Read CHAPTER XXXIII of The Amazing Marriage, free online book, by George Meredith, on


Pushing through a swarm into the cot, Fleetwood saw Carinthia on a knee beside a girl’s lap, where the stripped child lay. Its mother held a basin for the dabbing at raw red spots.

A sting of pain touched the memory of its fright, and brought further screams, then the sobs. Carinthia hummed a Styrian cradle-song as the wailing lulled.

She glanced up; she said to the earl: ’The bite was deep; it was in the blood. We may have time. Get me an interpreter. I must ask the mother. I know not many words.’

‘What now?’ said he, at the looming of new vexations.

’We have no choice. Has a man gone? Dr. Griffiths would hurry fast. An hour may be too late. The poison travels: Father advised it: Fifty years for one brave minute! This child should be helped to live.’

’We ‘ll do our best. Why an interpreter?’

’A poker in the fire. The interpreter whether the mother will bear to have it done.’

‘Burn, do you mean?’

‘It should be burnt.’

‘Not by you?’

‘Quick! Quick!’

‘But will you could you? No, I say!’

‘If there is no one else.’

‘You forget your own child.’

‘He is near the end of his mother.’

‘The doctor will soon arrive.’

’The poison travels. It cannot be overtaken unless we start nearly equal, father said.’

‘Work like that wants an experienced hand.’

‘A steady one. I would not quake not tremble.’

‘I cannot permit it.’

’Mr. Wythan would know! he would know!

‘Do you hear, Lady Fleetwood the dog may not be mad!’

‘Signs! He ran heavy, he foamed.’

’Foam ‘s no sign.’

‘Go; order to me a speaker of English and Welsh.’

The earl spun round, sensible of the novelty of his being commanded, and submitting; but no sooner had he turned than he fell into her view of the urgency, and he went, much like the boy we see at school, with a strong hand on his collar running him in.

Madge entered, and said: ’Mr. Woodseer has seen baby and Martha and the donkey all safe.’

‘He is kind,’ said Carinthia. ’Do we right to bathe the wound? It seems right to wash it. Little things that seem right may be exactly wrong after all, when we are ignorant. I know burning the wound is right.’

Madge asked: ‘But, my lady, who is to do it?’

‘You would do it, dear, if I shrank,’ her mistress replied.

’Oh, my lady, I don’t know, I can’t say. Burning a child! And there’s our baby.’

‘He has had me nearly his time.’

‘Oh, my dear lady! Would the mother consent?’

’My Madge! I have so few of their words yet. You would hold the child to save it from a dreadful end.’

’God help me, my lady I would, as long as I live I will.... Oh! poor infant, we do need our courage now.’

Seeing that her mistress had not a tear or a tremor, the girl blinked and schooled her quailing heart, still under the wicked hope that the mother would not consent; in a wonderment at this lady, who was womanly, and who could hold the red iron at living flesh, to save the poor infant from a dreadful end. Her flow of love to this dear lady felt the slicing of a cut; was half revulsion, half worship; uttermost worship in estrangement, with the further throbbing of her pulses.

The cottage door was pushed open for Lord Fleetwood and Howell Edwards, whom his master had prepared to stand against immediate operations. A mounted messenger had been despatched. But it was true, the doctor might not be at home. Assuming it to be a bite of rabies, minutes lost meant the terrible: Edwards bowed his head to that. On the other hand, he foresaw the closest of personal reasons for hesitating to be in agreement with the lady wholly. The countess was not so much a persuasive lady as she was, in her breath and gaze, a sweeping and a wafting power. After a short argument, he had the sense of hanging like a bank detached to fatality of motion by the crack of a landslip, and that he would speedily be on his manhood to volunteer for the terrible work.

He addressed the mother. Her eyes whitened from their red at his first word of laying hot iron on the child: she ran out with the wild woman’s howl to her neighbours.

‘Poor mother!’ Carinthia sighed. ’It may last a year in the child’s body, and one day he shudders at water. Father saw a bitten man die. I could fear death with the thought of that poison in me. I pray Dr. Griffiths may come.’

Fleetwood shuffled a step. ‘He will come, he will come.’

The mother and some women now packed the room.

A gabble arose between them and Edwards. They fired sharp snatches of speech, and they darted looks at the lady and her lord.

‘They do not know!’ said Carinthia.

Gower brought her news that the dog had been killed; Martha and her precious burden were outside, a mob of men, too. He was not alarmed; but she went to the door and took her babe in her arms, and when the women observed the lady holding her own little one, their looks were softened. At a hint of explanation from Edwards, the guttural gabble rattled up to the shrill vowels.

Fleetwood’s endurance broke short. The packed small room, the caged-monkey lingo, the wailful child, and the past and apprehended debate upon the burning of flesh, composed an intolerable torture. He said to Edwards: ’Go to the men; settle it with them. We have to follow that man Wythan; no peace otherwise. Tell the men the body of the dog must be secured for analysis. Mad or not, it’s the same. These Welsh mothers and grandmothers won’t allow cautery at any price. Hark at them!’

He turned to Carinthia: ’Your ladyship will let Mr. Edwards or Mr. Woodseer conduct you to the house where you are residing. You don’t know these excitable people. I wish you to leave.’

She replied softly: ‘I stay for the doctor’s coming.’

‘Impossible for me to wait, and I can’t permit you to be here.’

‘It is life and death, and I must not be commanded.’

‘You may be proposing gratuitous agony.’

‘I would do it to my own child.’

The earl attacked Gower: ‘Add your voice to persuade Lady Fleetwood.’

Gower said: ‘What if I think with Lady Fleetwood?’

‘You would see her do it?’

‘Do it myself, if there was no one else’

‘This dog-all of you have gone mad,’ the earl cried.

’Griffiths may keep his head; it’s the only chance. Take my word, these Welshwomen just listen to them won’t have it. You ’ll find yourself in a nest of Furies. It may be right to do, it’s folly to propose it, madness to attempt it. And I shall be bitten if I stop here a minute longer; I’m gone; I can neither command nor influence. I should have thought Gower Woodseer would have kept his wits.’

Fleetwood’s look fell on Madge amid the group. Gower’s perception of her mistress through the girl’s devotion to her moved him. He took Madge by the hand, and the sensation came that it was the next thing to pressing his wife’s. ’You’re a loyal girl. You have a mistress it ’s an honour to serve. You bind me. By the way, Ines shall run down for a minute before I go.’

‘Let him stay where he is,’’ Madge said, having bobbed her curtsey.

‘Oh, if he’s not to get a welcome!’ said the earl; and he could now fix a steadier look on his countess, who would have animated him with either a hostile face or a tender. She had no expression of a feeling. He bent to her formally.

Carinthia’s words were: ‘Adieu, my lord.’

‘I have only to say, that Esslemont is ready to receive you,’ he remarked, bowed more curtly, and walked out...

Gower followed him. They might as well have been silent, for any effect from what was uttered between them. They spoke opinions held by each of them adverse mainly; speaking for no other purpose than to hold their positions.

‘Oh, she has courage, no doubt; no one doubted it,’ Fleetwood said, out of all relation to the foregoing.

Courage to grapple with his pride and open his heart was wanting in him.

Had that been done, even to the hint of it, instead of the lordly indifference shown, Gower might have ventured on a suggestion, that the priceless woman he could call wife was fast slipping away from him and withering in her allegiance. He did allude to his personal sentiment. ’One takes aim at Philosophy; Lady Fleetwood pulls us up to pay tribute to our debts.’ But this was vague, and his hearer needed a present thunder and lightning to shake and pierce him.

‘I pledged myself to that yacht,’ said Fleetwood, by way of reply, ’or you and I would tramp it, as we did once-jolly old days! I shall have you in mind. Now turn back. Do the best you can.’

They parted midway up the street, Gower bearing away a sharp contrast of the earl and his countess; for, until their senses are dulled, impressionable young men, however precociously philosophical, are mastered by appearances; and they have to reflect under new lights before vision of the linked eye and mind is given them.

Fleetwood jumped into his carriage and ordered the coachman to drive smartly. He could not have admitted the feeling small; he felt the having been diminished, and his requiring a rapid transportation from these parts for him to regain his proper stature. Had he misconducted himself at the moment of danger? It is a ghastly thought, that the craven impulse may overcome us. But no, he could reassure his repute for manliness. He had done as much as a man could do in such a situation.

At the same time, he had done less than the woman.

Needed she to have gone so far? Why precipitate herself into the jaws of the beast?

Now she, proposes to burn the child’s wound. And she will do it if they let her. One, sees her at the work, pale, flinty; no faces; trebly the terrific woman in her mild way of doing the work. All because her old father recommended it. Because she thinks it a duty, we will say; that is juster. This young woman is a very sword in the hand of her idea of duty. She can be feminine, too, there is one who knows. She can be particularly distant, too. If in timidity, she has a modest view of herself or an enormous conception of the magi that married her. Will she take the world’s polish a little?

Fleetwood asked with the simplicity of the superior being who will consequently perhaps bestow the debt he owes...

But his was not the surface nature which can put a question of the sort and pass it. As soon as it had been formed, a vision of the elemental creature calling him husband smote to shivers the shell we walk on, and caught him down among the lower forces, up amid the higher; an infernal and a celestial contest for the extinction of the one or the other of them, if it was not for their union. She wrestled with him where the darknesses roll their snake-eyed torrents over between jagged horns of the netherworld. She stood him in the white ray of the primal vital heat, to bear unwithering beside her the test of light. They flew, they chased, battled, embraced, disjoined, adventured apart, brought back the count of their deeds, compared them, and name the one crushed! It was the one weighted to shame, thrust into the cellar-corner of his own disgust, by his having asked whether that starry warrior spirit in the woman’s frame would ‘take polish a little.’

Why should it be a contention between them? For this reason: he was reduced to admire her act; and if he admired, he could not admire without respecting; if he respected, perforce he reverenced; if he reverenced, he worshipped. Therefore she had him at her feet. At the feet of any woman, except for the trifling object! But at the feet of ‘It is my husband!’ That would be a reversal of things.

Are not things reversed when the name Carinthia sounds in the thought of him who laughed at the name not less angelically martial than Feltre’s adored silver trumpets of his Papal procession; sweeter of the new morning for the husband of the woman; if he will but consent to the worshipper’s posture? Yes, and when Gower Woodseer’s ’Malady of the Wealthy,’ as he terms the pivotting of the whole marching and wheeling world upon the favoured of Fortune’s habits and tastes, promises to quit its fell clutch on him?

Another voice in the young nobleman cried: Pooh, dolt and dupe! and surrounded her for half a league with reek of burnt flesh and shrieks of a tortured child; giving her the aspect of a sister of the Parcw. But it was not the ascendant’ voice. It growled underneath, much like the deadly beast at Carinthia’s gown while she stood: an image of her to dominate the princeliest of men.

The princeliest must have won his title to the place before he can yield other than complimentary station to a woman without violation of his dignity; and vast wealth is not the title; worldly honours are not; deeds only are the title. Fleetwood consented to tell himself that he had not yet performed the deeds.

Therefore, for him to be dominated was to be obscured, eclipsed. A man may outrun us; it is the fortune of war. Eclipsed behind the skirts of a woman waving her upraised hands, with, ’Back, pray!’ no, that ignominy is too horribly abominable! Be sure, the situation will certainly recur in some form; will constantly recur. She will usurp the lead; she will play the man.

Let matters go on as they are. We know our personal worth.

Arrived at this point in the perpetual round of the conflict Carinthia had implanted, Fleetwood entered anew the ranks of the ordinary men of wealth and a coronet, and he hugged himself. He enjoyed repose; knowing it might be but a truce. Matters might go on as they were. Still, he wished her away from those Wythans, residing at Esslemont. There she might come eventually to a better knowledge of his personal worth: ’the gold mine we carry in our bosoms till it is threshed out of us in sweat,’ that fellow Gower Woodseex says; adding, that we are the richer for not exploring it. Philosophical cynicism is inconclusive. Fleetwood knew his large capacities; he had proved them and could again. In case a certain half foreseen calamity should happen: imagine it a fact, imagine him seized, besides admiring her character, with a taste for her person! Why, then, he would have to impress his own mysteriously deep character on her portion of understanding. The battle for domination would then begin.

Anticipation of the possibility of it hewed division between the young man’s pride of being and his warmer feelings. Had he been free of the dread of subjection, he would have sunk to kiss the feet of the statuesque young woman, arms in air, firm-fronted over the hideous death that tore at her skirts.