George Meredith.

Diana of the crossways; a novel. Considerably enlarged from The Fortnightly review online

. (page 15 of 38)
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He promised curtly to write. "I will do
my best to hit a flying address."

" Tour Club enables me to hit a permanent
one that will establish the communication,"
said Diana. " We shall not sleep another



26 DIANA. OF THE CROSSWATS.

night at Eovio. Lady Esquart is the lightest
of sleepers, and if you had a restless time, she
and her husband must have been in purgatory.
Besides, permit me to say, you should be with
your party. The times are troublous — not
for holidays ! Tour holiday has had a haunted
look, creditably to your conscience as a poli-
tician. These Corn Law agitations !"

" Ah, but no politics here ! " said Dacier.

" Politics everywhere ! — in the Courts of
Eaery ! They are not discord to me."

"But not the last day — ^the last hour ! " he
pleaded.

"Well ! only do not forget your assurance
to me that you would give some thoughts to
Ireland — and the cause of women. Has it
slipped from your memory ?"

" If I see the chance of serving you, you
majj- trust to me."

She sent up an interjection on the misfor-
tune of her not having been born a man.



A MIDNIGHT BELL AND EAELY MOENIKG. 27

It was to him tlie one smart of sourness in
her ctarm as a woman.

Among the boulder-stones of the ascent to
the path he ventured to propose a little mas-
culine assistance in a hand stretched mutely.
Although there was no great need for help her
natural kindliness checked the inclination to
refuse it. When their hands disjoined she
found herself reddening. She cast it on the
exertion. Her heart was throbbing. It might
be the exertion likewise.

He walked and talked much more airily
along the descending pathway, as if he had
suddenly become more intimately acquainted
with her.

She listened, trying to think of the maimer
in which he might be taught to serve that cause
she had at heart ; and the colour deepened on
her cheeks till it set fire to her underlying
consciousness : blood to spirit. A tremor of
alarm ran through her.



28 DIANA OF THE CROSSWATS.

His request for one of the crocuses to keep
as a souvenir of th.e morning was refused.
"They are sacred; they were all devoted to
my friend when I plucked them."

He pointed to a half-open one, with the petals
in disparting pointing to junction, and compared
it to the famous tiptoe ballet-posture, arms
above head and fingers like swallows meeting
in air, of an operatic danseuse of the time.

"I do not see it, because I will not see it,"
she said, and she found a personal cooling and
consolement in the phrase. — "We have this
power of resisting invasion of the poetic by the
commonplace, the spirit by the blood, if we
please, though you men may not think that we
have ! — Her alarmed sensibilities bristled
and made head against him as an enemy. She
fancied (for the aforesaid reason — ^because she
chose) that it was on account of the offence to
her shy morning pleasure by his Londonizing.
At any other moment her natural liveliness



A JIIDNIGHT BELL AND EARLY MOKNING. 29

and trained social ease -would Lave taken any
remark on tke eddies of the tide of converse ;
and so she told herself, and did not the less
feel -wounded, adverse, armed. He seemed
someho-w to have dealt a mortal blo-w to the
happy girl she had become again. The -woman
she -was protested on behalf of the girl, while
the girl in her heart bent lowered sad eyelids
to the woman ; and which of them was -wiser of
the truth she could not have said, for she was
honestly not aware of the truth, but she knew
she was divided in halves, with one half pitying
the other, one rebuking : and all because of the
incongruous comparison of a wildflower to an
opera dancer ! Absurd indeed. We human
creatures are the silliest on earth, most
certainly.

Dacier had observed the blush, and the
check to her flo-wing tongue did not escape him
as they walked back to the inn do-wn the
narrow street of black rooms, where the women



30 DIANA OP THE CE0S8WATS.

gossiped at the fountain and the cobbler
threaded on his doorstep. His novel excite-
ment suppHed the deficiency, sweeping him
past minor reflections. He waSj however,
surprised to hear her teU Lady Esquart, as
soon as they were together at the breakfast-
table, that he had the intention of starting for
England; and further surprised, and slightly
stung too, when on the poor lady's moaning
over her recollection of the midnight Bell, and
vowing she could not attempt to sleep another
night in the place, Diana declared her resolve
to stay there one day longer with her maid,
and explore the neighbourhood for the wUd-
flowers in which it abounded. Lord and Lady
Esquart agreed to anything agreeable to her,
after excusing themselves for the necessitated
flight, piteously relating the story of their
sufferings. My lord could have slept, but he
had remained awake to comfort my lady.
" True knightlLaess ! " Diana said, in praise



A MIDNIGHT BELL AND EARLY MOENING. 31

of these long married lovers ; and sh.e asked
them what they had talked of during the night.

"Ton, my dear, partly," said Lady Esquart.

"For an opiate? "

"An invocation of the morning," said
Dacier.

Lady Esquart looked at Diana and at him.
She thought it was well that her fair friend
should stay. It was then settled for Diana to
rejoin them the next evening at Lugano,
thence to proceed to Luino on the Maggiore.

" I fear it is good-bye for me," Dacier said
to her, as he was about to step into the carriage
with the Esquarts.

" If you have not better news of your uncle,
it must be," she replied, and gave him her
hand promptly and formally, hardly diverting
her eyes from Lady Esquart to grace the
temporary gift with a look. The last of her
he saw was a waving of her arm and a finger
pointing triumphantly at the Bell in the tower.



32 DIANA OF THE CROSSTVATS.

It said, to an understanding unpractised in the
feminine mysteries : " I can sleep through any-
thing." What that revealed of her state of
conscience and her nature, his efforts to pre-
serve the lovely optical figure blocked his
guessing. He was with her friends, who liked
her the more they knew her, and he was com-
pelled to lean to their view of the perplexing
woman.

" She is a riddle to the world," Lady Esquart
said, " but I know that she is good. It is the
best of signs when women take to her and are
proud to be her friend."

My lord echoed his wife. She talked in
this homely manner to stop any notion of
philandering that the young gentleman might
be disposed to entertain in regard to a lady so
attractive to the pursuit as Diana's beauty and
delicate situation might make her seem.

" She is an exceedingly clever person, and
handsomer than report, which is uncommon,"



A MIDNIGHT BELL AND EARLY MORNING. 33

said Dacier, becoming voluble on town-topics,
Miss Asper incidentally among them. He
denied Lady Esquart's charge of an engage-
ment ; the matter hung.

His letters at Lugano summoned him to
England instantly.

" I have taken leave of Mrs. Warwick, but
tell her I regret, et cetera," he said; " and by
the way, as my uncle's illness appears to be
serious, the longer she is absent the better,
perhaps."

"It woiild never do," said Lady Esquart,
understanding his drift immediately. " We
winter in Eome. She will not abandon us — I
have her word for it. Next Easter we are ia
Paris ; and so home, I sui:)pose. There will be
no hurry before we are due at Cowes. We
seem to have become confirmed wanderers;
for two of us at least it is likely to be our last
great tour."

Dacier informed her that he had pledged his

VOL. II. D



34 DIANA OF THE CEOSSWAYS.

word to write to Mrs, "Warwick of Ms uncle's
condition, and tlie several appointed halting-
places of the Esquarts between the lakes and
riorence were named to him. Thus all things
were openly treated j all had an air of being
on the surface; the communications passing
between Mrs. Warwick and the Hon. Percy
Dacier might have been perused by all the
world. None but that portion of it, sage in
suspiciousness, which objects to such com-
munications under any circumstances, could
have detected in their correspondence a spark
of coming fire or that there was common
warmth. She did not feel it, nor did he. The
position of the two interdicted it to a couple
honourably sensible of . social decencies ; and
who were, be it added, kept apart. The blood
is the treacherous element in the story of the
nobly civilized, of which secret Diana, a wife
and no wife, a prisoner in liberty, a blooming
woman imagining herself restored to trans-



A MIDNIGHT BELL AND EARLY MORNING. 35

cendent maiden ecstasies — the highest youth-
ful poetic — had received some faint intimation
when the blush flamed suddenly in her cheeks
and her heart knelled like the towers of a city
giyen over to the devourer. She had no wish
to meet him again. Without telling herself
why, she would have shunned the meeting.
Disturbers that thwarted her simple happiness
in sublime scenery were best avoided. She
thought so the more for a fitful blur to the
simplicity of her sensations, and a task she
sometimes had in restoring and toning them,
after that sweet morning time in Eovio.



CHAPTEE II.

" THE PEINCESS EGERIA."

London, say what we will of it, is after all the
head of the British giant, and if not the live-
liest in bubbles, it is past competition the
largest broth-pot of brains anywhere simmer-
ing on the hob : over the steadiest of furnaces
too. And the oceans and the continents, as
you know, are perpetual and copious contri-
butors, either to the heating apparatus or to
the contents of the pot. Let grander similes
be sought. This one fits for the smoky recep-
tacle cherishing millions, magnetic to tens of
millions more, with its caked outside of grime,
and the inward substance incessantly kicking



'*THE PEINCESS EGERIA." 37

the lid, prankish, but never casting it ojff. A
good stew, you perceive ; not a parlous boiling.
Weak as we may be in our domestic cookery,
our political bas been sagaciously adjusted as
yet to catch the ardours of the furnace with-
out being subject to their volcanic activities.

That the social is also somewhat at fault,
we have proof in occasional outcries over the
absence of these or those particular persons
famous for inspiriting. It sticks and clogs.
The improvizing songster is missed, the convi-
vial essayist, the humorous Dean, the travelled
cynic, and he, the one of his day, the iridescent
Irishman, whose remembered repartees are a
feast, sharp and ringing, at divers tables de-
scending from the upper to the fat citizen's,
where, instead of comiag ia the sequence of
talk, they are exposed by blasting, like fossil
teeth of old Deluge sharks in monotonous
' walls of our chalk-quarries. Nor are these the
less welcome for the violence of their introduc-



38 DIAJNA OF THE CEOSSWAYS.

tion among a people glad to be set burning
rather briskly awbile by the most unexpected
of digs in the ribs. Dan Merion, to give an
example. That was Dan Morion's joke with
the watchman: and he said that other thing
to the Marquis of Kingsbury, when the latter
asked him if he had ever won a donkey-race.
And old Dan is dead,^ and we are the duller
for it ! which leads to the question : Is genius
hereditary ? And the affirmative and negative
are respectively maintained, rather against the
Yes in the dispute, until a member of the
audience speaks of Dan Morion's having left a
daughter reputed for a sparkling wit not much
below the level of his own. Why, are you
unaware that the Mrs. "Warwick of that scandal
case of "Warwick versus Dannisburgh was old
Dan Merion's girl and his only child ? It is
true ; for a friend had it from a man who had
it straight from Mr. Braddock, of the firm of
Braddoek, Thorpe and Simnel, her solicitors in



''the princess egeeia." 39

the action, who told Mm he could sit listening
to her for hours, and that she was as innocent
as day ; a wonderful combination of a good
woman and a clever woman and a real beauty.
Only her misfortune was to have a furiously
jealous husband, and they say he went mad
after hearing the verdict.

Diana was talked of in the London circles.
A witty woman is such salt that where she has
once been tasted she must perforce be missed
more than any of the absent, the dowering
heavens not having yet showered her like very
plentifully upon us. Then it was first heard
that Percy Dacier had been travelling with
lier. Miss Asper heard of it. Her uncle, Mr.
Quintin Manx, the millionaire, was an ac-
quaintance of the new Judge and titled digni-
tary, Sir Cramborne "Wathin, and she visited
Lady "Wathin, at whose table the report in the
journals of the Nile-boat party was mentioned.
Lady Wathin's table could dispense with witty



40 DIAKA OP THE CEOSSWAXS.

women, and, for that matter, witty men. The
intrusion of the spontaneous on the stereotyped
would haye clashed. She preferred, as hostess,
the old legal anecdotes sure of their laugh, and
the citations from the manufactories of fun in
the Press, which were current and instantly
inteUigihle to aU her guests. She smiled
suayely on an impromptu pun, because her ex-
perience of the humorous appreciation of it
by her guests bade her welcome the upstart.
Nothiag else impromptu was acceptable. Mrs.
"Warwick therefore was not missed by Lady
"Wathiu. "I have met her," she said. "I
confess I am not one of the fanatics about Mrs.
"Warwick. She has a sort of skill in getting
men to clamour. If you stoop to tickle them,
they will applaud. It is a way of winning a
reputation." When the ladies were separated
from the gentlemen by the stream of Claret,
Miss Asper heard Lady "Wathin speak of Mrs.
"Warwick again. An allusion to Lord Dannis-



"the peincess egeeia." 41

burgh's fit of illness in the House of Lords led
to her saying that there was no doubt he had
been fascinated, and that, in her opinion, Mrs.
"Warwick was a dangerous woman. Sir Cram-
borne knew something of Mr. Warwick: "Poor
man!" she added. A lady present put a
question concerning Mrs. Warwick's beauty.
"Yes," Lady Wathin said, "she has good
looks to aid her. Judging from what I hear
and have seen, her thirst is for notoriety.
Sooner or later we shall have her making a
noise, you may be certain. Yes, she has the
secret of dressing well — in the French style."

A simple newspaper report of the expedition
of a Nile-boat party could stir the Powers to
take her up and turn her on their wheel in this
manner.

But others of the sons and daughters of
London were regretting her prolonged absence.
The great and exclusive Whitmonby, who had
dined once at Lady Wathin's table, and vowed



42 DIANA OP THE CROSSWATS.

never more to repeat that offence to his pa-
tience, lamented bitterly to Henry "Wilmers
that the sole woman worthy of sitting at a
little Sunday evening dinner with the cream of
the choicest men of the time was away wasting
herself in that insane modern chase of the pic-
turesque ! He called her a perverted Cdlim^ne.
Eedworth had less to regret than the rest of
her male friends, as he was receiving at inter-
vals pleasant descriptive letters, besides manu-
script sheets of Antonia's new piece of compo-
sition, to correct the proofs for the press, and
he read them critically, he thought. He read
them with a watchful eye to guard them from
the critics. Antonia, whatever her faults as a
writer, was not one of the order whose Muse is
the Public Taste. She did at least draw her
inspiration from herseK, and there was much
to be feared in her work, if a sale was the ob-
ject. Otherwise Eedworth's highly critical
perusal led him flatly to admire. This was



"the peincess egbeia." 43

like her, and that was like her, and
here and there a phrase gave him the
very play of her mouth, the flash of her
eyes. Could he possibly wish, or bear, to
have anything altered ? But she had reason
to desire an extended sale of the work. Her
aim, in the teeth of her independent style, was
at the means of independence — a feminine
method of attempting to conciliate contraries ;
and after despatching the last sheets to the
printer, he meditated upon the several ways
which might serve to assist her ; the main way
running thus in his mind : — We have a work
of genius. Genius is good for the public.
What is good for the public should be recom-
mended by the critics. It should be. How
then to come at them to get it done ? As he
was not a member of the honourable literary
craft, and regarded its arcana altogether ex-
ternally, it may be confessed of him that he
deemed the Incorruptible corruptible ; — not, of



44 DIAifA OP THE CEOSSWATS.

cotirse, with filthy coin, slid into sticky palms.
Critics are Iniman, and exceedingly, beyond
the common lot, when touched ; and they are
excited by mysterious hints of loftiness in
authorship ; by rumours of veiled loveliness ;
whispers of a general anticipation; and also
Editors can jog them. Eedworth was rising to
be a Eailway King of a period soon to gKtter
with rails, iron in the concrete, golden in the
visionary. He had already his Court, much
against his will. The powerful magnetic at-
tractions of those who can help the world to
fortune, was exercised by him in spite of his
disgust of sycophants. He dropped words to
right and left of a coming work by Antonia.
And who was Antonia ? — Ah ! there hung the
riddle. — An exalted personage ? — So much so
that he dared not name her even in confidence
to ladies ; he named the publishers. To men
he said he was at liberty to speak of her
only as the most beautiful woman of her time.



''the peincess egeria." 45

His courtiers of both, sexes were recommended
to read the new story, The Peincess Egeeia.
Oddly, one great lady of his Court had heard
a forthcoming work of this title spoken of by
Percy Dacier, not a man to read silly fiction,
unless tbere was meaning behind the lines :
that is, rich scandal of the aristocracy, diversi-
fied by stinging epigrams to the address of
discernible personages. She talked of The
Peincess Egeria : nay, laid her finger on
the identical Princess. Others followed her.
Dozens were soon flying with the torch : a
new work immediately to be published from
the pen of the Duchess of Stars ! — And the
Princess who lends her title to the book is a
living portrait of the Princess of Highest Emi-
nence, the Hope of all Civilization. — Orders for
copies of The Princess Egeria reached the
astonished publishers before the book was
advertized.

Speaking to editors, Eedworth complimented



46 DIAIfA OF THE CEOSSWATS.

them with friendly intimations of the real
authorship of the remarkable work appearing.
He used a certain penetrative mildness of tone
in saying that " he hoped the book wotdd suc-
ceed:" it deserved to; it was original; but
the originality might teU against it. All would
depend upon a favourable launching of such a
book. " Mrs. Warwick ? Mrs. Warwick ? "
said the most influential of editors, Mr. Marcus
Tonans ; " what ! that singularly handsome
woman ? . . . . The Dannisburgh affair ? . . . .
She's Whitmonby's heroine. If she writes
as cleverly as she talks, her work is worth
trumpeting." He promised to see that it went
into good hands for the review, and a prompt
review — an essential point ; none of your long
digestions of the contents.

Diana's indefatigable friend had fair assur-
ances that her book would be noticed before
it dropped dead to the public appetite for
novelty. He was anxious next, notwithstand-



"the pkincess egeeia." 47

ing Ms admiration of tlie originality of tlie
conception and the cleverness of the writing,
lest the Literary Eeviews should fail "to do it
justice : " he used the term ; for if they wounded
her, they would take the pleasure out of suc-
cess ; and he had always present to him that
picture of the beloved woman kneeling at the
fire-grate at The Crossways, which made the
thought of her suffering any wound his per-
sonal anguish, so crucially sweet and saintly
had her image then been stamped on him.
He bethought him, in consequence, while sit-
ting in the House of Commons, engaged upon
the afi'airs of the nation, and honestly engaged,
for he was a vigilant worker — that the Irish
Secretary, Charles Eaiuer, with whom he stood
in amicable relations, had an interest, to the
extent of reputed ownership, in the chief of
the Literary Eeviews. He saw Eainer on the
benches, and marked him to speak to him.
Looking for him shortly afterward, the man



48 DIANA OF THE CROSSWATS.

■was gone. " Off to tlie Opera, if lie's not too
late for the drop," a neighbour said, smiling
queerly, as though, he ought to know; and
then Eedworth recollected current stories of
Earner's fantastical deyotion to the popular
prima donna of the angelical voice. He hurried
to the Opera and met the yomit, and heard in
the crush-room how divine she had been that
night. A fellow member of the House, toler-
ably intimate with Eainer, informed him,
between frightful stomachic roulades of her
final aria, of the likeliest place where Eainer
might be found when the Opera was over : not
at his Club, nor at his chambers : on one of the
bridges — "Westminster, he fancied.

There was no need for Eedworth to run
hunting the man at so late an hour, but he
was drawn on by the similarity in dissimilarity
of this devotee of a woman, who could worship
her at a distance, and talk of her to everybody.
Not till he beheld Eainer's tall figure cutting



"the peincess egeeia." 49

tlie bridge-parapet, with a star over his
shoulder, did he reflect on the views the other
might entertain of the nocturnal solicitation to
see 'justice done ' to a lady's new book in a
particular Eeview, and the absurd outside of
the request was immediately smothered by the
natural simplicity and pressing necessity of its
inside.

He crossed the road and said, ''Ah?" in
recognition. "Were you at the Opera this
evening ?"

"Oh, just at the end," said Eainer, pacing
forward, "It's a fine night. Did you hear
her?"

" No ; too late,"

Kainer pressed ahead, to meditate by him-
self, as was his wont. Finding Eedworth
beside him, he monologuized in his depths :
" They'll kill her. She puts her soul into it,
gives her blood. There's no failing of the
voice. You see how it wears her. She's

VOL, II. B



60 DIANA OP THE CEOSSWAYS.

doomed. Haifa year's rest on Como . . • .
somewliere .... she miglit be saved ! She
won't refuse to work."

"Haye you spoken to her?" said Eed-
worth.

" And next to Berlin ! Yienna ! A horse

would be I ? I don't know her," Eainer

replied. " Some of their women stand it.
She's delicately built. Tou can't treat a lute
like a drum without destroying the instrument.
We look on at a murder ! "

The haggard prospect from that step of the
climax checked his delivery.

Eedworth knew him to be a sober man in
ofSce, a man with a head for statecraft : he had
made a weighty speech in the House a "couple
of hours back. This Opera cantatrice, no
beauty, though gentle, thriUing, winning, was
his corner of romance.

"Do you come here often ? " he asked.

"Tes, I can't sleep."



51

"London at night, from tlie bridge, looks
fine. By the way . . . ."

"It's lonely here, that's the advantage,"
said Eainer ; "I keep silver in my pocket for
poor girls going to their homes, and I'm left in
peace. An hour later, there's the dawn down
yonder."

"By the way," Eedv/orth interposed, and
was told that after these nights of her singing
she never slept till morning. He swallowed
the fact, sympathized, and resumed : " I want
a small favour."

" No business here, please ! "
" Not a bit of it. You know Mrs. Warwick.
.... Ton know of her. She's publishing a
book. I want you to use your influence to get
it noticed quickly, if you can."

"Warwick? Oh, yes, a handsome woman.
Ah, yes ; the Dannisburgh affair, yes. What
did I hear!— They say she's thick with
Percy Dacier at present. Who was talking



52 DIANA OF THE CROSSWATS.

of her ! Yes, old Lady Dacier. So slie's a

friend of yours ?"

" Slie's an old friend," said Eedwortli, com-

posing Mmself ; for the dose he had taken was

not of the sweetest, and no protestations could be

uttered by a man of the world to repel a charge

of tattlers. " The truth is, her book is clever.

I have read the proofs. She must have an

income, and she won't apply to her husband,

and literature should help her, if she's fairly

treated. She's Irish by descent; Merion's

daughter, witty as her father. It's odd you

haven't met her. The mere writing of the book



Online LibraryGeorge MeredithDiana of the crossways; a novel. Considerably enlarged from The Fortnightly review → online text (page 15 of 38)