Read CHAPTER XXIV of The Amazing Marriage, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

A KIDNAPPING AND NO GREAT HARM

Ladies who have the pride of delicate breeding are not more than rather violently hurled back on the fortress it is, when one or other of the gross mishaps of circumstance may subject them to a shock: and this happening in the presence of gentlemen, they are sustained by the within and the without to keep a smooth countenance, however severe their affliction. Men of heroic nerve decline similarly to let explosions shake them, though earth be shaken. Dragged into the monstrous grotesque of the scene at the Gardens, Livia and Henrietta went through the ordeal, masking any signs that they were stripped for a flagellation. Only, the fair cousins were unable to perceive a comic element in the scene: and if the world was for laughing, as their instant apprehension foresaw it, the world was an ignoble beast. They did not discuss Carinthia’s latest craziness at night, hardly alluded to it while they were in the interjectory state.

Henrietta was Livia’s guest, her husband having hurried away to Vienna: ‘To get money! money!’ her angry bluntness explained his absence, and dealt its blow at the sudden astounding poverty into which they had fallen. She was compelled to practise an excessive, an incredible economy: ’think of the smallest trifles!’ so that her Chillon travelled unaccompanied, they were separated. Her iterations upon money were the vile constraint of an awakened interest and wonderment at its powers. She, the romantic Riette, banner of chivalry, reader of poetry, struck a line between poor and rich in her talk of people, and classed herself with the fallen and pinched; she harped on her slender means, on the enforced calculations preceding purchases, on the living in lodgings; and that miserly Lord Levellier’s indebtedness to Chillon large sums! and Chillon’s praiseworthy resolve to pay the creditors of her father’s estate; and of how he travelled like a common man, in consequence of the money he had given Janey weakly, for her obstinacy was past endurance; but her brother would not leave her penniless, and penniless she had been for weeks, because of her stubborn resistance to the earl quite unreasonably, whether right or wrong in the foul retreat she had chosen; apparently with a notion that the horror of it was her vantage ground against him: and though a single sign of submission would place the richest purse in England at her disposal. ’She refuses Esslemont! She insists on his meeting her! No child could be so witless. Let him be the one chiefly or entirely to blame, she might show a little tact for her brother’s sake! She loves her brother? No: deaf to him, to me, to every consideration except her blind will.’

Here was the skeleton of the love match, earlier than Livia had expected.

It refreshed a phlegmatic lady’s disposition for prophecy. Lovers abruptly tossed between wind and wave may still be lovers, she knew: but they are, or the weaker of the two is, hard upon any third person who tugs at them for subsistence or existence. The condition, if they are much beaten about, prepares true lovers, through their mutual tenderness, to be bitterly misanthropical.

Livia supposed the novel economic pinches to be the cause of Henrietta’s unwonted harsh judgement of her sister-in-law’s misconduct, or the crude expression of it. She could not guess that Carinthia’s unhappiness in marriage was a spectre over the married happiness of the pair fretted by the conscience which told them they had come together by doing much to bring it to pass. Henrietta could see herself less the culprit when she blamed Carinthia in another’s hearing.

After some repose, the cousins treated their horrible misadventure as a piece of history. Livia was cool; she had not a husband involved in it, as Henrietta had; and London’s hoarse laugh surely coming on them, spared her the dread Henrietta suffered, that Chillon would hear; the most sensitive of men on any matter touching his family.

‘And now a sister added to the list! Will there be names, Livia?’

‘The newspapers!’ Livia’s shoulders rose.

‘We ought to have sworn the gentlemen to silence.’

’M. de St. Ombre is a tomb until he writes his Memoirs. I hold Sir Meeson under lock. But a spiced incident, a notorious couple, an anecdotal witness to the scene, could you expect Mr. Rose Mackrell to contain it? The sacredest of oaths, my dear!’

That relentless force impelling an anecdotist to slaughter families for the amusement of dinner-tables, was brought home to Henrietta by her prospect of being a victim; and Livia reminding her of the excessive laughter at Rose Mackrell’s anecdotes overnight, she bemoaned her having consented to go to those Gardens in mourning.

’How could Janey possibly have heard of the project to go?

’You went to please Russett, he to please you, and that wild-cat to please herself,’ said Livia. ’She haunts his door, I suppose, and follows him, like a running footman. Every step she takes widens the breach. He keeps his temper, yes, keeps his temper as he keeps his word, and one morning it breaks loose, and all that’s done has to be undone. It will bemust. That extravaganza, as she is called, is fatal, dogs him with burlesque of all men!’

‘Why not consent to meet her once, Chillon asks.’

‘You are asking Russett to yield an inch on demand, and to a woman.’

’My husband would yield to a woman what he would refuse to all the men in Europe and America,’ said Henrietta; and she enjoyed her thrill of allegiance to her chivalrous lord and courtier.

’No very extraordinary specimen of a newly married man, who has won the Beauty of England and America for his wife-at some cost to some people,’ Livia rejoined.

There came a moisture on the eyelashes of the emotional young woman, from a touch of compassion for the wealthy man who had wished to call her wife, and was condemned by her rejection of him to call another woman wife, to be wifeless in wedding her, despite his wealth.

She thinks he loves her; it is pitiable, but she thinks it after the treatment she has had. She begs to see him once.’

‘And subdue him with a fit of weeping,’ Livia was moved to say by sight of the tear she hated. ’It would harden Russett on other eyes, too! Salt-water drops are like the forced agony scenes in a play: they bring down the curtain, they don’t win the critics. I heard her “my husband” and saw his face.’

‘You didn’t hear a whimper with it,’ Henrietta said. ’She’s a mountain girl, not your city madam on the boards. Chillon and I had her by each hand, implored her to leave that impossible Whitechapel, and she trembled, not a drop was shed by her. I can almost fancy privation and squalor have no terrors for Janey. She sings to the people down there, nurses them. She might be occupying Esslemont our dream of an English home! She is the destruction of the idea of romantic in connection with the name of marriage. I talk like a simpleton. Janey upsets us all. My lord was only a little queer before he knew her: His Mr. Woodseer may be encouraging her. You tell me the creature has a salary from him equal to your jointure.’

‘Be civil to the man while it lasts,’ Livia said, attentive to a degradation of tone in her cousin, formerly of supreme self-containment.

The beautiful young woman was reminded of her holiday in town. She brightened, and the little that it was, and the meanness of the satisfaction, darkened her. Envy of the lucky adventurer Mr. Woodseer, on her husband’s behalf, grew horridly conscious for being reproved. So she plucked resolution to enjoy her holiday and forget the contrasts of life-palaces running profusion, lodgings hammered by duns; the pinch of poverty distracting every simple look inside or out. There was no end to it; for her husband’s chivalrous honour forced him to undertake the payment of her father’s heavy debts. He was right and admirable, it could not be contested; but the prospect for them was a grinding gloom, an unrelieved drag, as of a coach at night on an interminable uphill flinty road.

These were her sensations, and she found it diverting to be admired; admired by many while she knew herself to be absorbed in the possession of her by one. It bestowed the before and after of her marriage. She felt she was really, had rapidly become, the young woman of the world, armed with a husband, to take the flatteries of men for the needed diversion they brought. None moved her; none could come near to touching the happy insensibility of a wife who adored her husband, wrote to him daily, thought of him by the minute. Her former worshippers were numerous at Livia’s receptions; Lord Fleetwood, Lord Brailstone, and the rest. Odd to reflect on they were the insubstantial but coveted wealth of the woman fallen upon poverty, ignoble poverty! She could not discard her wealth. She wrote amusingly of them, and fully, vivacious descriptions, to Chillon; hardly so much writing to him as entering her heart’s barred citadel, where he resided at his ease, heard everything that befell about her. If she dwelt on Lord Fleetwood’s kindness in providing entertainments, her object was to mollify Chillon’s anger in some degree. She was doing her utmost to gratify him, ’for the purpose of paving a way to plead Janey’s case.’ She was almost persuading herself she was enjoying the remarks of his friend, confidant, secretary, or what not, Livia’s worshipper, Mr. Woodseer, ’who does as he wills with my lord; directs his charities, his pleasures, his opinions, all because he is believed to have wonderful ideas and be wonderfully honest.’ Henrietta wrote: ’Situation unchanged. Janey still At that place’; and before the letter was posted, she and Livia had heard from Gower Woodseer of the reported disappearance of the Countess of Fleetwood and her maid. Gower’s father had walked up from Whitechapel, bearing news of it to the earl, she said.

‘And the earl is much disturbed?’ was Livia’s inquiry.

‘He has driven down with my father,’ Gower said carelessly, ambiguously in the sound.

Troubled enough to desire the show of a corresponding trouble, Henrietta read at their faces.

‘May it not be down there a real danger?’

The drama, he could inform her, was only too naked down there for disappearances to be common.

‘Will it be published that she is missing?’

’She has her maid with her, a stout-hearted girl. Both have courage. I don’t think we need take measures just yet.’

‘Not before it is public property?’

Henrietta could have bitten her tongue for laying her open to the censure implied in his muteness. Janey perverted her.

Women were an illegible manuscript, and ladies a closed book of the binding, to this raw philosopher, or he would not so coldly have judged the young wife, anxious on her husband’s account, that they might escape another scorching. He carried away his impression.

Livia listened to a remark on his want of manners.

‘Russett puts it to the credit of his honesty,’ she said. ’Honesty is everything with us at present. The man has made his honesty an excellent speculation. He puts a piece on zero and the bank hands him a sackful. We may think we have won him to serve us, up comes his honesty. That’s how we have Lady Arpington mixed in it too long a tale. But be guided by me; condescend a little.’

’My dear! my whole mind is upon that unhappy girl. It would break Chillon’s heart.’

Livia pished. ’There are letters we read before we crack the seal. She is out of that ditch, and it suits Russett that she should be. He’s not often so patient. A woman foot to foot against his will I see him throwing high stakes. Tyrants are brutal; and really she provokes him enough. You needn’t be alarmed about the treatment she ’ll meet. He won’t let her beat him, be sure.’

Neither Livia nor Gower wondered at the clearing of the mystery, before it went to swell the scandal. A young nobleman of ready power, quick temper, few scruples, and a taxed forbearance, was not likely to stand thwarted and goaded-and by a woman. Lord Fleetwood acted his part, inscrutable as the blank of a locked door. He could not conceal that he was behind the door.