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

Chapter 6

The Couple

Six months a married woman, Diana came to Copsley to introduce her husband. They had run over Italy: ‘the Italian Peninsula,’ she quoted him in a letter to Lady Dunstane: and were furnishing their London house. Her first letters from Italy appeared to have a little bloom of sentiment. Augustus was mentioned as liking this and that in the land of beauty. He patronized Art, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak upon pictures and sculptures; he knew a great deal about them. ‘He is an authority.’ Her humour soon began to play round the fortunate man, who did not seem, to the reader’s mind, to bear so well a sentimental clothing. His pride was in being very English on the Continent, and Diana’s instances of his lofty appreciations of the garden of Art and Nature, and statuesque walk through it, would have been more amusing if her friend could have harmonized her idea of the couple. A description of ‘a bit of a wrangle between us’ at Lucca, where an Italian post-master on a journey of inspection, claimed a share of their carriage and audaciously attempted entry, was laughable, but jarred. Would she some day lose her relish for ridicule, and see him at a distance? He was generous, Diana, said she saw fine qualities in him. It might be that he was lavish on his bridal tour. She said he was unselfish, kind, affable with his equals; he was cordial to the acquaintances he met. Perhaps his worst fault was an affected superciliousness before the foreigner, not uncommon in those days. ‘You are to know, dear Emmy, that we English are the aristocracy of Europeans.’ Lady Dunstane inclined to think we were; nevertheless, in the mouth of a ‘gentlemanly official’ the frigid arrogance added a stroke of caricature to his deportment. On the other hand, the reports of him gleaned by Sir Lukin sounded favourable. He was not taken to be preternaturally stiff, nor bright, but a goodish sort of fellow; good horseman, good shot, good character. In short, the average Englishman, excelling as a cavalier, a slayer, and an orderly subject. That was a somewhat elevated standard to the patriotic Emma. Only she would never have stipulated for an average to espouse Diana. Would he understand her, and value the best in her? Another and unanswered question was, how could she have condescended to wed with an average? There was transparently some secret not confided to her friend.

He appeared. Lady Dunstane’s first impression of him recurred on his departure. Her unanswered question drummed at her ears, though she remembered that Tony’s art in leading him out had moderated her rigidly judicial summary of the union during a greater part of the visit. But his requiring to be led out, was against him. Considering the subjects, his talk was passable. The subjects treated of politics, pictures, Continental travel, our manufactures, our wealth and the reasons for it — excellent reasons well-weighed. He was handsome, as men go; rather tall, not too stout, precise in the modern fashion of his dress, and the pair of whiskers encasing a colourless depression up to a long, thin, straight nose, and closed lips indicating an aperture. The contraction of his mouth expressed an intelligence in the attitude of the firmly negative.

The lips opened to smile, the teeth were faultless; an effect was produced, if a cold one — the colder for the unparticipating northern eyes; eyes of that half cloud and blue, which make a kind of hueless grey, and are chiefly striking in an authoritative stage. Without contradicting, for he was exactly polite, his look signified a person conscious of being born to command: in fine, an aristocrat among the ‘aristocracy of Europeans.’ His differences of opinion were prefaced by a ‘Pardon me,’ and pausing smile of the teeth; then a succinctly worded sentence or two, a perfect settlement of the dispute. He disliked argumentation. He said so, and Diana remarked it of him, speaking as, a wife who merely noted a characteristic. Inside his boundary, he had neat phrases, opinions in packets. Beyond it, apparently the world was void of any particular interest. Sir Lukin, whose boundary would have shown a narrower limitation had it been defined, stood no chance with him. Tory versus Whig, he tried a wrestle, and was thrown. They agreed on the topic of Wine. Mr. Warwick had a fine taste in wine. Their after-dinner sittings were devoted to this and the alliterative cognate theme, equally dear to the gallant exdragoon, from which it resulted that Lady Dunstane received satisfactory information in a man’s judgement of him. ‘Warwick is a clever fellow, and a thorough man of the world, I can tell you, Emmy.’ Sir Lukin further observed that he was a gentlemanly fellow. ‘A gentlemanly official!’ Diana’s primary dash of portraiture stuck to him, so true it was! As for her, she seemed to have forgotten it. Not only did she strive to show him to advantage by leading him out; she played second to him; subserviently, fondly; she quite submerged herself, content to be dull if he might shine; and her talk of her husband in her friend’s blue-chamber boudoir of the golden stars, where they had discussed the world and taken counsel in her maiden days, implied admiration of his merits. He rode superbly: he knew Law: he was prepared for any position: he could speak really eloquently; she had heard him at a local meeting. And he loved the old Crossways almost as much as she did. ‘He has promised me he will never ask me to sell it,’ she said, with a simpleness that could hardly have been acted.

When she was gone, Lady Dunstane thought she had worn a mask, in the natural manner of women trying to make the best of their choice; and she excused her poor Tony for the artful presentation of him at her own cost. But she could not excuse her for having married the man. Her first and her final impression likened him to a house locked up and empty: a London house conventionally furnished and decorated by the upholsterer, and empty of inhabitants. How a brilliant and beautiful girl could have committed this rashness, was the perplexing riddle: the knottier because the man was idle: and Diana had ambition; she despised and dreaded idleness in men. Empty of inhabitants even to the ghost! Both human and spiritual were wanting. The mind contemplating him became reflectively stagnant.

I must not be unjust! Lady Dunstane hastened to exclaim, at a whisper that he had at least proved his appreciation of Tony; whom he preferred to call Diana, as she gladly remembered: and the two were bound together for a moment warmly by her recollection of her beloved Tony’s touching little petition: ‘You will invite us again?’ and then there had flashed in Tony’s dear dark eyes the look of their old love drowning. They were not to be thought of separately. She admitted that the introduction to a woman of her friend’s husband is crucially trying to him: he may well show worse than he is. Yet his appreciation of Tony in espousing her, was rather marred by Sir Lukin’s report of him as a desperate admirer of beautiful woman. It might be for her beauty only, not for her spiritual qualities! At present he did not seem aware of their existence. But, to be entirely just, she had hardly exhibited them or a sign of them during the first interview: and sitting with his hostess alone, he had seized the occasion to say, that he was the happiest of men. He said it with the nearest approach to fervour she had noticed. Perhaps the very fact of his not producing a highly favourable impression, should be set to plead on his behalf. Such as he was, he was himself, no simulator. She longed for Mr. Redworth’s report of him.

Her compassion for Redworth’s feelings when beholding the woman he loved another man’s wife, did not soften the urgency of her injunction that he should go speedily, and see as much of them as he could. ‘Because,’ she gave her reason, ‘I wish Diana to know she has not lost a single friend through her marriage, and is only one the richer.’

Redworth buckled himself to the task. He belonged to the class of his countrymen who have a dungeon-vault for feelings that should not be suffered to cry abroad, and into this oubliette he cast them, letting them feed as they might, or perish. It was his heart down below, and in no voluntary musings did he listen to it, to sustain the thing. Grimly lord of himself, he stood emotionless before the world. Some worthy fellows resemble him, and they are called deep-hearted. He was dungeon-deep. The prisoner underneath might clamour and leap; none heard him or knew of him; nor did he ever view the day. Diana’s frank: ‘Ah, Mr. Redworth, how glad I am to see you!’ was met by the calmest formalism of the wish for her happiness. He became a guest at her London house, and his report of the domesticity there, and notably of the lord of the house, pleased Lady Dunstane more than her husband’s. He saw the kind of man accurately, as far as men are to be seen on the surface; and she could say assentingly, without anxiety: ‘Yes, yes,’ to his remarks upon Mr. Warwick, indicative of a man of capable head in worldly affairs, commonplace beside his wife. The noble gentleman for Diana was yet unborn, they tacitly agreed. Meantime one must not put a mortal husband to the fiery ordeal of his wife’s deserts, they agreed likewise. ‘You may be sure she is a constant friend,’ Lady Dunstane said for his comfort; and she reminded herself subsequently of a shade of disappointment at his imperturbable rejoinder: ‘I could calculate on it.’ For though not at all desiring to witness the sentimental fit, she wished to see that he held an image of Diana:— surely a woman to kindle poets and heroes, the princes of the race; and it was a curious perversity that the two men she had moved were merely excellent, emotionless, ordinary men, with heads for business. Elsewhere, out of England, Diana would have been a woman for a place in song, exalted to the skies. Here she had the destiny to inflame Mr. Redworth and Mr. Warwick, two railway Directors, bent upon scoring the country to the likeness of a child’s lines of hop-scotch in a gravel-yard.

As with all invalids, the pleasure of living backward was haunted by the tortures it evoked, and two years later she recalled this outcry against the Fates. She would then have prayed for Diana to inflame none but such men as those two. The original error was; of course, that rash and most inexplicable marriage, a step never alluded to by the driven victim of it. Lady Dunstane heard rumours of dissensions. Diana did not mention them. She spoke of her husband as unlucky in railway ventures, and of a household necessity for money, nothing further. One day she wrote of a Government appointment her husband had received, ending the letter: ‘So there is the end of our troubles.’ Her friend rejoiced, and afterward looking back at her satisfaction, saw the dire beginning of them.

Lord Dannisburgh’s name, as one of the admirers of Mrs. Warwick, was dropped once or twice by Sir Lukin. He had dined with the Warwicks, and met the eminent member of the Cabinet at their table. There is no harm in admiration, especially on the part of one of a crowd observing a star. No harm can be imputed when the husband of a beautiful woman accepts an appointment from the potent Minister admiring her. So Lady Dunstane thought, for she was sure of Diana to her inmost soul. But she soon perceived in Sir Lukin that the old Dog-world was preparing to yelp on a scent. He of his nature belonged to the hunting pack, and with a cordial feeling for the quarry, he was quite with his world in expecting to see her run, and readiness to join the chase. No great scandal had occurred for several months. The world was in want of it; and he, too, with a very cordial feeling for the quarry, piously hoping she would escape, already had his nose to ground, collecting testimony in the track of her. He said little to his wife, but his world was getting so noisy that he could not help half pursing his lips, as with the soft whistle of an innuendo at the heels of it. Redworth was in America, engaged in carving up that hemisphere. She had no source of information but her husband’s chance gossip; and London was death to her; and Diana, writing faithfully twice a week, kept silence as to Lord Dannisburgh, except in naming him among her guests. She wrote this, which might have a secret personal signification: ‘We women are the verbs passive of the alliance; we have to learn, and if we take to activity, with the best intentions, we conjugate a frightful disturbance. We are to run on lines, like the steam-trains, or we come to no station, dash to fragments. I have the misfortune to know I was born an active. I take my chance.’

Once she coupled the names of Lord Larrian and Lord Dannisburgh, remarking that she had a fatal attraction for antiques.

The death of her husband’s uncle and illness of his aunt withdrew her to The Crossways, where she remained nursing for several months, reading diligently, as her letters showed, and watching the approaches of the destroyer. She wrote like her former self, subdued by meditation in the presence of that inevitable. The world ceased barking. Lady Dunstane could suppose Mr. Warwick to have now a reconciling experience of his wife’s noble qualities. He probably did value them more. He spoke of her to Sir Lukin in London with commendation. ‘She is an attentive nurse.’ He inherited a considerable increase of income when he and his wife were the sole tenants of The Crossways, but disliking the house, for reasons hard to explain by a man previously professing to share her attachment to it, he wished to sell or let the place, and his wife would do neither. She proposed to continue living in their small London house rather than be cut off from The Crossways, which, he said, was ludicrous: people should live up to their position; and he sneered at the place, and slightly wounded her, for she was open to a wound when the cold fire of a renewed attempt at warmth between them was crackling and showing bits of flame, after she had given proof of her power to serve. Service to himself and his relatives affected him. He deferred to her craze for The Crossways, and they lived in a larger London house, ‘up to their position,’ which means ever a trifle beyond it, and gave choice dinner-parties to the most eminent. His jealousy slumbered. Having ideas of a seat in Parliament at this period, and preferment superior to the post he held, Mr. Warwick deemed it sagacious to court the potent patron Lord Dannisburgh could be; and his wife had his interests at heart, the fork-tongued world said. The cry revived. Stories of Lord D. and Mrs. W. whipped the hot pursuit. The moral repute of the great Whig lord and the beauty of the lady composed inflammable material.

‘Are you altogether cautious?’ Lady Dunstane wrote to Diana; and her friend sent a copious reply: ‘You have the fullest right to ask your Tony anything, and I will answer as at the Judgement bar. You allude to Lord Dannisburgh. He is near what Dada’s age would have been, and is, I think I can affirm, next to my dead father and my Emmy, my dearest friend. I love him. I could say it in the streets without shame; and you do not imagine me shameless. Whatever his character in his younger days, he can be honestly a woman’s friend, believe me. I see straight to his heart; he has no disguise; and unless I am to suppose that marriage is the end of me, I must keep him among my treasures. I see him almost daily; it is not possible to think I can be deceived; and as long as he does me the honour to esteem my poor portion of brains by coming to me for what he is good enough to call my counsel, I shall let the world wag its tongue. Between ourselves, I trust to be doing some good. I know I am of use in various ways. No doubt there is a danger of a woman’s head being turned, when she reflects that a powerful Minister governing a kingdom has not considered her too insignificant to advise him; and I am sensible of it. I am, I assure you, dearest, on my guard against it. That would not attach me to him, as his homely friendliness does. He is the most amiable, cheerful, benignant of men; he has no feeling of an enemy, though naturally his enemies are numerous and venomous. He is full of observation and humour. How he would amuse you! In many respects accord with you. And I should not have a spark of jealousy. Some day I shall beg permission to bring him to Copsley. At present, during the Session, he is too busy, as you know. Me — his “crystal spring of wisdom”— he can favour with no more than an hour in the afternoon, or a few minutes at night. Or I get a pencilled note from the benches of the House, with an anecdote, or news of a Division. I am sure to be enlivened.

‘So I have written to you fully, simply, frankly. Have perfect faith in your Tony, who would, she vows to heaven; die rather than disturb it and her heart’s beloved.’

The letter terminated with one of Lord Dannisburgh’s anecdotes, exciting to merriment in the season of its freshness; — and a postscript of information: ‘Augustus expects a mission — about a month; uncertain whether I accompany him.’

Mr. Warwick departed on his mission. Diana remained in London. Lady Dunstane wrote entreating her to pass the month — her favourite time of the violet yielding to the cowslip — at Copsley. The invitation could not be accepted, but the next day Diana sent word that she had a surprise for the following Sunday, and would bring a friend to lunch, if Sir Lukin would meet them at the corner of the road in the valley leading up to the heights, at a stated hour.

Lady Dunstane gave the listless baronet his directions, observing: ‘It’s odd, she never will come alone since her marriage.’

‘Queer,’ said he of the serenest absence of conscience; and that there must be something not entirely right going on, he strongly inclined to think.

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