Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 28
The inquest on young Tubb took place on the following day. This occasioned fresh unpleasantness, and further excitement of feeling. Unfortunately Captain Saltren was on the jury, and he insisted against all evidence and reason, in maintaining that the verdict should be to the effect that Archelaus Tubb had been murdered by his lordship. One other juryman agreed with him, but the others could not go so far. As Saltren stubbornly refused to yield, the jury was discharged, and another summoned by the coroner, which returned "Accidental death," but with a rider blaming Macduff for carelessness in the destruction of the cottage.
Arminell was changed in her behaviour to her father since she had heard Mrs. Saltren's story. She had lost faith in him; those good qualities which she had previously recognised in him, she now believed to be unreal. The man as he was had been disclosed to her—false, sensual, wanting in honour. All the good he displayed was the domino cast over and concealing the mean and shabby reality. He wore his domino naturally, with a frank bonhommie which was the perfection of acting—but then, it was acting. Arminell was very straightforward, blunt and sincere, and hated everything which was not open. Social life she represented to herself as a school of disguises, a masquerade in which no one shows as he is, but dresses in the part he wishes to appear in. Some men and women are such finished actors that they forget themselves in their assumed parts, and such was her father. Having to occupy the position of a county magnate, he had come to fit the position exteriorly, and had accommodated his conscience to the delusion that he was what he pretended to be—the wealthy, blameless, honourable nobleman, against whom not a stone could be cast. All this was a pretence, and Arminell was not angry, only her moral nature revolted at the assumption. Her high principle and downrightness made her resent the fraud that had been perpetrated on herself and the world.
She had on several occasions heard her father speak in public, and had felt ashamed because he spoke so badly, but chiefly because she was convinced that he was repeating, parrot-like, what had been put into his mouth by my lady. He pretended to speak his own thoughts, and he spoke those of his wife—that was an assumption, and so was his respectability, so his morality.
Arminell had long undervalued her father's mental powers, but she had believed in his rectitude. She thought his virtue was like that stupid going-straightforward that is found in a farmer's horse, which will jog along the road, and go straight, and be asleep as it goes. But Mrs. Saltren's story, which she believed in spite of the improbabilities—improbabilities she did not stop to consider, had overthrown the conviction, and she now saw in her father a man as morally imperfect as he was intellectually deficient.
Had he been open, and not attempted to disguise his offence, she might have forgiven him, but when he assumed the disguise of an upright God-fearing man, doing his duty, her strictly truthful nature rose up in indignant protest.
* * * * * *
"My dear!" exclaimed Lady Lamerton; "good gracious, what is this I hear? What have you done? Undertaken to throw open the grounds and house on Saturday! Why, Lamerton, how could you? Saturday is the day on which I proposed to give our garden-party."
" 'Pon my word, Julia, I forgot about your garden-party!"
"You promised to make a note of the day."
"So I did—not to be from home. But I forgot when I was asked to allow the place to be seen."
"You must countermand the order to have it opened."
"That I cannot do. I publicly, at the meeting, announced that I would allow the house and grounds to be overrun on Saturday, and I cannot withdraw the permission."
"Only for this once."
"Not for this once. It is the first Saturday after the promise was made. You must postpone your garden-party."
"I cannot do that. The invitations have been sent out. There is no time; ices, the band, everything, are ordered."
"Well, Julia, we must make shift as we can."
"Look here, Lamerton, how will it do to confine our party to the terrace and garden, and have refreshments in the orangery?"
"So be it; that will do very well. The guests will not object. Tell them there has been a clash, and they will enjoy the joke."
"The public will want to be admitted to the house by the principal entrance."
"Of course. They are to be shown the state apartments, and the doubtful Van Dyck."
"Then—how about our guests? What a predicament you have got me into. We cannot receive our guests at the back door."
"No need for that, Julia. Receive in the garden. The carriages will set down the guests at the iron gates. Pray heaven we may have fine weather!"
"It will be very awkward. The footmen will have to look after the sight-seers, that they do not poke their umbrellas through the pictures, or finger the ornaments and we shall want them in the garden to attend to our guests!"
"It will go all right. I will send Macduff to arrange. He is a manager."
After a pause, Lady Lamerton said, "I am glad Hermione will take Arminell under her wing. You have told Armie to be ready to start on Monday?"
"Yes; I don't understand the girl, whether she is in a sulk, or sorry for her misconduct."
"Her boxes are being got ready," said Lady Lamerton. "There is something in her manner that is uncomfortable. I have noticed it as well as you. When I speak about Lady Hermione, she says nothing, and leaves the room."
"A plunge in London life will renovate her."
"I trust so. She sadly needs renovation. The caldron of a London season differs from that of Pelias. The latter rejuvenated those dipped in it; but the former matures."
"Have you spoken to Arminell about going out with Jingles the other night?"
Lady Lamerton shook her head.
"No," said his lordship, "I know it is of no use. Best say nothing. We must build our hopes on a diversion of her thoughts."
"Yes—" Lady Lamerton mused, then heaved a sigh. "Oh, Lamerton, what a muddle you have made! How shall we manage a garden-party when we have the public swarming all about the place? It is a contretemps!"