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

Chapter 40

In which We See Nature Making of a Woman a Maid Again, and a Thrice Whimsical.

On their way from London, after leaving the station, the drive through the valley led them past a field, where cricketers were at work bowling and batting under a vertical sun: not a very comprehensible sight to ladies, whose practical tendencies, as observers of the other sex, incline them to question the gain of such an expenditure of energy. The dispersal of the alphabet over a printed page is not less perplexing to the illiterate. As soon as Emma Dunstane discovered the Copsley head-gamekeeper at one wicket, and, actually, Thomas Redworth facing him, bat in hand, she sat up, greatly interested. Sir Lukin stopped the carriage at the gate, and reminded his wife that it was the day of the year for the men of his estate to encounter a valley Eleven. Redworth, like the good fellow he was, had come down by appointment in the morning out of London, to fill the number required, Copsley being weak this year. Eight of their wickets had fallen for a lament able figure of twenty-nine runs; himself clean-bowled the first ball. But Tom Redworth had got fast hold of his wicket, and already scored fifty to his bat. ‘There! grand hit!’ Sir Lukin cried, the ball flying hard at the rails. ‘Once a cricketer, always a cricketer, if you’ve legs to fetch the runs. And Pullen’s not doing badly. His business is to stick. We shall mark them a hundred yet. I do hate a score on our side without the two 00’s.’ He accounted for Redworth’s mixed colours by telling the ladies he had lent him his flannel jacket; which, against black trousers, looked odd but not ill.

Gradually the enthusiasm of the booth and bystanders converted the flying of a leather ball into a subject of honourable excitement.

‘And why are you doing nothing?’ Sir Lukin was asked; and he explained:

‘My stumps are down: I’m married.’ He took his wife’s hand prettily.

Diana had a malicious prompting. She smothered the wasp, and said: ‘Oh! look at that!’

‘Grand hit again! Oh! good! good!’ cried Sir Lukin, clapping to it, while the long-hit-off ran spinning his legs into one for an impossible catch; and the batsmen were running and stretching bats, and the ball flying away, flying back, and others after it, and still the batsmen running, till it seemed that the ball had escaped control and was leading the fielders on a coltish innings of its own, defiant of bowlers.

Diana said merrily: ‘Bravo our side!’

‘Bravo, old Tom Redworth’; rejoined Sir Lukin. ‘Four, and a three! And capital weather, haven’t we: Hope we shall have same sort day next month — return match, my ground. I’ve seen Tom Redworth score — old days — over two hundred t’ his bat. And he used to bowl too. But bowling wants practice. And, Emmy, look at the old fellows lining the booth, pipe in mouth and cheering. They do enjoy a day like this. We’ll have a supper for fifty at Copsley’s:— it’s fun. By Jove! we must have reached up to near the hundred.’

He commissioned a neighbouring boy to hie to the booth for the latest figures, and his emissary taught lightning a lesson.

Diana praised the little fellow.

‘Yes, he’s a real English boy,’ said Emma.

‘We’ve thousands of ’em, thousands, ready to your hand,’ exclaimed Sir Lukin, ‘and a confounded Radicalized country . . . ’ he murmured gloomily of ‘lets us be kicked! . . . any amount of insult, meek as gruel! . . . making of the finest army the world has ever seen! You saw the papers this morning? Good heaven! how a nation with an atom of self-respect can go on standing that sort of bullying from foreigners! We do. We’re insulted and we’re threatened, and we call for a hymn! — Now then, my man, what is it?’

The boy had flown back. ‘Ninety-two marked, sir; ninety-nine runs; one more for the hundred.’

‘Well reckoned; and mind you’re up at Copsley for the return match. — And Tom Redworth says, they may bite their thumbs to the bone — they don’t hurt us. I tell him, he has no sense of national pride. He says, we’re not prepared for war: We never are! And whose the fault? Says, we’re a peaceful people, but ‘ware who touches us! He doesn’t feel a kick. — Oh! clever snick! Hurrah for the hundred! — Two-three. No, don’t force the running, you fools! — though they’re wild with the ball: ha! — no? — all right!’ The wicket stood. Hurrah!

The heat of the noonday sun compelled the ladies to drive on.

‘Enthusiasm has the privilege of not knowing monotony,’ said Emma. ‘He looks well in flannels.’

‘Yes, he does,’ Diana replied, aware of the reddening despite her having spoken so simply. ‘I think the chief advantage men have over us is in their amusements.’

‘Their recreations.’

‘That is the better word.’ Diana fanned her cheeks and said she was warm. ‘I mean, the permanent advantage. For you see that age does not affect them.’

‘Tom Redworth is not a patriarch, my dear.’

‘Well, he is what would be called mature.’

‘He can’t be more than thirty-two or three; and that, for a man of his constitution, means youth.’

‘Well, I can imagine him a patriarch playing cricket.’

‘I should imagine you imagine the possible chances. He is the father who would play with his boys.’

‘And lock up his girls in the nursery.’ Diana murmured of the extraordinary heat.

Emma begged her to remember her heterodox views of the education for girls.

‘He bats admirably,’ said Diana. ‘I wish I could bat half as well.’

‘Your batting is with the tongue.’

‘Not so good. And a solid bat, or bludgeon, to defend the poor stumps, is surer. But there is the difference of cricket:— when your stumps are down, you are idle, at leisure; not a miserable prisoner.’

‘Supposing all marriages miserable.’

‘To the mind of me,’ said Diana, and observed Emma’s rather saddened eyelids for a proof that schemes to rob her of dear liberty were certainly planned.

They conversed of expeditions to Redworth’s Berkshire mansion, and to The Crossways, untenanted at the moment, as he had informed Emma, who fancied it would please Tony to pass a night in the house she loved; but as he was to be of the party she coldly acquiesced.

The woman of flesh refuses pliancy when we want it of her, and will not, until it is her good pleasure, be bent to the development called a climax, as the puppet-woman, mother of Fiction and darling of the multitude! ever amiably does, at a hint of the Nuptial Chapter. Diana in addition sustained the weight of brains. Neither with waxen optics nor with subservient jointings did she go through her pathways of the world. Her direct individuality rejected the performance of simpleton, and her lively blood, the warmer for its containment quickened her to penetrate things and natures; and if as yet, in justness to the loyal male friend, she forbore to name him conspirator, she read both him and Emma, whose inner bosom was revealed to her, without an effort to see. But her characteristic chasteness of mind, not coldness of the ‘blood — which had supported an arduous conflict, past all existing rights closely to depict, and which barbed her to pierce to the wishes threatening her freedom, deceived her now to think her flaming blushes came of her relentless divination on behalf of her recovered treasure: whereby the clear reading of others distracted the view of herself. For one may be the cleverest alive, and still hoodwinked while blood is young and warm.

The perpetuity of the contrast presented to her reflections, of Redworth’s healthy, open, practical, cheering life, and her own freakishly interwinding, darkly penetrative, simulacrum of a life, cheerless as well as useless, forced her humiliated consciousness by degrees, in spite of pride, to the knowledge that she was engaged in a struggle with him; and that he was the stronger; — it might be, the worthier: she thought him the handsomer. He throve to the light of day, and she spun a silly web that meshed her in her intricacies. Her intuition of Emma’s wishes led to this; he was constantly before her. She tried to laugh at the image of the concrete cricketer, half-flannelled, and red of face: the ‘lucky calculator,’ as she named him to Emma, who shook her head, and sighed. The abstract, healthful and powerful man, able to play besides profitably working, defied those poor efforts. Consequently, at once she sent up a bubble to the skies, where it became a spheral realm, of far too fine an atmosphere for men to breathe in it; and thither she transported herself at will, whenever the contrast, with its accompanying menace of a tyrannic subjugation, overshadowed her. In the above, the kingdom composed of her shattered romance of life and her present aspirings, she was free and safe. Nothing touched her there — nothing that Redworth did. She could not have admitted there her ideal of a hero. It was the sublimation of a virgin’s conception of life, better fortified against the enemy. She peopled it with souls of the great and pure, gave it illimitable horizons, dreamy nooks, ravishing landscapes, melodies of the poets of music. Higher and more-celestial than the Salvatore, it was likewise, now she could assure herself serenely, independent of the horrid blood-emotions. Living up there, she had not a feeling.

The natural result of this habit of ascending to a superlunary home, was the loss of an exact sense of how she was behaving below. At the Berkshire mansion, she wore a supercilious air, almost as icy as she accused the place of being. Emma knew she must have seen in the library a row of her literary ventures, exquisitely bound; but there was no allusion to the books. Mary Paynham’s portrait of Mrs. Warwick hung staring over the fireplace, and was criticized, as though its occupancy of that position had no significance.

‘He thinks she has a streak of genius,’ Diana said to Emma.

‘It may be shown in time,’ Emma replied, for a comment on the work. ‘He should know, for the Spanish pictures are noble acquisitions.’

‘They are, doubtless, good investments.’

He had been foolish enough to say, in Diana’s hearing, that he considered the purchase of the Berkshire estate a good investment. It had not yet a name. She suggested various titles for Emma to propose: ‘The Funds’; or ‘Capital Towers’; or ‘Dividend Manor’; or ‘Railholm’; blind to the evidence of inflicting pain. Emma, from what she had guess concerning the purchaser of The Crossways, apprehended a discovery there which might make Tony’s treatment of him unkinder, seeing that she appeared actuated contrariously; and only her invalid’s new happiness in the small excursions she was capable of taking to a definite spot, of some homely attractiveness, moved her to follow her own proposal for the journey. Diana pleaded urgently, childishly in tone, to have Arthur Rhodes with them, ‘so as to be sure of a sympathetic companion for a walk on the Downs.’ At The Crossways, they were soon aware that Mr. Redworth’s domestics were in attendance to serve them. Manifestly the house was his property, and not much of an investment! The principal bed-room, her father’s once, and her own, devoted now to Emma’s use, appalled her with a resemblance to her London room. She had noticed some of her furniture at ‘Dividend Manor,’ and chosen to consider it in the light of a bargain from a purchase at the sale of her goods. Here was her bed, her writing-table, her chair of authorship, desks, books, ornaments, water-colour sketches. And the drawing-room was fitted with her brackets and etageres, holding every knickknack she had possessed and scattered, small bronzes, antiques, ivory junks, quaint ivory figures Chinese and Japanese, bits of porcelain, silver incense-urns, dozens of dainty sundries. She had a shamed curiosity to spy for an omission of one of them; all were there. The Crossways had been turned into a trap.

Her reply to this blunt wooing, conspired, she felt justifled in thinking, between him and Emma, was emphatic in muteness. She treated it as if unobserved. At night, in bed, the scene of his mission from Emma to her under this roof, barred her customary ascent to her planetary kingdom. Next day she took Arthur after breakfast for a walk on the Downs and remained absent till ten minutes before the hour of dinner. As to that young gentleman, he was near to being caressed in public. Arthur’s opinions, his good sayings, were quoted; his excellent companionship on really poetical walks, and perfect sympathy, praised to his face. Challenged by her initiative to a kind of language that threw Redworth out, he declaimed: ‘We pace with some who make young morning stale.’

‘Oh! stale as peel of fruit long since consumed,’ she chimed.

And go they proceeded; and they laughed, Emma smiled a little, Redworth did the same beneath one of his questioning frowns — a sort of fatherly grimace.

A suspicion that this man, when infatuated, was able to practise the absurdest benevolence, the burlesque of chivalry, as a man-admiring sex esteems it, stirred very naughty depths of the woman in Diana, labouring under her perverted mood. She put him to proof, for the chance of arming her wickedest to despise him. Arthur was petted, consulted, cited, flattered all round; all but caressed. She played, with a reserve, the maturish young woman smitten by an adorable youth; and enjoyed doing it because she hoped for a visible effect — more paternal benevolence — and could do it so dispassionately. Coquettry, Emma thought, was most unworthily shown; and it was of the worst description. Innocent of conspiracy, she had seen the array of Tony’s lost household treasures she wondered at a heartlessness that would not even utter common thanks to the friendly man for the compliment of prizing her portrait and the things she had owned; and there seemed an effort to wound him.

The invalided woman, charitable with allowances for her erratic husband, could offer none for the woman of a long widowhood, that had become a trebly sensitive maidenhood; abashed by her knowledge of the world, animated by her abounding blood; cherishing her new freedom, dreading the menacer; feeling that though she held the citadel, she was daily less sure of its foundations, and that her hope of some last romance in life was going; for in him shone not a glimpse. He appeared to Diana as a fatal power, attracting her without sympathy, benevolently overcoming: one of those good men, strong men, who subdue and do not kindle. The enthralment revolted a nature capable of accepting subjection only by burning. In return for his moral excellence, she gave him the moral sentiments: esteem, gratitude, abstract admiration, perfect faith. But the man? She could not now say she had never been loved; and a flood of tenderness rose in her bosom, swelling from springs that she had previously reproved with a desperate severity: the unhappy, unsatisfied yearning to be more than loved, to love. It was alive, out of the wreck of its first trial. This, the secret of her natural frailty, was bitter to her pride: chastely-minded as she was, it whelmed her. And then her comic imagination pictured Redworth dramatically making love. And to a widow! It proved him to be senseless of romance. Poetic men take aim at maidens. His devotedness to a widow was charged against him by the widow’s shudder at antecedents distasteful to her soul, a discolouration of her life. She wished to look entirely forward, as upon a world washed clear of night, not to be cast back on her antecedents by practical wooings or words of love; to live spiritually; free of the shower at her eyelids attendant on any idea of her loving. The woman who talked of the sentimentalist’s ‘fiddling harmonics,’ herself stressed the material chords, in her attempt to escape out of herself and away from her pursuer.

Meanwhile she was as little conscious of what she was doing as of how she appeared. Arthur went about with the moony air of surcharged sweetness, and a speculation on it, alternately tiptoe and prostrate. More of her intoxicating wine was administered to him, in utter thoughtlessness of consequences to one who was but a boy and a friend, almost of her own rearing. She told Emma, when leaving The Crossways, that she had no desire to look on the place again: she wondered at Mr. Redworth’s liking such a solitude. In truth, the look back on it let her perceive that her husband haunted it, and disfigured the man, of real generosity, as her heart confessed, but whom she accused of a lack of prescient delicacy, for not knowing she would and must be haunted there. Blaming him, her fountain of colour shot up, at a murmur of her unjustness and the poor man’s hopes.

A week later, the youth she publicly named ‘her Arthur’ came down to Copsley with news of his having been recommended by Mr. Redworth for the post of secretary to an old Whig nobleman famous for his patronage of men of letters. And besides, he expected to inherit, he said, and gazed in a way to sharpen her instincts. The wine he had drunk of late from her flowing vintage was in his eyes. They were on their usual rambles out along the heights. ‘Accept, by all means, and thank Mr. Redworth,’ said she, speeding her tongue to intercept him. ‘Literature is a good stick and a bad horse. Indeed, I ought to know. You can always write; I hope you will.’

She stepped fast, hearing: ‘Mrs. Warwick — Diana! May I take your hand?’

This was her pretty piece of work! ‘Why should you? If you speak my Christian name, no: you forfeit any pretext. And pray, don’t loiter. We are going at the pace of the firm of Potter and Dawdle, and you know they never got their shutters down till it was time to put them up again.’

Nimble-footed as she was, she pressed ahead too fleetly for amorous eloquence to have a chance. She heard ‘Diana!’ twice, through the rattling of her discourse and flapping of her dress.

‘Christian names are coin that seem to have an indifferent valuation of the property they claim,’ she said in the Copsley garden; ‘and as for hands, at meeting and parting, here is the friendliest you could have. Only don’t look rueful. My dear Arthur, spare me that, or I shall blame myself horribly.’

His chance had gone, and he composed his face. No hope in speaking had nerved him; merely the passion to speak. Diana understood the state, and pitied the naturally modest young fellow, and chafed at herself as a senseless incendiary, who did mischief right and left, from seeking to shun the apparently inevitable. A sidethought intruded, that he would have done his wooing poetically — not in the burly storm, or bull-Saxon, she apprehended. Supposing it imperative with her to choose? She looked up, and the bird of broader wing darkened the whole sky, bidding her know that she had no choice.

Emma was requested to make Mr. Redworth acquainted with her story, all of it:—‘So that this exalted friendship of his may be shaken to a common level. He has an unbearably high estimate of me, and it hurts me. Tell him all; and more than even you have known:— but for his coming to me, on the eve of your passing under the surgeon’s hands, I should have gone — flung the world my glove! A matter of minutes. Ten minutes later! The train was to start for France at eight, and I was awaited. I have to thank heaven that the man was one of those who can strike icily. Tell Mr. Redworth what I say. You two converse upon every subject. One may be too loftily respected — in my case. By and by — for he is a tolerant reader of life and women, I think — we shall be humdrum friends of the lasting order.’

Emma’s cheeks were as red as Diana’s. ‘I fancy Tom Redworth has not much to learn concerning any person he cares for,’ she said. ‘You like him? I have lost touch of you, my dear, and ask.’

‘I like him: that I can say. He is everything I am not. But now I am free, the sense of being undeservedly over-esteemed imposes fetters, and I don’t like them. I have been called a Beauty. Rightly or other, I have had a Beauty’s career; and a curious caged beast’s life I have found it. Will you promise me to speak to him? And also, thank him for helping Arthur Rhodes to a situation.’

At this, the tears fell from her. And so enigmatical had she grown to Emma, that her bosom friend took them for a confessed attachment to the youth.

Diana’s wretched emotion shamed her from putting any inquiries whether Redworth had been told. He came repeatedly, and showed no change of face, always continuing in the form of huge hovering griffin; until an idea, instead of the monster bird, struck her. Might she not, after all, be cowering under imagination? The very maidenly idea wakened her womanliness — to reproach her remainder of pride, not to see more accurately. It was the reason why she resolved, against Emma’s extreme entreaties, to take lodgings in the South valley below the heights, where she could be independent of fancies and perpetual visitors, but near her beloved at any summons of urgency; which Emma would not habitually send because of the coming of a particular gentleman. Dresses were left at Copsley for dining and sleeping there upon occasion, and poor Danvers, despairing over the riddle of her mistress, was condemned to the melancholy descent.

‘It’s my belief,’ she confided to Lady Dunstane’s maid Bartlett, ‘she’ll hate men all her life after that Mr. Dacier.’

If women were deceived, and the riddle deceived herself, there is excuse for a plain man like Redworth in not having the slightest clue to the daily shifting feminine maze he beheld. The strange thing was, that during her maiden time she had never been shifty or flighty, invariably limpid and direct.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/meredith/george/diana-of-the-crossways/chapter40.html

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