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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDenzil Quarrier - Chapter 16
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Denzil Quarrier - Chapter 16 Post by :rpayne Category :Long Stories Author :George Gissing Date :May 2012 Read :1141

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Denzil Quarrier - Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

With sullen acquiescence the supporters of Mr. Mumbray and "Progressive Conservatism"--what phrase is not good enough for the lips of party?--recognized that they must needs vote for the old name. Dissension at such a moment was more dangerous than an imbecile candidate. Mr. Sam Quarrier had declared that rather than give his voice for Mumbray he would remain neutral. "Old W.-B. is good enough for a figure-head; he signifies something. If we are to be beaten, let it be on the old ground." That defeat was likely enough, the more intelligent Conservatives could not help seeing. Many of them (Samuel among the number) had no enthusiasm for Beaconsfield, and _la haute politique as the leader understood it, but they liked still less the principles represented by Councillor Chown and his vociferous regiment. So the familiar bills were once more posted about the streets, and once more the Tory canvassers urged men to vote for Welwyn-Baker in the name of Church and State.

At Salutary Mount (this was the name of the ex-Mayor's residence) personal disappointment left no leisure for lamenting the prospects of Conservatism. Mr. Mumbray shut himself up in the room known as his "study." Mrs. Mumbray stormed at her servants, wrangled with her children, and from her husband held apart in sour contempt-- feeble, pompous creature that he was! With such an opportunity, and unable to make use of it! But for _her_, he would never even have become Mayor. She was enraged at having yielded in the matter of Serena's betrothal. Glazzard had fooled them; he was an unprincipled adventurer, with an eye only to the fortune Serena would bring him!

"If you marry that man," she asseverated, _a propos of a discussion with her daughter on a carpet which had worn badly, "I shall have nothing whatever to do with the affair--nothing!"

Serena drew apart and kept silence.

"You hear what I say? You understand me?"

"You mean that you won't be present at the wedding?"

"I do!" cried her mother, careless what she said so long as it sounded emphatic. "You shall take all the responsibility. If you like to throw yourself away on a bald-headed, dissipated man--as I _know he is--it shall be entirely your own doing. I wash my hands of it--and that's the last word you will hear from me on the subject."

In consequence of which assertion she vilified Glazzard and Serena for three-quarters of an hour, until her daughter, who had sat in abstraction, slowly rose and withdrew.

Alone in her bedroom, Serena shed many tears, as she had often done of late. The poor girl was miserably uncertain how to act. She foresaw that home would be less than ever a home to her after this accumulation of troubles, and indeed she had made up her mind to leave it, but whether as a wife or as an independent woman she could not decide. "On her own responsibility"--yes, that was the one thing certain. And what experience had she whereon to form a judgment? It might be that her mother's arraignment of Glazzard was grounded in truth, but how could she determine one way or the other? On the whole, she liked him better than when she promised to marry him--yes, she liked him better; she did rot shrink from the thought of wedlock with him. He was a highly educated and clever man; he offered her a prospect of fuller life than she had yet imagined; perhaps it was a choice between him and the ordinary husband such as fell to Polterham girls. Yet again, if he did not really care for her--only for her money?

She remembered Denzil Quarrier's lecture on "Woman," and all he had said about the monstrously unfair position of girls who are asked in marriage by men of the world. And thereupon an idea came into her mind. Presently she had dried her tears, and in half-an-hour's time she left the house.

Her purpose was to call upon Mrs. Quarrier, whom she had met not long ago at Highmead. But the lady was not at home. After a moment of indecision, she wrote on the back of her visiting card: "Will you be so kind as to let me know when I could see you? I will come at any hour."

It was then midday. In the afternoon she received a note, hand-delivered. Mrs. Quarrier would be at home from ten to twelve the next morning.

Again she called, and Lilian received her in the small drawing-room. They locked at each other with earnest faces, Lilian wondering whether this visit had anything to do with the election. Serena was nervous, and could not reply composedly to the ordinary phrases of politeness with which she was received. And yet the phrases were not quite ordinary; whomsoever she addressed, Lilian spoke with a softness, a kindness peculiar to herself, and chose words which seemed to have more than the common meaning.

The visitor grew sensible of this pleasant characteristic, and at length found voice for her intention.

"I wished to see you for a very strange reason, Mrs. Quarrier. I feel half afraid that I may even offend you. You will think me very strange indeed."

Lilian trembled. The old dread awoke in her. Had Miss Mumbray discovered something?

"Do let me know what it is," she replied, in a low voice.

"It--it is about Mr. Eustace Glazzard. I think he is an intimate friend of Mr. Quarrier's?"

"Yes, he is."

"You are surprised, of course. I came to you because I feel so alone and so helpless. You know that I am engaged to Mr. Glazzard?"

Her voice faltered. Relieved from anxiety, Lilian looked and spoke in her kindest way.

"Do speak freely to me, Miss Mumbray. I shall be so glad to--to help you in any way I can--so very glad."

"I am sure you mean that. My mother is very much against our marriage--against Mr. Glazzard. She wants me to break off. I can't do that without some better reason than I know of. Will you tell me what you think of Mr. Glazzard? Will you tell me in confidence? You know him probably much better than I do--though that sounds strange. You have known him much longer, haven't you?"

"Not much longer. I met him first in London."

"But you know him through your husband. I only wish to ask you whether you have a high opinion of him. How has he impressed you from the first?"

Lilian reflected for an instant, and spoke with grave conscientiousness.

"My husband considers him his best friend. He thinks very highly of him. They are unlike each other in many things. Mr. Quarrier sometimes wishes that he--that Mr. Glazzard were more active, less absorbed in art; but I have never heard him say anything worse than that. He likes him very much indeed. They have been friends since boyhood."

The listener sat with bowed head, and there was a brief silence.

"Then you think," she said at length, "that I shall be quite safe in --Oh, that is a bad way of putting it! Do forgive me for talking to you like this. You, Mrs. Quarrier, are very happily married; but I am sure you can sympathize with a girl's uncertainty. We have so few opportunities of----Oh, it was so true what Mr. Quarrier said in his lecture at the Institute--before you came. He said that a girl had to take her husband so very much on trust--of course his words were better than those, but that's what he meant."

"Yes--I know--I have heard him say the same thing."

"I don't ask," pursued the other, quickly, "about his religious opinions, or anything of that kind. Nowadays, I suppose, there are very few men who believe as women do--as most women do." She glanced at Lilian timidly. "I only mean--do you think him a good man--an honourable man?"

"To that I can reply with confidence," said Lilian, sweetly. "I am quite sure he is an honourable man--quite sure I believe he has very high thoughts. Have you heard him play? No man who hadn't a noble nature could play like that."

Serena drew a sigh of relief.

"Thank you, dear Mrs. Quarrier--thank you so very much! You have put my mind at rest."

These words gave delight to the hearer. To do good and to receive gratitude were all but the prime necessities of Lilian's heart. Obeying her impulse, she began to say all manner of kind, tender, hopeful things. Was there not a similarity between this girl's position and that in which she had herself stood when consenting to the wretched marriage which happily came to an end at the church door? Another woman might have been disposed to say, in the female parrot-language: "But do you love him or not? That is the whole question." It was _not the whole question, even granting that love had spoken plainly; and Lilian understood very well that it is possible for a girl to contemplate wedlock without passionate feeling such as could obscure her judgment.

They talked with much intimacy, much reciprocal good-will, and Serena took her leave with a comparatively cheerful mind. She had resolved what to do.

And the opportunity for action came that afternoon. Glazzard called upon her. He looked rather gloomy, but smiled in reply to the smile she gave him.

"Have you read Mr. Gladstone's address to the electors of Midlothian?" Serena began by asking, with a roguish look.

"Pooh! What is such stuff to me?"

"I knew I should tease you. What do you think of Mr. Quarrier's chances?"

"Oh, he will be elected, no doubt."

Glazzard spoke absently, his eyes on Serena's face, but seemingly not conscious of her expression.

"I hope he will," she rejoined.

"What!--you hope so?"

"Yes, I do. I am convinced he is the right man. I agree with his principles. Henceforth I am a Radical."

Glazzard laughed mockingly, and Serena joined, but not in the same tone.

"I like him," she pursued, with a certain odd persistence. "If I could do it decently, I would canvass for him. He is a manly man and means what he says. I like his wife, too--she is very sweet."

He glanced at her and pursed his lips.

"I am sure," added Serena, "you like me to praise such good friends of yours?"

"Certainly."

They were in the room where the grand piano stood, for Mrs. Mumbray had gone to pass the day with friends at a distance. Serena said of a sudden:

"Will you please play me something--some serious piece--one of the best you know?"

"You mean it?"

"I do. I want to hear you play a really noble piece. You won't refuse."

He eyed her in a puzzled way, but smiled, and sat down to the instrument. His choice was from Beethoven. As he played, Serena stood in an attitude of profound attention. When the music ceased, she went up to him and held out her hand.

"Thank you, Eustace. I don't think many people can play like that."

"No; not very many," he replied quietly, and thereupon kissed her fingers.

He went to the window and looked out into the chill, damp garden.

"Serena, have you any idea what Sicily is like at this time of year?"

"A faint imagination. Very lovely, no doubt."

"I want to go there."

"Do you?" she answered, carelessly, and added in lower tones, "So do I."

"There's no reason why you shouldn't. Marry me next week, and we will go straight to Messina."

"I will marry you in a fortnight from to-day," said Serena, in quivering voice.

"You will?"

Glazzard walked back to Highmead with a countenance which alternated curiously between smiling and lowering. The smile was not agreeable, and the dark look showed his face at its worst. He was completely absorbed in thought, and when some one stopped full in front of him with jocose accost, he gave a start of alarm.

"I should be afraid of lamp-posts," said Quarrier, "if I had that somnambulistic habit. Why haven't you looked in lately? Men of infinite leisure must wait upon the busy."

"My leisure, thank the destinies!" replied Glazzard, "will very soon be spent out of hearing of election tumult."

"When? Going abroad again?"

"To Sicily."

"Ha!--that means, I conjecture," said Denzil, searching his friend's face, "that a certain affair will come to nothing after all?"

"And what if you are right?" returned the other, slowly, averting his eyes.

"I sha'n't grieve. No, to tell you the truth, I shall not! So at last I may speak my real opinion. It wouldn't have done, Glazzard; it was a mistake, old fellow. I have never been able to understand it. You--a man of your standing--no, no, it was completely a mistake, believe me!"

Glazzard looked into the speaker's face, smiled again, and remarked calmly:

"That's unfortunate. I didn't say my engagement was at an end; and, in fact, I shall be married in a fortnight. We go to Sicily for the honeymoon."

A flush of embarrassment rose to Denzil's face. For a moment he could not command himself; then indignation possessed him.

"That's too bad!" he exclaimed. "You took advantage of me. You laid a trap. I'm damned if I feel able to apologize!"

Glazzard turned away, and it seemed as if he would walk on. But he faced about again abruptly, laughed, held out his hand.

"No, it is I who should apologize. I did lay a trap, and it was too bad. But I wished to know your real opinion."

No one more pliable than Denzil. At once he took the hand that was offered and pressed it heartily.

"I'm a blundering fellow. Do come and spend an hour with me to-night. From eleven to twelve. I dine out with fools, and shall rejoice to see you afterwards."

"Thanks, I can't. I go up to town by the 7.15."

They were in a suburban road, and at the moment some ladies approached. Quarrier, who was acquainted with them, raised his hat and spoke a few hasty words, after which he walked on by Glazzard's side.

"My opinion," he said, "is worth very little. I had no right whatever to express it, having such slight evidence to go upon. It was double impertinence. If _you can't be trusted to choose a wife, who could? I see that--now that I have made a fool of myself."

"Don't say any more about it," replied the other, in a good-natured voice. "We have lived in the palace of truth for a few minutes, that's all."

"So you go to Sicily. There you will be in your element. Live in the South, Glazzard; I'm convinced you will be a happier man than in this mill-smoke atmosphere. You have the artist's temperament; indulge it to the utmost. After all, a man ought to live out what is in him. Your wedding will be here, of course?"

"Yes, but absolutely private."

"You won't reject me when I offer good wishes? There is no man living who likes you better than I do, or is more anxious for your happiness. Shake hands again, old fellow. I must hurry off."

So they parted, and in a couple of hours Glazzard was steaming towards London.

He lay back in the corner of a carriage, his arms hanging loose, his eyes on vacancy. Of course he had guessed Quarrier's opinion of the marriage he was making; he could imagine his speaking to Lilian about it with half-contemptuous amusement. The daughter of a man like Mumbray--an unformed, scarcely pretty girl, who had inherited a sort of fortune from some soap-boiling family--what a culmination to a career of fastidious dilettantism! "He has probably run through all his money," Quarrier would add. "Poor old fellow! he deserves better things."

He had come to hate Quarrier. Yet with no vulgar hatred; not with the vengeful rancour which would find delight in annihilating its object. His feeling was consistent with a measure of justice to Denzil's qualities, and even with a good deal of admiration; as it originated in mortified vanity, so it might have been replaced by the original kindness, if only some stroke of fortune or of power had set Glazzard in his original position of superiority. Quarrier as an ingenuous young fellow looking up to the older comrade, reverencing his dicta, holding him an authority on most subjects, was acceptable, lovable; as a self-assertive man, given to patronage (though perhaps unconsciously), and succeeding in life as his friend stood still or retrograded, he aroused dangerous emotions. Glazzard could no longer endure his presence, hated the sound of his voice, cursed his genial impudence; yet he did not wish for his final unhappiness--only for a temporary pulling-down, a wholesome castigation of over-blown pride.

The sound of the rushing wheels affected his thought, kept it on the one subject, shaped it to a monotony of verbal suggestion. Not a novel suggestion, by any means; something that his fancy had often played with; very much, perhaps, as that ingenious criminal spoken of by Serena amused himself with the picture of a wrecked train long before he resolved to enjoy the sight in reality.

"Live in the South," Quarrier had urged. "Precisely; in ether words: Keep out of my way. You're a good, simple-hearted fellow, to be sure, but it was a pity I had to trust you with that secret. Leave England for a long time."

And why not? Certainly it was good counsel--if it had come from any one but Denzil Quarrier. Probably he should act upon it after all.

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