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16. Tom-all-Alone's
My Lady Dedlock is restless, very restless. The astonished fashionable intelligence
hardly knows where to have her. To-day she is at Chesney Wold; yesterday she was at
her house in town; to- morrow she may be abroad, for anything the fashionable
intelligence can with confidence predict. Even Sir Leicester's gallantry has some trouble
to keep pace with her. It would have more but that his other faithful ally, for better and
for worse--the gout--darts into the old oak bedchamber at Chesney Wold and grips him
by both legs.
Sir Leicester receives the gout as a troublesome demon, but still a demon of the
patrician order. All the Dedlocks, in the direct male line, through a course of time during
and beyond which the memory of man goeth not to the contrary, have had the gout. It
can be proved, sir. Other men's fathers may have died of the rheumatism or may have
taken base contagion from the tainted blood of the sick vulgar, but the Dedlock family
have communicated something exclusive even to the levelling process of dying by dying
of their own family gout. It has come down through the illustrious line like the plate, or
the pictures, or the place in Lincolnshire. It is among their dignities. Sir Leicester is
perhaps not wholly without an impression, though he has never resolved it into words,
that the angel of death in the discharge of his necessary duties may observe to the
shades of the aristocracy, "My lords and gentlemen, I have the honour to present to you
another Dedlock certified to have arrived per the family gout."
Hence Sir Leicester yields up his family legs to the family disorder as if he held his
name and fortune on that feudal tenure. He feels that for a Dedlock to be laid upon his
back and spasmodically twitched and stabbed in his extremities is a liberty taken
somewhere, but he thinks, "We have all yielded to this; it belongs to us; it has for some
hundreds of years been understood that we are not to make the vaults in the park
interesting on more ignoble terms; and I submit myself to the compromise.
And a goodly show he makes, lying in a flush of crimson and gold in the midst of the
great drawing-room before his favourite picture of my Lady, with broad strips of sunlight
shining in, down the long perspective, through the long line of windows, and alternating
with soft reliefs of shadow. Outside, the stately oaks, rooted for ages in the green
ground which has never known ploughshare, but was still a chase when kings rode to
battle with sword and shield and rode a-hunting with bow and arrow, bear witness to his
greatness. Inside, his forefathers, looking on him from the walls, say, "Each of us was a
passing reality here and left this coloured shadow of himself and melted into
remembrance as dreamy as the distant voices of the rooks now lulling you to rest," and
hear their testimony to his greatness too. And he is very great this day. And woe to
Boythorn or other daring wight who shall presumptuously contest an inch with him!
My Lady is at present represented, near Sir Leicester, by her portrait. She has flitted
away to town, with no intention of remaining there, and will soon flit hither again, to the