Diana of the Crossways, by Meredith, George, 1828-1909

Chapter 11

Recounts the Journey in a Chariot, with a Certain Amount of Dialogue, and a Small Incident on the Road

In the morning the fight was over. She looked at the signpost of The Crossways whilst dressing, and submitted to follow, obediently as a puppet, the road recommended by friends, though a voice within, that she took for the intimations of her reason, protested that they were wrong, that they were judging of her case in the general, and unwisely — disastrously for her.

The mistaking of her desires for her reasons was peculiar to her situation.

‘So I suppose I shall some day see The Crossways again,’ she said, to conceive a compensation in the abandonment of freedom. The night’s red vision of martyrdom was reserved to console her secretly, among the unopened lockers in her treasury of thoughts. It helped to sustain her; and she was too conscious of things necessary for her sustainment to bring it to the light of day and examine it. She had a pitiful bit of pleasure in the gratification she imparted to Danvers, by informing her that the journey of the day was backward to Copsley.

‘If I may venture to say so, ma’am, I am very glad,’ said her maid.

‘You must be prepared for the questions of lawyers, Danvers.’

‘Oh, ma’am! they’ll get nothing out of me, and their wigs won’t frighten me.’

‘It is usually their baldness that is most frightening, my poor Danvers.’

‘Nor their baldness, ma’am,’ said the literal maid; ‘I never cared for their heads, or them. I’ve been in a Case before.’

‘Indeed!’ exclaimed her mistress; and she had a chill.

Danvers mentioned a notorious Case, adding, ‘They got nothing out of me.’

‘In my Case you will please to speak the truth,’ said Diana, and beheld in the looking-glass the primming of her maid’s mouth. The sight shot a sting.

‘Understand that there is to be no hesitation about telling the truth of what you know of me,’ said Diana; and the answer was, ‘No, ma’am.’

For Danvers could remark to herself that she knew little, and was not a person to hesitate. She was a maid of the world, with the quality of faithfulness, by nature, to a good mistress.

Redworth’s further difficulties were confined to the hiring of a conveyance for the travellers, and hot-water bottles, together with a postillion not addicted to drunkenness. He procured a posting-chariot, an ancient and musty, of a late autumnal yellow unrefreshed by paint; the only bottles to be had were Dutch Schiedam. His postillion, inspected at Storling, carried the flag of habitual inebriation on his nose, and he deemed it adviseable to ride the mare in accompaniment as far as Riddlehurst, notwithstanding the postillion’s vows upon his honour that he was no drinker. The emphasis, to a gentleman acquainted with his countrymen, was not reassuring. He had hopes of enlisting a trustier fellow at Riddlehurst, but he was disappointed; and while debating upon what to do, for he shrank from leaving two women to the conduct of that inflamed troughsnout, Brisby, despatched to Storling by an afterthought of Lady Dunstane’s, rushed out of the Riddlehurst inn taproom, and relieved him of the charge of the mare. He was accommodated with a seat on a stool in the chariot. ‘My triumphal car,’ said his captive. She was very amusing about her postillion; Danvers had to beg pardon for laughing. ‘You are happy,’ observed her mistress. But Redworth laughed too, and he could not boast of any happiness beyond the temporary satisfaction, nor could she who sprang the laughter boast of that little. She said to herself, in the midst of the hilarity, ‘Wherever I go now, in all weathers, I am perfectly naked!’ And remembering her readings of a certain wonderful old quarto book in her father’s library, by an eccentric old Scottish nobleman, wherein the wearing of garments and sleeping in houses is accused as the cause of human degeneracy, she took a forced merry stand on her return to the primitive healthful state of man and woman, and affected scorn of our modern ways of dressing and thinking. Whence it came that she had some of her wildest seizures of iridescent humour. Danvers attributed the fun to her mistress’s gladness in not having pursued her bent to quit the country. Redworth saw deeper, and was nevertheless amazed by the airy hawk-poise and pounce-down of her wit, as she ranged high and low, now capriciously generalizing, now dropping bolt upon things of passage — the postillion jogging from rum to gin, the rustics baconly agape, the horse-kneed ostlers. She touched them to the life in similes and phrases; and next she was aloft, derisively philosophizing, but with a comic afflatus that dispersed the sharpness of her irony in mocking laughter. The afternoon refreshments at the inn of the county market-town, and the English idea of public hospitality, as to manner and the substance provided for wayfarers, were among the themes she made memorable to him. She spoke of everything tolerantly, just naming it in a simple sentence, that fell with a ring and chimed: their host’s ready acquiescence in receiving, orders, his contemptuous disclaimer of stuff he did not keep, his flat indifference to the sheep he sheared, and the phantom half-crown flickering in one eye of the anticipatory waiter; the pervading and confounding smell of stale beer over all the apartments; the prevalent, notion of bread, butter, tea, milk, sugar, as matter for the exercise of a native inventive genius — these were reviewed in quips of metaphor.

‘Come, we can do better at an inn or two known to me,’ said Redworth.

‘Surely this is the best that can be done for us, when we strike them with the magic wand of a postillion?’ said she.

‘It depends, as elsewhere, on the individuals entertaining us.’

‘Yet you admit that your railways are rapidly “polishing off” the individual.’

‘They will spread the metropolitan idea of comfort.’

‘I fear they will feed us on nothing but that big word. It booms — a curfew bell — for every poor little light that we would read by.’

Seeing their beacon-nosed postillion preparing too mount and failing in his jump, Redworth was apprehensive, and questioned the fellow concerning potation.

‘Lord, sir, they call me half a horse, but I can’t ‘bids water,’ was the reply, with the assurance that he had not ‘taken a pailful.’

Habit enabled him to gain his seat.

‘It seems to us unnecessary to heap on coal when the chimney is afire; but he may know the proper course,’ Diana said, convulsing Danvers; and there was discernibly to Redworth, under the influence of her phrases, a likeness of the flaming ‘half-horse,’ with the animals all smoking in the frost, to a railway engine. ‘Your wrinkled centaur,’ she named the man. Of course he had to play second to her, and not unwillingly; but he reflected passingly on the instinctive push of her rich and sparkling voluble fancy to the initiative, which women do not like in a woman, and men prefer to distantly admire. English women and men feel toward the quick-witted of their species as to aliens, having the demerits of aliens-wordiness, vanity, obscurity, shallowness, an empty glitter, the sin of posturing. A quick-witted woman exerting her wit is both a foreigner and potentially a criminal. She is incandescent to a breath of rumour. It accounted for her having detractors; a heavy counterpoise to her enthusiastic friends. It might account for her husband’s discontent-the reduction of him to a state of mere masculine antagonism. What is the husband of a vanward woman? He feels himself but a diminished man. The English husband of a voluble woman relapses into a dreary mute. Ah, for the choice of places! Redworth would have yielded her the loquent lead for the smallest of the privileges due to him who now rejected all, except the public scourging of her. The conviction was in his mind that the husband of this woman sought rather to punish than be rid of her. But a part of his own emotion went to form the judgement.

Furthermore, Lady Dunstane’s allusion to her ‘enemies’ made him set down her growing crops of backbiters to the trick she had of ridiculing things English. If the English do it themselves, it is in a professionally robust, a jocose, kindly way, always with a glance at the other things, great things, they excel in; and it is done to have the credit of doing it. They are keen to catch an inimical tone; they will find occasion to chastise the presumptuous individual, unless it be the leader of a party, therefore a power; for they respect a power. Redworth knew their quaintnesses; without overlooking them he winced at the acid of an irony that seemed to spring from aversion, and regretted it, for her sake. He had to recollect that she was in a sharp-strung mood, bitterly surexcited; moreover he reminded himself of her many and memorable phrases of enthusiasm for England — Shakespeareland, as she would sometimes perversely term it, to sink the country in the poet. English fortitude, English integrity, the English disposition to do justice to dependents, adolescent English ingenuousness, she was always ready to laud. Only her enthusiasm required rousing by circumstances; it was less at the brim than her satire. Hence she made enemies among a placable people.

He felt that he could have helped her under happier conditions. The beautiful vision she had been on the night of the Irish Ball swept before him, and he looked at her, smiling.

‘Why do you smile?’ she said.

‘I was thinking of Mr. Sullivan Smith.’

‘Ah! my dear compatriot! And think, too, of Lord Larrian.’

She caught her breath. Instead of recreation, the names brought on a fit of sadness. It deepened; shy neither smiled nor rattled any more. She gazed across the hedgeways at the white meadows and bare-twigged copses showing their last leaves in the frost.

‘I remember your words: “Observation is the most, enduring of the pleasures of life”; and so I have found it,’ she said. There was a brightness along her under-eyelids that caused him to look away.

The expected catastrophe occurred on the descent of a cutting in the sand, where their cordial postillion at a trot bumped the chariot against the sturdy wheels of a waggon, which sent it reclining for support upon a beech-tree’s huge intertwisted serpent roots, amid strips of brown bracken and pendant weeds, while he exhibited one short stump of leg, all boot, in air. No one was hurt. Diana disengaged herself from the shoulder of Danvers, and mildly said:

‘That reminds me, I forgot to ask why we came in a chariot.’

Redworth was excited on her behalf, but the broken glass had done no damage, nor had Danvers fainted. The remark was unintelligible to him, apart from the comforting it had been designed to give. He jumped out, and held a hand for them to do the same. ‘I never foresaw an event more positively,’ said he.

‘And it was nothing but a back view that inspired you all the way,’ said Diana.

A waggoner held the horses, another assisted Redworth to right the chariot. The postillion had hastily recovered possession of his official seat, that he might as soon as possible feel himself again where he was most intelligent, and was gay in stupidity, indifferent to what happened behind him. Diana heard him counselling the waggoner as to the common sense of meeting small accidents with a cheerful soul.

‘Lord!’ he cried, ‘I been pitched a Somerset in my time, and taken up for dead, and that didn’t beat me!’

Disasters of the present kind could hardly affect such a veteran. But he was painfully disconcerted by Redworth’s determination not to entrust the ladies any farther to his guidance. Danvers had implored for permission to walk the mile to the town, and thence take a fly to Copsley. Her mistress rather sided with the postillion; who begged them to spare him the disgrace of riding in and delivering a box at the Red Lion.

‘What’ll they say? And they know Arthur Dance well there,’ he groaned. ‘What! Arthur! chariotin’ a box! And me a better man to his work now than I been for many a long season, fit for double the journey! A bit of a shake always braces me up. I could read a newspaper right off, small print and all. Come along, sir, and hand the ladies in.’

Danvers vowed her thanks to Mr. Redworth for refusing. They walked ahead; the postillion communicated his mixture of professional and human feelings to the waggoners, and walked his horses in the rear, meditating on the weak-heartedness of gentryfolk, and the means for escaping being chaffed out of his boots at the Old Red Lion, where he was to eat, drink, and sleep that night. Ladies might be fearsome after a bit of a shake; he would not have supposed it of a gentleman. He jogged himself into an arithmetic of the number of nips of liquor he had taken to soothe him on the road, in spite of the gentleman. ‘For some of ’em are sworn enemies of poor men, as yonder one, ne’er a doubt.’

Diana enjoyed her walk beneath the lingering brown-red of the frosty November sunset, with the scent of sand-earth strong in the air.

‘I had to hire a chariot because there was no two-horse carriage,’ said Redworth, ‘and I wished to reach Copsley as early as possible.’

She replied, smiling, that accidents were fated. As a certain marriage had been! The comparison forced itself on her reflections.

‘But this is quite an adventure,’ said she, reanimated by the brisker flow of her blood. ‘We ought really to be thankful for it, in days when nothing happens.’

Redworth accused her of getting that idea from the perusal of romances.

‘Yes, our lives require compression, like romances, to be interesting, and we object to the process,’ she said. ‘Real happiness is a state of dulness. When we taste it consciously it becomes mortal — a thing of the Seasons. But I like my walk. How long these November sunsets burn, and what hues they have! There is a scientific reason, only don’t tell it me. Now I understand why you always used to choose your holidays in November.’

She thrilled him with her friendly recollection of his customs.

‘As to happiness, the looking forward is happiness,’ he remarked.

‘Oh, the looking back! back!’ she cried.

‘Forward! that is life.’

‘And backward, death, if you will; and still at is happiness. Death, and our postillion!’

‘Ay; I wonder why the fellow hangs to the rear,’ said Redworth, turning about.

‘It’s his cunning strategy, poor creature, so that he may be thought to have delivered us at the head of the town, for us to make a purchase or two, if we go to the inn on foot,’ said Diana. ‘We’ll let the manoeuvre succeed.’

Redworth declared that she had a head for everything, and she was flattered to hear him.

So passing from the southern into the western road, they saw the town-lights beneath an amber sky burning out sombrely over the woods of Copsley, and entered the town, the postillion following.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11