Mrs. Humphry Ward.

The Testing of Diana Mallory online

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recalled with discomfort certain collisions of his youth; certain
disappointments at school and college he had inflicted on his father's
ambition; certain lectures and gibes from that strong mouth, in his
early manhood. Absurd! If his father had had to do with a really
spendthrift and unsatisfactory son, there might have been some sense in
it. But for these trifles - these suspicions - these foolish notions of a
doctrinaire - to inflict this stigma and this yoke on him all his days!

Suddenly his wanderings along the moon-lit hill came to a stand-still.
For he recognized the hollow in the chalk - the gnarled thorn - the wide
outlook. He stood gazing about him - a shamed lover; conscious of a dozen
contradictory feelings. Beautiful and tender Diana! - "Stick to her,
Oliver! - she is worth it!" Chide's eager and peremptory tone smote on
the inward ear. Of course he would stick to her. The only thing which it
gave him any pleasure to remember in this nightmare of a day was his own
answer to Ferrier's suggestion that Diana might release him: "Do you
imagine I could be such a hound as to let her?" As he said it, he had
been conscious that the words rang well; that he had struck the right
attitude, and done the right thing. Of course he had done the right
thing! What would he, or any other decent person, have thought of a man
who could draw back from his word, for such a cause?

No! - he resigned himself. He would do nothing mean and ungentlemanly. A
policy of waiting and diplomacy should be tried. Ferrier might be of
some use. But, if nothing availed, he must marry and make the best of
it. He wondered to what charitable societies his mother would leave
her money!

Slowly he strolled back along the hill. That dim light, high up on the
shrouded walls of Beechcote, seemed to go with him, softly, insistently
reminding him of Diana. The thought of her moved him deeply. He longed
to have her in his arms, to comfort her, to feel her dependent on him
for the recovery of joy and vitality. It was only by an obstinate and
eager dwelling upon her sweetness and charm that he could protect
himself against the rise of an invading wave of repugnance and
depression; the same repugnance, the same instinctive longing to escape,
which he had always felt, as boy or man, in the presence of sickness, or
death, or mourning.

* * * * *

Marsham had been long asleep in his queer little room at "The Green
Man." The last lights were out in the village, and the moon had set.
Diana stole out of bed; Muriel must not hear her, Muriel whose eyes were
already so tired and tear-worn with another's grief. She went to the
window, and, throwing a shawl over her, she knelt there, looking out.
She was dimly conscious of stars, of the hill, the woods; what she
really _saw_ was a prison room as she was able to imagine it, and her
mother lying there - her young mother - only four years older than she,
Diana, was now. Or again she saw the court of law - the judge in the
black cap - and her mother looking up. Fanny had said she was small and
slight - with dark hair.

The strange frozen horror of it made tears - or sleep - or
rest - impossible. She did not think much of Marsham; she could hardly
remember what she had written to him. Love was only another anguish. Nor
could it protect her from the images which pursued her. The only thought
which seemed to soothe the torture of imagination was the thought
stamped on her brain tissue by the long inheritance of centuries - the
thought of Christ on Calvary. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken
me?" The words repeated themselves again and again. She did not pray in
words. But her agony crept to the foot of what has become through the
action and interaction of two thousand years, the typical and
representative agony of the world, and, clinging there, made wild
appeal, like the generations before her, to a God in whose hand lie the
creatures of His will.

* * * * *

"Mrs. Colwood said I might come and say good-bye to you," said Fanny
Merton, holding her head high.

She stood on the threshold of Diana's little sitting-room, looking in.
There was an injured pride in her bearing, balanced by a certain anxiety
which seemed to keep it within bounds.

"Please come in," said Diana.

She rose with difficulty from the table where she was forcing herself to
write a letter. Had she followed her own will she would have been up at
her usual time and down to breakfast. But she had turned faint while
dressing, and Mrs. Colwood had persuaded her to let some tea be brought
up-stairs.

Fanny came in, half closing the door.

"Well, I'm off," she said, flushing. "I dare say you won't want to see
_me_ again."

Diana came feebly forward, clinging to the chairs.

"It wasn't your fault. I must have known - some time."

Fanny looked at her uneasily.

"Well, of course, that's true. But I dare say I - well I'm no good at
beating about the bush, never was! And I was in a temper, too - that was
at the bottom of it."

Diana made no reply. Her eyes, magnified by exhaustion and pallor,
seemed to be keeping a pitiful shrinking watch lest she should be hurt
again - past bearing. It was like the shrinking of a child that has been
tortured, from its tormentor.

"You are going to London?"

"Yes. You remember those Devonshire people I went to stay with? One of
the girls is up in London with her aunt. I'm going to board with them
a bit."

"My lawyers will send the thousand pounds to Aunt Merton when they have
arranged for it," said Diana, quietly. "Is that what you wish?"

A look of relief she could not conceal slipped into Fanny's countenance.

"You're going to give it us - after all?" she said, stumbling over the
words.

"I promised to give it you."

Fanny fidgeted, but even her perceptions told her that further thanks
would be out of place.

"Mother'll write to you, of course. And you'd better send fifty pounds
of it to me. I can't go home under three months, and I shall run short."

"Very well," said Diana.

"Good-bye," said Fanny, coming a little nearer. Then she looked round
her, with a first genuine impulse of something like remorse - if the word
is not too strong. It was rather, perhaps, a consciousness of having
managed her opportunities extremely badly. "I'm sorry you didn't like
me." she said, abruptly, "and I didn't mean to be nasty."

"Good-bye." Diana held out her hand; yet trembling involuntarily as she
did so. Fanny broke out:

"Diana, why do you look like that? It's all so long ago - you can't do
anything - you ought to try and forget it."

"No, I can't do anything," said Diana, withdrawing her right hand from
her cousin, and clasping both on her breast. "I can only - "

But the word died on her lips; she turned abruptly away, adding,
hurriedly, in another tone: "If you ever want anything, you know we're
always here - Mrs. Colwood and I. Please give us your address."

"Thanks." Fanny retreated; but could not forbear, as she reached the
door, from letting loose the thought which burned her inner mind. She
turned round deliberately. "Mr. Marsham'll cheer you up, Diana! - you'll
see. Of course, he'll behave like a gentleman. It won't make a bit of
difference to you. I'll just ask Mrs. Colwood to tell me when it's all
fixed up."

Diana said nothing. She was hanging over the fire, and her face was
hidden. Fanny waited a moment, then opened the door and went.

* * * * *

As soon as the carriage conveying Miss Merton to the station had safely
driven off, Mrs. Colwood, who, in no conventional sense, had been
speeding the parting guest, ran up-stairs again to Diana's room.

"She's gone?" said Diana, faintly. She was standing by the window. As
she spoke the carriage came into view at a bend of the drive and
disappeared into the trees beyond. Mrs. Colwood saw her shiver.

"Did she leave you her address?"

"Yes. Don't think any more about her. I have something to tell you."

Diana's painful start was the measure of her state. Muriel Colwood put
her arms tenderly round the slight form.

"Mr. Marsham will be here directly. He came last night - too late - I
would not let him see you. Ah!" She released Diana, and made a rapid
step to the window. "There he is! - coming by the fields."

Diana sat down, as though her limbs trembled under her.

"Did you send for him?"

"Yes. You forgive me?"

"Then - he hasn't got my letter."

She said it without looking up, as though to herself.

Mrs. Colwood knelt down beside her.

"It is right he should be here," she said, with energy, almost with
command; "it is the right, natural thing."

Diana stooped, mechanically, and kissed her; then sprang up, quivering,
the color rushing into her cheeks. "Why, he mayn't even know!" She threw
a piteous look at her companion.

"He does know, dear - he does know."

Diana composed herself. She lifted her hands to a tress of hair that was
unfastened, and put it in its place. Instinctively she straightened her
belt, her white collar. Mrs. Colwood noticed that she was in black
again, in one of the dresses of her mourning.

* * * * *

When Marsham turned, at the sound of the latch, to see Diana coming in,
all the man's secret calculations and revolts were for the moment
scattered and drowned in sheer pity and dismay. In a few short hours can
grief so work on youth? He ran to her, but she held up a hand which
arrested him half-way. Then she closed the door, but still stood near
it, as though she feared to move, or speak, looking at him with her
appealing eyes.

"Oliver!"

He held out his hands.

"My poor, poor darling!"

She gave a little cry, as though some tension broke. Her lips almost
smiled; but she held him away from her.

"You're not - not ashamed of me?"

His protests were the natural, the inevitable protests that any man with
red blood in his veins must need have uttered, brought face to face with
so much sorrow and so much beauty. She let him make them, while her left
hand gently stroked and caressed his right hand which held hers; yet all
the time resolutely turning her face and her soft breast away, as though
she dreaded to be kissed, to lose will and identity in the mere delight
of his touch. And he felt, too, in some strange way, as though the blow
that had fallen upon her had placed her at a distance from him; not
disgraced - but consecrate.

"Will you please sit down and let us talk?" she said, after a moment,
withdrawing herself.

She pushed a chair forward, and sat down herself. The tears were in her
eyes, but she brushed them away unconsciously.

"If papa had told me!" she said, in a low voice - "if he had only told
me - before he died."

"It was out of love," said Marsham; "but yes - it would have been
wiser - kinder - to have spoken."

She started.

"Oh no - not that. But we might have sorrowed - together. And he was
always alone - he bore it all alone - even when he was dying."

"But you, dearest, shall not bear it alone!" cried Marsham, finding her
hand again and kissing it. "My first task shall be to comfort you - to
make you forget."

He thought she winced at the word "forget."

"When did you first guess - or know?"

He hesitated - then thought it best to tell the truth.

"When we were in the lime-walk."

"When you asked - her name? I remember" - her voice broke - "how you wrung
my hand! And you never had any suspicion before?"

"Never. And it makes no difference, Diana - to you and me - none. I want
you to understand that now - at once."

She looked at him, smiling tremulously. His words became him; even in
her sorrow her eyes delighted in his shrewd thin face; in the fair hair,
prematurely touched with gray, and lying heavily on the broad brow; in
the intelligence and distinction of his whole aspect.

"You are so good to me - " she said, with a little sob. "No - no! - please,
dear Oliver! - we have so much to talk of." And again she prevented him
from taking her in his arms. "Tell me" - she laid her hand on his
persuasively: "Sir James, of course, knew from the beginning?"

"Yes - from the beginning - that first night at Tallyn. He is coming down
this afternoon, dearest. He knew you would want to see him. But it may
not be till late."

"After all, I know so little yet," she said, bewildered. "Only - only
what Fanny told me."

"What made her tell you?"

"She was angry with me - I forget about what. I did not understand at
first what she was saying. Oliver" - she grasped his hand tightly, while
the lids dropped over the eyes, as though she would shut out even his
face as she asked her question - "is it true that - that - the death
sentence - "

"Yes," said Marsham, reluctantly. "But it was at once commuted. And
three weeks after the sentence she was released. She lived, Sir James
tells me, nearly two months after your father brought her home."

"I wrote last night to the lawyers" - Diana breathed it almost in a
whisper. "I am sure there is a letter for me - I am sure papa wrote."

"Promise me one thing!" said Marsham. "If they send you newspapers - for
my sake, don't read them. Sir James will tell you, this afternoon,
things the public have never known - facts which would certainly have
altered the verdict if the jury had known. Your poor mother struck the
blow in what was practically an impulse of self-defence, and the
evidence which mainly convicted her was perjured evidence, as the liar
who gave it confessed years afterward. Sir James will tell you that. He
has the confession."

Her face relaxed, her mouth trembled violently.

"Oh, Oliver! - Oliver!" She was unable to bear the relief his words
brought her: she broke down under it.

He caught her in his arms at last, and she gave way - she let herself be
weak - and woman. Clinging to him with all the pure passion of a woman
and all the trust of a child, she felt his kisses on her cheek, and her
deep sobs shook her upon his breast. Marsham's being was stirred to its
depths. He gave her the best he had to give; and in that moment of
mortal appeal on her side and desperate pity on his, their natures met
in that fusion of spirit and desire wherewith love can lend even tragedy
and pain to its own uses.

* * * * *

And yet - and yet! - was it in that very moment that feeling - on the man's
side - "o'erleaped itself, and fell on the other"? When they resumed
conversation, Marsham's tacit expectation was that Diana would now show
herself comforted; that, sure of him and of his affection, she would now
be ready to put the tragic past aside; to think first and foremost of
her own present life and his, and face the future cheerfully. A
misunderstanding arose between them, indeed, which is, perhaps, one of
the typical misunderstandings between men and women. The man, impatient
of painful thoughts and recollections, eager to be quit of them as
weakening and unprofitable, determined to silence them by the pleasant
clamor of his own ambitions and desires; the woman, priestess of the
past, clinging to all the pieties of memory, in terror lest she forget
the dead, feeling it a disloyalty even to draw the dagger from the
wound - between these two figures and dispositions there is a deep and
natural antagonism.

It showed itself rapidly in the case of Marsham and Diana; for their
moment of high feeling was no sooner over, and she sitting quietly
again, her hand in his, the blinding tears dashed away, than Marsham's
mind flew inevitably to his own great sacrifice. She must be comforted,
indeed, poor child! yet he could not but feel that he, too, deserved
consolation, and that his own most actual plight was no less worthy of
her thoughts than the ghastly details of a tragedy twenty years old.

Yet she seemed to have forgotten Lady Lucy! - to have no inkling of the
real situation. And he could find no way in which to break it.

For, in little broken sentences of horror and recollection, she kept
going back to her mother's story - her father's silence and suffering. It
was as though her mind could not disentangle itself from the load which
had been flung upon it - could not recover its healthiness of action amid
the phantom sights and sounds which beset imagination. Again and again
she must ask him for details - and shrink from the answers; must hide her
eyes with the little moan that wrung his heart; and break out in
ejaculations, as though of bewilderment, under a revelation so singular
and so terrible.

It was to be expected, of course; he could only hope it would soon pass.
Secretly, after a time, he was repelled and wearied. He answered her
with the same tender words, he tried to be all kindness; but more
perfunctorily. The oneness of that supreme moment vanished and did
not return.

Meanwhile, Diana's perceptions, stunned by the one overmastering
thought, gave her no warning. And, in truth, if Marsham could have
understood, the process of mental recovery was set going in her by just
this freedom of utterance to the man she loved - these words and looks
and tears - that brought ease after the dumb horror of the first hours.

At last he made an effort, hiding the nascent impatience in a caress.

"If I could only persuade you not to dwell upon it too persistently - to
put it from your thoughts as soon and as much as you can! Dear, we shall
have our own anxieties!"

She looked up with a sudden start.

"My mother," he said, reluctantly, "may give us trouble."

The color rushed into Diana's cheeks, and ebbed with equal suddenness.

"Lady Lucy! Oh! - how could I forget? Oliver! - she thinks - I am not fit!"

And in her eyes he saw for the first time the self-abasement he had
dreaded, yet perhaps expected, to see there before. For in her first
question to him there had been no real doubt of him; it had been the
natural humility of wounded love that cries out, expecting the reply
that no power on earth could check itself from giving were the
case reversed.

"Dearest! you know my mother's bringing up: her Quaker training, and her
rather stern ideas. We shall persuade her - in time."

"In time? And now - she - she forbids it?"

Her voice faltered. And yet, unconsciously, she had drawn herself a
little together and away.

Marsham began to give a somewhat confused and yet guarded account of his
mother's state of mind, endeavoring to prepare her for the letter which
might arrive on the morrow. He got up and moved about the room as he
spoke, while Diana sat, looking at him, her lips trembling from time to
time. Presently he mentioned Ferrier's name, and Diana started.

"Does _he_ think it would do you harm - that you ought to give me up?"

"Not he! And if anybody can make my mother hear reason, it will be
Ferrier."

"Lady Lucy believes it would injure you in Parliament?" faltered Diana.

"No, I don't believe she does. No sane person could."

"Then it's because - of the disgrace? Oliver! - perhaps - you ought to give
me up?"

She breathed quick. It stabbed him to see the flush in her cheeks
contending with the misery in her eyes. She could not pose, or play a
part. What she could not hide from him was just the conflict between her
love and her new-born shame. Before that scene on the hill there would
have been her girlish dignity also to reckon with. But the greater had
swallowed up the less; and from her own love - in innocent and simple
faith - she imagined his.

So that when she spoke of his giving her up, it was not her pride that
spoke, but only and truly her fear of doing him a hurt - by which she
meant a hurt in public estimation or repute. The whole business side of
the matter was unknown to her. She had never speculated on his
circumstances, and she was constitutionally and rather proudly
indifferent to questions of money. Vaguely, of course, she knew that the
Marshams were rich and that Tallyn was Lady Lucy's. Beyond, she had
never inquired.

This absence of all self-love in her attitude - together with her
complete ignorance of the calculation in which she was involved - touched
him sharply. It kept him silent about the money; it seemed impossible to
speak of it. And yet all the time the thought of it clamored - perhaps
increasingly - in his own mind.

He told her that they must stand firm - that she must be patient - that
Ferrier would work for them - and Lady Lucy would come round. And she,
loving him more and more with every word, seeing in him a god of
consolation and of chivalry, trusted him wholly. It was characteristic
of her that she did not attempt heroics for the heroics' sake; there was
no idea of renouncing him with a flourish of trumpets. He said he loved
her, and she believed him. But her heart went on its knees to him in a
gratitude that doubled love, even in the midst of her aching
bewilderment and pain.

* * * * *

He made her come out with him before luncheon; he talked with her of
politics and their future; he did his best to scatter the nightmare in
which she moved.

But after awhile he felt his efforts fail. The scenes that held her mind
betrayed themselves in her recurrent pallor, the trembling of her hand
in his, her piteous, sudden looks. She did not talk of her mother, but
he could not presently rouse her to talk of anything else; she sat
silent in her chair, gazing before her, her slender hands on her knee,
dreaming and forlorn.

Then he remembered, and with involuntary relief, that he must get back
to town, and to the House, for an important division. He told her, and
she made no protest. Evidently she was already absorbed in the thought
of Sir James Chide's visit. But when the time came for him to go she let
herself be kissed, and then, as he was moving away, she caught his hand,
and held it wildly to her lips.

"Oh, if you hadn't come! - if you hadn't come!" Her tears fell on the
hand.

"But I did come!" he said, caressing her. "I was here last night - did
Mrs. Colwood tell you? Afterward - in the dark - I walked up to the hill,
only to look down upon this house, that held you."

"If I had known," she murmured, on his breast, "I should have slept."

He went - in exaltation; overwhelmed by her charm even in this eclipse of
grief, and by the perception of her passion.

But before he was half-way to London he felt that he had been rather
foolish and quixotic in not having told her simply and practically what
his mother's opposition meant. She must learn it some day; better from
him than others. His mother, indeed, might tell her in the letter she
had threatened to write. But he thought not. Nobody was more loftily
secret as to business affairs than Lady Lucy; money might not have
existed for the rare mention she made of it. No; she would base her
opposition on other grounds.

These reflections brought him back to earth, and to the gloomy pondering
of the situation. Half a million! - because of the ill-doing of a poor
neurotic woman - twenty years ago!

It filled him with a curious resentment against Juliet Sparling herself,
which left him still more out of sympathy with Diana's horror and grief.
It must really be understood, when they married, that Mrs. Sparling's
name was never to be mentioned between them - that the whole grimy
business was buried out of sight forever.

And with a great and morbid impatience he shook the recollection from
him. The bustle of Whitehall, as he drove down it, was like wine in his
veins; the crowd and the gossip of the Central Lobby, as he pressed his
way through to the door of the House of Commons, had never been so full
of stimulus or savor. In this agreeable, exciting world he knew his
place; the relief was enormous; and, for a time, Marsham was
himself again.

* * * * *

Sir James Chide came in the late afternoon; and in her two hours with
him, Diana learned, from lips that spared her all they could, the
heart-breaking story of which Fanny had given her but the
crudest outlines.

The full story, and its telling, taxed the courage both of hearer and
speaker. Diana bore it, as it seemed to Sir James, with the piteous
simplicity of one in whose nature grief had no pretences to overcome.
The iron entered into her soul, and her quick imagination made her
torment. But her father had taught her lessons of self-conquest, and in
this first testing of her youth she did not fail. Sir James was
astonished at the quiet she was able to maintain, and touched to the
heart by the suffering she could not conceal.

Nothing was said of his own relation to her mother's case; but he saw
that she understood it, and their hearts moved together. When he rose to
take his leave she held his hand in hers with such a look in her eyes as



Online LibraryMrs. Humphry WardThe Testing of Diana Mallory → online text (page 18 of 35)