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- Denzil Quarrier - 20/53 -
life. But the task he had imposed seemed to her, in these hours of faintness, no less than terrible.
He entered, gay as usual, ready with tender words, pet names and diminutives, the "little language" of one who was still a lover. Seeing how things were with her, he sat down to look over an English newspaper. Presently his attention strayed, he fell into reverie.
"Well," he exclaimed at length, rousing himself, "they have the news by now."
She gave no answer.
"I can imagine how Mary will talk. 'Oh, nothing that Denzil does can surprise me! Whoever expected him to marry in the ordinary way?' And then they'll laugh, and shrug their shoulders, and hope I mayn't have played the fool--good, charitable folks!"
Still she said nothing.
"Rather out of sorts to-day, Lily?"
"I wish we were going to stay here--never to go back to England."
"Live the rest of our lives in a Paris hotel!"
"No, no--in some quiet place--a home of our own."
"That wouldn't suit me, by any means. Paris is all very well for a holiday, but I couldn't make a home here. There's no place like England. Don't you ever think what an unspeakable blessing it is to have been born in England? Every time I go abroad, I rejoice that I am not as these foreigners. Even my Scandinavian friends I can't help despising a little--and as for Frenchmen! There's a great deal of the old island prejudice in me."
Lilian smiled, raising herself slightly upon the sofa.
"These old Latin nations have had their day," he continued, with a wave of the arm. "France, Italy, Spain--they have played their part in civilization, and have nothing left now but old relics and modern bluster. The future's with us Teutons. If I were not an Englishman, I would be an American. The probability is that we shall have a hard fight one of these days with the Slavs--and all the better, perhaps; I don't think the world can do without fighting yet awhile."
"I should be sorry to hear you teaching people that," said Lilian.
"Oh," he laughed, "it wouldn't fit into our electoral campaign! No danger of my preaching bloodthirstiness. But how I shall enjoy the bloodless fight down at Polterham! I want you to look forward to it in the same way. Do cheer up, Lily!--you see I have been gradually moving in this direction. When I found myself a man of means, I knew that the time had come for stirring. Writing about the Sea-Kings is all very well in its way, but I am no born literary man. I must get that book finished and published, though. It might help me with the constituency. A book gives a man distinction."
"You seem to me to have changed very much."
"No; it's only that you didn't know me thoroughly. To tell you the truth, that life of hiding away in London wasn't a very good thing for me. I lived too much to myself. The half-dozen acquaintances I had were not the kind of men to profit me. Glazzard--well, Glazzard is an odd sort of fellow--helpful now and then, but on the whole musty. He has no ambition, thinks it enough to doze on among his pictures, and that kind of thing. The fact is, such companionship has made me conceited. I want to get among my equals and my superiors--as I shall do if I become a Member of Parliament."
"Confound it! _Your_ influence has tended the same way. You spoil me --make me think myself a fine fellow. I suppose one's wife ought to talk like that--I don't dislike it, you know; but if I end by never doing anything at all, I should be confoundedly ashamed of myself. But the more I think of it, the better satisfied I am that a political career is the best thing for me. You see, this is the age of political progress--that before everything. We English are working out our revolution in a steady and sensible way,--no shrieking and slaughtering--we leave that to people who don't really know what they want, and will never get much to speak of. We go ahead soberly on the constitutional highway--with a little hearty swearing to clear the air now and then."
"Well, I was saying it is a political age, and I think a man ought to go in for the first interest of his time. What have we to do just now with artistic aims? The English, at any time, care little or nothing for art; one has to recognize that. Our task in the world is practical--to secure all men a sufficiency of beef and beer, and honest freedom. I like to feel that I am on the advancing wave; I don't care for your picturesque ponds; they generally have a bad smell."
The effect of his vigorous talk was manifest in Lilian's face. She yielded her spirit to his, was borne whither he would.
"You talk of living in Paris--why, if you really knew Paris, you would hate the place. Underneath all this show of civilization, refinement, brilliancy--I'm glad to say you can't even guess what it covers. The town reeks with abominations. I'm getting sick of it."
The sincerity of his moral disgust was obvious. No one knew so well as Lilian the essential purity--even the puritanism--of Quarrier's temper.
"For all that," he added, merrily, "we'll go and dine at the restaurant, and then look in at the Francais. They know how to cook here, and they know how to play the fool--no denying it."
When Lilian went forth with him she had once more succeeded in overcoming her despondent mood. The lights of the Boulevard exercised their wonted effect--cheering, inspiring. She pressed his arm, laughed at his mirthful talk; and Denzil looked down into her face with pride and delight in its loveliness. He had taken especial care to have her dressed in the manner that became his wife; Parisian science had gone to the making of her costume, and its efforts were not wasted. As they entered the restaurant, many eyes were turned with critical appreciation upon the modest face and figure, as undeniably English, in their way, as Quarrier's robust manhood.
Denzil's French was indifferently good, better perhaps than his capacity for picking out from the bill of fare a little dinner which should exalt him in the eyes of waiters. He went to work, however, with a noble disregard for consequences, whether to digestion or pocket. Where Lilian was concerned there could be no such thing as extravagance; he gloried in obtaining for her the best of everything that money could command. The final "_Bien, monsieur_," was, after all, sufficiently respectful, and our friend leaned back with the pleasant consciousness of duty performed.
He drank a good deal of wine, and talking with a spontaneity beyond the ordinary Briton. Towards the close of dinner his theme was the coming electoral contest.
"You know," he said, bending over the table, "you will be able to give me important help. The wife of a candidate--especially of a Radical candidate--can find plenty of work, if she knows how to go about it. As little humbug as possible; and as little loss of self-respect, but we shall have to shake a good many dirty hands. Your turn for 'slumming' will serve us well, but I know the dangers of it. You'll be coming home _eploree_, as they say here. I hope you'll grow stronger in that respect. One has to harden one's heart a little."
"I know it is wiser to do so."
"Of course! It's not only that you are constantly imposed upon; the indulgence of universal sympathy is incompatible with duty to one's self--unless you become at once a sister of mercy. One is bound, in common sense, to close eyes and ears against all but a trifling fraction of human misery. Why, look, we sit here, and laugh and talk and enjoy ourselves; yet at this instant what horrors are being enacted in every part of the world! Men are perishing by every conceivable form of cruelty and natural anguish. Sailors are gurgling out their life in sea-storms; soldiers are agonizing on battle-fields; men, women, and children are being burnt, boiled, hacked, squashed, rent, exploded to death in every town and almost every village of the globe. Here in Paris, and over there in London, there is no end to the forms of misery our knowledge suggests--all suffered while we eat and talk. But to sit down and think persistently of it would lead to madness in any one of imagination like yours. We have to say: It doesn't concern us! And no more it does. We haven't the ordering of the world; we can't alter the vile course of things. I like to swear over it now and then (especially when I pass a London hospital), but I soon force myself to think of something else. You must do the same--even to the swearing, if you like. There's a tendency in our time to excess of humanitarianism-- I mean a sort of lachrymose habit which really does no good. You represent it in some degree, I'm afraid--eh? Well, well, you've lived too much alone--you've got into the way of brooding; the habit of social life will strengthen you."
"I hope so, Denzil."
"Oh, undoubtedly! One more little drop of wine before the coffee. Nonsense! You need stimulus; your vitality is low. I shall prescribe for you henceforth. Merciful heavens! how that French woman does talk! A hundred words to the minute for the last half hour."
A letter had arrived for him at the hotel in his absence. It was from Mr. Hornibrook's agent, announcing that the house at Polterham was now vacated, and that Mr. Quarrier might take possession just as soon as he chose.
"_That's_ all right!" he exclaimed, after reading it to Lilian. "Now we'll think of getting back to London, to order our furniture, and all the rest of it. The place can be made habitable in a few weeks, I should say."
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