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

Chapter 38

Convalescence of a Healthy Mind Distraught

From an abandonment that had the last pleasure of life in a willingness to yield it up, Diana rose with her friend’s help in some state of fortitude, resembling the effort of her feet to bear the weight of her body. She plucked her courage out of the dust to which her heart had been scattered, and tasked herself to walk as the world does. But she was indisposed to compassionate herself in the manner of the burdened world. She lashed the creature who could not raise a head like others, and made the endurance of torture a support, such as the pride of being is to men. She would not have seen any similarity to pride in it; would have deemed it the reverse. It was in fact the painful gathering of the atoms composing pride. For she had not only suffered; she had done wrongly: and when that was acknowledged, by the light of her sufferings the wrong-doing appeared gigantic, chorussing eulogies of the man she had thought her lover: and who was her lover once, before the crime against him. In the opening of her bosom to Emma, he was painted a noble figure; one of those that Romance delights to harass for the sake of ultimately the more exquisitely rewarding. He hated treachery: she had been guilty of doing what he most hated. She glorified him for the incapacity to forgive; it was to her mind godlike. And her excuses of herself?

At the first confession, she said she had none, and sullenly maintained that there was none to exonerate. Little by little her story was related — her version of the story: for not even as woman to woman, friend to great-hearted friend, pure soul to soul, could Diana tell of the state of shivering abjection in which Dacier had left her on the fatal night; of the many causes conducing to it, and of the chief. That was an unutterable secret, bound by all the laws of feminine civilization not to be betrayed. Her excessive self-abasement and exaltation of him who had struck her down, rendered it difficult to be understood; and not till Emma had revolved it and let it ripen in the mind some days could she perceive with any clearness her Tony’s motives, or mania. The very word Money thickened the riddle: for Tony knew that her friend’s purse was her own to dip in at her pleasure; yet she, to escape so small an obligation, had committed the enormity for which she held the man blameless in spurning her.

‘You see what I am, Emmy,’ Diana said.

‘What I do not see, is that he had grounds for striking so cruelly.’

‘I proved myself unworthy of him.’

But does a man pretending to love a woman cut at one blow, for such a cause, the ties uniting her to him? Unworthiness of that kind, is not commonly the capital offence in love. Tony’s deep prostration and her resplendent picture of her judge and executioner, kept Emma questioning within herself. Gradually she became enlightened enough to distinguish in the man a known, if not common, type of the externally soft and polished, internally hard and relentless, who are equal to the trials of love only as long as favouring circumstances and seemings nurse the fair object of their courtship.

Her thoughts recurred to the madness driving Tony to betray the secret; and the ascent unhelped to get a survey of it and her and the conditions, was mountainous. She toiled up but to enter the regions of cloud; sure nevertheless that the obscurity was penetrable and excuses to be discovered somewhere. Having never wanted money herself, she was unable perfectly to realize the urgency of the need: she began however to comprehend that the very eminent gentleman, before whom all human creatures were to bow in humility, had for an extended term considerably added to the expenses of Tony’s household, by inciting her to give those little dinners to his political supporters, and bringing comrades perpetually to supper-parties, careless of how it might affect her character and her purse. Surely an honourable man was bound to her in honour? Tony’s remark: ‘I have the reptile in me, dear,’ her exaggeration of the act, in her resigned despair — was surely no justification for his breaking from her, even though he had discovered a vestige of the common ‘reptile,’ to leave her with a stain on her name? — There would not have been a question about it if Tony had not exalted him so loftily, refusing, in visible pain, to hear him blamed.

Danvers had dressed a bed for Lady Dunstane in her mistress’s chamber, where often during the night Emma caught a sound of stifled weeping or the long falling breath of wakeful grief. One night she asked whether Tony would like to have her by her side.

‘No, dear,’ was the answer in the dark; ‘but you know my old pensioners, the blind fifer and his wife; I’ve been thinking of them.’

‘They were paid as they passed down the street yesterday, my love.’

‘Yes, dear, I hope so. But he flourishes his tune so absurdly. I’ve been thinking, that is the part I have played, instead of doing the female’s duty of handing round the tin-cup for pennies. I won’t cry any more.’

She sighed and turned to sleep, leaving Emma to disburden her heart in tears.

For it seemed to her that Tony’s intellect was weakened. She not merely abased herself and exalted Dacier preposterously, she had sunk her intelligence in her sensations: a state that she used to decry as the sin of mankind, the origin of error and blood.

Strangely too, the proposal came from her, or the suggestion of it, notwithstanding her subjectedness to the nerves, that she should show her face in public. She said: ‘I shall have to run about, Emmy, when I can fancy I am able to rattle up to the old mark. At present, I feel like a wrestler who has had a fall. As soon as the stiffness is over, it’s best to make an appearance, for the sake of one’s backers, though I shall never be in the wrestling ring again.’

‘That is a good decision — when you feel quite yourself, dear Tony,’ Emma replied.

‘I dare say I have disgraced my sex, but not as they suppose. I feel my new self already, and can make the poor brute go through fire on behalf of the old. What is the task? — merely to drive a face!’

‘It is not known.’

‘It will be known.’

‘But this is a sealed secret.’

‘Nothing is a secret that has been spoken. It ‘s in the air, and I have to breathe to live by it. And I would rather it were out. “She betrayed him.” Rather that, than have them think — anything! They will exclaim, How could she! I have been unable to answer it to you — my own heart. How? Oh! our weakness is the swiftest dog to hunt us; we cannot escape it. But I have the answer for them, that I trust with my whole soul none of them would have done the like.’

‘None, my Tony, would have taken it to the soul as you do.’

‘I talk, dear. If I took it honestly, I should be dumb, soon dust. The moment we begin to speak, the guilty creature is running for cover. She could not otherwise exist. I am sensible of evasion when I open my lips.’

‘But Tony has told me all.’

‘I think I have. But if you excuse my conduct, I am certain I have not.’

‘Dear girl, accounting for it, is not the same as excusing.’

‘Who can account for it! I was caught in a whirl — Oh! nothing supernatural: my weakness; which it pleases me to call a madness — shift the ninety-ninth! When I drove down that night to Mr. Tonans, I am certain I had my clear wits, but I felt like a bolt. I saw things, but at too swift a rate for the conscience of them. Ah! let never Necessity draw the bow of our weakness: it is the soul that is winged to its perdition. I remember I was writing a story, named THE MAN OF TWO MINDS. I shall sign it, By the Woman of Two Natures. If ever it is finished. Capacity for thinking should precede the act of writing. It should; I do not say that it does. Capacity for assimilating the public taste and reproducing it, is the commonest. The stuff is perishable, but it pays us for our labour, and in so doing saves us from becoming tricksters. Now I can see that Mr. Redworth had it in that big head of his — the authoress outliving her income!’

‘He dared not speak.’

‘Why did he not dare?’

‘Would it have checked you?’

‘I was a shot out of a gun, and I am glad he did not stand in my way. What power charged the gun, is another question. Dada used to say, that it is the devil’s masterstroke to get us to accuse him. “So fare ye well, old Nickie Ben.” My dear, I am a black sheep; a creature with a spotted reputation; I must wash and wash; and not with water — with sulphur-flames.’ She sighed. ‘I am down there where they burn. You should have let me lie and die. You were not kind. I was going quietly.’

‘My love!’ cried Emma, overborne by a despair that she traced to the woman’s concealment of her bleeding heart, ‘you live for me. Do set your mind on that. Think of what you are bearing, as your debt to Emma. Will you?’

Tony bowed her head mechanically.

‘But I am in love with King Death, and must confess it,’ she said. ‘That hideous eating you forced on me, snatched me from him. And I feel that if I had gone, I should have been mercifully forgiven by everybody.’

‘Except by me,’ said Emma, embracing her. ‘Tony would have left her friend for her last voyage in mourning. And my dearest will live to know happiness.’

‘I have no more belief in it, Emmy.’

‘The mistake of the world is to think happiness possible to the senses.’

‘Yes; we distil that fine essence through the senses; and the act is called the pain of life. It is the death of them. So much I understand of what our existence must be. But I may grieve for having done so little.’

‘That is the sound grief, with hope at the core — not in love with itself and wretchedly mortal, as we find self is under every shape it takes; especially the chief one.’

‘Name it.’

‘It is best named Amor.’

There was a writhing in the frame of the hearer, for she did want Love to be respected; not shadowed by her misfortune. Her still-flushed senses protested on behalf of the eternalness of the passion, and she was obliged to think Emma’s cold condemnatory intellect came of the no knowledge of it.

A letter from Mr. Tonans, containing an enclosure, was a sharp trial of Diana’s endurance of the irony of Fate. She had spoken of the irony in allusion to her freedom. Now that, according to a communication from her lawyers, she was independent of the task of writing, the letter which paid the price of her misery bruised her heavily.

‘Read it and tear it all to strips,’ she said in an abhorrence to Emma, who rejoined: ‘Shall I go at once and see him?’

‘Can it serve any end? But throw it into the fire. Oh! no simulation of virtue. There was not, I think, a stipulated return for what I did. But I perceive clearly — I can read only by events — that there was an understanding. You behold it. I went to him to sell it. He thanks me, says I served the good cause well. I have not that consolation. If I had thought of the cause — of anything high, it would have arrested me. On the fire with it!’

The letter and square slip were consumed. Diana watched the blackening papers.

So they cease their sinning, Emmy; and as long as I am in torment, I may hope for grace. We talked of the irony. It means, the pain of fire.’

‘I spoke of the irony to Redworth,’ said Emma; ‘incidentally, of course.’

‘And he fumed?’

‘He is really not altogether the Mr. Cuthbert Dering of your caricature. He is never less than acceptably rational. I won’t repeat his truisms; but he said, or I deduced from what he said, that a grandmother’s maxims would expound the enigma.’

‘Probably the simple is the deep, in relation to the mysteries of life,’ said Diana, whose wits had been pricked to a momentary activity by the letter. ‘He behaves wisely; so perhaps we are bound to take his words for wisdom. Much nonsense is talked and written, and he is one of the world’s reserves, who need no more than enrolling, to make a sturdy phalanx of common sense. It’s a pity they are not enlisted and drilled to express themselves.’ She relapsed. ‘But neither he nor any of them could understand my case.’

‘He puts the idea of an irony down to the guilt of impatience, Tony.’

‘Could there be a keener irony than that? A friend of Dada’s waited patiently for a small fortune, and when it arrived, he was a worn-out man, just assisted to go decently to his grave.’

‘But he may have gained in spirit by his patient waiting.’

‘Oh! true. We are warmer if we travel on foot sunward, but it is a discovery that we are colder if we take to ballooning upward. The material good reverses its benefits the more nearly we clasp it. All life is a lesson that we live to enjoy but in the spirit. I will brood on your saying.’

‘It is your own saying, silly Tony, as the only things worth saying always, are!’ exclaimed Emma, as she smiled happily to see her friend’s mind reviving, though it was faintly and in the dark.

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