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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 6 - Chapter 40. My Father's Meeting With My Grandfather
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 6 - Chapter 40. My Father's Meeting With My Grandfather Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2384

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 6 - Chapter 40. My Father's Meeting With My Grandfather

BOOK VI CHAPTER XL. MY FATHER'S MEETING WITH MY GRANDFATHER

My father's pleasure on the day of our journey to Bulsted was to drive me out of London on a lofty open chariot, with which he made the circuit of the fashionable districts, and caused innumerable heads to turn. I would have preferred to go the way of other men, to be unnoticed, but I was subject to an occasional glowing of undefined satisfaction in the observance of the universally acknowledged harmony existing between his pretensions, his tastes and habits, and his person. He contrived by I know not what persuasiveness and simplicity of manner and speech to banish from me the idea that he was engaged in playing a high stake; and though I knew it, and he more than once admitted it, there was an ease and mastery about him that afforded me some degree of positive comfort still. I was still most securely attached to his fortunes. Supposing the ghost of dead Hector to have hung over his body when the inflamed son of Peleus whirled him at his chariot wheels round Troy, he would, with his natural passions sobered by Erebus, have had some of my reflections upon force and fate, and my partial sense of exhilaration in the tremendous speed of the course during the whole of the period my father termed his Grand Parade. I showed just such acquiescence or resistance as were superinduced by the variations of the ground. Otherwise I was spell-bound; and beyond interdicting any further public mention of my name or the princess's, I did nothing to thwart him. It would have been no light matter.

We struck a station at a point half-way down to Bulsted, and found little Kiomi there, thunder in her brows, carrying a bundle, and purchasing a railway-ticket, not to travel in our direction. She gave me the singular answer that she could not tell me where her people were; nor would she tell me whither she was going, alone, and by rail. I chanced to speak of Heriot. One of her sheet-lightning flashes shot out. 'He won't be at Bulsted,' she said, as if that had a significance. I let her know we were invited to Bulsted. 'Oh, she 's at home'; Kiomi blinked, and her features twitched like whip-cord. I saw that she was possessed by one of her furies. That girl's face had the art of making me forget beautiful women, and what beauty was by comparison.

It happened that the squire came across us as we were rounding the slope of larch and fir plantation near a part of the Riversley hollows, leading to the upper heath-land, where, behind a semicircle of birches, Bulsted lay. He was on horseback, and called hoarsely to the captain's coachman, who was driving us, to pull up. 'Here, Harry,' he sang out to me, in the same rough voice, 'I don't see why we should bother Captain William. It's a bit of business, not pleasure. I've got the book in my pocket. You ask--is it convenient to step into my bailiff's cottage hard by, and run through it? Ten minutes 'll tell me all I want to know. I want it done with. Ask.'

My father stood up and bowed, bareheaded.

My grandfather struck his hat and bobbed.

'Mr. Beltham, I trust I see you well.'

'Better, sir, when I've got rid of a damned unpleasant bit o' business.'

'I offer you my hearty assistance.'

'Do you? Then step down and come into my bailiff's.'

'I come, sir.'

My father alighted from the carriage. The squire cast his gouty leg to be quit of his horse, but not in time to check my father's advances and ejaculations of condolence.

'Gout, Mr. Beltham, is a little too much a proof to us of a long line of ancestry.'

His hand and arm were raised in the form of a splint to support the squire, who glared back over his cheekbone, horrified that he could not escape the contact, and in too great pain from arthritic throes to protest: he resembled a burglar surprised by justice. 'What infernal nonsense,... fellow talking now?' I heard him mutter between his hoppings and dancings, with one foot in the stirrup and a toe to earth, the enemy at his heel, and his inclination half bent upon swinging to the saddle again.

I went to relieve him. 'Damn!... Oh, it's you,' said he.

The squire directed Uberly, acting as his groom, to walk his horse up and down the turf fronting young Tom Eckerthy's cottage, and me to remain where I was; then hobbled up to the door, followed at a leisurely march by my father. The door opened. My father swept the old man in before him, with a bow and flourish that admitted of no contradiction, and the door closed on them. I caught a glimpse of Uberly screwing his wrinkles in a queer grimace, while he worked his left eye and thumb expressively at the cottage, by way of communicating his mind to Samuel, Captain Bulsted's coachman; and I became quite of his opinion as to the nature of the meeting, that it was comical and not likely to lead to much. I thought of the princess and of my hope of her depending upon such an interview as this. From that hour when I stepped on the sands of the Continent to the day of my quitting them, I had been folded in a dream: I had stretched my hands to the highest things of earth, and here now was the retributive material money-question, like a keen scythe-blade!

The cottage-door continued shut. The heaths were darkening. I heard a noise of wheels, and presently the unmistakable voice of Janet saying, 'That must be Harry.' She was driving my aunt Dorothy. Both of them hushed at hearing that the momentous duel was in progress. Janet's first thought was of the squire. 'I won't have him ride home in the dark,' she said, and ordered Uberly to walk the horse home. The ladies had a ladies' altercation before Janet would permit my aunt to yield her place and proceed on foot, accompanied by me. Naturally the best driver of the two kept the whip. I told Samuel to go on to Bulsted, with word that we were coming: and Janet, nodding bluntly, agreed to direct my father as to where he might expect to find me on the Riversley road. My aunt Dorothy and I went ahead slowly: at her request I struck a pathway to avoid the pony-carriage, which was soon audible; and when Janet, chattering to the squire, had gone by, we turned back to intercept my father. He was speechless at the sight of Dorothy Beltham. At his solicitation, she consented to meet him next day; his account of the result of the interview was unintelligible to her as well as to me. Even after leaving her at the park-gates, I could get nothing definite from him, save that all was well, and that the squire was eminently practical; but he believed he had done an excellent evening's work. 'Yes,' said he, rubbing his hands, 'excellent! making due allowances for the emphatically commoner's mind we have to deal with.' And then to change the subject he dilated on that strange story of the man who, an enormous number of years back in the date of the world's history, carried his little son on his shoulders one night when the winds were not so boisterous, though we were deeper in Winter, along the identical road we traversed, between the gorsemounds, across the heaths, with yonder remembered fir-tree clump in sight and the waste-water visible to footfarers rounding under the firs. At night-time he vowed, that as far as nature permitted it, he had satisfied the squire--'completely satisfied him, I mean,' he said, to give me sound sleep. 'No doubt of it; no doubt of it, Richie.'

He won Julia's heart straight off, and Captain Bulsted's profound admiration. 'Now I know the man I've always been adoring since you were so high, Harry,' said she. Captain Bulsted sighed: 'Your husband bows to your high good taste, my dear.' They relished him sincerely, and between them and him I suffered myself to be dandled once more into a state of credulity, until I saw my aunt Dorothy in the afternoon subsequent to the appointed meeting. His deep respect and esteem for her had stayed him from answering any of her questions falsely. To that extent he had been veracious. It appeared, that driven hard by the squire, who would have no waving of flags and lighting of fireworks in a matter of business, and whose 'commoner's mind' chafed sturdily at a hint of the necessity for lavish outlays where there was a princess to win, he had rallied on the fiction that many of the cheques, standing for the bulk of the sums expended, were moneys borrowed by him of me, which he designed to repay, and was prepared to repay instantly--could in fact, the squire demanding it, repay, as it were, on the spot; for behold, these borrowed moneys were not spent; they were moneys invested in undertakings, put out to high rates of interest; moneys that perhaps it would not be adviseable to call in without a season of delay; still, if Mr. Beltham, acting for his grandson and heir, insisted, it should be done. The moneys had been borrowed purely to invest them with profit on my behalf: a gentleman's word of honour was pledged to it.

The squire grimly gave him a couple of months to make it good.

Dorothy Beltham and my father were together for about an hour at Eckerthy's farm. She let my father kiss her hand when he was bending to take his farewell of her, but held her face away. He was in manifest distress, hardly master of his voice, begged me to come to him soon, and bowing, with 'God bless you, madam, my friend on earth!' turned his heel, bearing his elastic frame lamentably. A sad or a culprit air did not befit him: one reckoned up his foibles and errors when seeing him under a partly beaten aspect. At least, I did; not my dear aunt, who was compassionate of him, however thoroughly she condemned his ruinous extravagance, and the shifts and evasions it put him to. She feared, that instead of mending the difficulty, he had postponed merely to exaggerate it in the squire's mind; and she was now of opinion that the bringing him down to meet the squire was very bad policy, likely to result in danger to my happiness; for, if the money should not be forthcoming on the date named, all my father's faults would be transferred to me as his accomplice, both in the original wastefulness and the subterfuges invented to conceal it. I recollected that a sum of money had really been sunk in Prince Ernest's coal-mine. My aunt said she hoped for the best.

Mounting the heaths, we looked back on the long yellow road, where the carriage conveying my father to the railway-station was visible, and talked of him, and of the elements of antique tragedy in his history, which were at that period, let me say, precisely what my incessant mental efforts were strained to expel from the idea of our human life. The individual's freedom was my tenet of faith; but pity pleaded for him that he was well-nigh irresponsible, was shamefully sinned against at his birth, one who could charge the Gods with vindictiveness, and complain of the persecution of natal Furies. My aunt Dorothy advised me to take him under my charge, and sell his house and furniture, make him live in bachelor chambers with his faithful waiting-woman and a single manservant.

'He will want money even to do that,' I remarked.

She murmured, 'Is there not some annual income paid to him?'

Her quick delicacy made her redden in alluding so closely to his personal affairs, and I loved her for the nice feeling. 'It was not much,' I said. The miserable attempt to repair the wrongs done to him with this small annuity angered me--and I remembered, little pleased, the foolish expectations he founded on this secret acknowledgement of the justice of his claims. 'We won't talk of it,' I pursued. 'I wish he had never touched it. I shall interdict him.'

'You would let him pay his debts with it, Harry?'

'I am not sure, aunty, that he does not incur a greater debt by accepting it.'

'One's wish would be, that he might not ever be in need of it.'

'Ay, or never be caring to find the key of it.'

'That must be waste of time,' she said.

I meant something else, but it was useless to tell her so.

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