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

Chapter 43

Nuptial Chapter; and of How a Barely Willing Woman was Led to Bloom with the Nuptial Sentiment

Emma watched them on their way through the park, till they rounded the beechwood, talking, it could be surmised, of ordinary matters; the face of the gentleman turning at times to his companion’s, which steadily fronted the gale. She left the ensuing to a prayer for their good direction, with a chuckle at Tony’s evident feeling of a ludicrous posture, and the desperate rush of her agile limbs to have it over. But her prayer throbbed almost to a supplication that the wrong done to her beloved by Dacier — the wound to her own sisterly pride rankling as an injury to her sex, might be cancelled through the union of the woman noble in the sight of God with a more manlike man.

Meanwhile the feet of the couple were going faster than their heads to the end of the journey. Diana knew she would have to hoist the signal-and how? The prospect was dumb-foundering. She had to think of appeasing her Emma. Redworth, for his part; actually supposed she had accepted his escorting in proof of the plain friendship offered him overnight.

‘What do your “birds” do in weather like this?’ she said.

‘Cling to their perches and wait patiently. It’s the bad time with them when you don’t hear them chirp.’

‘Of course you foretold the gale.’

‘Oh, well, it did not require a shepherd or a skipper for that.’

‘Your grand gift will be useful to a yachtsman.’

‘You like yachting. When I have tried my new schooner in the Channel, she is at your command for as long as you and Lady Dunstane please.’

‘So you acknowledge that birds — things of nature — have their bad time?’

‘They profit ultimately by the deluge and the wreck. Nothing on earth is “tucked-up” in perpetuity.’

‘Except the dead. But why should the schooner be at our command?’

‘I shall be in Ireland.’

He could not have said sweeter to her ears or more touching.

‘We shall hardly feel safe without the weatherwise on board.’

‘You may count on my man Barnes; I have proved him. He is up to his work even when he’s bilious: only, in that case, occurring about once a fortnight, you must leave him to fight it out with the elements.’

‘I rather like men of action to have a temper.’

‘I can’t say much for a bilious temper.’

The weather today really seemed of that kind, she remarked. He assented, in the shrug manner — not to dissent: she might say what she would. He helped nowhere to a lead; and so quick are the changes of mood at such moments that she was now far from him under the failure of an effort to come near. But thoughts of Emma pressed.

‘The name of the new schooner? Her name is her picture to me.’

‘I wanted you to christen her.’

‘Launched without a name?’

‘I took a liberty.’

Needless to ask, but she did. ‘With whom?’

‘I named her Diana.’

‘May the Goddess of the silver bow and crescent protect her! To me the name is ominous of mischance.’

‘I would commit my fortunes and life . . .!’ He checked his tongue, ejaculating: ‘Omens!’

She had veered straight away from her romantic aspirations to the blunt extreme of thinking that a widow should be wooed in unornamented matter-of-fact, as she is wedded, with a ‘wilt thou,’ and ‘I will,’ and no decorative illusions. Downright, for the unpoetic creature, if you please! So she rejected the accompaniment of the silver Goddess and high seas for an introduction of the crisis.

‘This would be a thunderer on our coasts. I had a trial of my sailing powers in the Mediterranean.’

As she said it, her musings on him then, with the contract of her position toward him now, fierily brushed her cheeks; and she wished him the man to make one snatch at her poor lost small butterfly bit of freedom, so that she might suddenly feel in haven, at peace with her expectant Emma. He could have seen the inviting consciousness, but he was absurdly watchful lest the flying sprays of border trees should strike her. He mentioned his fear, and it became an excuse for her seeking protection of her veil. ‘It is our natural guardian,’ she said.

‘Not much against timber,’ said he.

The worthy creature’s anxiety was of the pattern of cavaliers escorting dames — an exaggeration of honest zeal; a present example of clownish goodness, it might seem; until entering the larch and firwood along the beaten heights, there was a rocking and straining of the shallow-rooted trees in a tremendous gust that quite pardoned him for curving his arm in a hoop about her and holding a shoulder in front. The veil did her positive service.

He was honourably scrupulous not to presume. A right good unimpulsive gentleman: the same that she had always taken him for and liked.

‘These firs are not taproots,’ he observed, by way of apology.

Her dress volumed and her ribands rattled and chirruped on the verge of the slope. ‘I will take your arm here,’ she said.

Redworth received the little hand, saying: ‘Lean to me.’

They descended upon great surges of wind piping and driving every light surface-atom as foam; and they blinked and shook; even the man was shaken. But their arms were interlinked and they grappled; the battering enemy made them one. It might mean nothing, or everything: to him it meant the sheer blissful instant.

At the foot of the hill, he said: ‘It’s harder to keep to, the terms of yesterday.’

‘What were they?’ said she, and took his breath more than the fury of the storm had done.

‘Raise the veil, I beg.’

‘Widows do not wear it.’

The look revealed to him was a fugitive of the wilds, no longer the glittering shooter of arrows.

‘Have you . . .?’ changed to me, was the signification understood. ‘Can you? — for life’. Do you think you can?’

His poverty in the pleading language melted her.

‘What I cannot do, my best of friends, is to submit to be seated on a throne, with you petitioning. Yes, as far as concerns this hand of mine, if you hold it worthy of you. We will speak of that. Now tell me the name of the weed trailing along the hedge there!

He knew it well; a common hedgerow weed; but the placid diversion baffled him. It was clematis, he said.

‘It drags in the dust when it has no firm arm to cling to. I passed it beside you yesterday with a flaunting mind and not a suspicion of a likeness. How foolish I was! I could volubly sermonize; only it should be a young maid to listen. Forgive me the yesterday.’

‘You have never to ask. You withdraw your hand — was I rough?’

‘No,’ she smiled demurely; ‘it must get used to the shackles: but my cottage is in sight. I have a growing love for the place. We will enter it like plain people — if you think of coming in.’

As she said it she had a slight shock of cowering under eyes tolerably hawkish in their male glitter; but her coolness was not disturbed; and without any apprehensions she reflected on what has been written of the silly division and war of the sexes:— which two might surely enter on an engagement to live together amiably, unvexed by that barbarous old fowl and falcon interlude. Cool herself, she imagined the same of him, having good grounds for the delusion; so they passed through the cottage-garden and beneath the low porchway, into her little sitting-room, where she was proceeding to speak composedly of her preference for cottages, while untying her bonnet-strings:—‘If I had begun my life in a cottage!’— when really a big storm-wave caught her from shore and whirled her to mid-sea, out of every sensibility but the swimming one of her loss of self in the man.

‘You would not have been here!’ was all he said. She was up at his heart, fast-locked, undergoing a change greater than the sea works; her thoughts one blush, her brain a fire-fount. This was not like being seated on a throne.

‘There,’ said he, loosening his hug, ‘now you belong to me! I know you from head to foot. After that, my darling, I could leave you for years, and call you wife, and be sure of you. I could swear it for you — my life on it! That ‘s what I think of you. Don’t wonder that I took my chance — the first:— I have waited!’

Truer word was never uttered, she owned, coming into some harmony with man’s kiss on her mouth: the man violently metamorphozed to a stranger, acting on rights she had given him. And who was she to dream of denying them? Not an idea in her head! Bound verily to be thankful for such love, on hearing that it dated from the night in Ireland. . . . ‘So in love with you that, on my soul, your happiness was my marrow — whatever you wished; anything you chose. It’s reckoned a fool’s part. No, it’s love: the love of a woman — the one woman! I was like the hand of a clock to the springs. I taught this old watch-dog of a heart to keep guard and bury the bones you tossed him.’

‘Ignorantly, admit,’ said she, and could have bitten her tongue for the empty words that provoked: ‘Would you have flung him nothing?’ and caused a lowering of her eyelids and shamed glimpses of recollections. ‘I hear you have again been defending me. I told you, I think, I wished I had begun my girl’s life in a cottage. All that I have had to endure!.. or so it seems to me: it may be my way of excusing myself:— I know my cunning in that peculiar art. I would take my chance of mixing among the highest and the brightest.’

‘Naturally.’

‘Culpably.’

‘It brings you to me.’

‘Through a muddy channel.’

‘Your husband has full faith in you, my own.’

‘The faith has to be summoned and is buffeted, as we were just now on the hill. I wish he had taken me from a cottage.’

‘You pushed for the best society, like a fish to its native sea.’

‘Pray say, a salmon to the riverheads.’

‘Better,’ Redworth laughed joyfully, between admiration of the tongue that always outflew him, and of the face he reddened.

By degrees her apter and neater terms of speech helped her to a notion of regaining some steps of her sunken ascendancy, under the weight of the novel masculine pressure on her throbbing blood; and when he bent to her to take her lord’s farewell of her, after agreeing to go and delight Emma with a message, her submission and her personal pride were not so much at variance: perhaps because her buzzing head had no ideas. ‘Tell Emma you have undertaken to wash the blackamoor as white as she can be,’ she said perversely, in her spite at herself for not coming, as it were, out of the dawn to the man she could consent to wed: and he replied: ‘I shall tell her my dark girl pleads for a fortnight’s grace before she and I set sail for the West coast of Ireland’: conjuring a picture that checked any protest against the shortness of time:— and Emma would surely be his ally.

They talked of the Dublin Ball: painfully to some of her thoughts. But Redworth kissed that distant brilliant night as freshly as if no belabouring years rolled in the chasm: which led her to conceive partly, and wonderingly, the nature of a strong man’s passion; and it subjugated the woman knowing of a contrast. The smart of the blow dealt her by him who had fired the passion in her became a burning regret for the loss of that fair fame she had sacrificed to him, and could not bring to her truer lover: though it was but the outer view of herself — the world’s view; only she was generous and of honest conscience, and but for the sake of her truer lover, she would mentally have allowed the world to lash and abuse her, without a plea of material purity. Could it be named? The naming of it in her clear mind lessened it to accidental:— By good fortune, she was no worse! — She said to Redworth, when finally dismissing him; ‘I bring no real disgrace to you, my friend.’— To have had this sharp spiritual battle at such a time, was proof of honest conscience, rarer among women, as the world has fashioned them yet, than the purity demanded of them. — His answer: ‘You are my wife!’ rang in her hearing.

When she sat alone at last, she was incapable, despite her nature’s imaginative leap to brightness, of choosing any single period, auspicious or luminous or flattering, since the hour of her first meeting this man, rather than the grey light he cast on her, promising helpfulness, and inspiring a belief in her capacity to help. Not the Salvatore high raptures nor the nights of social applause could appear preferable: she strained her shattered wits to try them. As for her superlunary sphere, it was in fragments; and she mused on the singularity, considering that she was not deeply enamoured. Was she so at all? The question drove her to embrace the dignity of being reasonable — under Emmy’s guidance. For she did not stand firmly alone; her story confessed it. Marriage might be the archway to the road of good service, even as our passage through the flesh may lead to the better state. She had thoughts of the kind, and had them while encouraging herself to deplore the adieu to her little musk-scented sitting-room, where a modest freedom breathed, and her individuality had seemed pointing to a straighter growth.

She nodded subsequently to the truth of her happy Emma’s remark: ‘You were created for the world, Tony.’ A woman of blood and imagination in the warring world, without a mate whom she can revere, subscribes to a likeness with those independent minor realms between greedy mighty neighbours, which conspire and undermine when they do not openly threaten to devour. So, then, this union, the return to the wedding yoke, received sanction of grey-toned reason. She was not enamoured she could say it to herself. She had, however, been surprised, both by the man and her unprotesting submission; surprised and warmed, unaccountably warmed. Clearness of mind in the woman chaste by nature, however little ignorant it allowed her to be in the general review of herself, could not compass the immediately personal, with its acknowledgement of her subserviency to touch and pressure — and more, stranger, her readiness to kindle. She left it unexplained. Unconsciously the image of Dacier was effaced. Looking backward, her heart was moved to her long-constant lover with most pitying tender wonderment — stormy man, as her threatened senses told her that he was. Looking at him, she had to mask her being abashed and mastered. And looking forward, her soul fell in prayer for this true man’s never repenting of his choice. Sure of her now, Mr. Thomas Redworth had returned to the station of the courtier, and her feminine sovereignty was not ruffled to make her feel too feminine. Another revelation was his playful talk when they were more closely intimate. He had his humour as well as his hearty relish of hers.

‘If all Englishmen were like him!’ she chimed with Emma Dunstane’s eulogies, under the influence.

‘My dear,’ the latter replied, ‘we should simply march over the Four Quarters and be blessed by the nations! Only, avoid your trick of dashing headlong to the other extreme. He has his faults.’

‘Tell me of them,’ Diana cooed for an answer. ‘Do. I want the flavour. A girl would be satisfied with superhuman excellence. A widow asks for feature.’

‘To my thinking, the case is, that if it is a widow who sees the superhuman excellence in a man, she may be very well contented to cross the bridge with him,’ rejoined Emma. . . .

‘Suppose the bridge to break, and for her to fall into the water, he rescuing her — then perhaps!’

‘But it has been happening!’

‘But piecemeal, in extension, so slowly. I go to him a derelict, bearing a story of the sea; empty of ideas. I remember sailing out of harbour passably well freighted for commerce.’

‘When Tom Redworth has had command of the “derelict” a week, I should like to see her!’

The mention of that positive captaincy drowned Diana in morning colours. She was dominated, physically and morally, submissively too. What she craved, in the absence of the public whiteness which could have caused her to rejoice in herself as a noble gift, was the spring of enthusiasm. Emma touched a quivering chord of pride with her hint at the good augury, and foreshadowing of the larger Union, in the Irishwoman’s bestowal of her hand on the open-minded Englishman she had learned to trust. The aureole glimmered transiently: she could neither think highly of the woman about to be wedded, nor poetically of the man; nor, therefore, rosily of the ceremony, nor other than vacuously of life. And yet, as she avowed to Emma, she had gathered the three rarest good things of life: a faithful friend, a faithful lover, a faithful servant: the two latter exposing an unimagined quality of emotion. Danvers, on the night of the great day for Redworth, had undressed her with trembling fingers, and her mistress was led to the knowledge that the maid had always been all eye; and on reflection to admit that it came of a sympathy she did not share.

But when Celtic brains are reflective on their emotional vessel they shoot direct as the arrow of logic. Diana’s glance at the years behind lighted every moving figure to a shrewd transparency, herself among them. She was driven to the conclusion that the granting of any of her heart’s wild wishes in those days would have lowered her — or frozen. Dacier was a coldly luminous image; still a tolling name; no longer conceivably her mate. Recollection rocked, not she. The politician and citizen was admired: she read the man; — more to her own discredit than to his, but she read him, and if that is done by the one of two lovers who was true to love, it is the God of the passion pronouncing a final release from the shadow of his chains.

Three days antecedent to her marriage, she went down the hill over her cottage chimneys with Redworth, after hearing him praise and cite to Emma Dunstane sentences of a morning’s report of a speech delivered by Dacier to his constituents. She alluded to it, that she might air her power of speaking of the man coolly to him, or else for the sake of stirring afresh some sentiment he had roused; and he repeated his high opinion of the orator’s political wisdom: whereby was revived in her memory a certain reprehensible view, belonging to her period of mock-girlish naughtiness — too vile! — as to his paternal benevolence, now to clear vision the loftiest manliness. What did she do? She was Irish; therefore intuitively decorous in amatory challenges and interchanges. But she was an impulsive woman, and foliage was thick around, only a few small birds and heaven seeing; and penitence and admiration sprang the impulse. It had to be this or a burst of weeping:— she put a kiss upon his arm.

She had omitted to think that she was dealing with a lover a man of smothered fire, who would be electrically alive to the act through a coat-sleeve. Redworth had his impulse. He kept it under — she felt the big breath he drew in. Imagination began busily building a nest for him, and enthusiasm was not sluggish to make a home of it. The impulse of each had wedded; in expression and repression; her sensibility told her of the stronger.

She rose on the morning of her marriage day with his favourite Planxty Kelly at her lips, a natural bubble of the notes. Emma drove down to the cottage to breakfast and superintend her bride’s adornment, as to which, Diana had spoken slightingly; as well as of the ceremony, and the institution, and this life itself:— she would be married out of her cottage, a widow, a cottager, a woman under a cloud; yes, a sober person taking at last a right practical step, to please her two best friends. The change was marked. She wished to hide it, wished to confide it. Emma was asked: ‘How is he this morning?’ and at the answer, describing his fresh and spirited looks, and his kind ways with Arthur Rhodes, and his fun with Sullivan Smith, and the satisfaction with the bridegroom declared by Lord Larrian (invalided from his Rock and unexpectingly informed of the wedding), Diana forgot that she had kissed her, and this time pressed her lips, in a manner to convey the secret bridally.

‘He has a lovely day.’

‘And bride,’ said Emma.

‘If you two think so! I should like to agree with my dear old lord and bless him for the prize he takes, though it feels itself at present rather like a Christmas bon-bon — a piece of sugar in the wrap of a rhymed motto. He is kind to Arthur, you say?’

‘Like a cordial elder brother.’

‘Dear love, I have it at heart that I was harsh upon Mary Paynham for her letter. She meant well — and I fear she suffers. And it may have been a bit my fault. Blind that I was! When you say “cordial elder brother,” you make him appear beautiful to me. The worst of that is, one becomes aware of the inability to match him.’

‘Read with his eyes when you meet him this morning, my Tony.’

The secret was being clearly perceived by Emma, whose pride in assisting to dress the beautiful creature for her marriage — with the man of men had a tinge from the hymenaeal brand, exulting over Dacier, and in the compensation coming to her beloved for her first luckless footing on this road.

‘How does he go down to the church?’ said Diana.

‘He walks down. Lukin and his Chief drive. He walks, with your Arthur and Mr. Sullivan Smith. He is on his way now.’

Diana looked through the window in the direction of the hill. ‘That is so like him, to walk to his wedding!’

Emma took the place of Danvers in the office of the robing, for the maid, as her mistress managed to hint, was too steeped ‘in the colour of the occasion’ to be exactly tasteful, and had the art, no doubt through sympathy, of charging permissible common words with explosive meanings:— she was in an amorous palpitation, of the reflected state. After several knockings and enterings of the bedchamber-door, she came hurriedly to say: ‘And your pillow, ma’am? I had almost forgotten it!’ A question that caused her mistress to drop the gaze of a moan on Emma, with patience trembling. Diana preferred a hard pillow, and usually carried her own about. ‘Take it,’ she had to reply.

The friends embraced before descending to step into the fateful carriage. ‘And tell me,’ Emma said, ‘are not your views of life brighter today?’

‘Too dazzled to know! It may be a lamp close to the eyes or a radiance of sun. I hope they are.’

‘You are beginning to think hopefully again?’

‘Who can really think, and not think hopefully? You were in my mind last night, and you brought a little boat to sail me past despondency of life and the fear of extinction. When we despair or discolour things, it is our senses in revolt, and they have made the sovereign brain their drudge. I heard you whisper; with your very breath in my ear: “There is nothing the body suffers that the soul may not profit by.” That is Emma’s history. With that I sail into the dark; it is my promise of the immortal: teaches me to see immortality for us. It comes from you, my Emmy.’

If not a great saying, it was in the heart of deep thoughts: proof to Emma that her Tony’s mind had resumed its old clear high-aiming activity; therefore that her nature was working sanely, and that she accepted her happiness, and bore love for a dower to her husband. No blushing confession of the woman’s love of the man would have told her so much as the return to mental harmony with the laws of life shown in her darling’s pellucid little sentence.

She revolved it long after the day of the wedding. To Emma, constantly on the dark decline of the unillumined verge, between the two worlds, those words were a radiance and a nourishment. Had they waned she would have trimmed them to feed her during her soul-sister’s absence. They shone to her of their vitality. She was lying along her sofa, facing her South-western window, one afternoon of late November, expecting Tony from her lengthened honeymoon trip, while a sunset in the van of frost, not without celestial musical reminders of Tony’s husband, began to deepen; and as her friend was coming, she mused on the scenes of her friend’s departure, and how Tony, issuing from her cottage porch had betrayed her feelings in the language of her sex by stooping to lift above her head and kiss the smallest of her landlady’s children ranged up the garden-path to bid her farewell over their strewing of flowers; — and of her murmur to Tony, entering the churchyard, among the grave-mounds: ‘Old Ireland won’t repent it!’ and Tony’s rejoinder, at the sight of the bridegroom advancing, beaming: ‘A singular transformation of Old England!’— and how, having numberless ready sources of laughter and tears down the run of their heart-inheart intimacy, all spouting up for a word in the happy tremour of the moment, they had both bitten their lips and blinked on a moisture of the eyelids. Now the dear woman was really wedded, wedded and mated. Her letters breathed, in their own lively or thoughtful flow, of the perfect mating. Emma gazed into the depths of the waves of crimson, where brilliancy of colour came out of central heaven preternaturally near on earth, till one shade less brilliant seemed an ebbing away to boundless remoteness. Angelical and mortal mixed, making the glory overhead a sign of the close union of our human conditions with the ethereal and psychically divined. Thence it grew that one thought in her breast became a desire for such extension of days as would give her the blessedness to clasp in her lap — if those kind heavens would grant it! — a child of the marriage of the two noblest of human souls, one the dearest; and so have proof at heart that her country and our earth are fruitful in the good, for a glowing future. She was deeply a woman, dumbly a poet. True poets and true women have the native sense of the divineness of what the world deems gross material substance. Emma’s exaltation in fervour had not subsided when she held her beloved in her arms under the dusk of the withdrawing redness. They sat embraced, with hands locked, in the unlighted room, and Tony spoke of the splendid sky. ‘You watched it knowing I was on my way to you?’

‘Praying, dear.’

‘For me?’

‘That I might live long enough to be a godmother.’

There was no reply: there was an involuntary little twitch of Tony’s fingers.

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