Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 54
One bright summer day, when the sea was still and blue as the nemophyla, and twinkling as if strewn with diamond dust, Arminell was in her garden, with an apron on, gloves over her hands, a basket on her arm, and scissors for flowers.
At the end of the garden, partly screened by rhododendrons, was a summer-house, and outside it some lumps of plaster of Paris, pots of oil-paint, and slabs of slate, smeared with mortar. Occasionally the door of the pavilion opened, and a man issued from it wearing a brown-holland blouse, and on his head a paper cap. Particles and splashes of plaster marked his face, especially about the nose, where he had rubbed with a white finger.
"I will have it all cleaned away, Giles," said Arminell. "How are you getting on with the models?"
"Very well, only the plaster does not set as fast as I could wish. When I have got the dolmens of Gozo and Constantine, of Lock Mariaker and Madron to scale, side by side, the most prejudiced persons must agree that the similarity of construction is strong evidence of identity of origin. I can show on my map of megalithic monuments where the stream of dolmen builders travelled, how that it set from Asia, along the margin of the Baltic, and then branched north over Britain, and south over Gaul. I can prove conclusively that they were not Gauls and Kelts. Just come and look at my cromlechs and dolmens in the rough. The resemblance saute aux yeux. We must establish their geographical distribution, and then compare their points of similarity and dis——"
"Please, ma'am, a lady and a young gentleman are in the drawing-room, and want to see you."
"They gave none, ma'am."
Arminell removed her apron, took off her gloves, and handed them and the basket to the maid, then went towards the drawing-room glass door opening upon the garden.
"Some people come to collect for the Jubilee," said Arminell aside to her husband, as she passed.
"I heard they were about."
In another moment, however, Saltren, who was engaged on his models of prehistoric rude stone monuments, heard a cry, and returning to the door of his laboratory, saw Arminell in the arms of an old lady, and at the same moment recognised her, and also the boy at her side. Then, without removing his blouse or his paper cap, he ran also across the garden, to welcome Lady Lamerton and his old pupil, Giles.
I do not think I could better illustrate the fact of the transformation that had been effected in Jingles, than by mentioning this incident. Can you—I cannot—conceive of Mr. Jingles as tutor at Orleigh Park, allowing himself to be seen smudged with plaster, in a paper cap, with a nose of chalky whiteness? On the present occasion he was so excited, so pleased to see dear Lady Lamerton and Giles again, that he forgot all about his own personal appearance, and even about the quoit of the Madron cromlech he was then modelling to scale. Lady Lamerton had come to see Arminell, as Arminell could not visit her; and this was her first visit. She had not ventured before, because she did not think it prudent, not because her heart did not draw her to Arminell.
The most contradictory reports had circulated relative to the girl. Some had asserted that she was dead, others declared she was alive. Then it was said she was lodging in London, under an assumed name, and had made herself notorious by her advocacy of woman's rights, divided skirts, and social democracy. It was asserted that she had become a platform orator and a writer under the direction of that revolutionist, James Welsh. This was again denied, and said to rest on a mistake arising from James Welsh having had a general servant named Inglett. After a twelvemonth gossip ceased, for interest was no longer taken in a person who was no more seen, and who probably was dead.
And what does it matter, argued the cynical, whether she be dead or alive, as she is no more in society? We know nothing of those who do not appear, who have not been presented, who are not danced before our eyes.
In mediæval times there were oubliettes in all castles, and inconvenient persons were let fall down them to disappear for ever. Did they break their necks in falling? Or did they linger on, fed on bread and water, and languish for years? What did it matter? They were practically dead when the trap-door closed over their heads.
Every aristocratic, every gentle family has now what was anciently the prerogative of the mightiest barons only. Every family is encumbered with its awkward and troublesome members who must be dropped somewhere.
The Honourable Arminell Inglett had gone down an oubliette, but whether it were the family vault or a social limbo mattered nothing. We are too wise to ask about her. We never do anything inconsistent with good taste. We let sleeping dogs lie, and don't push enquiries about dropped relatives.
When we are invited to dine at my lord's, we do not peep to see if the broken meats and the half-finished bottles be tumbled down under the feet to be mumbled and drained by the forgotten ones beneath. When we dance at my lady's Christmas ball, in the state ball-room, we know very well that below it is the family oubliette but we scuffle with our feet to drown the moans of those mauvais sujets who lie below, and the orchestra sounds its loudest strains to disguise the rattle of their chains.
"My dear husband," said Arminell, "take Lamerton to see your models. They will interest him, and I will go in with mamma. Besides, you can clear his mind of delusions with respect to the Druids, which is really important. You know that there is a circle of stones on Orleigh Common, and in an unguarded moment the boy might attribute them to the ancient Britons."
"The matter is not one to joke upon," said Jingles, with a flicker of annoyance in his face.
Then he retreated to the pavilion with his old pupil, to show him the work on which he was engaged.
Arminell, quick in perception, saw that Lady Lamerton had noticed the transient cloud, so she said, with a smile, "Do you remember my husband when he was Giles's tutor? I mean, do you remember how sensitive he then was, how he winced when you came near him? I have heard of nervous disorders that make men thus susceptible. If you put a finger on them, they scream and writhe; if near them, they quiver with apprehension. He was in like manner touchy. Now, however, he is quite recovered. There is but one single point on which he is sensitive, and where a feather will make him wince."
"What is that?"
"Megalithic monuments, my dear?"
"Yes, mamma. He loves me dearly, but even I, who can do almost anything with him, would shrink from holding Mr. Fergusson's view that Stonehenge was a work of the Anglo-Saxons. If it did not separate us, it would make a temporary estrangement. But, understand me, we are the greatest of friends, we never quarrel. I believe with all my soul that the rude stone monuments are prehistoric and pre-Keltic."
"And what are his political views?"
"I do not think he has any. But he is deeply interested in the bill for the acquisition and nationalisation of the antiquities of the country. He says, and I agree with him, that if Britain is to maintain her place as a leading nation in the civilized world, she should conserve most strictly every prehistoric monument on the soil."
Then Arminell made Lady Lamerton rest on the sofa; and she drew a stool to her feet, and sat there holding her hands.
"I dare say you cannot understand why I married him," she said, after a short period of silence and mutual endearments. "But I was much alone, and oh! so solitary. I wanted a companion and did not relish the idea of an elderly eligible female, who, with bland perpetual smile, acquiescence in all my vagaries, non-resistance to my opinion, would have been intolerable to me. I could not do without a companion, and I could not endure the society of one. It is the vocation of these companions to be complaisant, to have no view, no opinion, no personality. Unless she were all that, she would be no companion; if she were all that, she would be insupportable to me. Then—with her I could not have talked about dear Orleigh."
She stroked and then kissed her step-mother's hand.
"Also poor Jingles—I mean Mr. Saltren—required a companion, a nurse; some one to look after him day and night, and see that he changed his socks when they were damp, and drank fresh milk warm from the cow, and took tonics at regular hours, and had sweet-oil rubbed into his back between the shoulder-blades. I could not ask Mrs. Bankes to do that, or the housemaid, and there was really no one else who could be asked. I could not do this unless I married him, and so—I became his wife, and rubbed in the sweet-oil. Thank God, he is a strong man now; but he has to be kept up to the mark. I go with him when he makes archæological excursions to the Morbihan, or to Scotland to plan old stones, for when he gets interested he forgets himself, and would work on in an east wind or in a sou'-west drizzle unless I were by to insist on his postponing the measurements till the weather mends. He is a dear, amiable fellow, and yields with the best grace. It is real pleasure to have to do with him. Now tell me something about Orleigh."
"About the people?"
"O yes, mamma, about the dear people there."
"You know that Sam Ceely is married to Joan Melhuish, and she is devoted to that old impostor as you seem to be to your patient. They live now in the cottage which was occupied by Captain Tubb till he moved to the old quarry."
"Where is Patience Kite?"
"She has been had up twice before the magistrates for obtaining money under false pretences. She is an inveterate witch, and might well have been left alone, but Mrs. Cribbage has taken a dislike to her, and set the police upon her, and has had her summonsed. Just now she is in prison, because she could not pay the fine imposed on her. How is her daughter, Thomasine?"
"Thomasine!—I will ring and you shall see her."
"Not just yet, Arminell."
"No, presently. She is the belle of Bournemouth Such a handsome girl, blooms into greater beauty than ever, and is so good and affectionate and steady. She is going to be married to a coast-guard man, a most respectable fellow."
"And now about yourself, Armie. Does time not hang heavy on your hands? You cannot be always engaged on pre-historic antiquities."
"Indeed, mamma," answered Arminell with energy, "time does not hang heavy on my hands. I have, of course, my dear husband, to consider first of all, but I have plenty to occupy me besides—duties thoroughly humdrum. I visit the old women, I read to the sick, I am an active patroness of the Girls' Friendly Society, and I teach every Sunday in the school."
"You do! Why, Armie, you used to hate Sunday School."
"Dear mamma, I wish you could hear my class of girls, they have just acquired the list of apocryphal books which are not to be applied to establish doctrine. And, till I find some positive truth to teach, I content myself with making them repeat the names of all the homilies which no one has read, and which never are likely to be read. They have also been taught the meaning of Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima."
"And you think you are really doing good, Armie?"
"I am using all my energies to teach my girls to grow up humdrum women."
S. Cowan & Co., Printers, Perth.