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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 3 - Chapter 17
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The Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 3 - Chapter 17 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2373

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The Tragic Comedians: A Study In A Well-known Story - Book 3 - Chapter 17


The baroness expected to see Alvan in the morning, for he kept appointments, and he had said he would come. She conceived that she was independent of personal wishes on the subject of Clotilde; the fury of his passion prohibited her forming any of the wishes we send up to destiny when matters interesting us are in suspense, whether we have liberated minds or not. She thought the girl would grant the interview; was sure the creature would yield in his presence; and then there was an end to the shining of Alvan! Supposing the other possibility, he had shown her such fierce illuminations of eye and speech that she foresaw it would be a blazing of the insurrectionary beacon-fires of hell with him. He was a man of angels and devils. The former had long been conquering, but the latter were far from extinct. His passion for this shallow girl had consigned him to the lower host. Let him be thwarted, his desperation would be unlikely to stop at legal barriers. His lawyer's head would be up and armed astoundingly to oppose the law; he would read, argue, and act with hot conviction upon the reverse of every text of law. She beheld him storming the father's house to have out Clotilde, reluctant or conniving; and he harangued the people, he bore off his captive, he held her firmly as he had sworn he would; he defied authority, he was a public rebel--he with his detected little secret aim, which he nursed like a shamed mother of an infant, fond but afraid to be proud of it! She had seen that he aimed at standing well with the world and being one with it honourably: holding to his principles of course: but a disposition that way had been perceived, and the vision of him in open rebellion because of his shy catching at the thread of an alliance with the decorous world, carved an ironic line on her jaw.

Full surely he would not be baffled without smiting the world on the face. And he might suffer for it; the Rudigers would suffer likewise.

She considered them very foolish people. Her survey of the little nobility beneath her station had previously enabled her to account for their disgust of such a suitor as Alvan, and maintain that they would oppose him tooth and nail. Owing to his recent success, the anticipation of a peaceful surrender to him seemed now on the whole to carry most weight. This girl gives Alvan her hand and her family repudiate her. Volatile, flippant, shallow as she is, she must have had some turn for him; a physical spell was on her once, and it will be renewed when they meet. It sometimes inspires a semblance of courage; she may determine; she may be stedfast long enough for him to take his measures to bear her away. And the Brocken witches congratulate him on his prize!

Almost better would it be, she thought, that circumstance should thwart him and kindle his own demon element.

The forenoon, the noon, the afternoon, went round.

Late in the evening her door was flung wide for Colonel von Tresten.

She looked her interrogative 'Well?' His features were not used to betray the course of events.

'How has it gone?' she said.

He replied: 'As I told you. I fancied I gauged the hussy pretty closely.'

'She will not see him?'

'Not she.'

The baroness crossed her arms.

'And Alvan?'

The colonel shrugged. It was not done to tease a tremulous woman, for she was calm. It painted the necessary consequence of the refusal: an explosion of AEtna, and she saw it.

'Where is he now?' said she.

'At his hotel.'


'Leczel is with him.'

'That looks like war.'

Tresten shrugged again. 'It might have been foreseen by everybody concerned in the affair. The girl does not care for him one corner of an eye! She stood up before us cool as at a dancing-lesson, swore she had never committed herself to an oath to him, sneered at him. She positively sneered. Her manner to me assures me without question that if he had stood in my place she would have insulted him:

'Scarcely. She would do in his absence what she would not do under his eyes,' remarked the baroness. 'It's decided, then?'


'Will he be here to-night?'

'I think not.'

'Was she really insolent?'

'For a girl in her position, she was.'

'Did you repeat her words to him?'

'Some of them.'

'What description of insolence?'

'She spoke of his vanity....'


'It was more her manner to me, as the one of the two appearing as his friend. She was tolerably civil to Storchel: and the difference of behaviour must have been designed, for she not only looked at Storchel in a way to mark the difference, she addressed him rather eagerly before we turned on our heels, to tell him she would write to him, and let him have her reply in a letter. He will get some coquettish rigmarole.'

'That seems monstrous!--if one could be astonished by her,' said the baroness. 'When is she to write?'

'She may write: the letter will find no receiver,' said Tresten, significantly raising his eyebrows. 'The legal gentleman is gone--blown from a gun! He's off home. He informed me that he should write to the General, throwing up his office, and an end to his share in the business.'

'There was no rudeness to the poor man?'

'Dear me, no. But imagine a quiet little advocate, very precise and silky--you've had a hint of him--and all of a sudden the client he has by the ear swells into a tremendous beast--a combination of lion and elephant--bellows and shakes the room, stops and stamps before him, discharging an unintelligible flood of racy vernacular punctuated in thunder. You hear him and see him! Alvan lost his head--some of his hair too. The girl is not worth a lock. But he's past reason.'

'He takes it so,' said the baroness, musing. 'It will be the sooner over. She never cared for him a jot. And there's the sting. He has called up the whole world in an amphitheatre to see a girl laugh him to scorn. Hard for any man to bear!--Alvan of all men! Why does he not come here? He might rage at me for a day and a night, and I would rock him to sleep in the end. However, he has done nothing?'

That was the point. The baroness perceived it to be a serious point, and repeated the question sharply. 'Has he been to the house?--no?--writing?'

Tresten dropped a nod.

'Not to the girl, I suppose. To the father?' said she.

'He has written to the General.'

'You should have stopped it.'

'Tell a vedette to stop cavalry. You're not thinking of the man. He's in a white frenzy.'

'I will go to him.'

'You will do wrong. Leave him to spout the stuff and get rid of his poison. I remember a sister of poor Nuciotti's going to him after he had let his men walk into a trap--and that was through a woman: and he was quieted; and the chief overlooked it; and two days after, Nuciotti blew his brains out. He'd have been alive now if he had been left alone. Furious cursing is a natural relief to some men, like women's weeping. He has written a savage letter to her father, sending the girl to the deuce with the name she deserves, and challengeing the General.'

'That letter is despatched?'

'Rudiger has it by this time.'

The baroness fixed her eyes on Tresten: she struck her lap. 'Alvan! Is it he? But the General is old, gouty, out of the lists. There can be no fighting. He apologized to you for his daughter's insolence to me. He will not fight, be sure.'

'Perhaps not,' Tresten said.

'As for the girl, Alvan has the fullest right to revile her: it cannot be too widely known. I could cry: "What wisdom there is in men when they are mad!" We must allow it to counterbalance breaches of ordinary courtesy. "With the name--she deserves," you say?

He pitched the very name at her character plainly?--called her what she is?'

The baroness could have borne to hear it: she had no feminine horror of the staining epithet for that sex. But a sense of the distinction between camps and courts restrained the soldier. He spoke of a discharge of cuttlefish ink at the character of the girl, and added: 'The bath's a black one for her, and they had better keep it private. Regrettable, no doubt, but it 's probably true, and he 's out of his mind. It would be dangerous to check him: he'd force his best friend to fight. Leczel is with him and gives him head. It 's about time for me to go back to him, for there may be business.'

The baroness thought it improbable. She was hoping that with Alvan's eruption the drop-scene would fall.

Tresten spoke of the possibility. He knew the contents of the letter, and knew further that a copy of it, with none of the pregnant syllables expunged, had been forwarded to Prince Marko. He counselled calm waiting for a certain number of hours. The baroness committed herself to a promise to wait. Now that Alvan had broken off from the baleful girl, the worst must have been passed, she thought.

He had broken with the girl: she reviewed him under the light of that sole fact. So the edge of the cloud obscuring him was lifted, and he would again be the man she prized and hoped much of! How thickly he had been obscured was visible to her through a retreating sensation of scorn of him for his mad excesses, which she had not known herself to entertain while he was writhing in the toils, and very bluntly and dismissingly felt now that his madness was at its climax. An outrageous lunatic fit, that promised to release him from his fatal passion, seemed, on the contrary, respectable in essence if not in the display. Wives he should have by fifties and hundreds if he wanted them, she thought in her great-heartedness, reflecting on the one whose threatened pretensions to be his mate were slain by the title flung at her, and merited. The word (she could guess it) was an impassable gulf, a wound beyond healing. It pronounced in a single breath the girl's right name and his pledge of a return to sanity. For it was the insanest he could do; it uttered anathema on his love of her; it painted his white glow of unreason and fierce ire at the scorn which her behaviour flung upon every part of his character that was tenderest with him. After speaking such things a man comes to his senses or he dies. So thought the baroness, and she was not more than commonly curious to hear how the Rudigers had taken the insult they had brought on themselves, and not unwilling to wait to see Alvan till he was cool. His vanity, when threatening to bleed to the death, would not be civil to the surgeon before the second or third dressing of his wound.

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