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

Chapter 7

The Crisis

It was a confirmed suspicion when he beheld Lord Dannisburgh on the box of a four-inhand, and the peerless Diana beside him, cockaded lackeys in plain livery and the lady’s maid to the rear. But Lord Dannisburgh’s visit was a compliment, and the freak of his driving down under the beams of Aurora on a sober Sunday morning capital fun; so with a gaiety that was kept alive for the invalid Emma to partake of it, they rattled away to the heights, and climbed them, and Diana rushed to the arms of her friend, whispering and cooing for pardon if she startled her, guilty of a little whiff of blarney:— Lord Dannisburgh wanted so much to be introduced to her, and she so much wanted her to know him, and she hoped to be graciously excused for thus bringing them together, ‘that she might be chorus to them!’ Chorus was a pretty fiction on the part of the thrilling and topping voice. She was the very radiant Diana of her earliest opening day, both in look and speech, a queenly comrade, and a spirit leaping and shining like a mountain water. She did not seduce, she ravished. The judgement was taken captive and flowed with her. As to the prank of the visit, Emma heartily enjoyed it and hugged it for a holiday of her own, and doating on the beautiful, darkeyed, fresh creature, who bore the name of the divine Huntress, she thought her a true Dian in stature, step, and attributes, the genius of laughter superadded. None else on earth so sweetly laughed, none so spontaneously, victoriously provoked the healthful openness. Her delicious chatter, and her museful sparkle in listening, equally quickened every sense of life. Adorable as she was to her friend Emma at all times, she that day struck a new fountain in memory. And it was pleasant to see the great lord’s admiration of this wonder. One could firmly believe in their friendship, and his winning ideas from the abounding bubbling well. A recurrent smile beamed on his face when hearing and observing her. Certain dishes provided at the table were Diana’s favourites, and he relished them, asking for a second help, and remarking that her taste was good in that as in all things. They lunched, eating like boys. They walked over the grounds of Copsley, and into the lanes and across the meadows of the cowslip, rattling, chatting, enlivening the frosty air, happy as children biting to the juices of ripe apples off the tree. But Tony was the tree, the dispenser of the rosy gifts. She had a moment of reflection, only a moment, and Emma felt the pause as though a cloud had shadowed them and a spirit had been shut away. Both spoke of their happiness at the kiss of parting. That melancholy note at the top of the wave to human hearts conscious of its enforced decline was repeated by them, and Diana’s eyelids blinked to dismiss a tear.

‘You have no troubles?’ Emma said.

‘Only the pain of the good-bye to my beloved,’ said Diana. ‘I have never been happier — never shall be! Now you know him you think with me? I knew you would. You have seen him as he always is — except when he is armed for battle. He is the kindest of souls. And soul I say. He is the one man among men who gives me notions of a soul in men.’

The eulogy was exalted. Lady Dunstane made a little mouth for Oh, in correction of the transcendental touch, though she remembered their foregone conversations upon men — strange beings that they are! — and understood Diana’s meaning.

‘Really! really! honour!’ Diana emphasized her extravagant praise, to print it fast. ‘Hear him speak of Ireland.’

‘Would he not speak of Ireland in a tone to catch the Irishwoman?’

‘He is past thoughts of catching, dearest. At that age men are pools of fish, or what you will: they are not anglers. Next year, if you invite us, we will come again.’

‘But you will come to stay in the Winter?’

‘Certainly. But I am speaking of one of my holidays.’

They kissed fervently. The lady mounted; the grey and portly lord followed her; Sir Lukin flourished his whip, and Emma was left to brood over her friend’s last words: ‘One of my holidays.’ Not a hint to the detriment of her husband had passed. The stray beam balefully illuminating her marriage slipped from her involuntarily. Sir Lukin was troublesome with his ejaculations that evening, and kept speculating on the time of the arrival of the four-inhand in London; upon which he thought a great deal depended. They had driven out of town early, and if they drove back late they would not be seen, as all the cacklers were sure then to be dressing for dinner, and he would not pass the Clubs. ‘I couldn’t suggest it,’ he said. ‘But Dannisburgh’s an old hand. But they say he snaps his fingers at tattle, and laughs. Well, it doesn’t matter for him, perhaps, but a game of two. . . . Oh! it’ll be all right. They can’t reach London before dusk. And the cat’s away.’

‘It’s more than ever incomprehensible to me how she could have married that man,’ said his wife.

‘I’ve long since given it up,’ said he.

Diana wrote her thanks for the delightful welcome, telling of her drive home to smoke and solitude, with a new host of romantic sensations to keep her company. She wrote thrice in the week, and the same addition of one to the ordinary number next week. Then for three weeks not a line. Sir Lukin brought news from London that Warwick had returned, nothing to explain the silence. A letter addressed to The Crossways was likewise unnoticed. The supposition that they must be visiting on a round, appeared rational; but many weeks elapsed, until Sir Lukin received a printed sheet in the superscription of a former military comrade, who had marked a paragraph. It was one of those journals, now barely credible, dedicated to the putrid of the upper circle, wherein initials raised sewer-lamps, and Asmodeus lifted a roof, leering hideously. Thousands detested it, and fattened their crops on it. Domesticated beasts of superior habits to the common will indulge themselves with a luxurious roll in carrion, for a revival of their original instincts. Society was largely a purchaser. The ghastly thing was dreaded as a scourge, hailed as a refreshment, nourished as a parasite. It professed undaunted honesty, and operated in the fashion of the worms bred of decay. Success was its boasted justification. The animal world, when not rigorously watched, will always crown with success the machine supplying its appetites. The old dog-world took signal from it. The one-legged devil-god waved his wooden hoof, and the creatures in view, the hunt was uproarious. Why should we seem better than we are? down with hypocrisy, cried the censor morum, spicing the lamentable derelictions of this and that great person, male and female. The plea of corruption of blood in the world, to excuse the public chafing of a grievous itch, is not less old than sin; and it offers a merry day of frisky truant running to the animal made unashamed by another and another stripped, branded, and stretched flat. Sir Lukin read of Mr. and Mrs. W. and a distinguished Peer of the realm. The paragraph was brief; it had a flavour. Promise of more to come, pricked curiosity. He read it enraged, feeling for his wife; and again indignant, feeling for Diana. His third reading found him out: he felt for both, but as a member of the whispering world, much behind the scenes, he had a longing for the promised insinuations, just to know what they could say, or dared say. The paper was not shown to Lady Dunstane. A run to London put him in the tide of the broken dam of gossip. The names were openly spoken and swept from mouth to mouth of the scandalmongers, gathering matter as they flew. He knocked at Diana’s door, where he was informed that the mistress of the house was absent. More than official gravity accompanied the announcement. Her address was unknown. Sir Lukin thought it now time to tell his wife. He began with a hesitating circumlocution, in order to prepare her mind for bad news. She divined immediately that it concerned Diana, and forcing him to speak to the point, she had the story jerked out to her in a sentence. It stopped her heart.

The chill of death was tasted in that wavering ascent from oblivion to recollection. Why had not Diana come to her, she asked herself, and asked her husband; who, as usual, was absolutely unable to say. Under compulsory squeezing, he would have answered, that she did not come because she could not fib so easily to her bosom friend: and this he thought, notwithstanding his personal experience of Diana’s generosity. But he had other personal experiences of her sex, and her sex plucked at the bright star and drowned it.

The happy day of Lord Dannisburgh’s visit settled in Emma’s belief as the cause of Mr. Warwick’s unpardonable suspicions and cruelty. Arguing from her own sensations of a day that had been like the return of sweet health to her frame, she could see nothing but the loveliest freakish innocence in Diana’s conduct, and she recalled her looks, her words, every fleeting gesture, even to the ingenuousness of the noble statesman’s admiration of her, for the confusion of her unmanly and unworthy husband. And Emma was nevertheless a thoughtful person; only her heart was at the head of her thoughts, and led the file, whose reasoning was accurate on erratic tracks. All night her heart went at fever pace. She brought the repentant husband to his knees, and then doubted, strongly doubted, whether she would, whether in consideration for her friend she could, intercede with Diana to forgive him. In the morning she slept heavily. Sir Lukin had gone to London early for further tidings. She awoke about midday, and found a letter on her pillow. It was Diana’s. Then while her fingers eagerly tore it open, her heart, the champion rider over-night, sank. It needed support of facts, and feared them: not in distrust of that dear persecuted soul, but because the very bravest of hearts is of its nature a shivering defender, sensitive in the presence of any hostile array, much craving for material support, until the mind and spirit displace it, depute it to second them instead of leading.

She read by a dull November fog-light a mixture of the dreadful and the comforting, and dwelt upon the latter in abandonment, hugged it, though conscious of evil and the little that there was to veritably console.

The close of the letter struck the blow. After bluntly stating that Mr. Warwick had served her with a process, and that he had no case without suborning witnesses, Diana said:

‘But I leave the case, and him, to the world. Ireland, or else America, it is a guiltless kind of suicide to bury myself abroad. He has my letters. They are such as I can own to you; and ask you to kiss me — and kiss me when you have heard all the evidence, all that I can add to it, kiss me. You know me too well to think I would ask you to kiss criminal lips. But I cannot face the world. In the dock, yes. Not where I am expected to smile and sparkle, on pain of incurring suspicion if I show a sign of oppression. I cannot do that. I see myself wearing a false grin — your Tony! No, I do well to go. This is my resolution; and in consequence — my beloved! my only truly loved on earth! I do not come to you, to grieve you, as I surely should. Nor would it soothe me, dearest. This will be to you the best of reasons. It could not soothe me to see myself giving pain to Emma. I am like a pestilence, and let me swing away to the desert, for there I do no harm. I know I am right. I have questioned myself — it is not cowardice. I do not quail. I abhor the part of actress. I should do it well — too well; destroy my soul in the performance. Is a good name before such a world as this worth that sacrifice? A convent and self-quenching; — cloisters would seem to me like holy dew. But that would be sleep, and I feel the powers of life. Never have I felt them so mightily. If it were not for being called on to act and mew, I would stay, fight, meet a bayonet-hedge of charges and rebut them. I have my natural weapons and my cause. It must be confessed that I have also more knowledge of men and the secret contempt — it must be-the best of them entertain for us. Oh! and we confirm it if we trust them. But they have been at a wicked school.

‘I will write. From whatever place, you shall have letters, and constant. I write no more now. In my present mood I find no alternative between rageing and drivelling. I am henceforth dead to the world. Never dead to Emma till my breath is gone — poor flame! I blow at a bed-room candle, by which I write in a brown fog, and behold what I am-though not even serving to write such a tangled scrawl as this. I am of no mortal service. In two days I shall be out of England. Within a week you shall hear where. I long for your heart on mine, your dear eyes. You have faith in me, and I fly from you! — I must be mad. Yet I feel calmly reasonable. I know that this is the thing to do. Some years hence a grey woman may return, to hear of a butterfly Diana, that had her day and disappeared. Better than a mewing and courtseying simulacrum of the woman — I drivel again. Adieu. I suppose I am not liable to capture and imprisonment until the day when my name is cited to appear. I have left London. This letter and I quit the scene by different routes — I would they were one. My beloved! I have an ache — I think I am wronging you. I am not mistress of myself, and do as something within me, wiser, than I, dictates. — You will write kindly. Write your whole heart. It is not compassion I want, I want you. I can bear stripes from you. Let me hear Emma’s voice — the true voice. This running away merits your reproaches. It will look like —. I have more to confess: the tigress in me wishes it were! I should then have a reckless passion to fold me about, and the glory infernal, if you name it so, and so it would be-of suffering for and with some one else. As it is, I am utterly solitary, sustained neither from above nor below, except within myself, and that is all fire and smoke, like their new engines. — I kiss this miserable sheet of paper. Yes, I judge that I have run off a line — and what a line! which hardly shows a trace for breathing things to follow until they feel the transgression in wreck. How immensely nature seems to prefer men to women! — But this paper is happier than the writer.

‘Your TONY.’

That was the end. Emma kissed it in tears. They had often talked of the possibility of a classic friendship between women, the alliance of a mutual devotedness men choose to doubt of. She caught herself accusing Tony of the lapse from friendship. Hither should the true friend have flown unerringly.

The blunt ending of the letter likewise dealt a wound. She reperused it, perused and meditated. The flight of Mrs. Warwick! She heard that cry-fatal! But she had no means of putting a hand on her. ‘Your Tony.’ The coldness might be set down to exhaustion: it might, yet her not coming to her friend for counsel and love was a positive weight in the indifferent scale. She read the letter backwards, and by snatches here and there; many perusals and hours passed before the scattered creature exhibited in its pages came to her out of the flying threads of the web as her living Tony, whom she loved and prized and was ready to defend gainst the world. By that time the fog had lifted; she saw the sky on the borders of milky cloudfolds. Her invalid’s chill sensitiveness conceived a sympathy in the baring heavens, and lying on her sofa in the drawing-room she gained strength of meditative vision, weak though she was to help, through ceasing to brood on her wound and herself. She cast herself into her dear Tony’s feelings; and thus it came, that she imagined Tony would visit The Crossways, where she kept souvenirs of her father, his cane, and his writing-desk, and a precious miniature of him hanging above it, before leaving England forever. The fancy sprang to certainty; every speculation confirmed it.

Had Sir Lukin been at home she would have despatched him to The Crossways at once. The West wind blew, and gave her a view of the Downs beyond the Weald from her southern window. She thought it even possible to drive there and reach the place, on the chance of her vivid suggestion, some time after nightfall; but a walk across the room to try her forces was too convincing of her inability. She walked with an ebony silver-mounted stick, a present from Mr. Redworth. She was leaning on it when the card of Thomas Redworth was handed to her.

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