Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 27
LORD LAMERTON put his hand to his head—he could not have spoken if addressed, he was dumfoundered. After the assault delivered by James Welsh, he might possibly have blundered through some sort of self-exculpation, but the attack of Captain Saltren was so amazing, so unexpected, so different in kind from anything against which he was armed, that he could not speak, could not utter a syllable.
He was all at once caught by the arm, and saw the faces of Jingles and Arminell.
"My lord," said young Saltren, hastily, "you must not stay here. The people are incensed, and may do you an injury."
Lord Lamerton looked from the tutor to his daughter, and then back again. What had brought him there? Why had Arminell thus acted in disobedience to his wishes, and against common decorum? But he said nothing, he was struck dumb. The world was turned upside down, and those who had stood on their feet were now on their heads.
Young Saltren took his arm, and he allowed himself to be led away.
He did not recover at once from his bewilderment. He was as a man stunned. What he had experienced that night was unlike any other experience he had gone through. A sense of helplessness momentarily came upon him, of inability to resist the forces of fanaticism, unscrupulous partisanship, superstition and prejudice gathered against him. He could neither descend to the personalities and dishonesties of Welsh, nor climb to the fantastic extravagance of Saltren.
Like a plain Englishman he liked to fight face to face with his antagonist on open ground, and on a level, to hit straight before him, and give hard blows; but he was taken in flank, and bewildered among the tortuous denies into which he was drawn by Welsh, and unable to touch Saltren who menaced him from aerial heights.
There are two sorts of culture, as there are two eyes and two ears, and two hands, and two feet to every man, and two poles to the globe, and two lights to rule the day and night, But these two cultures are very different in their effects.
The man without intellectual culture has strong opinions, is rugged and angular, and is unable to conceive of the possibility of any qualifications to what he holds as the truth. As he becomes cultivated, he is cut into more facets, and rubbed down, and still further culture makes the angles obtuse and multiplies the facets till finally he loses all angles, and becomes a globe. Friction among his fellowmen has rubbed away every sharpness of opinion, till with perfect culture he ceases to have any opinions at all. Let us put the same fact in another way. The rude man comes out of the dye-vat intense in the colour of his opinions, but every dip he gets in mixed society runs some of his colour out of him, and after having been plunged a good many times in the social wash-tub he ceases to have any distinguishable colour whatever. Intellectual culture makes a man moderate and tolerant, because he becomes indifferent.
Moral culture has an opposite effect. The uncultivated moral faculty is dull, and blunt to discriminate between right and wrong; the moral palate requires training, for by nature it tastes only what is crude, and distinguishes sharp extremes. The discipline of life, many a painful experience, and some humiliation, serve to train the moral faculty to nice distinction, and teach it to shrink from the smallest sources of falsehood, to avoid the rank and gross, and to acquire the strictest love of justice. It learns to enjoy the soft velvety port, and to pass the brandied logwood untouched.
Lord Lamerton was a man of double culture. He was not a man of brains, but he was thoroughly scrupulous and honourable, eminently a fair man, and essentially truthful. As such he was incapable of meeting Welsh. His moral culture had disarmed him for such a combat. He was like a man called to duel, handling a polished rapier, and en- gaged with an antagonist armed with a revolver. On the other hand, his intellectual culture incapacitated him from meeting Captain Saltren. Such a craze as that of his about a vision of an angel bearing the Everlasting Gospel was a craze and nothing more, undeserving of being argued about, entitling the holder to a cell in Bedlam.
Political unscrupulousness and fanatical unreason were united against him, and although he was aware that they were powerless to injure him, still they might cause him considerable annoyance. It is never pleasant to be on bad terms with neighbours, however removed from them one may be in class and fortune. It is like living in a land haunted by malaria. You are safe on your toft of high land, and look down on the vaporous and poisonous region below, but it hems you in, it interferes with your independence, you have to reckon upon it, and avoid it. To Lord Lamerton it was intolerable to be on other terms than the best with every one, and he was ruffled and hurt by lack of cordiality and want of reciprocity. How could he bring these misguided people to their senses? It would not do for him to send Macduff among them. Maoduff was a Scotchman, and did not understand the ways of thought of the Southerners. He was himself unable to do anything. He put his hand to his head—he was utterly dumfoundered.
All this while he was walking away, led by the tutor, and had his daughter on the other side of him.
Then, abruptly, Lord Lamerton asked, "How long have you been listening to that—to—I mean him?"
"O, papa, we have only just arrived, as dinner is over," answered Arminell. "I heard from Mr. Saltren that there was to be a meeting of protest at the ruined cottage, and I persuaded him to accompany me to it. But we came late and now the rain has begun to pour down, it will disperse the assembly,"
"Did you know I was here?"
"No—I heard you had walked on to Captain Tubb's house to make enquiries."
Lord Lamerton disengaged his arm from that of Jingles, who still held it, and said, "Mr. Saltren, your way lies to Chillacot. You are no doubt going to your father, and will be glad to remain with him. I will give orders that your clothes and other possessions be removed to-morrow. Things necessary for the night shall be sent at once."
"I wish you a very good evening, Mr. Saltren, and a good-bye."
Then Lord Lamerton took his daughter's arm, and walked hastily away. The rain was beginning to fall heavily.
He said nothing more for some distance, and Arminell remained silent. But when the park gates were reached, he spoke, and his voice shook as he did so.
"Arminell, this is too bad, this is direct and deliberate revolt. It is not enough for me to be attacked from without, but I must encounter treason in the camp."
"I will not pretend to misunderstand you, papa," said Arminell. "You are annoyed at my coming out at night with Mr. Saltrenwith Giles senior."
"I am sorry to have caused you annoyance, but, papa, in the first place I was desirous of seeing the meeting, and hearing what was said at it, and of judging for myself."
"Of hearing your own father abused, insulted and denounced."
"Not exactly that, papa; but surely there is wrong on both sides."
"And you constituted yourself judge over your father!"
"No, papa, I wished to hear what was said, and I asked you know whom I mean—to come with me. It may possibly have been indiscreet."
"Not merely indiscreet, but wrong, for it was an act of deliberate, wilful disobedience to the wishes of your father, plainly expressed."
"I do not wish to vex and disobey you, papa, but I will exercise my independence and judgment. I cannot allow myself to be cooped in the cage of proprieties. I must see what is going on, and form my own opinions."
"Very well—you shall go to your Aunt Hermione. Your step-mother is not good enough for you. I—your father—am not good enough for you. We are all too straitlaced, too tied hand and foot by the laces of respectability, to serve as guide or check on such a headstrong piece of goods as yourself. You go to Hermione next week."
"I do not wish to go to her. I dislike her. I detest the sort of life led in her house, a life utterly hollow, frivolous and insincere."
"She is a woman of the world."
"A woman of the world that is passing away. I am standing with one foot on a world that is coming on, and I will not step back on to the other."
"You go to Aunt Hermione," said Lord Lamerton peremptorily. He was losing his temper.
"How long am I to be with her?"
"That depends. Your mother has written to ask her to receive you for six months."
"Six months!" Arminell disengaged herself from her father. "Six months is an eternity. I cannot! I will not submit to this. I shall do something desperate. I detest that old Hermione. Her voice grates on my nerves, her laugh raises my bad passions. I can hardly endure her for six days. Her good nature is imbecility itself, and provokes me; her vanity makes her ridiculous. I cannot, in deed, I will not go to her."
"You must, Armie! It is my wish—it is my command."
"But not for six months. Six weeks is the outside of my endurance."
"Armie, I heartily wish that there were no necessity for parting with you at all, but you have given me and your mother such cause for anxiety, and such pain, that we have concluded together that it is best for you and us to be separated for a while. You, I have said, give me pain, especially now at a time when I am worried by external troubles. I cannot force you to go to your aunt's, nor force you to remain there longer than you choose, but you know my intentions, and they are for your good, and our own relief."
"Am I such an annoyance to you? " asked Arminell, in a subdued tone.
"Of course, with your waywardness, and open defiance of our authority, you are. You have made me—let alone my lady—very unhappy. You have set yourself up to disagree with us at every point, to run counter to all our wishes, and to take up with persons with whom we disapprove of your associating." "I give you pain, papa?"
"Very much pain indeed."
"And you think it would make you happier if I left Orleigh, and that it would also be better for me?"
"I do, indeed."
"And six months, you suppose, will cure me of my wilfulness?"
"I do not say that; that depends on yourself."
"Anyhow, for six months you will have ease of mind if I am away from you, and in good hands?"
"In good hands, certainly. Hermione's house is a very suitable school. You will there be brought to understand that deference is due to your superiors, consideration for the feelings of others, respect for opinions that differ from your own, and especially that regard is to be had for les convenances, without which social life would go to pieces, as a chain of pearls that has lost its connecting links. Les convenances may be, and indeed are, in themselves nothing, but they hold society together. You have been left too much to yourself or with unsatisfactory governesses. You must be taught your proper place. You must go into the stream of social life, and feel the current and its irresistidle force."
"Very well, papa, I will go."
"Your aunt will be sure to write to-day; we shall have a letter to-morrow."
Arminell said nothing. Her brows were knit and her lips set.
"I am sorry we have to give up the trip to Switzerland; it might have been pleasant, had we been all together, but I must deny myself that. The Irish property has brought in nothing; and I have lost money in other ways; now I must set the men to work on the new road—that is, if they will condescend to make it."
On reaching the house, Lord Lamerton went at once to the drawing-room, and caught his wife dozing over a magazine. He put his hand on her shoulder, and said,
She started, and dropped her book.
"Oh, you are back at last! Have you had anything to eat?"
"More than I am able to digest, my dear."
"How did the speech succeed? You remembered Langland's date, I hope?"
"My dear, I have heard too many speeches to-day to remember anything about my own—that is to say, yours. I have had three—one from Mr. Welsh, one from Captain Saltren, and one from Arminell, and upon my soul, I do not know which was the most unpleasant. Do you know where Arminell has been since dinner?"
"In her room, I suppose."
"No; she has been out with Jingles."
Her ladyship looked blank.
"It is a fact She went with him to a meeting held by the malcontents against me; went to hear what they had to say against her own father, and went with that fellow with whom you had cautioned her not to be seen, and whom I had forbidden to associate with her."
"Good gracious! how improper."
"The girl is unmanageable. However, I have got her to promise to go to her Aunt Hermione for a bit, if Hermione will take her. I tried to make her agree to six months, but I am not sure that I can bring her to consent to so long a banishment."
"But—to go out with Jingles, after all that has been said to her!"
"And for him to have the audacity to take her out—and to such a meeting."
"They must have gone out immediately after dinner. You have not dined?"
Lord Lamerton shook his head.
"I have swallowed a good deal to-day," he said with an attempt at a smile. "I have been bamboozled by Welsh, dumfoundered by Saltren, and flouted by Armineil."