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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 3 - Chapter 20. News Of A Fresh Conquest Of My Father's
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 3 - Chapter 20. News Of A Fresh Conquest Of My Father's Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :911

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 3 - Chapter 20. News Of A Fresh Conquest Of My Father's

BOOK III CHAPTER XX. NEWS OF A FRESH CONQUEST OF MY FATHER'S

Temple went to sea. The wonder is that I did not go with him: we were both in agreement that adventures were the only things worth living for, and we despised English fellows who had seen no place but England. I could not bear the long separation from my father that was my reason for not insisting on the squire's consent to my becoming a midshipman. After passing a brilliant examination, Temple had the good fortune to join Captain Bulsted's ship, and there my honest-hearted friend dismally composed his letter of confession, letting me know that he had been untrue to friendship, and had proposed to Janet Ilchester, and interchanged vows with her. He begged my forgiveness, but he did love her so!--he hoped I would not mind. I sent him a reproachful answer; I never cared for him more warmly than when I saw the letter shoot the slope of the postoffice mouth. Aunt Dorothy undertook to communicate assurances of my undying affection for him. As for Janet--Temple's letter, in which he spoke of her avowed preference for Oriental presents, and declared his intention of accumulating them on his voyages, was a harpoon in her side. By means of it I worried and terrified her until she was glad to have it all out before the squire. What did he do? He said that Margery, her mother, was niggardly; a girl wanted presents, and I did not act up to my duty; I ought to buy Turkey and Tunis to please her, if she had a mind for them.

The further she was flattered the faster she cried; she had the face of an old setter with these hideous tears. The squire promised her fifty pounds per annum in quarterly payments, that she might buy what presents she liked, and so tie herself to constancy. He said aside to me, as if he had a knowledge of the sex--'Young ladies must have lots of knickknacks, or their eyes 'll be caught right and left, remember that.' I should have been delighted to see her caught. She talked of love in a ludicrous second-hand way, sending me into fits of disgusted laughter. On other occasions her lips were not hypocritical, and her figure anything but awkward. She was a bold, plump girl, fond of male society. Heriot enraptured her. I believed at the time she would have appointed a year to marry him in, had he put the question. But too many women were in love with Heriot. He and I met Kiomi on the road to the race-course on the Southdowns; the prettiest racecourse in England, shut against gipsies. A bare-footed swarthy girl ran beside our carriage and tossed us flowers. He and a friend of his, young Lord Destrier, son of the Marquis of Edbury, who knew my father well, talked and laughed with her, and thought her so very handsome that I likewise began to stare, and I suddenly called 'Kiomi!' She bounded back into the hedge. This was our second meeting. It would have been a pleasant one had not Heriot and Destrier pretended all sorts of things about our previous acquaintance. Neither of us, they said, had made a bad choice, but why had we separated? She snatched her hand out of mine with a grin of anger like puss in a fury. We had wonderful fun with her. They took her to a great house near the race-course, and there, assisted by one of the young ladies, dressed her in flowing silks, and so passed her through the gate of the enclosure interdicted to bare feet. There they led her to groups of fashionable ladies, and got themselves into pretty scrapes. They said she was an Indian. Heriot lost his wagers and called her a witch. She replied, 'You'll find I'm one, young man,' and that was the only true thing she spoke of the days to come. Owing to the hubbub around the two who were guilty of this unmeasured joke upon consequential ladies, I had to conduct her to the gate. Instantly, and without a good-bye, she scrambled up her skirts and ran at strides across the road and through the wood, out of sight. She won her dress and a piece of jewelry.

With Heriot I went on a sad expedition, the same I had set out upon with Temple. This time I saw my father behind those high red walls, once so mysterious and terrible to me. Heriot made light of prisons for debt. He insisted, for my consolation, that they had but a temporary dishonourable signification; very estimable gentlemen, as well as scamps, inhabited them, he said. The impression produced by my visit--the feasting among ruined men who believed in good luck the more the lower they fell from it, and their fearful admiration of my imprisoned father--was as if I had drunk a stupefying liquor. I was unable clearly to reflect on it. Daily afterwards, until I released him, I made journeys to usurers to get a loan on the faith of the reversion of my mother's estate. Heriot, like the real friend he was, helped me with his name to the bond. When my father stood free, I had the proudest heart alive; and as soon as we had parted, the most amazed. For a long while, for years, the thought of him was haunted by racketballs and bearded men in their shirtsleeves; a scene sickening to one's pride. Yet it had grown impossible for me to think of him without pride. I delighted to hear him. We were happy when we were together. And, moreover, he swore to me on his honour, in Mrs. Waddy's presence, that he and the constable would henceforth keep an even pace. His exuberant cheerfulness and charming playfulness were always fascinating. His visions of our glorious future enchained me. How it was that something precious had gone out of my life, I could not comprehend.

Julia Rippenger's marriage with Captain Bulsted was, an agreeable distraction. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, she went to the altar poignantly pale. My aunt Dorothy settled the match. She had schemed it, her silence and half-downcast look seemed to confess, for the sake of her own repose, but neither to her nor to others did that come of it. I wrote a plain warning of the approaching catastrophe to Heriot, and received his reply after it was over, to this effect:

'In my regiment we have a tolerable knowledge of women. They like change, old Richie, and we must be content to let them take their twenty shillings for a sovereign. I myself prefer the Navy to the Army; I have no right to complain. Once she swore one thing, now she has sworn another. We will hope the lady will stick to her choice, and not seek smaller change. "I could not forgive coppers"; that 's quoting your dad. I have no wish to see the uxorious object, though you praise him. His habit of falling under the table is middling old-fashioned; but she may like him the better, or she may cure him. Whatever she is as a woman, she was a very nice girl to enliven the atmosphere of the switch. I sometimes look at a portrait I have of J. R., which, I fancy, Mrs. William Bulsted has no right to demand of me; but supposing her husband thinks he has, why then I must consult my brother officers. We want a war, old Richie, and I wish you were sitting at our mess, and not mooning about girls and women.'

I presumed from this that Heriot's passion for Julia was extinct. Aunt Dorothy disapproved of his tone, which I thought admirably philosophical and coxcombi-cally imitable, an expression of the sort of thing I should feel on hearing of Janet Ilchester's nuptials.

The daring and success of that foreign adventure of mine had, with the aid of Colonel and Clara Goodwin, convinced the squire of the folly of standing between me and him I loved. It was considered the best sign possible that he should take me down on an inspection of his various estates and his great coal-mine, and introduce me as the heir who would soon relieve him of the task.

Perhaps he thought the smell of wealth a promising cure for such fits of insubordination as I had exhibited. My occasional absences on my own account were winked at. On my return the squire was sour and snappish, I cheerful and complaisant; I grew cold, and he solicitous; he would drink my health with a challenge to heartiness, and I drank to him heartily and he relapsed to a fit of sulks, informing me, that in his time young men knew when they were well off, and asking me whether I was up to any young men's villanies, had any concealed debts perchance, because, if so--Oh! he knew the ways of youngsters, especially when they fell into bad hands: the list of bad titles rumbled on in an underbreath like cowardly thunder:--well, to cut the matter short, because, if so, his cheque-book was at my service; didn't I know that, eh? Not being immediately distressed by debt, I did not exhibit the gush of gratitude, and my sedate 'Thank you, sir,' confused his appeal for some sentimental show of affection.

I am sure the poor old man suffered pangs of jealousy; I could even at times see into his breast and pity him. He wanted little more than to be managed; but a youth when he perceives absurdity in opposition to him chafes at it as much as if he were unaware that it is laughable. Had the squire talked to me in those days seriously and fairly of my father's character, I should have abandoned my system of defence to plead for him as before a judge. By that time I had gained the knowledge that my father was totally of a different construction from other men. I wished the squire to own simply to his loveable nature. I could have told him women did. Without citing my dear aunt Dorothy, or so humble a creature as the devoted Mrs. Waddy, he had sincere friends among women, who esteemed him, and were staunch adherents to his cause; and if the widow of the City knight, Lady Sampleman, aimed openly at being something more, she was not the less his friend. Nor was it only his powerful animation, generosity, and grace that won them.

There occurred when I was a little past twenty, already much in his confidence, one of those strange crucial events which try a man publicly, and bring out whatever can be said for and against him. A young Welsh heiress fell in love with him. She was, I think, seven or eight months younger than myself, a handsome, intelligent, high-spirited girl, rather wanting in polish, and perhaps in the protecting sense of decorum. She was well-born, of course--she was Welsh. She was really well-bred too, though somewhat brusque. The young lady fell hopelessly in love with my father at Bath. She gave out that he was not to be for one moment accused of having encouraged her by secret addresses. It was her unsolicited avowal--thought by my aunt Dorothy immodest, not by me--that she preferred him to all living men. Her name was Anna Penrhys. The squire one morning received a letter from her family, requesting him to furnish them with information as to the antecedents of a gentleman calling himself Augustus Fitz-George Frederick William Richmond Guelph Roy, for purposes which would, they assured him, warrant the inquiry. He was for throwing the letter aside, shouting that he thanked his God he was unacquainted with anybody on earth with such an infernal list of names as that. Roy! Who knew anything of Roy?

'It happens to be my father's present name,' said I.

'It sounds to me like the name of one of those blackguard adventurers who creep into families to catch the fools,' pursued the squire, not hearing me with his eyes.

'The letter at least must be answered,' my aunt Dorothy said.

'It shall be answered!' the squire worked himself up to roar. He wrote a reply, the contents of which I could guess at from my aunt's refusal to let me be present at the discussion of it. The letter despatched was written by her, with his signature. Her eyes glittered for a whole day.

Then came a statement of the young lady's case from Bath.

'Look at that! look at that!' cried the squire, and went on, 'Look at that!' in a muffled way. There was a touch of dignity in his unforced anger.

My aunt winced displeasingly to my sight: 'I see nothing to astonish one.'

'Nothing to astonish one!' The squire set his mouth in imitation of her.

'You see nothing to astonish one? Well, ma'am, when a man grows old enough to be a grandfather, I do see something astonishing in a child of nineteen--by George! it's out o' nature. But you women like monstrosities. Oh! I understand. Here's an heiress to fifteen thousand a year. It's not astonishing if every ruined gambler and scapegrace in the kingdom's hunting her hot! no, no! that's not astonishing. I suppose she has her money in a coal mine.'

The squire had some of his in a coal-mine; my mother once had; it was the delivery of a blow at my father, signifying that he had the scent for this description of wealth. I left the room. The squire then affected that my presence had constrained him, by bellowing out epithets easy for me to hear in the hall and out on the terrace. He vowed by solemn oath he was determined to save this girl from ruin. My aunt's speech was brief.

I was summoned to Bath by my father in a curious peremptory tone implying the utmost urgent need of me.

I handed the letter to the squire at breakfast, saying, 'You must spare me for a week or so, sir.'

He spread the letter flat with his knife, and turned it over with his fork.

'Harry,' said he, half-kindly, and choking, 'you're better out of it.'

'I'm the best friend he could have by him, sir.'

'You're the best tool he could have handy, for you're a gentleman.'

'I hope I shan't offend you, grandfather, but I must go.'

'Don't you see, Harry Richmond, you're in for an infernal marriage ceremony there!'

'The young lady is not of age,' interposed my aunt.

'Eh? An infernal elopement, then. It's clear the girl's mad-head's cracked as a cocoa-nut bowled by a monkey, brains nowhere. Harry, you're not a greenhorn; you don't suspect you're called down there to stop it, do you? You jump plump into a furious lot of the girl's relatives; you might as well take a header into a leech-pond. Come! you're a man; think for yourself. Don't have this affair on your conscience, boy. I tell you, Harry Richmond, I'm against your going. You go against my will; you offend me, sir; you drag my name and blood into the mire. She's Welsh, is she? Those Welsh are addle-pated, every one. Poor girl!'

He threw a horrible tremour into his accent of pity.

My aunt expressed her view mildly, that I was sent for to help cure the young lady of her delusion.

'And take her himself!' cried the squire. 'Harry, you wouldn't go and do that? Why, the law, man, the law--the whole country 'd be up about it. You'll be stuck in a coloured caricature!'

He was really alarmed lest this should be one of the consequences of my going, and described some of the scourging caricatures of his day with an intense appreciation of their awfulness as engines of the moral sense of the public. I went nevertheless.

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