George Meredith.

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

. (page 28 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge MeredithDiana of the crossways; a novel. Considerably enlarged from The Fortnightly review → online text (page 28 of 38)
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must consent to be Busbied for the sake of th.(
instructive recreations."

"A curious idea, tbougb," said Sullivai
Smith, " that some of the grand instructivi
figures were in their day colossal bores ! "

" So you see the marvel of the poet's craft a
last ? " Diana smiled on him, and he vowed
" I'll read nothing else for a month ! " Youn<
Ehodes bade him beware of a deluge in pro
claiming it.

They rose from table at ten, with the satis
faction of knowing that they had not argued
had not wrangled, had never stagnated, an(
were digestiugly refreshed; as it should h
among grown members of the civilized world
who mean to practise philosophy, making th
hour of the feast a balanced recreation and i
regeneration of body and mind.


"Eyenings like these are worth a pilgrim-
age," 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 soon."

She was pleased by hearing Tony ask her
whether she did not think that Arthur Ehodes
had borne himself well ; for it breathed of her
simply friendly soul.

The gentlemen followed Lady Dunstane in a
troop, Dacier yieldiag perforce the last adieu
to young Ehodes.

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 com-
position. Beginning to dweU on The Man of
Two Minds, she glanced at the woman like-
wise divided, if not similarly; and she sat
brooding. She did not accuse her marriage of



being the first fatal step : lier error was th(
step into Society without the wherewithal t(
support her position there. Girls of her kind
airing their wings above the sphere of thei
birth, are cryingly adventuresses. As adven
turesses they are treated. Vain to be shrewisl
with the world ! Eather let us turn and scolc
our nature for irreflectively rushing to th(
cream and honey ! Had she subsisted on hei
small income in a country cottage, this task oJ
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 con-
trasted with the fly in the web? She had
chosen to be one of the flies of life.

Instead of running to composition, hei
mind was eloquent with a sermon to Arthui
Ehodes, in Eedworth's vein; more sym-
pathetically, 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-
getters, she pulled out a drawer where her
bank-book lay, and observed it contempla-
tively ; 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 per-
suaded, with three parts of the book in his


hands, to come to the rescue. "Work ! roarei
old Debit, the sinner turned slavedriver.

Diana smoothed her wrists, compressing he
lips not to laugh at the simulation of an atti
tude of combat. She took up her pen.

And strange to think, she could have flowe(
away at once on the Stuff that Danvers delightec
to read ! — wicked princes, rogue noblemen
titled wantons, daisy and lily innocents, traitor
ous marriages, murders, a gallows dangling i
corpse dotted by a moon, and a woman bowec
beneath. She could have written, with the
certaiaty 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 whj
should they not read it ? Her present mood
was a craving for excitement ; for incident,
wild action, the primitive machinery of oui
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, not allowing
her to suspect him less devoted to her person ;
while she, an exacting idol, will drink any
quantity of idealization as long as he starts it
from a full acceptance of her acknowledged
qualities. Diana could once have tripped the
scene along airily. She stared at the opening
sentence, a heavy bit of moralized manufacture,
fit to yoke beside that on her view of her


" It has come to this — I have no head," sh

And is our public likely to muster th
slightest taste for comic analysis that does nc
tumble to farce? The doubt reduced he
whole MS. to a leaden weight, composed fo
sinking. Percy's addiction to burlesque was i
further hindrance, for she did not perceive ho^v
her comedy could be strained to gratify it.
There was a knock, and Danvers entered.
"You have apparently a liking for lat(
hours," observed her mistress. " I told yoi
to go to bed."

" It is Mr. Dacier," said Danvers.
" He wishes to see me ? "
" Yes, ma'am. He apologized for disturbing

" He must have some good reason."
AVTiat could it be ! Diana's glass approved
her appearance. She pressed the black swell
of hair above her temples, rather amazed,
curious, inclined to a beating of the heart.



Dacier was pacing about the drawing-room,
as in a place too narrow for him.

Diana stood at the door. " Have you for-
gotten to tell me anything I ought to know ?"

He came up to her and shut the door softly
behind her, holding her hand. " You are near
it. I returned .... But tell me first : — You
were slightly under a shadow this evening,

"Did I show it?"

She was growing a little suspicious, but this


cunning touch of lover-like interest dispersec
the shade.

" To me you did."

" It was unpardonable to let it be seen."

" No one else could have observed it."

Her woman's heart was thrilled; for shf
had concealed the dejection from Emma.

" It was nothing," she said ; " a knot in the
book I am writing. We poor authors are
worried now and then. But you ? "

His face rippled by degrees brightly, tc
excite a reflection ia hers.

" Shall I tune you with good news ? ]
think it will excuse me for coming back."

" Very good news ? "

" Brave news, as far as it goes."

" Then it concerns you ! "

" Me, you, the country."

" Oh ! do I guess ? " cried Diana. " Bu1
speak, pray; I burn."

" What am I to have for telling it ? "


"Put no price. You know my heart. I
guess— or fancy. It relates to your Chief? "

Dacier smiled in a way to show the lock
without the key; and she was insensibly
drawn nearer to him, speculating on the

" Try again," said he, keenly appreciating
the blindness to his motive of her studious
dark eyes, and her open-lipped breathing.

" Percy ! I must be right."

" "Well, you are. He has decided ! "

" Oh ! that is the bravest possible. When
did you hear ? "

" He informed me of his final decision this

"And you were charged with the secret all
the evening, and betrayed not a sign ! I com-
pliment the diplomatic statesman. But when
will it be public ? "

" He calls Parliament together the first week
of next month."


"The proposal is—? No more compro-
mises ! "

« Total ! "

Diana clapped hands ; and her aspect of en-
thusiasm was intoxicating. " He is a wise
man and a gallant Minister ! And while yon
were reading me through, I was blind to you,"
she added meltingly.

" I have not made too much of it ?" said he,

" Indeed you have not."

She was radiant with her dark lightnings,
yet visibly subject to him under the speU oi
the news he had •artfully lengthened out t(
excite and overbalance her : — and her enthU'
siasm was all pointed to his share in the alterec
situation, as he well knew and was flattered ii

" So Tony is no longer dejected ? I though
I could freshen you and get my excuse."

" Oh ! a high wind will make a dead lea
fly like a bird. I soar. Now I do feel proud


I have longed for it — to liave you leading the
country : not tugged at like a waggon with a
treble team uphill. We two are a month in
advance of all England. You stand by him ?
— only to hear it, for I am sure of it ! "
" We stand or fall together."
Her glowing look doated on the faithful

"And if the henchman is my hero, I am but
a waiting-woman. But I must admire his
" Tony ! "

"Ah ! no," she joined her hands, wondering
whither her armed majesty had fled; "no
softness ! no payments ! Flatter me by letting
me think you came to a head — not a silly
woman's heart, with one name on it, as it has
not to betray. I have been frank ; you need
no proofs ..." The supplicating hands left
her figure an easy prey to the storm, and were
crushed in a knot on her bosom. She could


only shrink. "Ah! Percy .... you und(
my praise of you — my pride in receiving you.'
They were speechless perforce.
" Tou see, Tony, my dearest, I am flesh anc
blood after all."
" You drive me to be ice and door-bolts ! "
Her eyes broke over him reproachfully.
" It is not so much to grant," he murmured
" It changes everything between us."
" Not me. It binds me the faster."
" It makes me a loathsome hypocrite."
" But, Tony ! is it so much? "
" Not if you value it low."
" But how long do you keep me in this rag-
puppet's state of suspension ? "
" Patience."

"Dangling and swinging day and night ! "

" The rag-puppet shall be animated and re

paid if I have life. I wish to respect my hero

Have a little mercy. Our day will come

perhaps as wonderfully as this wonderful news


My friend, drop your hands. Have you for-
gotten who I am ? I want to think, Percy !"

" But you are mine."

" You are abasing your own."

" No, by heaven ! "

"Worse, dear friend; you are loweruig
yourself to the woman who loves you."

"You must imagine me superhuman."

" I worship you — or did."

"Be reasonable, Tony. What harm ! Surely
a trifle of recompense ? Just to let me feel I
live ! You own you love me. Then I am
your lover."

"My dear friend Percy, when I have con-
sented to be your paramour, this kind of treat-
men of me will not want apologies."

The plain speaking from the wound he dealt
her was effective with a gentleman who would
never have enjoyed his privileges had he been
of a natxire unsusceptible to her distinct wish
and meaning.


He sighed. " You know how my famib
bother me. The woman I want, the onb
woman I could' marry, I can't have."

" Tou have her in soul."

" Body and soul, it must be ! I believe yoi
were made without fire."

*' Perhaps. The element is omitted with somi
of us : happily, some think. Now we can con
verse. There seems to be a measurement of dis-
tances required before men and women have i
chance with their brains :^or before a man wil
understand that he can be advised and seconded
When will the Cabinet be consulted ?"

" Oh, a few days. Promise me . . ."

" Any honourable promise ! "

" You will not keep me waiting longer thai
the end of the Session ? "

" Probably there will be an appeal to th<

" In any case, promise me : have some com


" Ah, the compassion ! You do not choose
your words, Percy, or forget who is the

"It is Tony who forgets the time she has
kept her lover dangling. Promise, and I will

" You hurt my hand, sir."

" I could crack the knuckles. Promise ! "

" Come to me to-morrow."

" To-morrow you are in your armour —
triple brass ! All creation cries out for now.
We are mounted on barbs and you talk of

" Arthur Ehodes might have spoken that."

" Ehodes ! " he shook off the name in disgust.
" Pet him as much as you like ; don't . . ."
he was unable to phrase his objection.

She cooled him further with eulogies of the
chevaleresque manner of speaking which young
Mr. Ehodes could assume ; till for very wrath
of blood — not jealousy : he had none of any


man, -with her ; and not passion ; the little h(
had was a fitful gust — he punished her cold
ness by taking what hastily could be gathered
Her shape was a pained submission; an(
she thought : Where is the woman who eve:
knows a man ! — as women do think when on(
of their artifices of evasion with a lover, or th(
trick of imposingness, has apparently been sub
duing him. But the pain was less than pre-
viously, for she was now mistress of herself
fearing no abysses.

Dacier released her quickly, saying : " If 1
come to-morrow, shall I have the promise ? "
She answered : " Be sure I shall not lie."
" Why not let me have it before I go ? "
"My friend, to tell you the truth, you have
utterly distracted me."

"Forgive me if I did hurt your hand."
" The hand ? You might strike it off."
" I can't be other than a mortal lover, Tony
There's the fact."


""No; the fault is mine when I am de-
graded. I trust you: there's the error."

The trial for Dacier was the sight of her
quick-lifting bosom under the mask of cold
language : an attraction and repulsion in
union; a delirium to any lover impelled to
trample on weak defences. But the evident
pain he inflicted moved his pity, which helped
to restore his conception of the beauty of her
character. She stood so nobly meek. And
she was never prudish, only self-respecting.
Although the great news he imparted had
roused an ardent thirst for holiday and a dash
out of harness, and he could hardly check it,
he yielded her the lead.

"Trust me you may," he said. "But you
know we are one. The world has given you
to me, me to you. Why should we be
asunder ? There's no reason in it."

She replied : " But still I wish to burn a
little incense in honour of myself, or else I



cannot live. It is the truth. You make Death
my truer friend, and at this moment I would
willingly go out. You would respect me more
dead than alive. I could better pardon you

He pleaded for the red mouth's pardon, re-
motely irritated by the suspicion that she
swayed him overmuch : and he had deserved
the small benevolences and donations of love,
crumbs and heavenly dews ! ,

"Not a word of pardon," said Diana. "I
shall never count an iota against you ' in the
dark backward and abysm of Time.' This news
is great, and I have sunk beneath it. Com(
to-morrow. Then we will speak upon what-
ever you can prove rational. The hour is get
ting late."

Dacier took a draught of her dark beautj
with the crimson he had kindled over tin
cheeks. Her lips were firmly closed, her eye
grave ; dry, but seeming to waver tearfully ii


their heavy fulness. He could not doubt her
love of him ; and although chafing at the idea
that she swayed him absurdly — beyond the
credible in his world of wag-tongues — he re-
sumed his natural soberness, as a garment, not
very uneasily fitting : whence it ensued — for
so are we influenced by the garb we put on us
— that his manly sentiment of revolt in being
condemned to play second, was repressed by
the refreshment breathed on him from her
lofty character, the pure jewel profi'ered to his
inward ownership.

"Adieu for the night," he said, and she
smiled. He pressed for a pressure of her hand.
She brightened her smile instead, and said
only : " Good night, Percy."



Danvers accompanied Mr. Dacier to tli(
house-door. Climbing the stairs, she founc
her mistress in the drawing-room still.

" You must be cold, ma'am," she said
glancing at the fire-grate.

" Is it a frost ? " said Diana.

" It's midnight and midwinter, ma'am."

" Has it struck midnight ? "

The mantel-piece clock said five minutes

" You had better go to bed, Danvers, o]
you will lose your bloom. Stop ; you are i


faithful soul. Great things are happening and
I am agitated. Mr. Dacier has told me news.
He came back purposely."

"Yes, ma'am," said Danvers. "He had a
great deal to tell ? "

" "Well, he had." Diana coloured at the
first tentative impertinence she had heard
from her maid. "What is the secret of you,
Danvers ? What attaches you to me ? "

" I'm sure I don't know, ma'am. I'm

" And you think me a romantic object ? "

" I'm sure I can't say, ma'am. I'd rather
serve you than any other lady ; and I wish
you was happy."

" Do you suppose I am unhappy ? "

" I'm sure — but if I may speak, ma'am : so
handsome and clever a lady ! and young ! I
can't bear to see it."

" Tush, you silly woman. You read your
melting tales, and imagine. I must go and


write for money : it is my profession. And I
haven't an idea in my head. This news dis-
turbs me. Euin if I don't write ; so I must.
—I can't ! "

Diana beheld the ruia. She clasped the
great news for succour. Great indeed : and
known but to her of all the outer world. She
was ahead of all — ahead of Mr. Tonans !

The visionary figure of Mr. Tonans petrified
by the great news, drinMng it, and confessing
her ahead of him in the race for secrets, arose
toweringly. She had not ever seen the Editoi
in his den at midnight. With the rumble o:
his machinery about him, and fresh matte]
arriviug and flying into the printing-press, ii
must be like being in the very furnace-hissing
of Events : an Olympian Council held in Vul-
can's smithy. Consider the bringing to the
Jove there news of such magnitude as t(
stupefy him ! He, too, who had admonishec
her rather sneeringly for staleness in her in-


formation. But this news, great though it
M^as, and throbbing like a heart plucked out of
a breathing body, throbbed but for a brief
term, a day or two ; after which, great though
it was, immense, it relapsed into a common
organ, a possession of the multitude, merely
historically curious.

"Ton are not afraid of the streets at night?"
Diana said to her maid, as they were going

"Not when we're driving, ma'am," was the

The Man of Two Minds faced his creatrix
in the dressing-room, still delivering that most
ponderous of sentences — a smothering pillow !

I have mistaken my vocation, thought Diana :
I am certainly the flattest proser who ever
penned a line.

She sent Danvers into the bedroom on a
trifling errand, unable to bear the woman's
proximity, and oddly unwilling to dismiss her.


She pressed her hands on her eyelids
Would Percy have humiliated her so if he ha(
respected her ? He took advantage of th^
sudden loss of her habitual queenly initiativi
at the wonderful news to debase and staii
their intimacy. The lover's behaviour wai
judged by her sensations : she felt humiliated
plucked violently from the throne where sh(
had long been sitting securely, very proudly
That was at an end. If she was to be bette]
than the loathsomest of hypocrites, she mus1
deny him his admission to the house. Anc
then what was her life !

Something that was pressing her l6w, shf
knew not how, and left it unquestioned, in-
cited her to exaggerate the indignity her pride
had suffered. She was a dethroned woman.
Deeper within, an unmasked actress, she said.
Oh, she forgave him ! But clearly he took her
for the same as other women consenting to
receive a privileged visitor. And sounding


Herself to the soul, was sKe so magnificently
better ? Her face flamed. She hugged her
arms at her breast to quiet the beating, and
dropped them when she surprised herself em-
bracing the memory. He had brought poli-
tical news, and treated her as — name the
thing ! Not designedly, it might be : her
position invited it, ' The world had given her
to him.' The world is always a prophet of the
mire ; but the world is no longer an utterly
mistaken world. She shook before it.

She asked herself why Percy or the world
should think highly of an adventuress, who
was a denounced wife, a wretched author, and
on the verge of bankruptcy. She was an
adventuress. When she held The Crossways
she had at least a bit of solid footing : now
gone. An adventuress without an idea in her
head : witness her dullard, The Man of Two
Minds, at his work of sermonizing his mis-


The tremendous pressure upon our con
soiousness of the material cause, when we fin(
ourselves cast among the breakers of mora
difficulties and endeavour to elude that mud
visaged monster, chiefly by feigning uncon
sciousness, was an experience of Diana's, ii
the crisis to which she was wrought. Hei
wits were too acute, her nature too direct, t(
permit of a lengthened confusion. She laic
the scourge on her flesh smartly. — I gave hin
these privileges because I am weak as th(
weakest, base as my enemies proclaim me. 1
covered my woman's vile weakness with ar
air of intellectual serenity that he, choosing
his moment, tore away, exposing me to myself,
as well as to him, the most ordinary of rep-
tiles. I kept up a costly household for the
sole purpose of seeing him and having him
near me. Hence this bitter need of money !
— Either it must be money or disgrace. Money
would assist her quietly to amend and com-


plete her work. Yes, and this want of money,
in a review of the last two years, was the
material cause of her recklessness. It was,
her revived and uprising pudency declared,
the principal, the only cause. Mere want of

And she had a secret worth thousands !
The secret of a day, no more : anybody's
secret after some four and twenty hours.

She smiled at the fancied elongation and
stare of the features of Mr. Tonans in his edi-
torial midnight den.

What if he knew it and could cap it with
something novel and stranger ? Hardly. But
it was an inciting suggestion.

She began to tremble as a lightning-flash
made visible her fortunes recovered, dis-
grace averted, hours of peace for composition
stretching before her : a summer afternoon's

It seemed a duel between herself and Mr.


Tonans, and she sure of her triumph. — Dians
victrix !

" Danvers ! " she called.

"Is it to undress, ma'am?" said the maid
entering to her.

" Tou are not afraid of the streets, you tel
me. I have to go down to the City, I think
It is urgent. Yes, I must go. If I were t(
impart the news to you, your head woidd b(
a toUiag bell for a month."

" Tou will take a cab, ma'am.''

" We must walk out to find one. I must go
though I should have to go on foot. Quid
with bonnet and shawl ; mufle up warmly
We have never been out so late : but does ii
matter? You're a brave soul, I'm sure, anc
you shall have your fee."

" I don't care for money, ma'am."

" When we get home you shall kiss me."

Danvers clothed her mistress in furs and rid
wrappings : Not paid for ! was Diana's despe


rate thought, and a wrong one ; but she had
to seem the precipitated bankrupt and suc-
ceeded. She was near being it. The boiling
of her secret carried her through the streets
rapidly and unobservantly except of such small
things as the glow of the lights on the pave-

Online LibraryGeorge MeredithDiana of the crossways; a novel. Considerably enlarged from The Fortnightly review → online text (page 28 of 38)