The three made chorus in a noise of boots on the floor.

Her hero faced about and stood up, looking at her fulgently. Their eyes engaged without wavering on either side. Brave eyes they seemed, each pair of them, for his were fastened on a comely girl, and she had strung herself to her gallantest to meet the crisis.

His friends quitted him at a motion of the elbows. He knelt on the sofa, leaning across it, with clasped hands.

'You are she!--So, then, is a contradiction of me to be the commencement?'

'After the apparition of Hamlet's father the prince was mad,' said Clotilde hurriedly, and she gazed for her hostess, a paroxysm of alarm succeeding that of her boldness.

'Why should we two wait to be introduced?' said he. 'We know one another. I am Alvan. You are she of whom I heard from Kollin: who else? Lucretia the gold-haired; the gold-crested serpent, wise as her sire; Aurora breaking the clouds; in short, Clotilde!'

Her heart exulted to hear him speak her name. She laughed with a radiant face. His being Alvan, and his knowing her and speaking her name, all was like the happy reading of a riddle. He came round to her, bowing, and his hand out. She gave hers: she could have said, if asked, 'For good!' And it looked as though she had given it for good.

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BOOK I CHAPTER IV'Hamlet in due season,' said he, as they sat together. 'I shall convince you.' She shook her head. 'Yes, yes, an opinion formed by a woman is inflexible; I know that: the fact is not half so stubborn. But at present there are two more important actors: we are not at Elsinore. You are aware that I hoped to meet you?' 'Is there a periodical advertisement of your hopes?--or do they come to us by intuition?' 'Kollin was right!--the ways of the serpent will be serpentine. I knew we must meet. It is no true day so long
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BOOK I CHAPTER II'Who is the man they call Alvan?' She put the question at the first opportunity to an aunt of hers. Up went five-fingered hands. This violent natural sign of horror was comforting: she saw that he was a celebrity indeed. 'Alvan! My dear Clotilde! What on earth can you want to know about a creature who is the worst of demagogues, a disreputable person, and a Jew!' Clotilde remarked that she had asked only who he was. 'Is he clever?' 'He is one of the basest of those wretches who are for upsetting the Throne and Society to
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