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DIANA OF THE CROSSWAYS
By George Meredith
XXVII. CONTAINS MATTER FOR SUBSEQUENT EXPLOSION
XXVIII. DIALOGUE ROUND THE SUBJECT OF A PORTRAIT, WITH SOME INDICATIONS
OF THE TASK FOR DIANA
XXIX. SHOWS THE APPROACHES OF THE POLITICAL AND THE DOMESTIC CRISIS
XXX. IN WHICH THERE IS A TASTE OF A LITTLE DINNER AND AN AFTERTASTE
XXXI. A CHAPTER CONTAINING GREAT POLITICAL NEWS AND THEREWITH AN
INTRUSION OF THE LOVE-GOD
XXXII. WHEREIN WE BEHOLD A GIDDY TURN AT THE SPECTRAL CROSSWAYS
XXXIII. EXHIBITS THE SPRINGING OF A MINE IN A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE
XXXIV. IN WHICH IT IS DARKLY SEEN HOW THE CRIMINAL'S JUDGE MAY BE
XXXV. REVEALS HOW THE TRUE HEROINE OF ROMANCE COMES FINALLY TO HER
TIME OF TRIUMPH
CONTAINS MATTER FOR SUBSEQUENT EXPLOSION
Among the various letters inundating Sir Lukin Dunstane upon the report
of the triumph of surgical skill achieved by Sir William Macpherson and
Mr. Lanyan Thomson, was one from Lady Wathin, dated Adlands, an estate of
Mr. Quintin Manx's in Warwickshire, petitioning for the shortest line of
reassurance as to the condition of her dear cousin, and an intimation of
the period when it might be deemed possible for a relative to call and
offer her sincere congratulations: a letter deserving a personal reply,
one would suppose. She received the following, in a succinct female hand
corresponding to its terseness; every 't' righteously crossed, every 'i'
punctiliously dotted, as she remarked to Constance Asper, to whom the
communication was transferred for perusal:
'DEAR LADY WATHIN,--Lady Dunstane is gaining strength. The measure
of her pulse indicates favourably. She shall be informed in good
time of your solicitude for her recovery. The day cannot yet be
named for visits of any kind. You will receive information as soon
as the house is open.
'I have undertaken the task of correspondence, and beg you to
'Very truly yours,
'D. A. WARWICK.'
Miss Asper speculated on the handwriting of her rival. She obtained
permission to keep the letter, with the intention of transmitting it per
post to an advertising interpreter of character in caligraphy.
Such was the character of the fair young heiress, exhibited by her
performances much more patently than the run of a quill would reveal it.
She said, 'It is rather a pretty hand, I think.'
'Mrs. Warwick is a practised writer,' said Lady Wathin. 'Writing is her
profession, if she has any. She goes to nurse my cousin. Her husband
says she is an excellent nurse. He says what he can for her. But you
must be in the last extremity, or she is ice. His appeal to her has been
totally disregarded. Until he drops down in the street, as his doctor
expects him to do some day, she will continue her course; and even
then . . .' An adventuress desiring her freedom! Lady Wathin looked.
She was too devout a woman to say what she thought. But she knew the
world to be very wicked. Of Mrs. Warwick, her opinion was formed. She
would not have charged the individual creature with a criminal design;
all she did was to stuff the person her virtue abhorred with the
wickedness of the world, and that is a common process in antipathy.
She sympathized, moreover, with the beautiful devotedness of the wealthy
heiress to her ideal of man. It had led her to make the acquaintance of
old Lady Dacier, at the house in town, where Constance Asper had first
met Percy; Mrs. Grafton Winstanley's house, representing neutral
territory or debateable land for the occasional intercourse of the upper
class and the climbing in the professions or in commerce; Mrs. Grafton
Winstanley being on the edge of aristocracy by birth, her husband, like
Mr. Quintin Manx, a lord of fleets. Old Lady Dacier's bluntness in
speaking of her grandson would have shocked Lady Wathin as much as it
astonished, had she been less of an ardent absorber of aristocratic
manners. Percy was plainly called a donkey, for hanging off and on with
a handsome girl of such expectations as Miss Asper. 'But what you can't
do with a horse, you can't hope to do with a donkey.' She added that she
had come for the purpose of seeing the heiress, of whose points of person
she delivered a judgement critically appreciative as a horsefancier's on
the racing turf. 'If a girl like that holds to it, she's pretty sure to
get him at last. It 's no use to pull his neck down to the water.'
Lady Wathin delicately alluded to rumours of an entanglement, an
admiration he had, ahem.
'A married woman,' the veteran nodded. 'I thought that was off? She
must be a clever intriguer to keep him so long.'
'She is undoubtedly clever,' said Lady Wathin, and it was mumbled in her
hearing: 'The woman seems to have a taste for our family.'
They agreed that they could see nothing to be done. The young lady must
wither, Mrs. Warwick have her day. The veteran confided her experienced
why to Lady Wathin: 'All the tales you tell of a woman of that sort are
sharp sauce to the palates of men.'
They might be, to the men of the dreadful gilded idle class!
Mrs. Warwick's day appeared indefinitely prolonged, judging by Percy
Dacier's behaviour to Miss Asper. Lady Wathin watched them narrowly when
she had the chance, a little ashamed of her sex, or indignant rather at
his display of courtliness in exchange for her open betrayal of her
preference. It was almost to be wished that she would punish him by
sacrificing herself to one of her many brilliant proposals of marriage.
But such are women!--precisely because of his holding back he tightened
the cord attaching him to her tenacious heart. This was the truth. For
the rest, he was gracefully courteous; an observer could perceive the
charm he exercised. He talked with a ready affability, latterly with
greater social ease; evidently not acting the indifferent conqueror, or
so consummately acting it as to mask the air. And yet he was ambitious,
and he was not rich. Notoriously was he ambitious, and with wealth to
back him, a great entertaining house, troops of adherents, he would
gather influence, be propelled to leadership. The vexation of a constant
itch to speak to him on the subject, and the recognition, that he knew it
all as well as she, tormented Lady Wathin. He gave her comforting news
of her dear cousin in the Winter.
'You have heard from Mrs. Warwick?' she said.
He replied, 'I had the latest from Mr. Redworth.'
'Mrs. Warwick has relinquished her post?'
'When she does, you may be sure that Lady Dunstane is, perfectly
'She is an excellent nurse.'
'The best, I believe.'
'It is a good quality in sickness.'
'Proof of good all through.'
'Her husband might have the advantage of it. His state is really
pathetic. If she has feeling, and could only be made aware, she might
perhaps be persuaded to pass from the friendly to the wifely duty.'
Mr. Dacier bent his head to listen, and he bowed.
He was fast in the toils; and though we have assurance that evil cannot
triumph in perpetuity, the aspect of it throning provokes a kind of
despair. How strange if ultimately the lawyers once busy about the uncle
were to take up the case of the nephew, and this time reverse the issue,
by proving it! For poor Mr. Warwick was emphatic on the question of his
honour. It excited him dangerously. He was long-suffering, but with the
slightest clue terrible. The unknotting of the entanglement might thus
happen--and Constance Asper would welcome her hero still.
Meanwhile there was actually nothing to be done: a deplorable absence of
motive villainy; apparently an absence of the beneficent Power directing
events to their proper termination. Lady Wathin heard of her cousin's
having been removed to Cowes in May, for light Solent and Channel voyages
on board Lord Esquart's yacht. She heard also of heavy failures and
convulsions in the City of London, quite unconscious that the Fates, or
agents of the Providence she invoked to precipitate the catastrophe, were
then beginning cavernously their performance of the part of villain in
Diana and Emma enjoyed happy quiet sailings under May breezes on the
many-coloured South-western waters, heart in heart again; the physical
weakness of the one, the moral weakness of the other, creating that
mutual dependency which makes friendship a pulsating tie. Diana's
confession had come of her letter to Emma. When the latter was able to
examine her correspondence, Diana brought her the heap for perusal, her
own sealed scribble, throbbing with all the fatal might-have-been, under
her eyes. She could have concealed and destroyed it. She sat beside her
friend, awaiting her turn, hearing her say at the superscription: 'Your
writing, Tony?' and she nodded. She was asked: 'Shall I read it?' She
answered: 'Read.' They were soon locked in an embrace. Emma had no
perception of coldness through those brief dry lines; her thought was of
'The danger is over now?' she said.
'Yes, that danger is over now.'
'You have weathered it?'
'I love him.'
Emma dropped a heavy sigh in pity of her, remotely in compassion for
Redworth, the loving and unbeloved. She was too humane and wise of our
nature to chide her Tony for having her sex's heart. She had charity to
bestow on women; in defence of them against men and the world, it was a
charity armed with the weapons of battle. The wife madly stripped before
the world by a jealous husband, and left chained to the rock, her youth
wasting, her blood arrested, her sensibilities chilled and assailing her
under their multitudinous disguises, and for whom the world is merciless,
called forth Emma's tenderest commiseration; and that wife being Tony,
and stricken with the curse of love, in other circumstances the blessing,
Emma bled for her.
'But nothing desperate?' she said.
'No; you have saved me.'
'I would knock at death's doors again, and pass them, to be sure of
'Kiss me; you may be sure. I would not put my lips to your cheek if
there were danger of my faltering.'
'But you love him.'
'I do: and because I love him I will not let him be fettered to me.'
'You will see him.'
'Do not imagine that his persuasions undermined your Tony. I am subject
'Was it your husband?'
'I had a visit from Lady Wathin. She knows him. She came as peacemaker.
She managed to hint at his authority. Then came a letter from him--of
supplication, interpenetrated with the hint: a suffused atmosphere. Upon
that; unexpected by me, my--let me call him so once, forgive me!--lover
came. Oh! he loves me, or did then. Percy! He had been told that I
should be claimed. I felt myself the creature I am--a wreck of marriage.
But I fancied I could serve him:--I saw golden. My vanity was the chief
traitor. Cowardice of course played a part. In few things that we do,
where self is concerned, will cowardice not be found. And the
hallucination colours it to seem a lovely heroism. That was the second
time Mr. Redworth arrived. I am always at crossways, and he rescues me;
on this occasion unknowingly.'
'There's a divinity . . .' said Emma. ' When I think of it I perceive
that Patience is our beneficent fairy godmother, who brings us our
harvest in the long result.'
'My dear, does she bring us our labourers' rations, to sustain us for the
day?' said Diana.'
'Poor fare, but enough.'
'I fear I was born godmotherless.'
'You have stores of patience, Tony; only now and then fits of
'My nature's frailty, the gap in it: we will give it no fine names
--they cover our pitfalls. I am open to be carried on a tide of
unreasonableness when the coward cries out. But I can say, dear, that
after one rescue, a similar temptation is unlikely to master me. I do
not subscribe to the world's decrees for love of the monster, though I am
beginning to understand the dues of allegiance. We have ceased to write
letters. You may have faith in me.'
'I have, with my whole soul,' said Emma.
So the confession closed; and in the present instance there were not any
forgotten chambers to be unlocked and ransacked for addenda confessions.
The subjects discoursed of by the two endeared the hours to them. They
were aware that the English of the period would have laughed a couple of
women to scorn for venturing on them, and they were not a little hostile
in consequence, and shot their epigrams profusely, applauding the keener
that appeared to score the giant bulk of their intolerant enemy, who
holds the day, but not the morrow. Us too he holds for the day, to
punish us if we have temporal cravings. He scatters his gifts to the
abject; tossing to us rebels bare dog-biscuit. But the life of the
spirit is beyond his region; we have our morrow in his day when we crave
nought of him. Diana and Emma delighted to discover that they were each
the rebel of their earlier and less experienced years; each a member of
the malcontent minor faction, the salt of earth, to whom their salt must
serve for nourishment, as they admitted, relishing it determinedly, not
Sir Lukin was busy upon his estate in Scotland. They summoned young
Arthur Rhodes to the island, that he might have a taste of the new
scenes. Diana was always wishing for his instruction and refreshment;
and Redworth came to spend a Saturday and Sunday with them, and showed
his disgust of the idle boy, as usual, at the same time consulting them
on the topic of furniture for the Berkshire mansion he had recently
bought, rather vaunting the Spanish pictures his commissioner in Madrid
was transmitting. The pair of rebels, vexed by his treatment of the
respectful junior, took him for an incarnation of their enemy, and pecked
and worried the man astonishingly. He submitted to it like the placable
giant. Yes, he was a Liberal, and furnishing and decorating the house in
the stability of which he trusted. Why not? We must accept the world as
it is, try to improve it by degrees.--Not so: humanity will not wait for
you, the victims are shrieking beneath the bricks of your enormous
edifice, behind the canvas of your pictures. 'But you may really say
that luxurious yachting is an odd kind of insurgency,' avowed Diana.
'It's the tangle we are in.'
'It's the coat we have to wear; and why fret at it for being
'I don't half enough, when I think of my shivering neighbours.'
'Money is of course a rough test of virtue,' said Redworth. 'We have no
other general test.'
Money! The ladies proclaimed it a mere material test; Diana, gazing on
sunny sea, with an especial disdain. And name us your sort of virtue.
There is more virtue in poverty, He denied that. Inflexibly British, he
declared money, and also the art of getting money, to be hereditary
virtues, deserving of their reward. The reward a superior wealth and its
fruits? Yes, the power to enjoy and spread enjoyment: and let idleness
envy both! He abused idleness, and by implication the dilettante
insurgency fostering it. However, he was compensatingly heterodox in his
view of the Law's persecution of women; their pertinacious harpings on
the theme had brought him to that; and in consideration of the fact, as
they looked from yacht to shore, of their being rebels participating
largely in the pleasures of the tyrant's court, they allowed him to
silence them, and forgave him.
Thoughts upon money and idleness were in confusion with Diana. She had a
household to support in London, and she was not working; she could not
touch THE CANTATRICE while Emma was near. Possibly, she again
ejaculated, the Redworths of the world were right: the fruitful labours
were with the mattock and hoe, or the mind directing them. It was a
crushing invasion of materialism, so she proposed a sail to the coast of
France, and thither they flew, touching Cherbourg, Alderney, Sark,
Guernsey, and sighting the low Brittany rocks. Memorable days to Arthur
Rhodes. He saw perpetually the one golden centre in new scenes. He
heard her voice, he treasured her sayings; her gestures, her play of lip
and eyelid, her lift of head, lightest movements, were imprinted on him,
surely as the heavens are mirrored in the quiet seas, firmly and richly
as earth answers to the sprinkled grain. For he was blissfully athirst,
untroubled by a hope. She gave him more than she knew of: a present that
kept its beating heart into the future; a height of sky, a belief in
nobility, permanent through manhood down to age. She was his foam-born
Goddess of those leaping waters; differently hued, crescented,
a different influence. He had a happy week, and it charmed Diana to hear
him tell her so. In spite of Redworth, she had faith in the fruit-
bearing powers of a time of simple happiness, and shared the youth's in
reflecting it. Only the happiness must be simple, that of the glass to
the lovely face: no straining of arms to retain, no heaving of the bosom
His poverty and capacity for pure enjoyment led her to think of him
almost clingingly when hard news reached her from the quaint old City of
London, which despises poverty and authorcraft and all mean adventurers,
and bows to the lordly merchant, the mighty financier, Redworth's
incarnation of the virtues. Happy days on board the yacht Clarissa!
Diana had to recall them with effort. They who sow their money for a
promising high percentage have built their habitations on the sides of
the most eruptive mountain in Europe. AEtna supplies more certain
harvests, wrecks fewer vineyards and peaceful dwellings. The greed of
gain is our volcano. Her wonder leapt up at the slight inducement she
had received to embark her money in this Company: a South-American mine,
collapsed almost within hearing of the trumpets of prospectus, after two
punctual payments of the half-yearly interest. A Mrs. Ferdinand Cherson,
an elder sister of the pretty Mrs. Fryar-Gunnett, had talked to her of
the cost of things one afternoon at Lady Singleby's garden-party, and
spoken of the City as the place to help to swell an income, if only you
have an acquaintance with some of the chief City men. The great mine was
named, and the rush for allotments. She knew a couple of the Directors.
They vowed to her that ten per cent. was a trifle; the fortune to be
expected out of the mine was already clearly estimable at forties and
fifties. For their part they anticipated cent. per cent. Mrs. Cherson
said she wanted money, and had therefore invested in the mine. It seemed
so consequent, the cost of things being enormous! She and her sister
Mrs. Fryar-Gunnett owned husbands who did their bidding, because of their
having the brains, it might be understood. Thus five thousand pounds
invested would speedily bring five thousand pounds per annum. Diana had
often dreamed of the City of London as the seat of magic; and taking the
City's contempt for authorcraft and the intangible as, from its point of
view, justly founded, she had mixed her dream strangely with an ancient
notion of the City's probity. Her broker's shaking head did not damp her
ardour for shares to the full amount of her ability to purchase. She
remembered her satisfaction at the allotment; the golden castle shot up
from this fountain mine. She had a frenzy for mines and fished in some
English with smaller sums. 'I am now a miner,' she had exclaimed,
between dismay at her audacity and the pride of it. Why had she not
consulted Redworth? He would peremptorily have stopped the frenzy in its
first intoxicating effervescence. She, like Mrs. Cherson, like all women
who have plunged upon the cost of things, wanted money. She naturally
went to the mine. Address him for counsel in the person of dupe, she
could not; shame was a barrier. Could she tell him that the prattle of
a woman, spendthrift as Mrs. Cherson, had induced her to risk her money?
Latterly the reports of Mrs. Fryar-Gunnett were not of the flavour to
make association of their names agreeable to his hearing.
She had to sit down in the buzz of her self-reproaches and amazement at
the behaviour of that reputable City, shrug, and recommence the labour of
her pen. Material misfortune had this one advantage; it kept her from
speculative thoughts of her lover, and the meaning of his absence and,
Diana's perusal of the incomplete CANTATRICE was done with the cold
critical eye interpreting for the public. She was forced to write on
nevertheless, and exactly in the ruts of the foregoing matter. It
propelled her. No longer perversely, of necessity she wrote her best,
convinced that the work was doomed to unpopularity, resolved that it
should be at least a victory in style. A fit of angry cynicism now and
then set her composing phrases as baits for the critics to quote,
condemnatory of the attractiveness of the work. Her mood was bad. In
addition, she found Whitmonby cool; he complained of the coolness of her
letter of adieu; complained of her leaving London so long. How could she
expect to be his Queen of the London Salon if she lost touch of the
topics? He made no other allusion. They were soon on amicable terms, at
the expense of flattering arts that she had not hitherto practised. But
Westlake revealed unimagined marvels of the odd corners of the masculine
bosom. He was the man of her circle the neatest in epigram, the widest
of survey, an Oriental traveller, a distinguished writer, and if not
personally bewitching, remarkably a gentleman of the world. He was
wounded; he said as much. It came to this: admitting that he had no
claims, he declared it to be unbearable for him to see another preferred.
The happier was unmentioned, and Diana scraped his wound by rallying him.
He repeated that he asked only to stand on equal terms with the others;
her preference of one was past his tolerance. She told him that since
leaving Lady Dunstane she had seen but Whitmonby, Wilmers, and him. He
smiled sarcastically, saying he had never had a letter from her, except
the formal one of invitation.
'Powers of blarney, have you forsaken a daughter of Erin?' cried Diana.
'Here is a friend who has a craving for you, and I talk sense to him. I
have written to none of my set since I last left London.'
She pacified him by doses of cajolery new to her tongue. She liked him,
abhorred the thought of losing any of her friends, so the cajoling
sentences ran until Westlake betrayed an inflammable composition,
and had to be put out, and smoked sullenly. Her resources were tried
in restoring him to reason. The months of absence from London appeared
to have transformed her world. Tonans was moderate. The great editor
rebuked her for her prolonged absence from London, not so much because it
discrowned her as Queen of the Salon, but candidly for its rendering her
service less to him. Everything she knew of men and affairs was to him
'How do you get to the secrets?' she asked.
'By sticking to the centre of them,' he said.
'But how do you manage to be in advance and act the prophet?'
'Because I will have them at any price, and that is known.'
She hinted at the peccant City Company.
'I think I have checked the mining mania, as I did the railway,' said he;
'and so far it was a public service. There's no checking of maniacs.'
She took her whipping within and without. 'On another occasion I shall
apply to you, Mr. Tonans.'
'Ah, there was a time when you could have been a treasure to me,' he
rejoined; alluding of course to the Dannisburgh days.
In dejection, as she mused on those days, and on her foolish ambition
to have a London house where her light might burn, she advised herself,
with Redworth's voice, to quit the house, arrest expenditure, and try
for happiness by burning and shining in the spirit: devoting herself,
as Arthur Rhodes did, purely to literature. It became almost a decision.
Percy she had still neither written to nor heard from, and she dared not
hope to meet him. She fancied a wish to have tidings of his marriage: it
would be peace; if in desolation. Now that she had confessed and given
her pledge to Emma, she had so far broken with him as to render the
holding him chained a cruelty, and his reserve whispered of a rational
acceptance of the end between them. She thanked him for it; an act
whereby she was: instantly melted to such softness that a dread of him
haunted her. Coward, take up your burden for armour! she called to her
poor dungeoned self wailing to have common nourishment. She knew how
prodigiously it waxed on crumbs; nay, on the imagination of small
morsels. By way of chastizing it, she reviewed her life, her behaviour
to her husband, until she sank backward to a depth deprived of air and
light. That life with her husband was a dungeon to her nature deeper
than any imposed by present conditions. She was then a revolutionary to
reach to the breath of day. She had now to be, only not a coward, and
she could breathe as others did. 'Women who sap the moral laws pull down
the pillars of the temple on their sex,' Emma had said. Diana perceived
something of her personal debt to civilization. Her struggles passed
into the doomed CANTATRICE occupying days and nights under pressure for
immediate payment; the silencing of friend Debit, ridiculously calling
himself Credit, in contempt of sex and conduct, on the ground, that he
was he solely by virtue of being she. He had got a trick of singing
operatic solos in the form and style of the delightful tenor Tellio, and
they were touching in absurdity, most real in unreality. Exquisitely
trilled, after Tellio's manner,
'The tradesmen all beseech ye,
The landlord, cook and maid,
Complete THE CANTATRICE,
That they may soon be paid.'
provoked her to laughter in pathos. He approached, posturing himself
operatically, with perpetual new verses, rhymes to Danvers, rhymes to
Madame Sybille, the cook. Seeing Tellio at one of Henry Wilmers' private
concerts, Diana's lips twitched to dimples at the likeness her familiar
had assumed. She had to compose her countenance to talk to him;
but the moment of song was the trial. Lady Singleby sat beside her,
'You have always fun going on in you!' She partook of the general
impression that Diana Warwick was too humorous to nurse a downright
Before leaving, she engaged Diana to her annual garden-party of the
closing season, and there the meeting with Percy occurred, not
unobserved. Had they been overheard, very little to implicate them
would have been gathered. He walked in full view across the lawn
to her, and they presented mask to mask.
'The beauty of the day tempts you at last, Mrs. Warwick.'
'I have been finishing a piece of work.'
Lovely weather, beautiful dresses: agreed. Diana wore a yellow robe
with a black bonnet, and he commented on the becoming hues; for the first
time, he noticed her dress! Lovely women? Dacier hesitated. One he
saw. But surely he must admire Mrs. Fryar-Gunnett? And who steps beside
her, transparently fascinated, with visage at three-quarters to the rays
within her bonnet? Can it be Sir Lukin Dunstane? and beholding none but
Dacier withdrew his eyes thoughtfully from the spectacle, and moved to
woo Diana to a stroll. She could not restrain her feet; she was out of
the ring of her courtiers for the moment. He had seized his opportunity.
'It is nearly a year!' he said.
'I have been nursing nearly all the time, doing the work I do best.'
'A year must leave its marks.'
'You speak of a madwoman, a good eleven months dead. Let her rest.
Those are the conditions.'
'Accepted, if I may see her.'
'Imposed fatally, I have to own. I have felt with you: you are the
wiser. But, admitting that, surely we can meet. I may see you?'
'My house has not been shut.'
'I respected the house. I distrusted myself.'
'What restores your confidence?'
'The strength I draw from you.'
One of the Beauties at a garden-party is lucky to get as many minutes as
had passed in quietness. Diana was met and captured. But those last
words of Percy's renewed her pride in him by suddenly building a firm
faith in herself. Noblest of lovers! she thought, and brooded on the
little that had been spoken, the much conveyed, for a proof of perfect
The world had watched them. It pronounced them discreet if culpable;
probably cold to the passion both. Of Dacier's coldness it had no doubt,
and Diana's was presumed from her comical flights of speech. She was
given to him because of the known failure of her other adorers. He in
the front rank of politicians attracted her with the lustre of his
ambition; she him with her mingling of talent and beauty. An astute
world; right in the main, owing to perceptions based upon brute nature;
utterly astray in particulars, for the reason that it takes no count of
the soul of man or woman. Hence its glee at a catastrophe; its poor
stock of mercy. And when no catastrophe follows, the prophet, for the
honour of the profession, must decry her as cunning beyond aught yet
revealed of a serpent sex.
Save for a word or two, the watchman might have overheard and trumpeted
his report of their interview at Diana's house. After the first pained
breathing, when they found themselves alone in that room where they had
plighted their fortunes, they talked allusively to define the terms
imposed on them by Reason. The thwarted step was unmentioned; it was a
past madness. But Wisdom being recognized, they could meet. It would be
hard if that were denied! They talked very little of their position;
both understood the mutual acceptance of it; and now that he had seen her
and was again under the spell, Dacier's rational mind, together with his
delight in her presence, compelled him honourably to bow to the terms.
Only, as these were severe upon lovers, the innocence of their meetings
demanded indemnification in frequency.
'Come whenever you think I can be useful,' said Diana.
They pressed hands at parting, firmly and briefly, not for the ordinary
dactylology of lovers, but in sign of the treaty of amity.
She soon learnt that she had tied herself to her costly household.
DIALOGUE ROUND THE SUBJECT OF A PORTRAIT, WITH SOME INDICATIONS OF THE
TASK FOR DIANA
An enamoured Egeria who is not a princess in her worldly state nor a
goddess by origin has to play one of those parts which strain the woman's
faculties past naturalness. She must never expose her feelings to her
lover; she must make her counsel weighty--otherwise she is little his
nymph of the pure wells, and what she soon may be, the world will say.
She has also, most imperatively, to dazzle him without the betrayal of
artifice, where simple spontaneousness is beyond conjuring. But feelings
that are constrained becloud the judgement besides arresting the fine jet
of delivery wherewith the mastered lover is taught through his ears to
think himself prompted, and submit to be controlled, by a creature super-
feminine. She must make her counsel so weighty in poignant praises as to
repress impulses that would rouse her own; and her betraying
impulsiveness was a subject of reflection to Diana after she had given
Percy Dacier, metaphorically, the key of her house. Only as true Egeria
could she receive him. She was therefore grateful, she thanked and
venerated this noblest of lovers for his not pressing to the word of
love, and so strengthening her to point his mind, freshen his moral
energies and inspirit him. His chivalrous acceptance of the conditions
of their renewed intimacy was a radiant knightliness to Diana, elevating
her with a living image for worship:--he so near once to being the
absolute lord of her destinies! How to reward him, was her sole
dangerous thought. She prayed and strove that she might give him of her
best, to practically help him; and she had reason to suppose she could do
it, from the visible effect of her phrases. He glistened in repeating
them; he had fallen into the habit; before witnesses too; in the presence
of Miss Paynham, who had taken earnestly to the art of painting, and
obtained her dear Mrs. Warwick's promise of a few sittings for the sketch
of a portrait, near the close of the season. 'A very daring thing to
attempt,' Miss Paynham said, when he was comparing her first outlines and
the beautiful breathing features. 'Even if one gets the face, the lips
will seem speechless, to those who know her.'
'If they have no recollection,' said Dacier.
'I mean, the endeavour should be to represent them at the moment of
'Put it into the eyes.' He looked at the eyes.
She looked at the mouth. 'But it is the mouth, more than the eyes.'
He looked at the face. 'Where there is character, you have only to study
it to be sure of a likeness.'
'That is the task, with one who utters jewels, Mr. Dacier.'
'Bright wit, I fear, is above the powers of your art.'
'Still I feel it could be done. See--now--that!'
Diana's lips had opened to say: 'Confess me a model model: I am dissected
while I sit for portrayal. I must be for a moment like the frog of the
two countrymen who were disputing as to the manner of his death, when he
stretched to yawn, upon which they agreed that he had defeated the truth
for both of them. I am not quite inanimate.'
'Irish countrymen,' said Dacier.
'The story adds, that blows were arrested; so confer the nationality as
Diana had often to divert him from a too intent perusal of her features
with sparkles and stories current or invented to serve the immediate
Miss Paynham was Mrs. Warwick's guest for a fortnight, and observed them
together. She sometimes charitably laid down her pencil and left them,
having forgotten this or that. They were conversing of general matters
with their usual crisp precision on her return, and she was rather like
the two countrymen, in debating whether it was excess of coolness or
discreetness; though she was convinced of their inclinations, and
expected love some day to be leaping up. Diana noticed that she had no
reminder for leaving the room when it was Mr. Redworth present. These
two had become very friendly, according to her hopes; and Miss Paynham
was extremely solicitous to draw suggestions from Mr. Redworth and win
'Do I appear likely to catch the mouth now, do you think, Mr. Redworth?'
He remarked, smiling at Diana's expressive dimple, that the mouth was
difficult to catch. He did not gaze intently. Mr. Redworth was the
genius of friendship, 'the friend of women,' Mrs. Warwick had said of
him. Miss Paynham discovered it, as regarded herself. The portrait was
his commission to her, kindly proposed, secretly of course, to give her
occupation and the chance of winning a vogue with the face of a famous
Beauty. So many, however, were Mrs. Warwick's visitors, and so lively
the chatter she directed, that accurate sketching was difficult to an
amateurish hand. Whitmonby, Sullivan Smith, Westlake, Henry Wilmers,
Arthur Rhodes, and other gentlemen, literary and military, were almost
daily visitors when it became known that the tedium of the beautiful
sitter required beguiling and there was a certainty of finding her at
home. On Mrs. Warwick's Wednesday numerous ladies decorated the group.
Then was heard such a rillet of dialogue without scandal or politics,
as nowhere else in Britain; all vowed it subsequently; for to the
remembrance it seemed magical. Not a breath of scandal, and yet the
liveliest flow. Lady Pennon came attended by a Mr. Alexander Hepburn,
a handsome Scot, at whom Dacier shot one of his instinctive keen glances,
before seeing that the hostess had mounted a transient colour. Mr.
Hepburn, in settling himself on his chair rather too briskly, contrived
the next minute to break a precious bit of China standing by his elbow;
and Lady Pennon cried out, with sympathetic anguish: 'Oh, my dear, what a
trial for you!'
'Brittle is foredoomed,' said Diana, unruffled.
She deserved compliments, and would have had them if she had not wounded
the most jealous and petulant of her courtiers.
'Then the Turk is a sapient custodian!' said Westlake, vexed with her
flush at the entrance of the Scot.
Diana sedately took his challenge. 'We, Mr. Westlake, have the
philosophy of ownership.'
Mr. Hepburn penitentially knelt to pick up the fragments, and Westlake
murmured over his head: 'As long as it is we who are the cracked.'
'Did we not start from China?'
'We were consequently precipitated to Stamboul.'
'You try to elude the lesson.'
'I remember my first paedagogue telling me so when he rapped the book on
'The mark of the book is not a disfigurement.'
It was gently worded, and the shrewder for it. The mark of the book,
if not a disfigurement, was a characteristic of Westlake's fashion of
speech. Whitmonby nodded twice, for signification of a palpable hit in
that bout; and he noted within him the foolishness of obtruding the
remotest allusion to our personality when crossing the foils with a
woman. She is down on it like the lightning, quick as she is in her
contracted circle, politeness guarding her from a riposte.
Mr. Hepburn apologized very humbly, after regaining his chair. Diana
smiled and said: 'Incidents in a drawing-room are prize-shots at
'And in a dining-room too,' added Sullivan Smith. 'I was one day at a
dinner-party, apparently of undertakers hired to mourn over the joints
and the birds in the dishes, when the ceiling came down, and we all
sprang up merry as crickets. It led to a pretty encounter and a real
'Does that signify a duel?' asked Lady Pennon.
''Twould be the vulgar title, to bring it into discredit with the
populace, my lady.'
'Rank me one of the populace then! I hate duelling and rejoice that it
'The citizens, and not the populace, I think Mr. Sullivan Smith means,'
Diana said. 'The citizen is generally right in morals. My father also
was against the practice, when it raged at its "prettiest." I have heard
him relate a story of a poor friend of his, who had to march out for a
trifle, and said, as he accepted the invitation, "It's all nonsense!"
and walking to the measured length, "It's all nonsense, you know!" and
when lying on the ground, at his last gasp, "I told you it was all
Sullivan Smith leaned over to Whitmonby and Dacier amid the ejaculations,
and whispered: 'A lady's way of telling the story!--and excuseable to
her:--she had to Jonah the adjective. What the poor fellow said was--'
He murmured the sixty-pounder adjective, as in the belly of the whale, to
rightly emphasize his noun.
Whitmonby nodded to the superior relish imparted by the vigour of
masculine veracity in narration. 'A story for its native sauce
piquante,' he said.
'Nothing without it!'
They had each a dissolving grain of contempt for women compelled by
their delicacy to spoil that kind of story which demands the piquant
accompaniment to flavour it racily and make it passable. For to see
insipid mildness complacently swallowed as an excellent thing, knowing
the rich smack of savour proper to the story, is your anecdotal
gentleman's annoyance. But if the anecdote had supported him, Sullivan
Smith would have let the expletive rest.
Major Carew Mahoney capped Mrs. Warwick's tale of the unfortunate
duellist with another, that confessed the practice absurd, though he
approved of it; and he cited Lord Larrian's opinion: 'It keeps men braced
to civil conduct.'
'I would not differ with the dear old lord; but no! the pistol is the
sceptre of the bully,' said Diana.
Mr. Hepburn, with the widest of eyes on her in perpetuity, warmly agreed;
and the man was notorious among men for his contrary action.
'Most righteously our Princess Egeria distinguishes her reign by
prohibiting it,' said Lady Singleby.
'And how,' Sullivan Smith sighed heavily, 'how, I'd ask, are ladies to be
protected from the bully?'
He was beset: 'So it was all for us? all in consideration for our
He mournfully exclaimed: 'Why, surely!'
'That is the funeral apology of the Rod, at the close of every barbarous
chapter,' said Diana.
'Too fine in mind, too fat in body; that is a consequence with men, dear
madam. The conqueror stands to his weapons, or he loses his
'Mr. Sullivan Smith jumps at his pleasure from the special to the
general, and will be back, if we follow him, Lady Pennon. It is the
trick men charge to women, showing that they can resemble us.'
Lady Pennon thumped her knee. 'Not a bit. There's no resemblance, and
they know nothing of us.'
'Women are a blank to them, I believe,' said Whitmonby, treacherously
bowing;--and Westlake said:
'Traces of a singular scrawl have been observed when they were held in
close proximity to the fire.'
'Once, on the top of a coach,' Whitmonby resumed, 'I heard a comely dame
of the period when summers are ceasing threatened by her husband with a
divorce, for omitting to put sandwiches in their luncheon-basket. She
made him the inscrutable answer: "Ah, poor man! you will go down ignorant
to your grave!" We laughed, and to this day I cannot tell you why.'
'That laugh was from a basket lacking provision; and I think we could
trace our separation to it,' Diana said to Lady Pennon, who replied:
'They expose themselves; they get no nearer to the riddle.'
Miss Courtney, a rising young actress, encouraged by a smile from Mrs.
Warwick, remarked: 'On the stage, we have each our parts equally.'
'And speaking parts; not personae mutae.'
'The stage has advanced in verisimilitude,' Henry Wilmers added slyly;
and Diana rejoined: 'You recognize a verisimilitude of the mirror when
it is in advance of reality. Flatter the sketch, Miss Paynham, for a
likeness to be seen. Probably there are still Old Conservatives who
would prefer the personation of us by boys.'
'I don't know,' Westlake affected dubiousness. 'I have heard that a step
to the riddle is gained by a serious contemplation of boys.'
'That is the doubt.'
'The doubt throws its light on the step!'
'I advise them not to take any leap from their step,' said Lady Pennon.
'It would be a way of learning that we are no wiser than our sires; but
perhaps too painful a way,' Whitmonby observed. 'Poor Mountford Wilts
boasted of knowing women; and--he married. To jump into the mouth of the
enigma, is not to read it.'
'You are figures of conceit when you speculate on us, Mr. Whitmonby.'
'An occupation of our leisure, my lady, for your amusement.'
'The leisure of the humming-top, a thousand to the minute, with the
pretence that it sleeps!' Diana said.
'The sacrilegious hand to strip you of your mystery is withered as it
stretches,' exclaimed Westlake. 'The sage and the devout are in accord
'And whichever of the two I may be, I'm one of them, happy to do my
homage blindfold!' Sullivan Smith waved the sign of it.
Diana sent her eyes over him and Mr. Hepburn, seeing Dacier. 'That rosy
mediaevalism seems the utmost we can expect.' An instant she saddened,
foreboding her words to be ominous, because of suddenly thirsting for a
modern cry from him, the silent. She quitted her woman's fit of
earnestness, and took to the humour that pleased him. 'Aslauga's knight,
at his blind man's buff of devotion, catches the hem of the tapestry and
is found by his lady kissing it in a trance of homage five hours long!
Sir Hilary of Agincourt, returned from the wars to his castle at
midnight, hears that the chitellaine is away dancing, and remains with
all his men mounted in the courtyard till the grey morn brings her back!
Adorable! We had a flag flying in those days. Since men began to fret
the riddle, they have hauled it down half-mast. Soon we shall behold a
bare pole and hats on around it. That is their solution.'
A smile circled at the hearing of Lady Singleby say: 'Well, I am all for
our own times, however literal the men.'
'We are two different species!' thumped Lady Pennon, swimming on the
theme. 'I am sure, I read what they write of women! And their
Lady Esquart acquiesced: 'We are utter fools or horrid knaves.'
'Nature's original hieroglyphs--which have that appearance to the
peruser,' Westlake assented.
'And when they would decipher us, and they hit on one of our "arts," the
literary pirouette they perform is memorable.' Diana looked invitingly
at Dacier. 'But I for one discern a possible relationship and a
'I think it exists--behind a curtain,' Dacier replied.
'Before the era of the Nursery. Liberty to grow; independence is the key
of the secret.'
'And what comes after the independence?' he inquired.
Whitmonby, musing that some distraction of an earnest incentive spoilt
Mrs. Warwick's wit, informed him: 'The two different species then break
their shallow armistice and join the shock of battle for possession of
the earth, and we are outnumbered and exterminated, to a certainty.
So I am against independence.'
'Socially a Mussulman, subject to explosions!' Diana said. 'So the
eternal duel between us is maintained, and men will protest that they are
for civilization. Dear me, I should like to write a sketch of the women
of the future--don't be afraid!--the far future. What a different earth
you will see!'
And very different creatures! the gentlemen unanimously surmised.
Westlake described the fairer portion, no longer the weaker; frightful
Diana promised him a sweeter picture, if ever she brought her hand to
'You would be offered up to the English national hangman, Jehoiachim
Sneer,' interposed Arthur Rhodes, evidently firing a gun too big for him,
of premeditated charging, as his patroness perceived; but she knew him to
be smarting under recent applications of the swish of Mr. Sneer, and that
he rushed to support her. She covered him by saying: 'If he has to be
encountered, he kills none but the cripple,' wherewith the dead pause
ensuing from a dose of outlandish speech in good company was bridged,
though the youth heard Westlake mutter unpleasantly: 'Jehoiachim,' and
had to endure a stare of Dacier's, who did not conceal his want of
comprehension of the place he occupied in Mrs. Warwick's gatherings.
'They know nothing of us whatever!' Lady Pennon harped on her dictum.
'They put us in a case and profoundly study the captive creature,' said
Diana: 'but would any man understand this . . . ?' She dropped her
voice and drew in the heads of Lady Pennon, Lady Singleby, Lady Esquart
and Miss Courtney: 'Real woman's nature speaks. A maid of mine had a
"follower." She was a good girl; I was anxious about her and asked her
if she could trust him. "Oh, yes, ma'am," she replied, "I can; he's quite
like a female." I longed to see the young man, to tell him he had
received the highest of eulogies.'
The ladies appreciatingly declared that such a tale was beyond the
understandings of men. Miss Paynham primmed her mouth, admitting to
herself her inability to repeat such a tale; an act that she deemed not
'quite like a lady.' She had previously come to the conclusion that Mrs.
Warwick, with all her generous qualities, was deficient in delicate
sentiment--owing perhaps to her coldness of temperament. Like Dacier
also, she failed to comprehend the patronage of Mr. Rhodes: it led to
suppositions; indefinite truly, and not calumnious at all; but a young
poet, rather good-looking and well built, is not the same kind of wing-
chick as a young actress, like Miss Courtney--Mrs. Warwick's latest
shieldling: he is hardly enrolled for the reason that was assumed to
sanction Mrs. Warwick's maid in the encouragement of her follower.
Miss Paynham sketched on, with her thoughts in her bosom: a damsel
castigatingly pursued by the idea of sex as the direct motive of every
act of every person surrounding, her; deductively therefore that a
certain form of the impelling passion, mild or terrible, or capricious,
or it might be less pardonable, was unceasingly at work among the human
couples up to decrepitude. And she too frequently hit the fact to doubt
her gift of reading into them. Mr. Dacier was plain, and the state of
young Mr. Rhodes; and the Scottish gentleman was at least a vehement
admirer. But she penetrated the breast of Mr. Thomas Redworth as well,
mentally tore his mask of friendship to shreds. He was kind indeed in
commissioning her to do the portrait. His desire for it, and his urgency
to have the features exactly given, besides the infrequency of his visits
of late, when a favoured gentleman was present, were the betraying signs.
Deductively, moreover, the lady who inspired the passion in numbers of
gentlemen and set herself to win their admiration with her lively play of
dialogue, must be coquettish; she could hold them only by coldness.
Anecdotes, epigrams, drolleries, do not bubble to the lips of a woman who
is under an emotional spell: rather they prove that she has the spell for
casting. It suited Mr. Dacier, Miss Paynham thought: it was cruel to Mr.
Redworth; at whom, of all her circle, the beautiful woman looked, when
speaking to him, sometimes tenderly.
'Beware the silent one of an assembly!' Diana had written. She did not
think of her words while Miss Paynham continued mutely sketching. The
silent ones, with much conversation around them, have their heads at
work, critically perforce; the faster if their hands are occupied; and
the point they lean to do is the pivot of their thoughts. Miss Paynham
felt for Mr. Redworth.
Diana was unaware of any other critic present than him she sought to
enliven, not unsuccessfully, notwithstanding his English objection to the
pitch of the converse she led, and a suspicion of effort to support it:--
just a doubt, with all her easy voluble run, of the possibility of
naturalness in a continuous cleverness. But he signified pleasure,
and in pleasing him she was happy: in the knowledge that she dazzled,
was her sense of safety. Percy hated scandal; he heard none. He wanted
stirring, cheering; in her house he had it. He came daily, and as it was
her wish that new themes, new flights of converse, should delight him and
show her exhaustless, to preserve her ascendancy, she welcomed him
without consulting the world. He was witness of Mr. Hepburn's
presentation of a costly China vase, to repair the breach in her array
of ornaments, and excuse a visit. Judging by the absence of any blow
within, he saw not a sign of coquettry. Some such visit had been
anticipated by the prescient woman, so there was no reddening. She
brought about an exchange of sentences between him and her furious
admirer, sparing either of them a glimpse of which was the sacrifice to
the other, amusing them both. Dacier could allow Mr. Hepburn to outsit
him; and he left them, proud of his absolute confidence in her.
She was mistaken in imagining that her social vivacity, mixed with
comradeship of the active intellect, was the charm which kept Mr. Percy
Dacier temperate when he well knew her to distinguish him above her
courtiers. Her powers of dazzling kept him tame; they did not stamp her
mark on him. He was one of the order of highly polished men, ignorant of
women, who are impressed for long terms by temporary flashes, that hold
them bound until a fresh impression comes, to confirm or obliterate the
preceding. Affairs of the world he could treat competently; he had a
head for high politics and the management of men; the feminine half of
the world was a confusion and a vexation to his intelligence,
characterless; and one woman at last appearing decipherable, he fancied
it must be owing to her possession of character, a thing prized the more
in women because of his latent doubt of its existence. Character, that
was the mark he aimed at; that moved him to homage as neither sparkling
wit nor incomparable beauty, nor the unusual combination, did. To be
distinguished by a woman of character (beauty and wit for jewellery), was
his minor ambition in life, and if Fortune now gratified it, he owned to
the flattery. It really seemed by every test that she had the quality.
Since the day when he beheld her by the bedside of his dead uncle, and
that one on the French sea-sands, and again at Copsley, ghostly white out
of her wrestle with death, bleeding holy sweat of brow for her friend,
the print of her features had been on him as an index of depth of
character, imposing respect and admiration--a sentiment imperilled by her
consent to fly with him. Her subsequent reserve until they met--by an
accident that the lady at any rate was not responsible for, proved the
quality positively. And the nature of her character, at first suspected,
vanquished him more, by comparison, than her vivid intellect, which he
originally, and still lingeringly, appreciated in condescension, as a
singular accomplishment, thrilling at times, now and then assailably
feminine. But, after her consent to a proposal that caused him
retrospective worldly shudders, and her composed recognition of the
madness, a character capable of holding him in some awe was real majesty,
and it rose to the clear heights, with her mental attributes for
satellites. His tendency to despise women was wholesomely checked by
the experience to justify him in saying, Here is a worthy one! She was
health to him, as well as trusty counsel. Furthermore, where he
respected, he was a governed man, free of the common masculine craze to
scale fortresses for the sake of lowering flags. Whilst under his
impression of her character, he submitted honourably to the ascendancy
of a lady whose conduct suited him and whose preference flattered; whose
presence was very refreshing; whose letters were a stimulant. Her
letters were really running well-waters, not a lover's delusion of the
luminous mind of his lady. They sparkled in review and preserved their
integrity under critical analysis. The reading of them hurried him in
pursuit of her from house to house during the autumn; and as she did not
hint at the shadow his coming cast on her, his conscience was easy.
Regarding their future, his political anxieties were a mountainous
defile, curtaining the outlook. They met at Lockton, where he arrived
after a recent consultation with his Chief, of whom, and the murmurs of
the Cabinet, he spoke to Diana openly, in some dejection.
'They might see he has been breaking with his party for the last four
years,' she said. 'The plunge to be taken is tremendous.'
'But will he? He appears too despondent for a header.'
'We cannot dance on a quaking floor.'
'No; it 's exactly that quake of the floor which gives "much qualms," to
me as well,' said Dacier.
'A treble Neptune's power!' she rejoined, for his particular delectation.
'Enough if he hesitates. I forgive him his nausea. He awaits the
impetus, and it will reach him, and soon. He will not wait for the mob
at his heels, I am certain. A Minister who does that, is a post, and
goes down with the first bursting of the dam. He has tried compromise
and discovered that it does not appease the Fates; is not even a
makeshift-mending at this hour. He is a man of nerves, very sensitively
built; as quick--quicker than a woman, I could almost say, to feel the
tremble of the air-forerunner of imperative changes.'
Dacier brightened fondly. 'You positively describe him; paint him to the
life, without knowing him!'
'I have seen him; and if I paint, whose are the colours?'
'Sometimes I repeat you to him, and I get all the credit,' said Dacier.
'I glow with pride to think of speaking anything that you repeat,' said
Diana, and her eyes were proudly lustreful.
Their love was nourished on these mutual flatteries. Thin food for
passion! The innocence of it sanctioned the meetings and the
appointments to meet. When separated they were interchanging letters,
formally worded in the apostrophe and the termination, but throbbingly
full: or Diana thought so of Percy's letters, with grateful justice; for
his manner of opening his heart in amatory correspondence was to confide
important, secret matters, up to which mark she sprang to reply in
counsel. He proved his affection by trusting her; his respect by his
tempered style: 'A Greenland style of writing,' she had said of an
unhappy gentleman's epistolary compositions resembling it; and now the
same official baldness was to her mind Italianly rich; it called forth
Flatteries that were thin food for passion appeared the simplest
exchanges of courtesy, and her meetings with her lover, judging by the
nature of the discourse they held, so, consequent to their joint interest
in the great crisis anticipated, as to rouse her indignant surprise and a
turn for downright rebellion when the Argus world signified the fact of
its having one eye, or more, wide open.
Debit and Credit, too, her buzzing familiars, insisted on an audience at
each ear, and at the house-door, on her return to London.
SHOWS THE APPROACHES OF THE POLITICAL AND THE DOMESTIC CRISIS IN COMPANY
There was not much talk of Diana between Lady Dunstane and her customary
visitor Tom Redworth now. She was shy in speaking of the love-stricken
woman, and more was in his mind for thought than for speech. She some
times wondered how much he might know, ending with the reflection that
little passing around was unknown to him. He had to shut his mind
against thought, against all meditation upon Mrs. Warwick; it was based
scientifically when speculating and calculating, on the material element
--a talisman. Men and women crossing the high seas of life he had found
most readable under that illuminating inquiry, as to their means. An
inspector of sea worthy ships proceeds in like manner. Whence would the
money come? He could not help the bent of his mind; but he could avoid
subjecting her to the talismanic touch. The girl at the Dublin Ball,
the woman at the fire-grate of The Crossways, both in one were his Diana.
Now and then, hearing an ugly whisper, his manful sympathy with the mere
woman in her imprisoned liberty, defended her desperately from charges
not distinctly formulated within him:--'She's not made of stone.' That
was a height of self-abnegation to shake the poor fellow to his roots;
but, then, he had no hopes of his own; and he stuck to it. Her choice of
a man like Dacier, too, of whom Redworth judged highly, showed nobility.
She irradiated the man; but no baseness could be in such an alliance.
If allied, they were bound together for good. The tie-supposing a
villain world not wrong--was only not the sacred tie because of
impediments. The tie!--he deliberated, and said stoutly--No. Men of
Redworth's nature go through sharp contests, though the duration of them
is short, and the tussle of his worship of this woman with the
materialistic turn of his mind was closed by the complete shutting up of
the latter under lock and bar; so that a man, very little of an idealist,
was able to sustain her in the pure imagination--where she did almost
belong to him. She was his, in a sense, because she might have been his-
-but for an incredible extreme of folly. The dark ring of the eclipse
cast by some amazing foolishness round the shining crescent perpetually
in secret claimed the whole sphere of her, by what might have been, while
admitting her lost to him in fact. To Thomas Redworth's mind the lack of
perfect sanity in his conduct at any period of manhood, was so entirely
past belief that he flew at the circumstances confirming the charge, and
had wrestles with the angel of reality, who did but set him dreaming
backward, after flinging him.
He heard at Lady Wathin's that Mrs. Warwick was in town for the winter.
'Mr. Dacier is also in town,' Lady Wathin said, with an acid indication
of the needless mention of it. 'We have not seen him.' She invited
Redworth to meet a few friends at dinner. 'I think you admire Miss
Asper: in my idea a very saint among young women;--and you know what the
young women of our day are. She will be present. She is, you are aware,
England's greatest heiress. Only yesterday, hearing of that poor man Mr.
Warwick's desperate attack of illness--heart!--and of his having no
relative or friend to soothe his pillow,--he is lying in absolute
loneliness,--she offered to go and nurse him! Of course it could not
be done. It is not her place. The beauty of the character of a dear
innocent young girl, with every gratification at command, who could make
the offer, strikes me as unparalleled. She was perfectly sincere--she is
sincerity. She asked at once, Where is he? She wished me to accompany
her on a first visit. I saw a tear.'
Redworth had called at Lady Wathin's for information of the state of Mr.
Warwick, concerning which a rumour was abroad. No stranger to the
vagrant compassionateness of sentimentalists;--rich, idle, conscience-
pricked or praise-catching;--he was unmoved by the tale that Miss Asper
had proposed to go to Mr. Warwick's sick-bed in the uniform of a Sister
of Charity.--'Speaking French!' Lady Wathin exclaimed; and his head
rocked, as he said:
'An Englishman would not be likely to know better.'
'She speaks exquisite French--all European languages, Mr. Redworth.
She does not pretend to wit. To my thinking, depth of sentiment is
a far more feminine accomplishment. It assuredly will be found a
The modest man (modest in such matters) was led by degrees to fancy
himself sounded regarding Miss Asper: a piece of sculpture glacially
decorative of the domestic mansion in person, to his thinking; and as to
the nature of it--not a Diana, with all her faults!
If Diana had any faults, in a world and a position so heavily against
her! He laughed to himself, when alone, at the neatly implied bitter
reproach cast on the wife by the forsaken young lady, who proposed to
nurse the abandoned husband of the woman bereaving her of the man she
loved. Sentimentalists enjoy these tricks, the conceiving or the doing
of them--the former mainly, which are cheaper, and equally effective.
Miss Asper might be deficient in wit; this was a form of practical wit,
occasionally exhibited by creatures acting on their instincts. Warwick
he pitied, and he put compulsion on himself to go and see the poor
fellow, the subject of so sublime a generosity. Mr. Warwick sat in an
arm-chair, his legs out straight on the heels, his jaw dragging hollow
cheeks, his hands loosely joined; improving in health, he said. A demure
woman of middle age was in attendance. He did not speak of his wife.
Three times he said disconnectedly, 'I hear reports,' and his eyelids
worked. Redworth talked of general affairs, without those consolatory
efforts, useless between men, which are neither medicine nor good honest
water:--he judged by personal feelings. In consequence, he left an
invalid the sourer for his visit.
Next day he received a briefly-worded summons from Mrs. Warwick.
Crossing the park on the line to Diana's house, he met Miss Paynham, who
grieved to say that Mrs. Warwick could not give her a sitting; and in a
still mournfuller tone, imagined he would find her at home, and alone by
this time. 'I left no one but Mr. Dacier there,' she observed.
'Mrs. Warwick will be disengaged to-morrow, no doubt,' he said
Her head performed the negative. 'They talk politics, and she becomes
animated, loses her pose. I will persevere, though I fear I have
undertaken a task too much for me.'
'I am deeply indebted to you for the attempt.' Redworth bowed to her and
set his face to the Abbey-towers, which wore a different aspect in the
smoked grey light since his two minutes of colloquy. He had previously
noticed that meetings with Miss Paynham produced a similar effect on him,
a not so very impressionable man. And how was it done? She told him
nothing he did not know or guess.
Diana was alone. Her manner, after the greeting, seemed feverish. She
had not to excuse herself for abruptness when he heard the nature of the
subject. Her counsellor and friend was informed, in feminine style, that
she had, requested him to call, for the purpose of consulting him with
regard to a matter she had decided upon; and it was, the sale of The
Crossways. She said that it would have gone to her heart once; she
supposed she had lost her affection for the place, or had got the better
of her superstitions. She spoke lamely as well as bluntly. The place
was hers, she said; her own property. Her husband could not interdict a
Redworth addressed himself to her smothered antagonism. 'Even if he had
rights, as they are termed . . . I think you might count on their not
'I have been told of illness.' She tapped her foot on the floor.
'His present state of health is unequal to his ordinary duties.'
'Emma Dunstane is fully supplied with the latest intelligence, Mr.
Redworth. You know the source.'
'I mention it simply . . .'
'Yes, yes. What I have to protest is, that in this respect I am free.
The Law has me fast, but leaves me its legal view of my small property.
I have no authority over me. I can do as I please, in this, without a
collision, or the dread of one. It is the married woman's perpetual
dread when she ventures a step. Your Law originally presumed her a
China-footed animal. And more, I have a claim for maintenance.'
She crimsoned angrily.
Redworth showed a look of pleasure, hard to understand. 'The application
would be sufficient, I fancy,' he said.
'It should have been offered.'
'Did you not decline it?'
'I declined to apply for it. I thought--But, Mr. Redworth, another
thing, concerning us all: I want very much to hear your ideas of the
prospects of the League; because I know you have ideas. The leaders are
terrible men; they fascinate me. They appear to move with an army of
facts. They are certainly carrying the country. I am obliged to think
them sincere. Common agitators would not hold together, as they do.
They gather strength each year. If their statistics are not illusory--
an army of phantoms instead of one of facts; and they knock at my head
without admission, I have to confess; they must win.'
'Ultimately, it is quite calculable that they will win,' said Redworth;
and he was led to discourse of rates and duties and prohibitive tariffs
to a woman surprisingly athirst, curious for every scrap of intelligence
relating to the power, organization, and schemes of the League. 'Common
sense is the secret of every successful civil agitation,' he said. 'Rap
it unremittingly on crowds of the thickest of human heads, and the
response comes at last to sweep all before it. You may reckon that the
country will beat the landlords--for that is our question. Is it one of
your political themes?'
'I am not presumptuous to such a degree:--a poor scholar,' Diana replied.
'Women striving to lift their heads among men deserve the sarcasm.'
He denied that any sarcasm was intended, and the lesson continued. When
she had shaped in her mind some portion of his knowledge of the subject,
she reverted casually to her practical business. Would he undertake to
try to obtain a purchaser of The Crossways, at the price he might deem
reasonable? She left the price entirely to his judgement. And now she
had determined to part with the old place, the sooner the better! She
said that smiling; and Redworth smiled, outwardly and inwardly. Her talk
of her affairs was clearer to him than her curiosity for the mysteries of
the League. He gained kind looks besides warm thanks by the promise to
seek a purchaser; especially by his avoidance of prying queries. She
wanted just this excellent automaton fac-totum; and she referred him to
Mr. Braddock for the title-deeds, et caetera--the chirping phrase of
ladies happily washing their hands of the mean details of business.
'How of your last work?' he asked her.
Serenest equanimity rejoined: 'As I anticipated, it is not popular. The
critics are of one mind with the public. You may have noticed, they
rarely flower above that rocky surface. THE CANTATRICE sings them a
false note. My next will probably please them less.'
Her mobile lips and brows shot the faint upper-wreath of a smile
hovering. It was designed to display her philosophy.
'And what is the name of your next?' said he.
'I name it THE MAN OF TWO MINDS, if you can allow that to be in nature.'
'Contra-distinguished from the woman?'
'Oh! you must first believe the woman to have one.'
'You are working on it?'
'By fits. And I forgot, Mr. Redworth: I have mislaid my receipts, and
must ask you for the address of your wine-merchant;--or, will you?
Several dozen of the same wines. I can trust him to be in awe of you,
and the good repute of my table depends on his honesty.'
Redworth took the definite order for a large supply of wine.
She gave him her hand: a lost hand, dear to hold, needing to be guided,
he feared. For him, it was merely a hand, cut off from the wrist; and he
had performed that executive part! A wiser man would now have been the
lord of it . . . . So he felt, with his burning wish to protect and
cherish the beloved woman, while saying: 'If we find a speedy bidder for
The Crossways, you will have to thank our railways.'
'You!' said Diana, confident in his ability to do every-thing of the
Her ingenuousness tickled him. He missed her comic touches upon men and
things, but the fever shown by her manner accounted for it.
As soon as he left her, she was writing to the lover who had an hour
previously been hearing her voice; the note of her theme being Party;
and how to serve it, when to sacrifice it to the Country. She wrote,
carolling bars of the Puritani marches; and such will passion do, that
her choice of music was quite in harmony with her theme. The martially-
amorous melodies of Italian Opera in those days fostered a passion
challenged to intrepidity from the heart of softness; gliding at the same
time, and putting warm blood even into dull arithmetical figures which
might be important to her lover, her hero fronting battle. She condensed
Redworth's information skilfully, heartily giving it and whatever she had
imbibed, as her own, down to the remark: 'Common sense in questions of
justice, is a weapon that makes way into human heads and wins the certain
majority, if we strike with it incessantly.' Whether anything she wrote
was her own, mattered little: the savour of Percy's praise, which none
could share with her, made it instantly all her own. Besides she wrote
to strengthen him; she naturally laid her friends and the world under
contribution; and no other sort of writing was possible. Percy had not a
common interest in fiction; still less for high comedy. He liked the
broad laugh when he deigned to open books of that sort; puns and strong
flavours and harlequin surprises; and her work would not admit of them,
however great her willingness to force her hand for his amusement:
consequently her inventiveness deadened. She had to cease whipping it.
'My poor old London cabhorse of a pen shall go to grass!' she sighed,
looking to the sale of The Crossways for money; looking no farther.
Those marshalled battalions of Debit and Credit were in hostile order,
the weaker simply devoted to fighting for delay, when a winged messenger
bearing the form of old Mr. Braddock descended to her with the
reconciling news that a hermit bachelor, an acquaintance of Mr.
Redworth's--both of whom wore a gloomy hue in her mind immediately--had
offered a sum for the purchase of The Crossways. Considering the out-of-
the-way district, Mr. Braddock thought it an excellent price to get. She
thought the reverse, but confessed that double the sum would not have
altered her opinion. Double the sum scarcely counted for the service she
required of it for much more than a year. The money was paid shortly
after into her Bank, and then she enjoyed the contemptuous felicity of
tossing meat to her lions, tigers, wolves, and jackals, who, but for the
fortunate intervention, would have been feeding on her. These menagerie
beasts of prey were the lady's tradesmen, Debit's hungry-brood. She had
a rapid glimpse of a false position in regarding that legitimate band so
scornfully: another glimpse likewise of a day to come when they might not
be stopped at the door. She was running a race with something; with
what? It was unnamed; it ran in a shroud.
At times she surprised her heart violently beating when there had not
been a thought to set it in motion. She traced it once to the words,
'next year,' incidentally mentioned. 'Free,' was a word that checked her
throbs, as at a question of life or death. Her solitude, excepting the
hours of sleep, if then, was a time of irregular breathing. The
something unnamed, running beside her, became a dreadful familiar; the
race between them past contemplation for ghastliness. 'But this is your
Law!' she cried to the world, while blinding her eyes against a peep of
the shrouded features.
Singularly, she had but to abandon hope, and the shadowy figure vanished,
the tragic race was ended. How to live and think, and not to hope: the
slave of passion had this problem before her.
Other tasks were supportable, though one seemed hard at moments and was
not passive; it attacked her. The men and women of her circle
derisively, unanimously, disbelieved in an innocence that forfeited
reputation. Women were complimentarily assumed to be not such gaping
idiots. And as the weeks advanced, a change came over Percy. The
gentleman had grown restless at covert congratulations, hollow to his
knowledge, however much caressing vanity, and therefore secretly a wound
to it. One day, after sitting silent, he bluntly proposed to break 'this
foolish trifling'; just in his old manner, though not so honourably; not
very definitely either. Her hand was taken.
'I feared that dumbness!' Diana said, letting her hand go, but keeping
her composure. 'My friend Percy, I am not a lion-tamer, and if you are
of those animals, we break the chapter. Plainly you think that where
there appears to be a choice of fools, the woman is distinctly designed
for the person. Drop my hand, or I shall repeat the fable of the Goose
with the Golden Eggs.'
'Fables are applicable only in the school-room,' said he; and he ventured
'I vowed an oath to my dear Emma--as good as to the heavens! and that
of itself would stay me from being insane again.' She released herself.
'Signor Percy, you teach me to suspect you of having an idle wish to
pluck your plaything to pieces:--to boast of it? Ah! my friend, I
fancied I was of more value to you. You must come less often; even to
not at all, if you are one of those idols with feet of clay which leave
the print of their steps in a room; or fall and crush the silly
'But surely you know . . .' said he. 'We can't have to wait long.'
He looked full of hopeful meanings.
'A reason . . . !' She kept down her breath. A longdrawn sigh
followed, through parted lips. She had a sensation of horror.
'And I cannot propose to nurse him--Emma will not hear of it,' she said.
'I dare not. Hypocrite to that extreme? Oh, no! But I must hear
nothing. As it is, I am haunted. Now let this pass. Tony me no Tonies;
I am stony to such whimpering business now we are in the van of the
struggle. All round us it sounds like war. Last night I had Mr. Tonans
dining here;--he wished to meet you; and you must have a private meeting
with Mr. Whitmonby: he will be useful; others as well. You are wrong in
affecting contempt of the Press. It perches you on a rock; but the
swimmer in politics knows what draws the tides. Your own people, your
set, your class, are a drag to you, like inherited superstitions to the
wakening brain. The greater the glory! For you see the lead you take?
You are saving your class. They should lead, and will, if they prove
worthy in the crisis. Their curious error is to believe in the stability
of a monumental position.'
'Perfectly true!' cried Dacier; and the next minute, heated by
approbation, was begging for her hand earnestly. She refused it.
'But you say things that catch me!' he pleaded. 'Remember, it was nearly
mine. It soon will be mine. I heard yesterday from Lady Wathin . . .
well, if it pains you!'
'Speak on,' said Diana, resigned to her thirsty ears.
'He is not expected to last through the autumn.'
'The calculation is hers?'
'Not exactly:--judging from the symptoms.'
Diana flashed a fiery eye into Dacier's, and rose. She was past danger
of melting, with her imagination darkened by the funeral image; but she
craved solitude, and had to act the callous, to dismiss him.
'Good. Enough for the day. Now leave me, if you please. When we meet
again, stifle that raven's croak. I am not a "Sister of Charity,"
but neither am I a vulture hovering for the horse in the desert to die.
A poor simile!--when it is my own and not another's breath that I want.
Nothing in nature, only gruesome German stories will fetch comparisons
for the yoke of this Law of yours. It seems the nightmare dream
following an ogre's supper.'
She was not acting the shiver of her frame.
To-morrow was open to him, and prospect of better fortune, so he
departed, after squeezing the hand she ceremoniously extended.
But her woman's intuition warned her that she had not maintained the
sovereign impression which was her security. And hope had become a flame
in her bosom that would no longer take the common extinguisher. The race
she ran was with a shrouded figure no more, but with the figure of the
shroud; she had to summon paroxysms of a pity hard to feel, images of
sickness, helplessness, the vaults, the last human silence for the
stilling of her passionate heart. And when this was partly effected, the
question, Am I going to live? renewed her tragical struggle. Who was it
under the vaults, in the shroud, between the planks? and with human
sensibility to swell the horror! Passion whispered of a vaster sorrow
needed for herself; and the hope conjuring those frightful complexities
was needed to soothe her. She pitied the man, but she was an enamoured
woman. Often of late she had been sharply stung, relaxed as well, by the
observations of Danvers assisting at her toilette. Had she beauty and
charm, beauty and rich health in the young summer blooming of her days?
--and all doomed to waste? No insurgency of words arose in denunciation
of the wrong done to her nature. An undefined heavy feeling of wrong
there was, just perceptive enough to let her know, without gravely
shaming, that one or another must be slain for peace to come; for it is
the case in which the world of the Laws overloading her is pitiless to
women, deaf past ear-trumpets, past intercession; detesting and reviling
them for a feeble human cry, and for one apparent step of revolt piling
the pelted stones on them. It will not discriminate shades of hue, it
massacres all the shadowed. They are honoured, after a fashion, at a
certain elevation. Descending from it, and purely to breathe common air
(thus in her mind), they are scourged and outcast. And alas! the very
pleading for them excites a sort of ridicule in their advocate. How?
She was utterly, even desperately, nay personally, earnest, and her
humour closed her lips; though comical views of the scourged and outcast
coming from the opposite party--the huge bully world--she would not have
tolerated. Diana raged at a prevailing strength on the part of that huge
bully world, which seemed really to embrace the atmosphere. Emma had
said: 'The rules of Christian Society are a blessed Government for us
women. We owe it so much that there is not a brick of the fabric we
should not prop.' Emma's talk of obedience to the Laws, being Laws, was
repeated by the rebel, with an involuntary unphrased comparison of the
vessel in dock and the vessel at sea.
When Dacier next called to see Mrs. Warwick, he heard that she had gone
to Copsley for a couple of weeks. The lesson was emphasized by her not
writing:--and was it the tricky sex, or the splendid character of the
woman, which dealt him this punishment? Knowing how much Diana
forfeited for him, he was moved to some enthusiasm, despite his
inclination to be hurt.
She, on her return to London, gained a considerable increase of knowledge
as to her position in the eye of the world; and unlike the result of her
meditations derived from the clamouring tradesmen, whom she could excuse,
she was neither illuminated nor cautioned by that dubious look; she
conscientiously revolted. Lady Pennon hinted a word for her Government.
'A good deal of what you so capitally call "Green tea talk" is going on,
my dear.' Diana replied, without pretending to misunderstand.
'Gossip is a beast of prey that does not wait for the death of the
creature it devours. They are welcome to my shadow, if the liberty I
claim casts one, and it feeds them.' To which the old lady rejoined:
'Oh! I am with you through thick and thin. I presented you at Court, and
I stand by you. Only, walk carefully. Women have to walk with a train.
You are too famous not to have your troops of watchers.'
'But I mean to prove,' said Diana, 'that a woman can walk with her train
independent of the common reserves and artifices.'
'Not on highways, my dear!'
Diana, praising the speaker, referred the whole truth in that to the
material element of her metaphor.
She was more astonished by Whitmonby's candid chiding; but with him she
could fence, and men are easily diverted. She had sent for him, to bring
him and Percy Dacier together to a conference. Unaware of the project,
he took the opportunity of their privacy to speak of the great station
open to her in London being imperilled; and he spoke of 'tongues,' and
ahem! A very little would have induced him to fill that empty vocable
with a name.
She had to pardon the critic in him for an unpleasant review of her
hapless CANTATRICE; and as a means of evasion, she mentioned the poor
book and her slaughter of the heroine, that he had complained of.
'I killed her; I could not let her live. You were unjust in accusing the
authoress of heartlessness.'
'If I did, I retract,' said he. 'She steers too evidently from the
centre of the vessel. She has the organ in excess.'
'Proof that it is not squandered.'
'The point concerns direction.'
'Have I made so bad a choice of my friends?'
'It is the common error of the sprightly to suppose that in parrying a
thrust they blind our eyes.'
'The world sees always what it desires to see, Mr. Whitmonby.'
'The world, my dear Mrs. Warwick, is a blundering machine upon its own
affairs, but a cruel sleuth-hound to rouse in pursuit.'
'So now you have me chased by sight and scent. And if I take wing?'
'Shots! volleys!--You are lawful game. The choice you have made of your
friends, should oblige you to think of them.'
'I imagine I do. Have I offended any, or one?'
'I will not say that. You know the commotion in a French kitchen when
the guests of the house declined a particular dish furnished them by
command. The cook and his crew were loyal to their master, but, for the
love of their Art, they sent him notice. It is ill serving a mad
Diana bowed to the compact little apologue.
'I will tell you another story, traditional in our family from my great-
grandmother, a Spanish woman,' she said. 'A cavalier serenaded his
mistress, and rascal mercenaries fell upon him before he could draw
sword. He battered his guitar on their pates till the lattice opened
with a cry, and startled them to flight. "Thrice blessed and beloved!"
he called to her above, in reference to the noise, "it was merely a
diversion of the accompaniment." Now there was loyal service to a
'You are certainly an angel!' exclaimed Whitmonby. 'I swallow the story,
and leave it to digestion to discover the appositeness. Whatever tuneful
instrument one of your friends possesses shall solace your slumbers or
batter the pate of your enemy. But discourage the habitual serenader.'
'The musician you must mean is due here now, by appointment to meet you,'
said Diana, and set him momentarily agape with the name of Mr. Percy
That was the origin of the alliance between the young statesman and a
newspaper editor. Whitmonby, accepting proposals which suited him,
quitted the house, after an hour of political talk, no longer inclined to
hint at the 'habitual serenader,' but very ready to fall foul of those
who did, as he proved when the numbers buzzed openly. Times were
masculine; the excitement on the eve of so great a crisis, and Diana's
comprehension of it and fine heading cry, put that weak matter aside.
Moreover, he was taught to suppose himself as welcome a guest as Dacier;
and the cook could stand criticism; the wines--wonderful to say of a
lady's table--were trusty; the talk, on the political evenings and the
social and anecdotal supper-nights, ran always in perfect accord with his
ideal of the conversational orchestra: an improvized harmony, unmatched
elsewhere. She did not, he considered, so perfectly assort her dinner-
guests; that was her one fault. She had therefore to strain her
adroitness to cover their deficiencies and fuse them. But what other
woman could have done it! She led superbly. If an Irishman was present,
she kept him from overflooding, managed to extract just the flavour of
him, the smack of salt. She did even, at Whitmonby's table, on a red-
letter Sunday evening, in concert with him and the Dean, bring down that
cataract, the Bodleian, to the levels of interchanging dialogue by
seasonable touches, inimitably done, and never done before. Sullivan
Smith, unbridled in the middle of dinner, was docile to her. 'Irishmen;'
she said, pleading on their behalf to Whitmonby, who pronounced the race
too raw for an Olympian feast, 'are invaluable if you hang them up to
smoke and cure'; and the master of social converse could not deny that
they were responsive to her magic. The supper-nights were mainly devoted
to Percy's friends. He brought as many as he pleased, and as often as it
pleased him; and it was her pride to provide Cleopatra banquets for the
lover whose anxieties were soothed by them, and to whom she sacrificed
her name willingly in return for a generosity that certain chance
whispers of her heart elevated to the pitch of measureless.
So they wore through the Session and the Autumn, clouds heavier, the
League drumming, the cry of Ireland 'ominously Banshee,' as she wrote to
IN WHICH THERE IS A TASTE OF A LITTLE DINNER AND AN AFTERTASTE
'But Tony lives!' Emma Dunstane cried, on her solitary height, with the
full accent of envy marking the verb; and when she wrote enviously to her
friend of the life among bright intelligences, and of talk worth hearing,
it was a happy signification that health, frail though it might be, had
grown importunate for some of the play of life. Diana sent her word to
name her day, and she would have her choicest to meet her dearest. They
were in the early days of December, not the best of times for improvized
gatherings. Emma wanted, however, to taste them as they cropped; she was
also, owing to her long isolation, timid at a notion of encountering the
pick of the London world, prepared by Tony to behold 'a wonder more than
worthy of them,' as her friend unadvisedly wrote. That was why she came
unexpectedly, and for a mixture of reasons, went to an hotel. Fatality
designed it so. She was reproached, but she said: 'You have to write or
you entertain at night; I should be a clog and fret you. My hotel is
Maitland's; excellent; I believe I am to lie on the pillow where a
crowned head reposed! You will perceive that I am proud as well as
comfortable. And I would rather meet your usual set of guests.'
'The reason why I have been entertaining at night is, that Percy is
harassed and requires enlivening,' said Diana. 'He brings his friends.
My house is open to them, if it amuses him. What the world says, is past
a thought. I owe him too much.'
Emma murmured that the world would soon be pacified.
Diana shook her head. 'The poor man is better; able to go about his
affairs; and I am honestly relieved. It lays a spectre. As for me, I do
not look ahead. I serve as a kind of secretary to Percy. I labour at
making abstracts by day, and at night preside at my suppertable. You
would think it monotonous; no incident varies the course we run. I have
no time to ask whether it is happiness. It seems to bear a resemblance.'
Emma replied: 'He may be everything you tell me. He should not have
chosen the last night of the Opera to go to your box and sit beside you
till the fall of the curtain. The presence at the Opera of a man
notoriously indifferent to music was enough in itself.'
Diana smiled with languor. 'You heard of that? But the Opera was The
Puritani, my favourite. And he saw me sitting in Lady Pennon's box
alone. We were compromised neck-deep already. I can kiss you, my own
Emmy, till I die; 'but what the world says, is what the wind says.
Besides he has his hopes.... If I am blackened ever so thickly, he can
make me white. Dear me! if the world knew that he comes here almost
nightly! It will; and does it matter? I am his in soul; the rest is
waste-paper--a half-printed sheet.'
'Provided he is worthy of such devotion!'
'He is absolute worthiness. He is the prince of men: I dread to say,
mine! for fear. But Emmy will not judge him to-morrow by contrast with
more voluble talkers.--I can do anything but read poetry now. That kills
me!--See him through me. In nature, character, intellect, he has no
rival. Whenever I despond--and it comes now and then--I rebuke myself
with this one admonition.
Simply to have known him! Admit that for a woman to find one who is
worthy among the opposite creatures, is a happy termination of her quest,
and in some sort dismisses her to the Shades, an uncomplaining ferry-
bird. If my end were at hand I should have no cause to lament it. We
women miss life only when we have to confess we have never met the man to
Emma had to hear a very great deal of Mr. Percy. Diana's comparison of
herself to 'the busy bee at a window-pane,' was more in her old manner;
and her friend would have hearkened to the marvels of the gentle man less
unrefreshed, had it not appeared to her that her Tony gave in excess for
what was given in return. She hinted her view. . .
'It is expected of our sex,' Diana said.
The work of busy bee at a window-pane had at any rate not spoilt her
beauty, though she had voluntarily, profitlessly, become this man's
drudge, and her sprightly fancy, her ready humour and darting look all
round in discussion, were rather deadened.
But the loss was not perceptible in the circle of her guests. Present
at a dinner little indicating the last, were Whitmonby, in lively trim
for shuffling, dealing, cutting, trumping or drawing trumps; Westlake,
polishing epigrams under his eyelids; Henry Wilmers, who timed an
anecdote to strike as the passing hour without freezing the current;
Sullivan Smith, smoked, cured and ready to flavour; Percy Dacier,
pleasant listener, measured speaker; and young Arthur Rhodes, the
neophyte of the hostess's training; of whom she had said to Emma, 'The
dear boy very kindly serves to frank an unlicenced widow'; and whom she
prompted and made her utmost of, with her natural tact. These she mixed
and leavened. The talk was on high levels and low; an enchantment to
Emma Dunstane: now a story; a question opening new routes, sharp sketches
of known personages; a paradox shot by laughter as soon as uttered; and
all so smoothly; not a shadow of the dominant holder-forth or a momentary
prospect of dead flats; the mellow ring of appositeness being the
concordant note of deliveries running linked as they flashed, and a
tolerant philosophy of the sage in the world recurrently the keynote.
Once only had Diana to protect her nurseling. He cited a funny line
from a recent popular volume of verse, in perfect A propos, looking at
Sullivan Smith; who replied, that the poets had become too many for him,
and he read none now. Diana said: 'There are many Alexanders, but
Alexander of Macedon is not dwarfed by the number.' She gave him an
opening for a smarter reply, but he lost it in a comment--against
Whitmonby's cardinal rule: 'The neatest turn of the wrist that ever swung
a hero to crack a crown!' and he bowed to young Rhodes: 'I 'll read your
versicler to-morrow morning early.' The latter expressed a fear that the
hour was too critical for poetry.
'I have taken the dose at a very early hour,' said Whitmonby, to bring
conversation to the flow again, 'and it effaced the critical mind
'But did not silence the critical nose,' observed Westlake.
Wilmers named the owner of the longest nose in Europe.
'Potentially, indeed a critic!' said Diana.
'Nights beside it must be fearful, and good matter for a divorce, if the
poor dear lady could hale it to the doors of the Vatican!' Sullivan Smith
exclaimed. 'But there's character in noses.'
'Calculable by inches?' Dacier asked.
'More than in any other feature,' said Lady Dunstane. 'The Riffords are
all prodigiously gifted and amusing: suspendens omnia naso. It should be
prayed for in families.'
'Totum ut to faciant, Fabulle, nasum,' rejoined Whitmonby. 'Lady
Isabella was reading the tale of the German princess, who had a sentinel
stationed some hundred yards away to whisk off the flies, and she owned
to me that her hand instinctively travelled upward.'
'Candour is the best concealment, when one has to carry a saddle of
absurdity,' said Diana. 'Touchstone's "poor thing, but mine own," is
godlike in its enveloping fold.'
'The most comforting sermon ever delivered on property in poverty,' said
Westlake assented. 'His choice of Audrey strikes me as an exhibition of
the sure instinct for pasture of the philosophical jester in a forest.'
' With nature's woman, if he can find her, the urban seems equally at
home,' said Lady Dunstane.
'Baron Pawle is an example,' added Whitmonby. 'His cook is a pattern
wife to him. I heard him say at table that she was responsible for all
except the wines. "I wouldn't have them on my conscience, with a Judge!"
my lady retorted.'
'When poor Madame de Jacquieres was dying,' said Wilmers, 'her confessor
sat by her bedside, prepared for his ministrations. "Pour commencer, mon
ami, jamais je n'ai fait rien hors nature."'
Lord Wadaster had uttered something tolerably similar: 'I am a sinner,
and in good society.' Sir Abraham Hartiston, a minor satellite of the
Regent, diversified this: 'I am a sinner, and go to good society.'
Madame la Comtesse de la Roche-Aigle, the cause of many deaths, declared
it unwomanly to fear anything save 'les revenants.' Yet the countess
could say the pretty thing: 'Foot on a flower, then think of me!'
'Sentimentality puts up infant hands for absolution,' said Diana.
'But tell me,' Lady Dunstane inquired generally, 'why men are so much
happier than women in laughing at their spouses?'
They are humaner, was one dictum; they are more frivolous, ironically
'It warrants them for blowing the bugle-horn of masculine superiority
night and morning from the castle-walls,' Diana said.
'I should imagine it is for joy of heart that they still have cause to
laugh!' said Westlake.
On the other hand, are women really pained by having to laugh at their
lords? Curious little speeches flying about the great world, affirmed
the contrary. But the fair speakers were chartered libertines, and their
laugh admittedly had a biting acid. The parasite is concerned in the
majesty of the tree.
'We have entered Botany Bay,' Diana said to Emma; who answered: 'A
metaphor is the Deus ex machine, of an argument'; and Whitmonby, to
lighten a shadow of heaviness, related allusively an anecdote of the Law
Courts. Sullivan Smith begged permission to 'black cap' it with Judge
FitzGerald's sentence upon a convicted criminal: 'Your plot was perfect
but for One above.' Dacier cited an execrable impromptu line of the
Chief of the Opposition in Parliament. The Premier, it was remarked,
played him like an angler his fish on the hook; or say, Mr. Serjeant
Rufus his witness in the box.
'Or a French journalist an English missionary,' said Westlake; and as the
instance was recent it was relished.
The talk of Premiers offered Whitmonby occasion for a flight to the Court
of Vienna and Kaunitz. Wilmers told a droll story of Lord Busby's
missing the Embassy there. Westlake furnished a sample of the tranquil
sententiousness of Busby's brother Robert during a stormy debate in the
House of Commons.
'I remember,' Dacier was reminded, 'hearing him say, when the House
resembled a Chartist riot, "Let us stand aside and meditate on Life. If
Youth could know, in the season of its reaping of the Pleasures, that it
is but sowing Doctor's bills!"'
Latterly a malady had supervened, and Bob Busby had retired from the
universal to the special;--his mysterious case.
'Assure him, that is endemic. He may be cured of his desire for the
exposition of it,' said Lady Dunstane.
Westlake chimed with her: 'Yes, the charm in discoursing of one's case is
over when the individual appears no longer at odds with Providence.'
'But then we lose our Tragedy,' said Whitmonby.
'Our Comedy too,' added Diana. 'We must consent to be Busbied for the
sake of the instructive recreations.'
'A curious idea, though,' said Sullivan Smith, 'that some of the grand
instructive figures were in their day colossal bores!'
'So you see the marvel of the poet's craft at last?' Diana smiled on him,
and he vowed: 'I'll read nothing else for a month!' Young Rhodes bade him
beware of a deluge in proclaiming it.
They rose from table at ten, with the satisfaction of knowing that
they had not argued, had not wrangled, had never stagnated, and were
digestingly refreshed; as it should be among grown members of the
civilized world, who mean to practise philosophy, making the hour of
the feast a balanced recreation and a regeneration of body and mind.
'Evenings like these are worth a pilgrimage,' Emma said, embracing Tony
outside the drawing-room door. 'I am so glad I came: and if I am strong
enough, invite me again in the Spring. To-morrow early I start for
Copsley, to escape this London air. I shall hope to have you there
She was pleased by hearing Tony ask her whether she did not think that
Arthur Rhodes had borne himself well; for it breathed of her simply
The gentlemen followed Lady Dunstane in a troop, Dacier yielding perforce
the last adieu to young Rhodes.
Five minutes later Diana was in her dressing-room, where she wrote at
night, on the rare occasions now when she was left free for composition.
Beginning to dwell on THE MAN OF TWO MINDS, she glanced at the woman
likewise divided, if not similarly; and she sat brooding. She did not
accuse her marriage of being the first fatal step: her error was the step
into Society without the wherewithal to support her position there.
Girls of her kind, airing their wings above the sphere of their birth,
are cryingly adventuresses. As adventuresses they are treated.
Vain to be shrewish with the world! Rather let us turn and scold our
nature for irreflectively rushing to the cream and honey! Had she
subsisted on her small income in a country cottage, this task of writing
would have been holiday. Or better, if, as she preached to Mary Paynham,
she had apprenticed herself to some productive craft. The simplicity of
the life of labour looked beautiful. What will not look beautiful
contrasted with the fly in the web? She had chosen to be one of the
flies of life.
Instead of running to composition, her mind was eloquent with a sermon
to Arthur Rhodes, in Redworth's vein; more sympathetically, of course.
'For I am not one of the lecturing Mammonites!' she could say.
She was far from that. Penitentially, in the thick of her disdain of the
arrogant money-Betters, she pulled out a drawer where her bank-book lay,
and observed it contemplatively; jotting down a reflection before the
dread book of facts was opened: 'Gaze on the moral path you should have
taken, you are asked for courage to commit a sanctioned suicide, by
walking back to it stripped--a skeleton self.' She sighed forth: 'But I
have no courage: I never had!' The book revealed its tale in a small
pencilled computation of the bank-clerk's; on the peccant side. Credit
presented many pages blanks. She seemed to have withdrawn from the
struggle with such a partner.
It signified an immediate appeal to the usurers, unless the publisher
could be persuaded, with three parts of the book in his hands, to come to
the rescue. Work! roared old Debit, the sinner turned slavedriver.
Diana smoothed her wrists, compressing her lips not to laugh at the
simulation of an attitude of combat. She took up her pen.
And strange to think, she could have flowed away at once on the stuff
that Danvers delighted to read!--wicked princes, rogue noblemen, titled
wantons, daisy and lily innocents, traitorous marriages, murders, a
gallows dangling a corpse dotted by a moon, and a woman bowed beneath.
She could have written, with the certainty that in the upper and the
middle as well as in the lower classes of the country, there would be a
multitude to read that stuff, so cordially, despite the gaps between
them, are they one in their literary tastes. And why should they not
read it? Her present mood was a craving for excitement; for incident,
wild action, the primitive machinery of our species; any amount of
theatrical heroics, pathos, and clown-gabble. A panorama of scenes came
sweeping round her.
She was, however, harnessed to a different kind of vehicle, and had to
drag it. The sound of the house-door shutting, imagined perhaps, was a
fugitive distraction. Now to animate The Man of Two Minds!
He is courting, but he is burdened with the task of tasks. He has an
ideal of womanhood and of the union of couples: a delicacy extreme as his
attachment: and he must induce the lady to school herself to his ideal,