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

Chapter 13

Touching the First Days of Her Probation

The result of her sleeping was, that Diana’s humour, locked up overnight, insisted on an excursion, as she lay with half-buried head and open eyelids, thinking of the firm of lawyers she had to see; and to whom, and to the legal profession generally, she would be, under outward courtesies, nothing other than ‘the woman Warwick.’ She pursued the woman Warwick unmercifully through a series of interviews with her decorous and crudely-minded defenders; accurately perusing them behind their senior staidness. Her scorching sensitiveness sharpened her intelligence in regard to the estimate of discarded wives entertained by men of business and plain men of the world, and she drove the woman Warwick down their ranks, amazed by the vision of a puppet so unlike to herself in reality, though identical in situation. That woman, reciting her side of the case, gained a gradual resemblance to Danvers; she spoke primly; perpetually the creature aired her handkerchief; she was bent on softening those sugarloaves, the hard business-men applying to her for facts. Facts were treated as unworthy of her; mere stuff of the dustheap, mutton-bones, old shoes; she swam above them in a cocoon of her spinning, sylphidine, unseizable; and between perplexing and mollifying the slaves of facts, she saw them at their heels, a tearful fry, abjectly imitative of her melodramatic performances. The spectacle was presented of a band of legal gentlemen vociferating mightily for swords and the onset, like the Austrian empress’s Magyars, to vindicate her just and holy cause. Our Law-courts failing, they threatened Parliament, and for a last resort, the country! We are not going to be the woman Warwick without a stir, my brethren.

Emma, an early riser that morning, for the purpose of a private consultation with Mr. Redworth, found her lying placidly wakeful, to judge by appearances.

‘You have not slept, my dear child?’

‘Perfectly,’ said Diana, giving her hand and offering the lips. ‘I’m only having a warm morning bath in bed,’ she added, in explanation of a chill moisture that the touch of her exposed skin betrayed; for whatever the fun of the woman Warwick, there had been sympathetic feminine horrors in the frame of the sentient woman.

Emma fancied she kissed a quiet sufferer. A few remarks very soon set her wildly laughing. Both were laughing when Danvers entered the room, rather guilty, being late; and the sight of the prim-visaged maid she had been driving among the lawyers kindled Diana’s comic imagination to such a pitch that she ran riot in drolleries, carrying her friend headlong on the tide.

‘I have not laughed so much since you were married,’ said Emma.

‘Nor I, dear; proving that the bar to it was the ceremony,’ said Diana.

She promised to remain at Copsley three days. ‘Then for the campaign in Mr. Redworth’s metropolis. I wonder whether I may ask him to get me lodgings: a sitting-room and two bedrooms. The Crossways has a board up for letting. I should prefer to be my own tenant; only it would give me a hundred pounds more to get a substitute’s money. I should like to be at work writing instantly. Ink is my opium, and the pen my nigger, and he must dig up gold for me. It is written. Danvers, you can make ready to dress me when I ring.’

Emma helped the beautiful woman to her dressing-gown and the step from her bed. She had her thoughts, and went down to Redworth at the breakfast-table, marvelling that any husband other than a madman could cast such a jewel away. The material loveliness eclipses intellectual qualities in such reflections.

‘He must be mad,’ she said, compelled to disburden herself in a congenial atmosphere; which, however, she infrigidated by her overflow of exclamatory wonderment — a curtain that shook voluminous folds, luring Redworth to dreams of the treasure forfeited. He became rigidly practical.

‘Provision will have to be made for her. Lukin must see Mr. Warwick. She will do wisely to stay with friends in town, mix in company. Women are the best allies for such cases. Who are her solicitors?’

‘They are mine: Braddock, Thorpe, and Simnel.’

‘A good firm. She is in safe hands with them. I dare say they may come to an arrangement.’

‘I should wish it. She will never consent.’

Redworth shrugged. A woman’s ‘never’ fell far short of outstripping the sturdy pedestrian Time, to his mind.

Diana saw him drive off to catch the coach in the valley, regulated to meet the train, and much though she liked him, she was not sorry that he had gone. She felt the better clad for it. She would have rejoiced to witness the departure on wings of all her friends, except Emma, to whom her coldness overnight had bound her anew warmly in contrition. And yet her friends were well-beloved by her; but her emotions were distraught.

Emma told her that Mr. Redworth had undertaken to hire a suite of convenient rooms, and to these she looked forward, the nest among strangers, where she could begin to write, earning bread: an idea that, with the pride of independence, conjured the pleasant morning smell of a bakery about her.

She passed three peaceable days at Copsley, at war only with the luxury of the house. On the fourth, a letter to Lady Dunstane from Redworth gave the address of the best lodgings he could find, and Diana started for London.

She had during a couple of weeks, besides the first fresh exercising of her pen, as well as the severe gratification of economy, a savage exultation in passing through the streets on foot and unknown. Save for the plunges into the office of her solicitors, she could seem to herself a woman who had never submitted to the yoke. What a pleasure it was, after finishing a number of pages, to start Eastward toward the lawyer-regions, full of imaginary cropping incidents, and from that churchyard Westward, against smoky sunsets, or in welcome fogs, an atom of the crowd! She had an affection for the crowd. They clothed her. She laughed at the gloomy forebodings of Danvers concerning the perils environing ladies in the streets after dark alone. The lights in the streets after dark and the quick running of her blood, combined to strike sparks of fancy and inspirit the task of composition at night. This new, strange, solitary life, cut off from her adulatory society, both by the shock that made the abyss and by the utter foreignness, threw her in upon her natural forces, recasting her, and thinning away her memory of her past days, excepting girlhood, into the remote. She lived with her girlhood as with a simple little sister. They were two in one, and she corrected the dreams of the younger, protected and counselled her very sagely, advising her to love Truth and look always to Reality for her refreshment. She was ready to say, that no habitable spot on our planet was healthier and pleasanter than London. As to the perils haunting the head of Danvers, her experiences assured her of a perfect immunity from them; and the maligned thoroughfares of a great city, she was ready to affirm, contrasted favourably with certain hospitable halls.

The long-suffering Fates permitted her for a term to enjoy the generous delusion. Subsequently a sweet surprise alleviated the shock she had sustained. Emma Dunstane’s carriage was at her door, and Emma entered her sitting-room, to tell her of having hired a house in the neighbourhood, looking on the park. She begged to have her for guest, sorrowfully anticipating the refusal. At least they were to be near one another.

‘You really like this life in lodgings?’ asked Emma, to whom the stiff furniture and narrow apartments were a dreariness, the miserably small fire of the sitting-room an aspect of cheerless winter.

‘I do,’ said Diana; ‘yes,’ she added with some reserve, and smiled at her damped enthusiasm, ‘I can eat when I like, walk, work — and I am working! My legs and my pen demand it. Let me be independent! Besides, I begin to learn something of the bigger world outside the one I know, and I crush my mincing tastes. In return for that, I get a sense of strength I had not when I was a drawing-room exotic. Much is repulsive. But I am taken with a passion for reality.’

They spoke of the lawyers, and the calculated period of the trial; of the husband too, in his inciting belief in the falseness of his wife. ‘That is his excuse,’ Diana said, her closed mouth meditatively dimpling the comers over thoughts of his grounds for fury. He had them, though none for the incriminating charge. The Sphinx mouth of the married woman at war and at bay must be left unriddled. She and the law differed in their interpretation of the dues of wedlock.

But matters referring to her case were secondary with Diana beside the importance of her storing impressions. Her mind required to hunger for something, and this Reality which frequently she was forced to loathe, she forced herself proudly to accept, despite her youthfulness. Her philosophy swallowed it in the lump, as the great serpent his meal; she hoped to digest it sleeping likewise. Her visits of curiosity to the Law Courts, where she stood spying and listening behind a veil, gave her a great deal of tough substance to digest. There she watched the process of the tortures to be applied to herself, and hardened her senses for the ordeal. She saw there the ribbed and shanked old skeleton world on which our fair fleshly is moulded. After all, your Fool’s Paradise is not a garden to grow in. Charon’s ferry-boat is not thicker with phantoms. They do not live in mind or soul. Chiefly women people it: a certain class of limp men; women for the most part: they are sown there. And put their garden under the magnifying glass of intimacy, what do we behold? A world not better than the world it curtains, only foolisher.

Her conversations with Lady Dunstane brought her at last to the point of her damped enthusiasm. She related an incident or two occurring in her career of independence, and they discussed our state of civilization plainly and gravely, save for the laughing peals her phrases occasionally provoked; as when she named the intruders and disturbers of solitarily-faring ladies, ‘Cupid’s footpads.’ Her humour was created to swim on waters where a prescribed and cultivated prudery should pretend to be drowning.

‘I was getting an exalted idea of English gentlemen, Emmy. “Rich and rare were the gems she wore.” I was ready to vow that one might traverse the larger island similarly respected. I praised their chivalry. I thought it a privilege to live in such a land. I cannot describe to you how delightful it was to me to walk out and home generally protected. I might have been seriously annoyed but that one of the clerks-“articled,” he called himself — of our lawyers happened to be by. He offered to guard me, and was amusing with his modest tiptoe air. No, I trust to the English common man more than ever. He is a man of honour. I am convinced he is matchless in any other country, except Ireland. The English gentleman trades on his reputation.’

He was condemned by an afflicted delicacy, the sharpest of critical tribunals.

Emma bade her not to be too sweeping from a bad example.

‘It is not a single one,’ said Diana. ‘What vexes me and frets me is, that I must be a prisoner, or allow Danvers to mount guard. And I can’t see the end of it. And Danvers is no magician. She seems to know her countrymen, though. She warded one of them off, by saying to me: “This is the crossing, my lady.” He fled.’

Lady Dunstane affixed the popular title to the latter kind of gentleman. She was irritated on her friend’s behalf, and against the worrying of her sisterhood, thinking in her heart, nevertheless, that the passing of a face and figure like Diana’s might inspire honourable emotions, pitiable for being hapless.

‘If you were with me, dear, you would have none of these annoyances,’ she said, pleading forlornly.

Diana smiled to herself. ‘No! I should relapse into softness. This life exactly suits my present temper. My landlady is respectful and attentive; the little housemaid is a willing slave; Danvers does not despise them pugnaciously; they make a home for me, and I am learning daily. Do you know, the less ignorant I become, the more considerate I am for the ignorance of others — I love them for it.’ She squeezed Emma’s hand with more meaning than her friend apprehended. ‘So I win my advantage from the trifles I have to endure. They are really trifles, and I should once have thought them mountains!’

For the moment Diana stipulated that she might not have to encounter friends or others at Lady Dunstane’s dinner-table, and the season not being favourable to those gatherings planned by Lady Dunstane in her project of winning supporters, there was a respite, during which Sir Lukin worked manfully at his three Clubs to vindicate Diana’s name from the hummers and hawers, gaining half a dozen hot adherents, and a body of lukewarm, sufficiently stirred to be desirous to see the lady. He worked with true champion zeal, although an interview granted him by the husband settled his opinion as to any possibility of the two ever coming to terms. Also it struck him that if he by misadventure had been a woman and the wife of such a fellow, by Jove! . . . his apostrophe to the father of the gods of pagandom signifying the amount of matter Warwick would have had reason to complain of in earnest. By ricochet his military mind rebounded from his knowledge of himself to an ardent, faith in Mrs. Warwick’s innocence; for, as there was no resemblance between them, there must, he deduced, be a difference in their capacity for enduring the perpetual company of a prig, a stick, a petrified poser. Moreover, the novel act of advocacy, and the nature of the advocacy, had effect on him. And then he recalled the scene in the winter beech-woods, and Diana’s wild-deer eyes; her, perfect generosity to a traitor and fool. How could he have doubted her? Glimpses of the corrupting cause for it partly penetrated his density: a conqueror of ladies, in mid-career, doubts them all. Of course he had meant no harm, nothing worse than some petty philandering with the loveliest woman of her time. And, by Jove! it was worth the rebuff to behold the Beauty in her wrath.

The reflections of Lothario, however much tending tardily to do justice to a particular lady, cannot terminate wholesomely. But he became a gallant partisan. His portrayal of Mr. Warwick to his wife and his friends was fine caricature. ‘The fellow had his hand up at my first word — stood like a sentinel under inspection. “Understand, Sir Lukin, that I receive you simply as an acquaintance. As an intermediary, permit me to state that you are taking superfluous trouble. The case must proceed. It is final. She is at liberty, in the meantime, to draw on my bankers for the provision she may need, at the rate of five hundred pounds per annum.” He spoke of “the lady now bearing my name.” He was within an inch of saying “dishonouring.” I swear I heard the “dis,” and he caught himself up. He “again declined any attempt towards reconciliation.” It could “only be founded on evasion of the truth to be made patent on the day of trial.” Half his talk was lawyers’ lingo. The fellow’s teeth looked like frost. If Lot’s wife had a brother, his name’s Warwick. How Diana Merion, who could have had the pick of the best of us, ever came to marry a fellow like that, passes my comprehension, queer creatures as women are! He can ride; that’s about all he can do. I told him Mrs. Warwick had no thought of reconciliation. “Then, Sir Lukin, you will perceive that we have no standpoint for a discussion.” I told him the point was, for a man of honour not to drag his wife before the public, as he had no case to stand on — less than nothing. You should have seen the fellow’s face. He shot a sneer up to his eyelids, and flung his head back. So I said, “Good-day.” He marches me to the door, “with his compliments to Lady Dunstane.” I could have floored him for that. Bless my soul, what fellows the world is made of, when here’s a man, calling himself a gentleman, who, just because he gets in a rage with his wife for one thing or another — and past all competition the handsomest woman of her day, and the cleverest, the nicest, the best of the whole boiling — has her out for a public horsewhipping, and sets all the idiots of the kingdom against her! I tried to reason with him. He made as if he were going to sleep standing.’

Sir Lukin gratified Lady Dunstane by his honest championship of Diana. And now, in his altered mood (the thrice indebted rogue was just cloudily conscious of a desire to propitiate his dear wife by serving her friend), he began a crusade against the scandal-newspapers, going with an Irish military comrade straight to the editorial offices, and leaving his card and a warning that the chastisement for print of the name of the lady in their columns would be personal and condign. Captain Carew Mahony, albeit unacquainted with Mrs. Warwick, had espoused her cause. She was a woman, she was an Irishwoman, she was a beautiful woman. She had, therefore, three positive claims on him as a soldier and a man. Other Irish gentlemen, animated by the same swelling degrees, were awaking to the intimation that they might be wanted. Some words were dropped here and there by General Lord Larrian: he regretted his age and infirmities. A goodly regiment for a bodyguard might have been selected to protect her steps in the public streets; when it was bruited that the General had sent her a present of his great Newfoundland dog, Leander, to attend on her and impose a required respect. But as it chanced that her address was unknown to the volunteer constabulary, they had to assuage their ardour by thinking the dog luckier than they.

The report of the dog was a fact. He arrived one morning at Diana’s lodgings, with a soldier to lead him, and a card to introduce:— the Hercules of dogs, a very ideal of the species, toweringly big, benevolent, reputed a rescuer of lives, disdainful of dog-fighting, devoted to his guardian’s office, with a majestic paw to give and the noblest satisfaction in receiving caresses ever expressed by mortal male enfolded about the head, kissed, patted, hugged, snuggled, informed that he was his new mistress’s one love and darling.

She despatched a thrilling note of thanks to Lord Larrian, sure of her touch upon an Irish heart.

The dog Leander soon responded to the attachment of a mistress enamoured of him. ‘He is my husband,’ she said to Emma, and started a tear in the eyes of her smiling friend; ‘he promises to trust me, and never to have the law of me, and to love my friends as his own; so we are certain to agree.’ In rain, snow, sunshine, through the parks and the streets, he was the shadow of Diana, commanding, on the whole, apart from some desperate attempts to make him serve as introducer, a civilized behaviour in the legions of Cupid’s footpads. But he helped, innocently enough, to create an enemy.

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