Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 43

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A few days later, towards evening, Mr. James Welsh arrived, after having been absent from home. He had not told his wife or Arminell the cause of his departure, nor whither he was going. When he returned, he informed Arminell that he had been away on business, and that he wanted a word with her in the parlour.

"There is no gas in the drawing-room. Will you have a lamp?" asked Mrs. Welsh.

"Thank you. It will be unnecessary. At this time of the year it is not dark, and the dusk is agreeable for a tête-à-tête. My business does not need reference to papers."

"Then I will go down and see about locking up the remains of the plum-pudding. The girl has had her share set apart on a plate, and I object to her consuming everything that goes out from dinner. There is enough of the pudding left to serve up fried to-morrow."

Arminell and Mr. Welsh mounted the steep stairs to the sitting-room. The parlour was close and stuffy; Welsh went to the window and opened it a little way.

"Do sit down, Miss Inglett," he said, "there, on the sofa, with your back to the window, if you are not afraid of a breath of air. This twilight is restful to the eyes and grateful to the overwrought brain. There is no need for candles." He seated himself away from her, looking in another direction, and said, "I suppose you can guess where I have been?"

"Indeed I cannot, Mr. Welsh."

"I have been at Orleigh. I thought I would like to be present at your father's funeral. Besides, I belong to the press, and my duties took me there. Also, my sister is left a widow. You may not, perhaps, have heard of the death of Captain Saltren?"

"Captain Saltren dead!"

"Yes, drowned in the old quarry pit."

"I remember having once seen him there. He was a strange man. He went there to say his prayers, and he prayed on a kind of raft of his own construction. I suppose it gave way under him, or he overbalanced himself."

"Possibly. How he fell is not known. He was very strange in his manner of late, so that the general opinion is that he was off his head. He had visions, or fancied that he had."

Arminell said no more on this matter. She was desirous of hearing about her father's funeral.

"I was present when Lord Lamerton was taken to his last rest," said Welsh; "you cannot have any conception what an amount of feeling was elicited by his death. By me it was unexpected. I could not have supposed that the people, as distinguished from the aristocracy, would have been other than coldly respectful, but his lordship must have been greatly beloved." Welsh paused and rubbed his chin. "Yes, much loved. Of course, I had only seen one side of him, and that was the side I cared to see, being a professional man, and professionally engaged to see only one side. That is in the way of business, and just as a timber merchant measures a tree, and estimates it by the amount of plank it will make, regardless of its effect in the landscape, so it is with me. I look on a man, especially a nobleman, from a commercial point of view, and ask how many feet of type I can get out of him. I don't consider him for any other qualities he may have than those which serve my object. But I will admit that there must have been a large amount of kindness and sterling worth in his lordship, or there would not have been such a demonstration at his funeral, and that not by a party, but general—not cooked, but spontaneous. One expected to see the quality at the funeral, but what surprised me was the real sorrow expressed by the people. Why, bless you! what do you think? Because Captain Saltren had denounced his lordship, and prophesied his death, the mob rolled stones down the cliff on Chillacot and ruined the house and spoiled the garden."

Pope Leo X. was inaccessible except to buffoons, and when a priest desired an interview with his Holiness, but was unable to obtain one in the ordinary manner, he dressed himself in motley, and as a clown obtained immediate admission.

There are some people who suppose that every one else has the peculiarities of Leo X., and who never approach their fellows, even when they have to speak on matters of serious import, without putting on cap and bells. They labour under the conviction that "the motley," as Jaques said to the Duke, "is the only wear," especially when most inappropriate to the matter of discourse.

Mr. Welsh was desirous of doing what was kind, of conveying to Arminell what he knew was to her painful information, describing to her scenes which must stir her emotions, but he could not assume a sympathetic and serious tone. He was possessed by that perverse spirit which forces a man to garnish his story, however tragic, with quirks and scraps of illustration incongruous and out of taste. He was at heart full of pity for Arminell; he had not gone to Orleigh on journalistic ends, though not averse to paying his travelling expenses by turning what he had seen into type, but he had gone for the girl's sake, and only learned the death of his brother-in-law on reaching Orleigh. He knew that she hungered for information which she could not receive through the channels formerly open to her. As he spoke to her, his heart swelled, and he had some difficulty in controlling his emotion. Nevertheless, he assumed a tone of half banter, that galled his own sense of propriety as much as it jarred on Arminell. And this masquerade was assumed by him as much to disguise his real self from himself as from the girl. Verily, in our horror of hypocrisy, we are arrant hypocrites. Essayists and satirists have united to wage a crusade against cant, and have succeeded so completely that we dread the semblance of piety, kindliness, sweetness, lest they be taken as an assumption only. In the reaction against false appearances of goodness we have run into the opposite extreme, and put on a false appearance of roughness, hardness, and cynicism. Lest we should be taken to be apricots, with sweet outside and hard interior, we affect to be walnuts, rugged and bitter. A woman poses to herself in the glass, and adorns herself with jewelry to give pleasure first to herself and then to others; but men cock their hats, smut their noses, make grimaces in the glass, and having sneered at their own buffoon appearance, pass off the same pranks on their acquaintance. They will neither allow to themselves nor to others that they acknowledge a serious interest in the drama of life, that they have respect for what is noble, pity for what is suffering, reverence for what is holy. They affect to cast burlesque into all relations of life, as salt is put into all dishes, to make them palatable.

Arminell was not deceived by the manner of James Welsh; under the affectation of selfishness and callousness she recognised the presence of generous sympathy, just as she had seen the same quality under the chatter and pretence of the wife.

At the beginning of this story we saw Arminell present at what we called the grand transformation scene in the pantomime of life; now she had reached another, and that a more startling, thorough-going transformation scene. She saw the world and the performers therein differently from the way in which she had seen them before, the world in a real light, the performers in undress. She had got behind the scenes, and into the green-room. Delusion was no longer possible; she saw the framework of the scenery, the contrivances for the production of effects, and the actors oiling their faces with cotton-wool to remove the paint.

In former times there existed in England a profession which has become extinct—the profession of dowsing. A dowser was a man who laid claim to the peculiar gift of discernment of metal and of water. He was employed to discover mines and springs. He took in his hands a forked hazel rod, holding in each hand one of the branches. When he walked over a hidden vein of metal, or a subterranean artery of water, the rod revolved in his hands, and pointed downwards, and wherever it pointed, there he ordered the sinking of a shaft or well.

But, although dowsing after minerals and fountains has ceased to be practised, we still have among us moral dowsers, and it is even possible for us to become adepts at dowsing ourselves.

The old dowsers insisted that their profession was not an art but an inherent faculty. The dowser was born, not made. But in moral dowsing this is not the case. The faculty can most certainly be acquired, but only on one condition, that we begin with dowsing our own selves. Fiat experimentum in corpore vili. Unconsciously, Arminell had been invested with this power; it had come on her at once, on that morning when her folly, her error, had been revealed to her consciousness. From that memorable moment, when she came to know herself as she really was, not as she had fancied herself to be, the manner in which she viewed other natures with which she was brought in contact was radically changed. She found herself no longer as heretofore occupied with the outer surface, its ups and downs, its fertility or its barrenness, the invisible rod turned in her hands and revealed to her the hidden veins of ore and motive currents. She saw the silver thread deep below the most unpromising surface, the limpid spring under the most rugged exterior.

As she overlooked the superficial flaws in Mr. and Mrs. Welsh because she recognised their substantial goodness, so did she begin now to perceive what had before been unnoticed in the characters of her father and step-mother. She had had eyes previously only for their foibles and infirmities, now she saw how full of sterling qualities both had been, of punctual fulfilment of duties, of conscientious discharge of the obligations imposed on them by their position and wealth, of hearty good-will for all with whom they were brought in contact. She had disregarded her little half-brother, the present Baron Lamerton, because he was only a child with childish thoughts, childish pursuits, and childish prattle; and now she saw that his was a very tender, loving spirit, which it would have been worth her while to cultivate. In the first moment of disappointment, humiliation and anger, she had been incensed against Jingles for having assisted her in perpetrating her great mistake. She saw what a fool he had been, how conceited, how ungrateful, but even over this forbidding soil the divining rod turned, and revealed a vein of noble metal. If it had not been there, he would not have accepted his humiliation with frankness and have shown so decided a moral rebound.

When one who has the dowsing faculty is in the society of those who lack it, and listens to their talk, their disparagement of others, the captiousness with which they pick at trivial blemishes, sneer at infirmities, blame short-comings, that person listens with a sort of wonder at the blindness of the talkers, at their lack of perception, because their eyes never penetrate below the surface, and a sort of pity that they have never turned it inwards and searched themselves, not for silver but for dross.

The knight Huldbrand, when riding through the Enchanted Wood, had his eyes opened, and beneath the turf and the roots of the trees, he looked through, as it were, a sheet of green glass, and saw the gold and silver veins in the earth, and the spirits that worked at, and directed their courses, opening sluices here and stopping currents there. So it is with those invested with the dowsing gift—with them in the Enchanted Wood of Life.

In the twilight room Arminell listened to Mr. Welsh's story of the funeral of her father, with tears running down her cheeks, regardless of the manner in which the story was told, in the intensity of her interest in the matter, and conscious of the intention of the narrator.

The death of Lord Lamerton had indeed evoked an amount of feeling and regret that showed how deeply rooted was the estimation in which his good qualities were held, and how unreal was the agitation that had been provoked against him.

The county papers of all political complexions gave laudatory notices of the late nobleman. Every one who had come within range of his influence had good words to say of him, and lamented his loss as that of a relative. Selfish interest undoubtedly mixed with the general regret. The sportsmen feared that the subscription to the foxhounds would not be maintained on the same liberal scale; the parsons, that on the occurrence of a vacancy in the Lamerton patronage, their claims would be overlooked by the trustees; the medical men regretted that the death had been too sudden to advantage them professionally; the benevolent societies feared that the park would not be thrown open to them with the same liberality; the young ladies that there would be no ball at Orleigh next winter; the topers that they would not taste again the contents of a famous cellar; the tradesmen that money would not be spent in the little country town; the artisans that work would be abandoned and hands discharged. Of course there was self-interest in the minds of those who lamented the loss of Lord Lamerton, regret was not unmingled with selfish feeling; but, then, what motives, what emotions are unmixed? The coin of the realm is not pure, it consists of metal and alloy; and the feelings that pass current among men are not less adulterated. But are they the less estimable on that account? Would they pass if unmixed? Would they be as poignant if pure? Why, the very prayers in which we address Heaven have their stiffening of self-concern, and it is this that gives them their force. Are they less acceptable above on that account?

Popular feeling was doubly stirred, and sympathy for the family greatly deepened by the news of the almost simultaneous death of Miss Arminell Inglett. The notice of her death had appeared first in the Times, and then in all the papers; but the circumstances were only imperfectly known. It was rumoured that the shock of the news of her father's death had affected her fatally—her heart having always been weak—whilst in London, staying with her aunt. Such an account had appeared in one of the society papers, and perhaps Mr. Welsh could give the best explanation of how it came there. This was reported at Orleigh. Others said she had died at the second family place in Northamptonshire; all agreed that she had been buried there beside her mother. Strange rumours had circulated about Miss Inglett, but they had been traced to Mrs. Cribbage, and every one knew that the tongue of that lady, like that of an ox, must be taken with salt. Consequently the rumours died away, and were wholly discredited.

And it was true that Arminell Inglett was dead. That is to say, the old self-opinionated, supercilious, self-willed Arminell was no more.

In spring the new buds are sheathed in hard husks. One warm morning after a shower they thrust aside these horny sheaths, and the tender foliage appears. It was so with Arminell. She had hitherto worn her better part, the generous qualities of her soul, in a hard and ungracious shell; now this shell had fallen off, and they broke forth, ready to expand and clothe her with a new and unexpected beauty.