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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 8 - Chapter 54. My Return To England
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 8 - Chapter 54. My Return To England Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1047

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 8 - Chapter 54. My Return To England

BOOK VIII CHAPTER LIV. MY RETURN TO ENGLAND

I passed from the Alps to the desert, and fell in love with the East, until it began to consume me. History, like the air we breathe, must be in motion to keep us uncorrupt: otherwise its ancient homes are infectious. My passion for the sun and his baked people lasted awhile, the drudgery of the habit of voluntary exile some time longer, and then, quite unawares, I was seized with a thirst for England, so violent that I abandoned a correspondence of several months, lying for me both at Damascus and Cairo, to catch the boat for Europe. A dream of a rainy morning, in the midst of the glowing furnace, may have been the origin of the wild craving I had for my native land and Janet. The moist air of flying showers and drenched spring buds surrounded her; I saw her plainly lifting a rose's head; was it possible I had ever refused to be her yokefellow? Could so noble a figure of a fair young woman have been offered and repudiated again and again by a man in his senses? I spurned the intolerable idiot, to stop reflection. Perhaps she did likewise now. There was nothing to alarm me save my own eagerness.

The news of my father was perplexing, leading me to suppose him re-established in London, awaiting the coming on of his Case. Whence the money?

Money and my father, I knew, met as they divided, fortuitously; in illustration of which, I well remembered, while passing in view of the Key of the Adige along the Lombard plain, a circumstance during my Alpine tour with Temple, of more importance to him than to me, when my emulous friend, who would never be beaten, sprained his ankle severely on the crags of a waterfall, not far from Innsbruck, and was invited into a house by a young English lady, daughter of a retired Colonel of Engineers of our army. The colonel was an exile from his country for no grave crime: but, as he told us, as much an exile as if he had committed a capital offence in being the father of nine healthy girls. He had been, against his judgement, he averred, persuaded to fix on his Tyrolese spot of ground by the two elder ones. Five were now married to foreigners; thus they repaid him, by scattering good English blood on the race of Counts and Freiherrs! 'I could understand the decrees of Providence before I was a parent,' said this dear old Colonel Heddon. 'I was looking up at the rainbow when I heard your steps, asking myself whether it was seen in England at that instant, and why on earth I should be out of England!' He lived abroad to be able to dower his girls. His sons-in-law were gentlemen; so far he was condemned to be satisfied, but supposing all his girls married foreigners? His primitive frankness charmed us, and it struck me that my susceptible Temple would have liked to be in a position to reassure him with regard to the Lucy of the four. We were obliged to confess that she was catching a foreign accent. The old colonel groaned. He begged us to forgive him for not treating us as strangers; his heart leapt out to young English gentlemen.

My name, he said, reminded him of a great character at home, in the old days: a certain Roy-Richmond, son of an actress and somebody, so the story went: and there was an old Lord Edbury who knew more about it than most. 'Now Roy was an adventurer, but he had a soul of true chivalry, by gad, he had! Plenty of foreign whiffmajigs are to be found, but you won't come upon a fellow like that. Where he got his money from none knew: all I can say is, I don't believe he ever did a dirty action for it. And one matter I'll tell you of: pardon me a moment, Mr. Richmond, I haven't talked English for half a century, or, at least, a quarter. Old Lord Edbury put him down in his will for some thousands, and he risked it to save a lady, who hated him for his pains. Lady Edbury was of the Bolton blood, none of the tamest; they breed good cavalry men. She ran away from her husband once. The old lord took her back. "It 's at your peril, mind!" says she. Well, Roy hears by-and-by of afresh affair. He mounted horse; he was in the saddle, I've been assured, a night and a day, and posted himself between my lady's park-gates, and the house, at dusk. The rumour ran that he knew of the marquis playing spy on his wife. However, such was the fact; she was going off again, and the marquis did play the mean part. She walked down the parkroad, and, seeing the cloaked figure of a man, she imagined him to be her Lothario, and very naturally, you will own, fell into his arms. The gentleman in question was an acquaintance of mine; and the less you follow our example the better for you. It was a damnable period in morals! He told me that he saw the scene from the gates, where he had his carriage-and-four ready. The old lord burst out of an ambush on his wife and her supposed paramour; the lady was imprisoned in her rescuer's arms, and my friend retired on tiptoe, which was, I incline to think, the best thing he could do. Our morals were abominable. Lady Edbury would never see Roy-Richmond after that, nor the old lord neither. He doubled the sum he had intended to leave him, though. I heard that he married a second young wife. Roy, I believe, ended by marrying a great heiress, and reforming. He was an eloquent fellow, and stood like a general in full uniform, cocked hat and feathers; most amusing fellow at table; beat a Frenchman for anecdote.'

I spared Colonel Heddon the revelation of my relationship to his hero, thanking his garrulity for interrupting me.

How I pitied him when I drove past the gates of the main route to Innsbruck! For I was bound homeward: I should soon see England, green cloudy England, the white cliffs, the meadows, the heaths! And I thanked the colonel again in my heart for having done something to reconcile me to the idea of that strange father of mine.

A banner-like stream of morning-coloured smoke rolled North-eastward as I entered London, and I drove to Temple's chambers. He was in Court, engaged in a case as junior to his father. Temple had become that radiant human creature, a working man, then? I walked slowly to the Court, and saw him there, hardly recognising him in his wig. All that he had to do was to prompt his father in a case of collision at sea; the barque Priscilla had run foul of a merchant brig, near the mouth of the Thames, and though I did not expect it on hearing the vessel's name, it proved to be no other than the barque Priscilla of Captain Jasper Welsh. Soon after I had shaken Temple's hand, I was going through the same ceremony with the captain himself, not at all changed in appearance, who blessed his heart for seeing me, cried out that a beard and mustachios made a foreign face of a young Englishman, and was full of the 'providential' circumstance of his having confided his case to Temple and his father.

'Ay, ay, Captain Welsh,' said Temple, 'we have pulled you through, only another time mind you keep an eye on that look-out man of yours. Some of your men, I suspect, see double with an easy conscience. A close net makes slippery eels.'

'Have you anything to say against my men?' the captain inquired.

Temple replied that he would talk to him about it presently, and laughed as he drew me away.

'His men will get him into a deuce of a scrape some day, Richie. I shall put him on his guard. Have you had all my letters? You look made of iron. I'm beginning capitally, not afraid of the Court a bit, and I hope I'm not pert. I wish your father had taken it better!'

'Taken what?' said I.

'Haven't you heard from him?'

'Two or three times: a mass of interjections.'

'You know he brought his Case forward at last? Of course it went as we all knew it would.'

'Where is he? Have you seen Janet lately?'

'He is at Miss Ilchester's house in London.'

'Write the address on a card.'

Temple wrote it rather hesitatingly, I thought.

We talked of seeing one another in the evening, and I sprang off to Janet's residence, forgetting to grasp my old friend's hand at parting. I was madly anxious to thank her for the unexpected tenderness to my father. And now nothing stood between us!

My aunt Dorothy was the first to welcome me. 'He must be prepared for the sight of you, Harry. The doctors say that a shock may destroy him. Janet treats him so wonderfully.'

I pressed her on my heart and cheered her, praising Janet. She wept.

'Is there anything new the matter?' I said.

'It 's not new to us, Harry. I'm sure you're brave?'

'Brave! what am I asked to bear?'

'Much, if you love her, Harry!'

'Speak.'

'It is better you should hear it from me, Harry. I wrote you word of it. We all imagined it would not be disagreeable to you. Who could foresee this change in you? She least of all!'

'She's in love with some one?'

'I did not say in love.'

'Tell me the worst.'

'She is engaged to be married.'

Janet came into the room--another Janet for me. She had engaged herself to marry the Marquis of Edbury. At the moment when she enslaved me with gratitude and admiration she was lost to me. I knew her too well to see a chance of her breaking her pledged word.

My old grandfather said of Janet, 'She's a compassionate thing.' I felt now the tears under his speech, and how late I was in getting wisdom. Compassion for Edbury in Janet's bosom was the matchmaker's chief engine of assault, my aunt Dorothy told me. Lady Ilchester had been for this suitor, Sir Roderick for the other, up to the verge of a quarrel between the most united of wedding couples. Janet was persecuted. She heard that Edbury's life was running to waste; she liked him for his cricketing and hunting, his frankness, seeming manliness, and general native English enthusiasm. I permitted myself to comprehend the case as far as I could allow myself to excuse her.

Dorothy Beltham told me something of Janet that struck me to the dust.

'It is this, dear Harry; bear to hear it! Janet and I and his good true woman of a housekeeper, whose name is Waddy, we are, I believe, the only persons that know it. He had a large company to dine at a City tavern, she told us, on the night after the decision--when the verdict went against him. The following morning I received a note from this good Mrs. Waddy addressed to Sir Roderick's London house, where I was staying with Janet; it said that he was ill; and Janet put on her bonnet at once to go to him.'

'The lady didn't fear contagion any longer?'

'She went, walking fast. He was living in lodgings, and the people of the house insisted on removing him, Mrs. Waddy told us. She was cowering in the parlour. I had not the courage to go upstairs. Janet went by herself.'

My heart rose on a huge swell.

'She was alone with him, Harry. We could hear them.'

Dorothy Beltham looked imploringly on me to waken my whole comprehension.

'She subdued him. When I saw him he was white as death, but quiet, not dangerous at all.'

'Do you mean she found him raving?' I cried out on our Maker's name, in grief and horror.

'Yes, dear Harry, it was so.'

'She stepped between him and an asylum?'

'She quitted Sir Roderick's house to lodge your father safe in one that she hired, and have him under her own care. She watched him day and night for three weeks, and governed him, assisted only at intervals by the poor frightened woman, Mrs. Waddy, and just as frightened me. And I am still subject to the poor woman's way of pressing her hand to her heart at a noise. It 's over now. Harry, Janet wished that you should never hear of it. She dreads any excitement for him. I think she is right in fancying her own influence the best: he is used to it. You know how gentle she is though she is so firm.'

'Oh! don't torture me, ma'am, for God's sake,' I called aloud.

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