Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 45

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The house at Chillacot had been temporarily repaired, and made habitable, so that Jingles and his mother could occupy it; but the young man shortly after the death of his reputed father entered into negotiations with the railway company for the sale of the place. His mother was shaken by what had occurred. She had been threatened with paralysis, and her speech affected for a few days; but she speedily recovered activity of tongue. There was now nothing in Orleigh to retain the Saltrens. The mother had never liked the dismal house, it was not grand enough to meet her ideas, for was she not the sister of a gentleman of the press, a man who was certain, according to her account, to contest that division of the county in the Radical interest at the next election? She resolved to settle in London. There she would be able to assume more consequence than where she and her antecedents were well known. But Mrs. Saltren laid down to her son that it was not to any part of London she would go. She must have a house in the West End—her brother, she said, lived in the West End. There was no qualifying S. before or C. after the W. on his address. Those persons who lived in S. W. or W. C. might be gentlemen, those who lived in division W. were gentlemen. As certain estates in Austria ennoble their purchasers, so did living in the W. quarter of town elevate socially. At Orleigh Mrs. Saltren could not aspire to occupy such a position as that which her fancy pictured herself as adorning in town. There she could figure as the widow of a captain; at Orleigh it was known too well that the captaincy of her husband had been over a gang of miners.

The sale of Chillacot would enable her to spend more money than was usually at her command, and she talked grandly of having a carriage and a button-boy. At Orleigh she could not speak as freely of her acquaintance with the Lamerton family as she could elsewhere, for at Orleigh it was known that her situation at the Park had been a menial one. The railway company paid liberally for Chillacot, but not so liberally as Mrs. Saltren figured to herself, nor was the capital thus acquired likely to cover all the expenditure which she flattered herself she would be able to launch forth into.

Marianne Saltren had exercised sufficient discretion to hold her tongue about her husband's concern in the death of Lord Lamerton, but she was sufficiently aware of her own frailty to doubt whether she could retain the secret for ever among confidential friends, and she knew that to trust an intimate friend with a secret was the way to publish it to the world. Anxiety lest she should be betrayed into communicating what had better remain unknown acted strongly upon her to make her desire to leave Orleigh speedily.

The young man, moreover, had no wish to stay in a place which was associated in his mind with too many painful and humiliating recollections. It would not be possible for him there to escape meeting Lady Lamerton and little Giles, and such encounters must be productive of distress to her ladyship and embarrassment to himself. At Orleigh, moreover, there were no means of his earning for himself a livelihood. His mother was welcome, in his eyes, to spend the money derived from the sale, money to which he had, he felt, a legal but no moral right. The captain was not his father, therefore he did not consider himself entitled to what he left.

The desire to make his way in literature had deserted him under the rebuff received from Mr. Welsh, and his self-confidence had not recovered the blow it had been given to make him feel himself qualified to act as political teacher of men.

He resolved on taking a clerkship in an office. His pride was gone. So long as he could earn enough to support himself and his mother, he did not care in what sort of business he made the money, so long as it was fairly and honourably earned.

As the day approached on which it was arranged that he and his mother should leave Chillacot, Saltren's heart sank; but not so that of his mother. She became more talkative and more boastful. Only since he had discovered how false she had been in the story of his parentage, had his eyes been open to her unreliability. Hitherto he had looked up to her with respect. He had never felt much tenderness towards old Saltren, and his mother by her complaints had bred in him antagonism towards his father as if he were a man who misunderstood his mother and failed to show her the love and regard she deserved. There are heads like those of thistles, that are full of feather-light, mischievous thoughts, which are blown about the country and in proper soil germinate and produce a crop of weeds. Such was the head of Marianne Saltren, but Jingles was sufficiently humbled to acknowledge that unless his own heart had proved suitable soil, rich in self-conceit, these thistle-down fancies would not have rooted.

Mrs. Saltren's acquaintances called to say farewell, and before them her boasting was so ridiculous that it covered her son with shame. He knew what the circumstances of James Welsh were, and what the position was that he occupied in town.

Young Saltren hesitated for some days how to act towards Lady Lamerton. Should he call and bid her farewell, or should he forbear? To both a meeting must be painful. If he considered his natural shrinking from an unpleasant scene, he would desist from paying her his respects; but his conscience told him that to depart without an apology and a word of explanation would be ungenerous.

Accordingly, on his last day at Chillacot, he walked over to the Park, and asked to see her ladyship. Lady Lamerton was engaged at the moment with some ladies who had called to pay their condolence, so at his request he was shown into the library; and the butler undertook to inform her ladyship that he was there, as soon as she was free from her visitors.

As he sat in the familiar room, he mused on what he had to say. The situation was peculiar, as it was difficult. Lady Lamerton knew nothing, he supposed, and need know nothing, about the mistake he had made concerning his parentage. He could not tell her the story which he and Arminell had believed, and on which they had acted, yet without this key to their conduct it was hardly possible to explain it—to justify it even with the key was impossible.

As Jingles sat in the study meditating, the door opened slightly, and little Giles's face appeared at it. The moment he saw his old tutor he uttered an exclamation of delight, and ran to him. "Mr. Saltren, why have you left me?" he asked; "my dear papa is dead, and I am so unhappy. Why do you not come back to us? and Arminell is dead also. I have no one here but mamma. I love mamma, but I want you also."

Jingles took the little boy on his knee. The child had a delicate, intelligent face.

"Did you hear that I had arrived?" asked Saltren.

"No; I looked into the library because—I really can hardly say why. Since I have lost papa, I go all about the house; I know I cannot find him, but I cannot help running into one room and then another seeking him. I heard the study door open, and that was papa's room, and I thought—that is—I didn't think—I wondered who could be in papa's room. I was fond of coming here and sitting on his lap and hearing about his rides and his spills when foxhunting. Whenever I hear a door open or a step on the stairs, I think papa is coming, and then next moment I know it cannot be so. Why do you not come back? I am doing no lessons now, and am tired of holiday."

"You are going to school shortly, Giles."

"Yes, I know, but not till the term begins. Nurse says that I am my lord now, and that mamma will call me Lamerton instead of Giles. But I don't like it. I don't wish to take anything that was papa's. I always persuade myself he will come back. Did they tell you that I saw a black coach come to the door and carry away papa? The black coach never came for Arminell. When I saw that, papa would not let me tell mamma lest it should frighten her. Why was not Arminell buried in the vault?"

"Have you had any of your bad dreams lately?"

"No, sir, but two nights ago I thought that papa came to my crib side and kissed me. I did not see, but I felt him; and he put his hand on my head and stroked my hair, exactly the same way he did that night when I had my bad dreams and saw the black coach and screamed. I know papa's kiss even when I do not hear him speak, and also the touch of his hand, which is not heavy, but very light. I told nurse about it in the night, after he was gone, but she said it was all stuff and nonsense, and I must go to sleep. There comes mamma."

The boy jumped off his tutor's knee and stood aside. He had been brought up to old-fashioned courtesy, and never remained seated when his mother entered the room.

Lady Lamerton bowed stiffly to Jingles. She was dressed in the deepest mourning, and looked pale and delicate. At a sign from her the little fellow withdrew. She indicated a chair, but Saltren, who had risen, did not reseat himself. She did not speak, but waited for what he had to say, and she remained standing.

"My lady," said the young man, "my conscience would not suffer me to depart, probably never again to revisit Orleigh, without coming here to express to you in few words what I feel in every fibre of my heart. I know how much I owe you, my lady,—to your forbearance and kindness towards a"—he hesitated a moment, and then said the word firmly—"towards a Prig. I have not the words at my command in which even to allude to the debt I owe to one who——"

She bowed her head, she understood to whom he referred. His voice refused to proceed with the sentence.

"I have come, my lady, in the first place to tell you that never, while life lasts, will I forget what I owe to you and to his lordship."

"It is a pity"—she began, and then checked herself; but a faint colour came into her lips, a flush of anger at the recollection of how he had repaid the kindness shown him.

Jingles waited for her to finish the sentence, but as she did not do so, he said, "It is a pity I did not remember this earlier. Yes, that I now admit, to my indelible shame. I acted most ungratefully. I do not know, my lady, what Miss Inglett has told you, and therefore I am placed in a difficulty."

"She has told me everything," answered Lady Lamerton, "at least so I suppose. Here is her letter to me, which you are at liberty to peruse, and you will see by it if there is anything kept back which ought to be told, or which you wish to tell me."

She extended a note to him, and he took it, and ran his eye through it. It was written in Arminell's firm hand, and it told everything, in her plain, decisive, and direct manner—she hid nothing, she excused nothing.

He returned the letter to Lady Lamerton.

"There is but one thing for me to add—or rather," said he, "one correction for me to make. Miss Inglett takes the blame on herself. It should rest mainly on my shoulders. Without my offer of help she never would have left this house. I have no word of self-excuse. No one can reproach me more severely than I reproach myself. In no eyes can I figure more despicably than in my own. That is all I have to say—to assure you of my gratitude and my regret. I thank you, Lady Lamerton, that you have permitted me to see you and say this."

"Mr. Saltren," said she, "I will not disguise the fact that you—you and my step-daughter between you—have occasioned me more grief than has even the death of my dear lord. But I am not justified in refusing to accept your expression of sorrow, though perhaps it is too early yet, and the wound too fresh, for me to be able heartily to forgive you both. I acknowledge that you acted for the best when you discovered your error, in returning promptly to Chillacot, so as to silence the voice of scandal. Whether Arminell was wise in acting as she did admits of difference of opinion. For her decision you are not responsible. She tells me what you proposed—to telegraph for her maid to be sent to Portland Place, and that the maid should find her at her aunt's and accompany her home. If that plan had been executed, only ourselves would have known the secret history of that London escapade. But she elected otherwise. She would punish herself for having thought unworthily of her dear father, and for having embittered his last hour of life. It is possible, indeed it is probable, that it was the distress and alarm which he felt, as he took that fatal walk, that blinded him as to his course, so that he fell over the cliff. I dare say Arminell has judged right in resolving to suffer. I do not blame her. There is something honourable in her resolve to abide the consequences of her own foolish act. She has also spared me the difficulty of meeting her under the circumstances, and controlling and disguising my feelings towards her. If we had met immediately, I hardly know how I could have behaved with composure and charity towards her. I never, never could have loved her as I have loved her heretofore; for I could not have forgotten the dishonour she had done in thought to the purest life, the noblest soul——" Then her ladyship broke down.

After a minute she recovered herself, and proceeded, "She has foreseen this, and has resolved to relieve me of the restraint, to spare me the trial. I thank her for that. I confess, Mr. Saltren, that when I heard you were here my first impulse was to decline an interview. But on second thoughts I resolved to accord you a meeting. It is as well that no one should suspect the wrong you have done; and it is right that I should accept your expression of penitence, for we daily ask of Heaven to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive such as have trespassed against us." She paused.

Saltren's heart was too full for him to speak.

Silence ensued for a minute or two. Each stood, each with lowered eyes, and with a struggle raging in each for control over the stirred emotions.

"I will say good-bye," said her ladyship, "no doubt for ever. After what has passed it is as well that we should never meet again. I am glad that you have called. I am glad that I have received you. I shall think of you henceforth more kindly, in the light of one who, having done wrong, devotes the rest of his life to striving to do his duty. Mr. Saltren, our feelings must not be allowed to guide us, but principle."

Giles Inglett Saltren walked home much depressed, and yet content that he had seen Lady Lamerton; depressed because he had seen her and Giles for the last time, and content because he had done right in seeking the interview.

He felt now that he had thrown away an opportunity of in some little way repaying Lady Lamerton for the kindness shown him. But for his mistake he might at this time have rendered her valuable aid, such as, in a time of confusion consequent on the fall of the main pillar of a house, must always occur. He might have been of use to her in a thousand little ways, knowing as he did the ramifications of life in the great house; of use also now with the boy in giving bent to his fresh and pliable character.

A remarkable difference is found to exist between the stages of development in the physical and moral natures. The insect passes through three degrees, the larva, the pupa, and imago, the last phase being the noblest, and the middle the most torpid of the three conditions. With man and woman physically it is different. The childhood indeed corresponds to the grub stage, but this is immediately followed by the butterfly condition, and that of cessation of energies and deterioration of beauty follows as the third period. In psychical development, however, man follows the same course as the insect. After the first voracious acquisitive period of growth, comes the pupa condition, when the human conscience, glutted with as much knowledge and experience as it deems sufficient, encases itself in a chrysalis of conceit, and falls asleep in self-sufficiency. Then, after a period of comatosity, comes a shock of awakening life, the breath of a new spirit passes over the earth, the sun smites with provocative ray, and the sleeping soul stretches itself, and suddenly finds its case too strait for it. Then that horny hide of self-conceit is riven from top to bottom, and falls away, and at length the true, the perfect spiritual character comes forth, flutters its wings for a moment, gains fresh courage and expands them. It is indeed true that some insects never escape out of their chrysalis, and some birds stifle in their shells through lack of force to rive the encasing bound. And it is also true that there are men and women who to the last remain hide-bound in their self-esteem; and the moral sense, the spiritual force, the power of development becomes extinct in them.

In our gardens the spade occasionally brings up these dead pupæ in their horny coffins; and we are continually coming across human beings in society, in like manner enchrysalised in conceit, in which they remain eternally encoffined.

It must not be supposed that the transition condition is without its throes and effort. On the contrary, the advance to the better, the perfect life is only possible through effort, and the effort is stimulated by the sense of oppression, through realisation of the straitness of the shell.

Hard had been the case that enclosed Jingles, but the Giles Inglett Saltren we now see had completely emancipated himself from it.

When he opened the door of Chillacot, his mother said—"Giles, I have secured a servant. I have promised Tamsine Kite a place in my establishment as lady's-maid. She will attend me to town."

"But, mother——"

"My dear, it is settled and see, here is Captain Tubb."

"Captain Tubb!"

"Yes, he has come to pay me his respects before I leave, and to congratulate me on the disposal of Chillacot for so handsome a sum, and to inquire what I propose doing with the money—and even to suggest a desirable investment for it."