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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDenzil Quarrier - Chapter 10
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Denzil Quarrier - Chapter 10 Post by :rpayne Category :Long Stories Author :George Gissing Date :May 2012 Read :3019

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Denzil Quarrier - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

But for domestic warfare, Mrs. Mumbray would often have been at a loss how to spend her time. The year of her husband's Mayoralty supplied, it is true, a good many unwonted distractions, but in the middle of the morning, and late in the evening (if there were no dinner-party), _ennui too frequently weighed upon her. For relief in the former case, she could generally resort to a quarrel with Serena; in the latter, she preferred to wrangle with her spouse.

One morning early in December, having indulged her ill-humour with even more than usual freedom among the servants, she repaired to the smaller drawing-room, where, at this hour, her daughter often sat reading. Serena was at a table, a French book and dictionary open before her. After hovering for a few moments with eyes that gathered wrath, the Mayoress gave voice to her feelings.

"So you pay no attention to my wishes, Serena! I will not have you reading such books!"

Her daughter rustled the dictionary, impassive. Conscious of reduced authority, Mrs. Mumbray glared and breathed hard, her spacious bosom working like a troubled sea.

"Your behaviour astonishes me!--after what you heard Mr. Vialls say."

"Mr. Vialls is an ignorant and foolish man," remarked Serena, without looking up.

Then did the mother's rage burst forth without restraint, eloquent, horrisonous. As if to save her ears, Serena went to the piano and began to play. When the voice was silenced, she turned round.

"You had rather have me play than read that book? That shows how little you understand of either. This is an _immoral piece of music! If you knew what it meant you would scream in horror. It is _immoral_, and I am going to practise it day after day."

The Mayoress stood awhile in mute astonishment, then, with purple face, swept from the room.

The family consisted of four persons. Serena's brother, a young gentleman of nineteen, articled to a solicitor in the town, was accustomed to appear at meals, but seldom deigned to devote any more of his leisure to the domestic circle. After luncheon to-day, as he stood at the window with a sporting newspaper, his mother addressed him.

"We have company this evening, Raglan. Take care that you're not late."

"Who's coming?" asked the young man, without looking up.

"Mr. Eustace Glazzard and Miss Glazzard."

"Any one else?"

"Mr. Vialls."

"Then you don't catch me here! I have an appointment at eight."

"I insist upon your dining with us! If you are not at dinner, I will have your allowance stopped! I mean what I say. Not one penny more shall you receive until you have learnt to behave yourself!"

"We'll see about that," replied Raglan, with finished coolness; and, folding his newspaper, he walked off.

Nor did the hour of dinner see his return. The expected guests arrived; it was not strictly a dinner-party, but, as Mr. Mumbray described it, "a quiet evening _ong fammil_." The Rev. Scatchard Vialls carne in at the last moment with perspiring brow, excusing himself on the ground of professional duties. He was thin, yet flabby, had a stoop in the shoulders, and walked without noticeably bending his knees. The crown of his head went to a peak; he had eyes like a ferret's; his speech was in a high, nasal note. For some years he had been a widower, a fact which perhaps accounted for his insinuating manner when he approached Miss Mumbray.

The dinner was portentously dull. Ivy Glazzard scarcely uttered a syllable. Her uncle exerted himself to shape phrases of perfect inoffensiveness, addressing now his hostess, now Serena. The burden of conversation fell upon Mr. Vialls, who was quite equal to its support; he spoke of the evil tendencies of the time as exhibited in a shameful attempt to establish Sunday evening concerts at a club of Polterham workmen. His discourse on this subject, systematically developed, lasted until the ladies withdrew. It allowed him scarcely any attention to his plate, but Mr. Vialls had the repute of an ascetic. In his buttonhole was a piece of blue ribbon, symbol of a ferocious total-abstinence; his face would have afforded sufficient proof that among the reverend man's failings were few distinctly of the flesh.

The Mayor did not pretend to asceticism. He ate largely and without much discrimination. His variously shaped and coloured glasses were not merely for display. When the door had closed behind the Mayoress and her two companions, he settled himself with an audible sigh, and for a few moments wore a look of meditation; then, leaning towards Glazzard, he inquired gravely:

"What is your opinion of the works of Bawlzac?"

The guest was at a loss for an instant, but he quickly recovered himself.

"Ah, the French novelist? A man of great power, but--hardly according to English tastes."

"Should you consider him suitable reading for young ladies?"

"Well, hardly. Some of his books are unobjectionable."

Mr. Vialls shot a fierce glance at him.

"In my opinion, his very name is pollution! I would not permit a page of his writing, or of that of any French novelist, to enter my house. One and all are drenched with impurity!"

"Certainly many of them are," conceded Glazzard.

"Lamentable," sighed the Mayor, raising his glass, "to think that quite a large number of his books have been put into the Institute library! We must use our influence on all hands, Mr. Vialls. We live in sad times. Even the theatre--I am told that some of the plays produced in London are disgraceful, simply disgraceful!"

The theatre was discussed, Mr. Vialls assailing it as a mere agent of popular corruption. On the mention of the name of Shakespeare, Mr. Mumbray exclaimed:

"Shakespeare needs a great deal of expurgating. But some of his plays teach a good lesson, I think. There is 'I read Romeo and Juliet,' for instance." Glazzard looked up in surprise. "I read 'Romeo and Juliet' not long ago, and it struck me that its intention was decidedly moral. It points a lesson to disobedient young people. If Juliet had been properly submissive to her parents, such calamities would never have befallen her. Then, again, I was greatly struck with the fate that overtook Mercutio--a most suitable punishment for his persistent use of foul language. Did you ever see it in that light, Mr. Glazzard?"

"I confess it is new to me. I shall think it over."

The Mayor beamed with gratification.

"No one denies," struck in Mr. Vialls, "that to a pure mind all things are pure. Shakespeare is undoubtedly a great poet, and a soul bent on edification can extract much good from him. But for people in general, especially young people, assuredly he cannot be recommended, even in the study. I confess I have neither time nor much inclination for poetry--except that of the sacred volume, which is poetry indeed. I have occasionally found pleasure in Longfellow"----

"Pardon me," interrupted the Mayor--"Longfellow?--the author of that poem called 'Excelsior'?"

"Yes."

"Now, really--I am surprised--I should have thought--the fact is, when Raglan was at school, he had to learn 'Excelsior,' and I happened to glance over it. I was slightly acquainted with the piece, but I had quite forgotten that It contained what seems to me very gross indelicacy--very gross indeed. Do you remember a verse beginning (I must ask your pardon for quoting it, Mr. Vialls)--


'Oh stay, the maiden cried, and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast.'
Surely, that is all but indecency.


In fact, I wrote at once to the master and drew his attention to the passage, requesting that my boy might never be asked to repeat such a poem. The force of my objection was not at once admitted, strange to say; but in the end I gained my point."

Mr. Vialls screwed up his lips and frowned at the table-cloth, but said nothing.

"Our task nowadays," pursued the Mayor, with confidence, "is to preserve the purity of home. Our homes are being invaded by dangerous influences we must resist. The family should be a bulwark of virtue--of all the virtues--holiness, charity, peace."

He lingered on the last word, and his gaze became abstracted.

"Very true, very true indeed!" cried the clergyman. "For one thing, how careful a parent should be with regard to the periodical literature which is allowed to enter his house, This morning, in a home I will not mention, my eye fell upon a weekly paper which I should have thought perfectly sound in its teaching; yet, behold, there was an article of which the whole purport was to _excuse the vices of the lower classes on the ground of their poverty and their temptations. Could anything be more immoral, more rotten in principle? _There is the spirit we have to contend against--a spirit of accursed lenity in morals, often originating in so-called scientific considerations! Evil is evil--vice, vice--the devil is the devil--be circumstances what they may. I do not care to make mention of such monstrous aberrations as, for instance, the attacks we are occasionally forced to hear on the law of marriage. That is the mere reek of the bottomless pit, palpable to all. But I speak of subtler disguises of evil, such as may recommend themselves to persons well-intentioned but of weak understanding. Happily, I persuaded my friends to discontinue their countenance of that weekly paper, and I shall exert myself everywhere to the same end,"

They rose at length, and went to the drawing-room. There Glazzard succeeding in seating himself by Miss Mumbray, and for a quarter of an hour he talked with her about art and literature. The girl's face brightened; she said little, but that little with very gracious smiles. Then Mr. Vialls approached, and the _tete-a-tete was necessarily at an end.

When he was at length alone with his wife, the Mayor saw what was in store for him; in fact, he had foreseen it throughout the evening.

"Yes," began the lady, with flashing eyes, "this is your Mr. Glazzard! He encourages Serena in her shameful behaviour! I overheard him talking to her."

"You are altogether wrong, as usual," replied Mr. Mumbray, with his wonted attempt at dignified self-assertion. "Glazzard distinctly disapproves of Bawlzac, and everything of that kind. His influence is as irreproachable as that of Mr. Vialls."

"Of course! You are determined to overthrow my plans at whatever cost to your daughter's happiness here and hereafter."

"I don't think Vialls a suitable husband for her, and I am not sorry she won't listen to him. He's all very well as a man and a clergyman, but--pshaw! what's the good of arguing with a pig-headed woman?"

This emphatic epithet had the result which was to be expected. The debate became a scolding match, lasting well into the night. These two persons were not only on ill-terms, they disliked each other with the intensity which can only be engendered by thirty years of a marriage such as, but for public opinion, would not have lasted thirty weeks. Their reciprocal disgust was physical, mental, moral. It could not be concealed from their friends; all Polterham smiled over it; yet the Mumbrays were regarded as a centre of moral and religious influence, a power against the encroaches of rationalism and its attendant depravity. Neither of them could point to dignified ancestry; by steady persistence in cant and snobbishness --the genuine expression of their natures--they had pushed to a prominent place, and feared nothing so much as depreciation in the eyes of the townsfolk. Raglan and Serena were causing them no little anxiety; both, though in different ways, might prove an occasion of scandal. When Eustace Glazzard began to present himself at the house, Mr. Mumbray welcomed the significant calls. From his point of view, Serena could not do better than marry a man of honourable name, who would remove her to London. Out of mere contrariety, Mrs. Mumbray thereupon began to encourage the slow advances of her Rector, who thought of Serena's fortune as a means to the wider activity, the greater distinction, for which he was hungering.

Glazzard's self-contempt as he went home this evening was not unmingled with pleasanter thoughts. For a man in his position, Serena Mumbray and her thousands did not represent a future of despair. He had always aimed much higher, but defeat after defeat left him with shaken nerves, and gloomy dialogues with his brother had impressed upon him the necessity of guarding against darkest possibilities. His state of mind was singularly morbid; he could not trust the fixity of his purposes for more than a day or two together; but just at present he thought without distaste of Serena herself, and was soothed by the contemplation of her (to him modest) fortune. During the past month he had been several times to and from London; to-morrow he would return to town again, and view his progress from a distance.

On reaching his brother's house, he found a letter waiting for him; it bore the Paris postmark. The contents were brief.

"DEAR GLAZZARD.

"I announce to you the fact of our marriage. The L.s will hear of it simultaneously. We are enjoying ourselves.

"Ever yours,

"D.Q."

He went at once to the room where William was sitting, and said, in a quiet voice:

"Quarrier has just got married--in Paris."

"Oh? To whom?"

"An English girl who has been a governess at Stockholm. I knew it was impending."

"Has he made a fool of himself?" asked William, dispassionately.

"I think not; she seems to be well educated, and good-looking-- according to his report."

"Why didn't you mention it before?"

"Oh, his wish. We talked it all over when he was here. He has an idea that a man about to be married always cuts a ridiculous figure."

The elder man looked puzzled.

"No mysteries--eh?"

"None whatever, I believe. A decent girl without fortune, that's all. I suppose we shall see them before long."

The subject was shortly dismissed, and Eustace fell to reporting the remarkable conversation in which he had taken part at the Mayor's table. His brother was moved to no little mirth, but did not indulge in such savage contemptuousness as distinguished the narrator. William Glazzard viewed the world from a standpoint of philosophic calm; he expected so little of men in general, that disappointment or vexation could rarely befall him.

"These people," he observed, "think themselves pillars of society, and the best of the joke is, that they really _are what they imagine. Without tolerably honest fools, we should fare badly at the hands of those who hate neither wits nor honesty. Let us encourage them, by all means. I see no dawn as yet of the millennium of brains."

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