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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen
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There & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2147

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There & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen


Barbara turned her mare across the road, and sent her at the hedge. Miss Brown cleared it like a stag, and took a bee-line along the grass for Wylder Hall. Richard stood astonished. A moment before she was close beside him, and now she was nearly out of his sight! The angel that ascended from the presence of Manoah could scarcely have more amazed the Danite. Though Richard could shoe a horse, he could no more have stuck to Miss Brown over that hedge than he could have ascended with the angel. He watched till she vanished, and then watched for her reappearance at a point of hope beyond. Only when he knew that distance and intervention rendered it impossible he should see her more, did he turn and take his way to Mortgrange.

He was as much in love with Barbara as a man could be who indulged no hope whatever of marrying her--who was not even tempted to build the humblest castle for her in the air of possibility. But so far was his love from causing in him any kind of selfish absorption, that his heart was much troubled at Alice's leaving him without a farewell. Her behaviour woke in him his first sense of the inexplicable: he little thought of its being but the first visible vapour of a mystery that involved both his past and his future. All he knew was, that the sister of his friend had, in a stormy night in London, fled from him as from a wild beast; and that now, on a quiet morning in the country, she was gone from his grandfather's house without a word of farewell to him who had called him to her aid.

"There must be a reason for everything," he said to himself, "but some reasons are hard to find!"

The next day in the forenoon, Richard was busy as usual in the library. Doors and windows were shut against draughts, for he was working with gold-leaf on the tooling of an ancient binding. A door opened, and in came the goblin of the house. Perceiving what Richard was about, she came bounding, lithe as a cat, and making a willful wind with her pinafore, blew away the leaf he was dividing on the cushion, and knocked a book of gold-leaf to the floor. The book-mender felt very angry, but put an extra guard on himself, caught her in a firm grasp, and proceeded to expel her. She threw herself on the floor, and began to scream. Richard took her up, laid her down in the hall, and closed and locked the door by which she had entered. Vixen lay where he laid her, and went on screaming. By and by her screaming ceased, and a few moments after, the handle of the door was tried. Richard took no notice. Then came a peremptory knock. Richard called out, "Who's there?" but no answer came except a repetition of the knock, to which he paid no heed. The knock was twice repeated, but Richard went on with his work, and gave no sign. Suddenly another door, which he had not thought of securing, burst open, and in sailed Miss Malliver, the governess, tall and slight, with the dignity she put on for her inferiors, to whom she was as insolent as to those above her she was cringing. True superiority she was incapable of perceiving; real inferiority would have been hard to find.

"Man!" she exclaimed, the moment her wrath would allow her to speak, "what do you mean by your insolence?"

"If you allude to my putting the child out of the room," answered Richard, "I mean that she is rude, and that I will not be annoyed with her!"

"You shall be turned out of the house!"

"In the meantime," rejoined Richard, who had a not unnatural repugnance to Miss Malliver, and was now thoroughly angry, "I will turn you too out of the room, and for the same reason."

Richard felt, with every true gentleman, that the workman has a claim to politeness as real as that of any gentleman. The man who cannot see it is a cad.

"I dare you!" cried Miss Malliver, giving the rein to her innate coarseness.

Before he blames Richard, my reader must think how he might himself have behaved, had he been brought up among the people. I would have him reflect also that the woman who presumes on her sex, undermines its claim. Richard laid the tool he was using quietly aside, and approached her deliberately. Trusting, like king Claudius, in the divinity that hedged her, and not believing he would presume to touch her, the woman kept her ground defiantly until his hands were on the point of seizing her. Then she uttered a shriek, and fled. Richard closed the door behind her, made it also fast, and returned to his work.

But he was not to be left in peace. Another hand came to the door, and a voice demanding entrance followed the foiled attempt to open it. He recognized the voice as lady Ann's, and made haste to admit her. But her ladyship stood motionless on the door-mat, erect and cool. Anger itself could not warm her, for that she was angry was plain only from the steely sparkle in her grey eyes.

"You forget yourself! You must leave the house!" she said.

"I have done nothing, my lady," answered Richard, "but what it was necessary to do. I did not hurt the child in the least."

"That is not the point. You must leave the house."

"I should at once obey you, my lady," rejoined Richard, "but I am not at liberty to do so. Sir Wilton has the command of my time till the month of May. I am bound to be at his orders, whether I choose or not, except he tell me to go."

Lady Ann stood speechless, and stared at him with her icicle-eyes. Richard turned away to his work. Lady Ann entered, and shut the door behind her. Richard would have had to search long to discover the cause of her peculiar behaviour. It was this: in his anger, he had flashed on her a look which she knew but could not identify, and which somehow frightened her. She must shape and identify the reminiscence! Familiar enough with the expression of her husband's face when he was out of temper, she had yet failed to identify with it that look on the face of his son. Had she known Richard's mother, she would probably have recognized him at once; for there was more of her as well as of his father in his expression when he was angry: there must have been a good many wrathful passages between the two! In the face of their child the expression of the mother so modified that of the father, that lady Ann could not isolate and verify it. She must therefore go on talking to him, keeping to the point, but not pushing it so as to bring the interview to an end too speedily for her purpose!

"Mr.----,--I don't know your name," she resumed, "--no respectable house could harbour such behaviour. I grant sir Wilton is partly to blame, for he ought not to have allowed the library to be turned into a workshop. That however makes no difference. This kind of thing cannot continue!"

Richard went on with his work, and made no reply. Lady Ann looked in vain for a revival of the expression that had struck her. For a moment she thought of summoning Miss Malliver to do what she would not condescend to do herself, namely, enrage him, that she might have another chance with the suggested likeness; but something warned her not to risk--she did not know what. At the same time the resemblance might be to no person at all, but to some animal, or even perhaps, some piece of furniture or china!

"You must not imagine yourself of importance in the house," she resumed, "because a friend of the family happens to be interested in the kind of thing you do--very neatly, I allow, but--"

She stopped short. At this allusion to Barbara, Richard's rage boiled up with the swelling heave in a full caldron on a great furnace. Lady Ann turned pale, pale even for her, murmured something inaudible, put her hand to her forehead, and left the room.

Richard's wrath fell. He thought with himself, "I have frightened her! Perhaps they will leave me alone now!" He closed the door she had left open behind her, unlocked the other, and fell once more to his work.

For the time the disturbance was over. When Miss Malliver and Vixen, lingering near, saw lady Ann walk past, holding her hand to her forehead, they also turned pale with fear: what a terrible man he must be who had silenced my lady in her own house, and had his own way with her! Vixen dared not go near him again for a long time.

But lady Ann's perturbation did not last. She said to herself that she was a fool to imagine such an absurdity. She remembered to have heard, though at the time it had no interest for her, that the bookbinder had relatives in the neighbourhood. Such a likeness might meet her at any turn: the kind of thing was of constant occurrence about estates! It improved the breed of the lower orders, and was no business of hers! A child had certainly been lost, with a claim to the succession; but was she therefore to be appalled at every resemblance to her husband that happened to turn up! As to that particular child, she would not believe that he was alive! He could not be! That, after so many years, she, an earl's daughter, would have to give way to a woman lower than a peasant, was preposterous!

It must be remembered that she knew nothing of the relation of the nurse to the child she had stolen, knew of no source whence light could fall upon their disappearance. Old Simon himself knew nothing of the affair till years after the feeble search for the child had ceased. Lady Ann had a strong hope that his birth had not been registered: she had searched for it--with what object I will not speculate, but had not found it. She was capable of a good deal in some directions, for she came of as low a breed as her husband, with more cunning, and less open defiance in it; there was not much she would have blenched at, with society on her side, and a good chance of foiling in safety the low-born woman who had "popped" her child "in between the" heritage "and" her "hopes." It might be wrong, but it would be for the sake of right! Ought not imposture to be frustrated, however legalized? Would it not be both intrusion and imposture for a man of low origin to possess the ancient lands of Mortgrange, ousting a child of her family, born of her person, and bred in the brightest beams of the sun social?

I can well imagine her coming to reason thus. For the present, unnecessary as she was determined to think it, she yet resolved to do all that was left her to do: she would watch; and while she watched, would take care that the young man was subjected to no annoyance, lest in his wrath his countenance should suggest to another, as to herself, the question of his origin!

Thus it came that Richard heard nothing more of his threatened expulsion from Mortgrange.

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