Dacier was pacing about the drawing-room, as in a place too narrow for him.
Diana stood at the door. ‘Have you forgotten to tell me anything I ought to know?’
He came up to her and shut the door softly behind her, holding her hand. ‘You are near it. I returned.. But tell me first:—You were slightly under a shadow this evening, dejected.’
‘Did I show it?’
She was growing a little suspicious, but this cunning touch of lover-like interest dispersed the shade.
‘To me you did.’
‘It was unpardonable to let it be seen.’
‘No one else could have observed it.’
Her woman’s heart was thrilled; for she had concealed the dejection from Emma.
‘It was nothing,’ she said; ‘a knot in the book I am writing. We poor authors are worried now and then. But you?’
His face rippled by degrees brightly, to excite a reflection in hers.
‘Shall I tune you with good news? I think it will excuse me for coming back.’
‘Very good news?’
‘Brave news, as far as it goes.’
‘Then it concerns you!’
‘Me, you, the country.’
‘Oh! do I guess?’ cried Diana. ‘But speak, pray; I burn.’
‘What am I to have for telling it?’
‘Put no price. You know my heart. I guess—or fancy. It relates to your Chief?’
Dacier smiled in a way to show the lock without the key; and she was insensibly drawn nearer to him, speculating on the smile.
‘Try again,’ said he, keenly appreciating the blindness to his motive of her studious dark eyes, and her open-lipped breathing.
‘Percy! I must be right.’
‘Well, you are. He has decided!’
‘Oh! that is the bravest possible. When did you hear?’
‘He informed me of his final decision this afternoon.’
‘And you were charged with the secret all the evening, and betrayed not a sign! I compliment the diplomatic statesman. But when will it be public?’
‘He calls Parliament together the first week of next month.’
‘The proposal is—? No more compromises!’
Diana clapped hands; and her aspect of enthusiasm was intoxicating. ‘He is a wise man and a gallant Minister! And while you were reading me through, I was blind to you,’ she added meltingly.
‘I have not made too much of it?’ said he.
‘Indeed you have not.’
She was radiant with her dark lightnings, yet visibly subject to him under the spell of the news he had artfully lengthened out to excite and overbalance her:—and her enthusiasm was all pointed to his share in the altered situation, as he well knew and was flattered in knowing.
‘So Tony is no longer dejected? I thought I could freshen you and get my excuse.’
‘Oh! a high wind will make a dead leaf fly like a bird. I soar. Now I do feel proud. I have longed for it—to have you leading the country: not tugged at like a waggon with a treble team uphill. We two are a month in advance of all England. You stand by him?—only to hear it, for I am sure of it!’
‘We stand or fall together.’
Her glowing look doated on the faithful lieutenant.
‘And if the henchman is my hero, I am but a waiting-woman. But I must admire his leader.’
‘Ah! no,’ she joined her hands, wondering whither her armed majesty had fled; ‘no softness! no payments! Flatter me by letting me think you came to a head not a silly woman’s heart, with one name on it, as it has not to betray. I have been frank; you need no proofs . . . ’ The supplicating hands left her figure an easy prey to the storm, and were crushed in a knot on her bosom. She could only shrink. ‘Ah! Percy.. you undo my praise of you—my pride in receiving you.’
They were speechless perforce.
‘You see, Tony, my dearest, I am flesh and blood after all.’
‘You drive me to be ice and door-bolts!’
Her eyes broke over him reproachfully.
‘It is not so much to grant,’ he murmured.
‘It changes everything between us.’
‘Not me. It binds me the faster.’
‘It makes me a loathsome hypocrite.’
‘But, Tony! is it so much?’
‘Not if you value it low.’
‘But how long do you keep me in this rag-puppet’s state of suspension?’
‘Dangling and swinging day and night!’
‘The rag-puppet shall be animated and repaid if I have life. I wish to respect my hero. Have a little mercy. Our day will come: perhaps as wonderfully as this wonderful news. My friend, drop your hands. Have you forgotten who I am? I want to think, Percy!’
‘But you are mine.’
‘You are abasing your own.’
‘No, by heaven!’
‘Worse, dear friend; you are lowering yourself to the woman who loves you.’
‘You must imagine me superhuman.’
‘I worship you—or did.’
‘Be reasonable, Tony. What harm! Surely a trifle of recompense? Just to let me feel I live! You own you love me. Then I am your lover.’
‘My dear friend Percy, when I have consented to be your paramour, this kind of treatment of me will not want apologies.’
The plain speaking from the wound he dealt her was effective with a gentleman who would never have enjoyed his privileges had he been of a nature unsusceptible to her distinct wish and meaning.
He sighed. ‘You know how my family bother me. The woman I want, the only woman I could marry, I can’t have.’
‘You have her in soul.’
‘Body and soul, it must be! I believe you were made without fire.’
‘Perhaps. The element is omitted with some of us happily, some think. Now we can converse. There seems to be a measurement of distances required before men and women have a chance with their brains:—or before a man will understand that he can be advised and seconded. When will the Cabinet be consulted?’
‘Oh, a few days. Promise me . . . ’
‘Any honourable promise!’
‘You will not keep me waiting longer than the end of the Session?’
‘Probably there will be an appeal to the country.’
‘In any case, promise me: have some compassion.’
‘Ah, the compassion! You do not choose your words, Percy, or forget who is the speaker.’
‘It is Tony who forgets the time she has kept her lover dangling. Promise, and I will wait.’
‘You hurt my hand, sir.’
‘I could crack the knuckles. Promise!’
‘Come to me tomorrow.’
‘To-morrow you are in your armour-triple brass! All creation cries out for now. We are mounted on barbs and you talk of ambling.’
‘Arthur Rhodes might have spoken that.’
‘Rhodes!’ he shook off the name in disgust. ‘Pet him as much as you like; don’t . . . ’ he was unable to phrase his objection.
She cooled him further with eulogies of the chevaleresque manner of speaking which young Mr. Rhodes could assume; till for very wrath of blood—not jealousy: he had none of any man, with her; and not passion; the little he had was a fitful gust—he punished her coldness by taking what hastily could be gathered.
Her shape was a pained submission; and she thought: Where is the woman who ever knows a man!—as women do think when one of their artifices of evasion with a lover, or the trick of imposingness, has apparently been subduing him. But the pain was less than previously, for she was now mistress of herself, fearing no abysses.
Dacier released her quickly, saying: ‘If I come tomorrow, shall I have the promise?’
She answered: ‘Be sure I shall not lie.’
‘Why not let me have it before I go?’
‘My friend, to tell you the truth, you have utterly distracted me.’
‘Forgive me if I did hurt your hand.’
‘The hand? You might strike it off.’
‘I can’t be other than a mortal lover, Tony. There’s the fact.’
‘No; the fault is mine when I am degraded. I trust you: there’s the error.’
The trial for Dacier was the sight of her quick-lifting; bosom under the mask of cold language: an attraction and repulsion in union; a delirium to any lover impelled to trample on weak defences. But the evident pain he inflicted moved his pity, which helped to restore his conception of the beauty of her character. She stood so nobly meek. And she was never prudish, only self-respecting. Although the great news he imparted had roused an ardent thirst for holiday and a dash out of harness, and he could hardly check it, he yielded her the lead.
‘Trust me you may,’ he said. ‘But you know—we are one. The world has given you to me, me to you. Why should we be asunder? There’s no reason in it.’
She replied: ‘But still I wish to burn a little incense in honour of myself, or else I cannot live. It is the truth. You make Death my truer friend, and at this moment I would willingly go out. You would respect me more dead than alive. I could better pardon you too.’
He pleaded for the red mouth’s pardon, remotely irritated by the suspicion that she swayed him overmuch: and he had deserved the small benevolences and donations of love, crumbs and heavenly dews!
‘Not a word of pardon,’ said Diana. ‘I shall never count an iota against you “in the dark backward and abysm of Time.” This news is great, and I have sunk beneath it. Come tomorrow. Then we will speak upon whatever you can prove rational. The hour is getting late.’
Dacier took a draught of her dark beauty with the crimson he had kindled over the cheeks. Her lips were firmly closed, her eyes grave; dry, but seeming to waver tearfully in their heavy fulness. He could not doubt her love of him; and although chafing at the idea that she swayed him absurdly—beyond the credible in his world of wag-tongues—he resumed his natural soberness, as a garment, not very uneasily fitting: whence it ensued—for so are we influenced by the garb we put on us—that his manly sentiment of revolt in being condemned to play second, was repressed by the refreshment breathed on him from her lofty character, the pure jewel proffered to his, inward ownership.
‘Adieu for the night,’ he said, and she smiled. He pressed for a pressure of her hand. She brightened her smile instead, and said only: ‘Good night, Percy.’
Last updated Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 18:34