Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XI. A Man with a Future
Mr. Dalmaine first turned his attention to politics at the time when the question of popular education was to the front in British politics. It was an excellent opportunity for would-be legislators conscious of rhetorical gifts and only waiting for some safe, simple subject whereon to exercise them. Both safe and simple was the topic which all and sundry were then called upon to discuss; it was impossible not to have views on education (have we not all been educated?), and delightfully easy to support them by prophecy. Never had the vaticinating style of oratory a greater vogue. Never was a richer occasion for the utterance of wisdom such as recommends itself to the British public.
Mr. Dalmaine understood the tastes and habits of that public as well as most men of his standing. After one abortive attempt to enter Parliament, he gained his seat for Vauxhall at the election of 1874, and from the day of his success he steadily applied himself to the political profession. He was then two-and-thirty; for twelve years he had been actively engaged in commerce and now held the position of senior partner in a firm owning several factories in Lambeth. Such a training was valuable; politics he viewed as business on a larger scale, and business, the larger its scale the better, was his one enthusiasm. His education had not been liberal; he saw that that made no difference, and wisely pursued the bent of his positive mind where another man might have wasted his time in the attempt to gain culture. He saw that his was the age of the practical. Let who would be an idealist, the practical man in the end got all that was worth having.
He worked. You might have seen him, for instance, in his study one Sunday morning in the January which the story has now reached; a glance at him showed that he was no idler in fields of art or erudition; blue-books were heaped about him, hooks bound in law calf lay open near his hand, newspapers monopolised one table. He was interested in all that concerns the industrial population of Great Britain; he was making that subject his speciality; he meant to link his name with factory Acts, with education Acts, with Acts for the better housing of the work-folk, with what not of the kind. And the single working man for whom he veritably cared one jot was Mr. James Dalmaine.
He was rather a good-looking fellow, a well-built, sound, red-bearded Englishman. His ears were not quite so close against his head as they should be; his lips might have had a more urbane expression; his hand might have been a trifle less weighty; but when he stood up with his back to the fire and looked musingly along the cornice of the room, one felt that his appearance on a platform would conciliate those right-thinking electors who desire that Parliament should represent the comely, beef-fed British breed. He was fairly well-to-do, though some held that he had speculated a little rashly of late; he felt very strongly, however, that his pedestal must be yet more solid before he could claim the confidence of his countrymen with the completeness that he desired. Of late he had given thought to a particular scheme, and not at all a disagreeable one, for enhancing his social, and therefore political, credit. He was thinking of her--the scheme, I would say--at present.
These chambers of his were in Westminster; they were spacious, convenient; he had received deputations from his constituents here. Lambeth was only just over the water; he liked to be near, for it was one of his hobbies, one of the very few that he allowed himself, to keep thoroughly cognisant of the affairs of his borough--which, as you are aware, includes the district of Lambeth--even of its petty affairs. Some day, he said to himself, he would in this way overlook Great Britain--would have her statistics at his finger-ends, would change here, confirm there, guide everywhere. In the meantime he satisfied himself with this section. He knew what was going on in workmen's clubs, in places of amusement, in the market streets. There is a pleasure in surveying from a height the doing and driving of ordinary mortals; a member for Vauxhall studying his borough in this spirit naturally comes to feel himself a sort of Grand Duke.
It was one o'clock. There came a knock at the door, followed by the appearance of a middle-aged man who silently proclaimed himself a secretary. This was Mr. Tasker; he had served Mr. Dalmaine thus for three years, prior to which he had been employed as a clerk at the works in Lambeth. Mr. Dalmaine first had his attention drawn to Tasker eight or nine years before, by an instance of singular shrewdness in the latter's discharge of his duties. From that day he kept his eye on him--took Opportunities of advancing him. Tasker was born with a love of politics and with a genius for detail; Mr. Dalmaine discovered all this, and, when the due season came, raised him to the dignity of his private scribe. Tasker regarded his employer as his earthly Providence, was devoted to him, served him admirably. It was the one instance of Mr. Dalmaine's having interested himself in an individual; he had no thought of anything but his own profit in doing so, but none the less he had made a mortal happy. You observe the beneficence that lies in practicality.
Before going to luncheon on a Sunday it was Mr. Dalmaine's practice to talk of things in general with his secretary. To-day, among other questions, he asked, with a meaning smile:
'What of young Egremont's lectures? Has he recommenced?'
'The first of the new course is to-night,' replied Mr. Tasker, who sat bending a paper-cutter over his leg. Mr. Dalmaine, knowing his secretary, encouraged him to be on easy terms. In truth, he had a liking for Tasker. Partly it reciprocated the other's feeling, no doubt; and then one generally looks with indulgence on a man whom one has discovered and developed.
'Does he go on with his literature?'
'No. The title is, "Thoughts for the Present."'
Mr. Dalmaine leaned back and laughed. It was a hearty laugh.
'I foresaw it, I foresaw it! And how many hearers has he?'
'To be sure.'
'But there is something more. Mr. Egremont is going to present Lambeth with a free public library. He has taken a building.'
'A fact? How do you know that, Tasker?'
'I heard it at the club last night. He has informed the members of his class.'
'Ha! He is really going to bleed himself to prove his sincerity?'
They discussed the subject a little longer. Then Mr. Dalmaine dictated a letter or two that he wished to have off his mind, and after that bade Tasker good-day.
At half-past four in the afternoon he drove up to a house at Lancaster Gate, where he had recently been a not infrequent visitor. The servant preceded him with becoming stateliness to the drawing-room, and announced his name in the hearing of three ladies, who were pleasantly chatting in the aroma of tea. The eldest of them was Mrs. Tyrrell; her companions were Miss Tyrrell and a young married lady paying a call.
Mrs. Tyrrell was one of those excellently preserved matrons who testify to the wholesome placidity of woman's life in wealthy English homes. Her existence had taken for granted the perfection of the universe; probably she had never thought of a problem which did not solve itself for the pleasant trouble of stating it in refined terms, and certainly it had never occurred to her that social propriety was distinguishable from the Absolute Good. She was not a dull woman, and the opposite of an unfeeling one, but her wits and her heart had both been so subdued to the social code, that it was very difficult for her to entertain seriously any mode of thought or action for which she could not recall a respectable precedent. By nature she was indulgent, of mild disposition, of sunny intelligence; so endowed, circumstances had bidden her regard it as the end of her being to respect conventions, to check her native impulse if ever it went counter to the opinion of Society, to use her intellect for the sole purpose of discovering how far it was permitted to be used. And she was a happy woman, had always been a happy woman. She had known a little trouble in relation to her favourite sister's marriage with Mr. Newthorpe, for she foresaw that it could not turn out very well, and she had been obliged to censure her sister for excessive devotion to the pleasures of Society; it grieved her, on the other hand, to think of her poor niece being brought up in a way so utterly opposed to all the traditions. But these were only little ripples on the smooth flowing surface. You knew that she would never be smitten down with a great sorrow. She was of those whom Fate must needs respect, so gracefully and sweetly do they accept happiness as their right.
Mr. Dalmaine joined these ladies with the manner of the sturdy Briton who would make himself agreeable yet dreads the petit maitre. His voice would have been better if a little more subdued; he seated himself with perhaps rather more of ease than of grace; but on the whole Society would have let him pass muster as a well-bred man.
'You are interested in all that concerns your constituency, Mr. Dalmaine,' said Mrs. Tyrrell; 'we were speaking of Mr. Egremont's plan of founding a library in Lambeth. You have heard of it?'
'Do you think it will be a good thing?'
'I am very doubtful. One doesn't like to speak unkindly of such admirable intentions, but I really think that in this he is working on a wrong principle. I so strongly object to giving anything when it's in the power of people to win it for themselves with a little wholesome exertion. Now, there's the Free Library Act; if the people of Lambeth really want a library, let them tax themselves and adopt the statutory scheme. Sincerely, I believe that Mr. Egremont will do more harm than good. We must avoid anything that tends to pauperise the working classes.'
'How amusing!' exclaimed Paula. 'It's almost word for word what mamma's just been saying.'
Paula was dressed in the prettiest of tea-gowns; she looked the most exquisite of conservatory flowers. Her smile to Mr. Dalmaine was very gracious.
'That really is how I felt,' said Mrs. Tyrrell. 'But Mr. Egremont will never be persuaded of that. He is so wholehearted in his desire to help these poor people, yet, I'm afraid, so very, very unpractical.'
The young married lady observed:
'Oh, no one ought ever to interfere with philanthropy unless they have a very practical scheme. Canon Brougham was so emphatic on that point this morning. So much harm may be done, when we mean everything for the best.'
'Yes, I feel that very strongly,' said Dalmaine, his masculine accent more masculine than ever after the plaintive piping. 'I even fear that Mr. Egremont is doing wrong in making his lectures free. We may be sure they are well worth paying to hear, and it's an axiom in all dealing with the working class that they will never value anything that they don't pay for.'
'Oh, but Mr. Dalmaine,' protested Paula, 'you couldn't ask Mr. Egremont to take money at the door!'
'It sounds shocking, Miss Tyrrell, but if Mr. Egremont stands before them as a teacher, he ought to charge for his lessons. I assure you they would put a far higher value on his lectures. I grieve to hear that his class has fallen off. I could have foreseen that. The basis is not sound. To put it in plain, even coarse, language, all social reform must be undertaken on strictly commercial principles.'
'How I should like to hear you say that to Mr. Egremont!' remarked Paula. 'Oh, his face!'
'Mr. Egremont is an idealist,' said Mrs. Tyrrell, smiling.
'Surely the very last kind of person to attempt social reform!' exclaimed the young married lady.
The conversation drew off into other channels. Mr. Dalmaine was supplied with the clearest opinions on every topic, and he had a way of delivering them which was most effective with persons of Mrs. Tyrrell's composition. In everything he affected sobriety. If he had to express a severe judgment, it was done with gentlemanly regret. If he commended anything, he did so with a judicial air. In fact, it would not have been easy to imagine Mr. Dalmaine speaking with an outburst of natural fervour on any topic whatsoever. His view was the view of common sense, and he enunciated the barrenest convictions in a tone which would have suited profound originality.
A week later there was a dinner party at the Tyrrells, and Egremont was among the bidden. He had persisted in his tendency to hold aloof from general society, in spite of many warnings from Mrs. Ormonde, but he could not, short of ingratitude, wholly absent himself from his friends at Lancaster Gate. Mrs. Tyrrell was no exception to the rule in her attitude to Egremont; as did all matronly ladies, she held him in very warm liking, and sincerely hoped that a young man so admirably fitted for the refinements of social life would in time get rid of his extravagant idealism. A little of that was graceful; Society was beginning to view it with favour when confined within the proper bounds; but to carry it into act, and waste one's life in wholly unpractical--nay, in positively harmful--enterprise was a sad thing. She had reasoned with him, but he showed himself so perverted in his sense of the fitness of things that the task had to be abandoned as hopeless. And yet the good lady liked him. She had hoped, and not so long ago, that he might some day desire to stand in a nearer relation to her than that of a friend, but herein again she felt that her wish was growing futile. Paula indulged in hints with reference to her cousin Annabel, and Mrs. Tyrrell began to fear that the strangely educated girl might be the cause of Walter's extreme aberrations.
Egremont arrived early on the evening of the dinner. Only one guest had preceded him. With Mrs. Tyrrell and Paula were Mr. Tyrrell and the son of the house, Mr. John, the Jack Tyrrell of sundry convivial clubs in town. Mr. Tyrrell senior was a high-coloured jovial gentleman of three score, great in finance, practical to the backbone, yet with wit and tact which put him at ease with all manner of men, even with social reformers. These latter amused him vastly; he failed to see that the world needed any reforming whatever, at all events beyond that which is constitutionally provided for in the proceedings of the British Parliament. He had great wealth; he fared sumptuously every day; things shone to him in a rosy after-dinner light. Not a gross or a selfish man, for he was as good-natured as he was contented, and gave very freely of his substance; it was simply his part in the world to enjoy the product of other men's labour and to set an example of glorious self-satisfaction. Egremont, in certain moods, had tried to despise Mr. Tyrrell, but he never quite succeeded. Nor indeed was the man contemptible. Had you told him with frank conviction that you deemed him a poor sort of phenomenon, he would have shaken the ceiling with laughter and have admired you for your plain-speaking. For there was a large and generous vigour about him, and adverse criticism could only heighten his satisfaction in his own stability.
Something of the cold dignity in which she had taken refuge at Ullswater was still to be remarked in Paula's manner as she received Egremont. She held her charming head erect, and let her eyelids droop a little, and the few words which she addressed to him were rather absently spoken. With others, as they arrived, she was sportively intimate. Her bearing had gained a little in maturity during the past half year, but it was still with a blending of naivete and capricious affectation that she wrought her spell. Her dress was a miracle, and inseparably a part of her; it was impossible to picture her in any serious situation, so entirely was she a child of luxury and frivolous concern. Exquisite as an artistic product of Society, she affected the imagination not so much by her personal charm as through the perfume of luxury which breathed about her. Egremont, with his radical tendencies of thought, found himself marvelling as he regarded her; what a life was hers! Compare it with that of some little work-girl in Lambeth, such as he saw in the street--what spaces between those two worlds! Was it possible that this dainty creation, this thing of material omnipotence, would suffer decay of her sweetness and in the end die? The reason took her side and revolted against law; it would be an outrage if time or mischance laid hold upon her.
Yet there was something in Paula which he did not recognise. Since she could formulate desires, few had found impression on her lips which were not at once gratified; an exception caused her at first rather astonishment than impatience. Such astonishment fell upon her when she understood that Egremont's coming to Ullswater was not on her account. In truth, she wished it had been, and from that moment the fates were kind enough to notice Paula's poor little existence, and bid her remember she was mortal. She took the admonition ill, and certainly it was impertinent from her point of view. She had slight philosophy, but out of that disappointment Paula by degrees drew an understanding that she had had a glimpse of a strange world, that something of moment had been at stake.
Egremont, standing in the rear of a chatting group, had all but dreamed himself into oblivion of the present when he heard loud announcement of 'Mr. Dalmaine.' It was some time since he had met the Member for Vauxhall. Looking upon the politician's well-knit frame, his well-coloured face with its expression of shrewd earnestness, he for a moment seemed to himself to shrink into insignificance. After sitting opposite Dalmaine for an hour at the dinner-table, he was able to regard the man again in what he deemed a true light. But the impression made upon one by an object suddenly presented when the thought is busy with far other things will as a rule embody much essential truth. As a force, Egremont would not have weighed in the scale against Dalmaine. Putting himself in conscious opposition to such a man, he had but his due in a sense of nullity.
Mr. Tyrrell was kind to him in the assignment of a partner. A pretty, gentle, receptive maiden, anxious to show interest in things of the mind--with such a one Walter was at his best, because his simplest and happiest. He put away thought of Lambeth--which in truth was beginning to trouble his mind like a fixed idea--and talked much as he would have done a couple of years ago, with bright intelligence, with natural enjoyment of the hour. It was greatly his charm in such conversation that had made him a favourite with pleasant people of the world. In withdrawing himself from the sphere of these amenities he was opposing the free growth of his character, which in consequence suffered. He was cognisant of that; he knew that he was more himself to-night than he had been for some months. But the fixed idea waited in the background.
When the ladies were gone, he saw Dalmaine rise and come round the table towards him.
'I'm glad to see you again,' Dalmaine began, depositing his wine-glass and refilling it. 'Pray tell me something about your lectures. You have resumed since Christmas, I think?'
Egremont had no mind to speak of these things. It cost him an effort to find an answer.
'Yes, I still have a few hearers.'
And at once he was angry with himself for falling into this confession of failure. Dalmaine was the last man before whom he would affect humility.
'I am sure,' observed the politician, 'everyone who has the good of the working classes at heart must feel indebted to you. It's so very seldom that men of culture care to address audiences of that kind. Yet it must be the most effectual way of reaching the people. You address them on English Literature, I think?'
Egremont did not care to explain that he had now a broader subject. He murmured an affirmative. Dalmaine had hoped to elicit some of the 'Thoughts for the Present,' and felt disappointment.
'An excellent choice, it seems to me,' he continued, making his glass revolve on the table-cloth. 'They are much too ignorant of the best wealth of their country. They have so few inducements to read the great historians, for instance. If you can bring them to do so, you make them more capable citizens, abler to form a judgment on the questions of the day.'
'My one aim,' he remarked, 'is to persuade them to forget that there are such things as questions of the day.'
Dalmaine also smiled, and with a slight involuntary curling of the lip.
'Ah, I remember our discussions on the Atlantic. I scarcely thought you would apply those ideas in their--their fulness, when you began practical work. You surely will admit that, in a time when their interests are engaging so much attention, working men should--for instance--go to the polls with intelligent preparation.'
'I'd rather they didn't go to the polls at all,' Walter replied. He knew that this was exaggeration, but it pleased him to exaggerate. He enjoyed the effect on the honourable member's broad countenance.
'Come, come!' said Dalmaine, laughing with appearance of entering into the joke. 'At that rate, English freedom would soon be at an end. One might as well abolish newspapers.'
'In my opinion, the one greatest boon that could be granted the working class. I do my best to dissuade them from the reading of newspapers.'
Dalmaine turned the whole matter into a jest. Secretly he believed that Egremont was poking contemptuous fun at him, but it was his principle to receive everything with good-humour. They drew apart again, each feeling more strongly than ever the instinctive opposition between their elements. It amounted to a reciprocal dislike, an irritation provoked by each other's presence. Dalmaine was beginning to suspect Egremont of some scheme too deep for his fathoming; it was easier for him to believe anything, than that idealism pure and simple was at the bottom of such behaviour. Walter, on the other hand, viewed the politician's personality with something more than contempt. Dalmaine embodied those forces of philistinism, that essence of the vulgar creed, which Egremont had undertaken to attack, and which, as he already felt, were likely to yield as little before his efforts as a stone wall under the blow of a naked hand. Two such would do well to keep apart.
On returning to the drawing-room, Egremont kept watch for a vacant place by Paula. Presently he was able to move to her side. She spread her fan upon her lap, and, ruffling its edge of white fur, said negligently:
'So you decided to waste an evening, Mr. Egremont.'
'I decided to have an evening of rest and enjoyment.'
'I suppose you are working dreadfully hard. When do you open your library?'
'Scarcely in less than four or five months.'
'And will you stand at the counter and give out books, like the young men at Mudie's?'
'Sometimes, I dare say. But I have found a librarian.'
'Who is he?'
'A working man in Lambeth. One of the most sympathetic natures I have ever met; a man who might have gone on all his life making candles--that is how things are arranged.'
'Making candles? What a funny change of occupation! And you really think you are doing good in that disagreeable place?'
'I can only hope.'
'You are quite sure you are not doing harm?'
'Does it seem to you that I am?'
Paula assumed an air of wisdom.
'Of course I have no right to speak of such things, but it is my opinion that you are destroying their sense of self-respect. I don't think they ought to have things given them; they should be encouraged to help themselves.'
He examined her face. It was obvious that this profound sentiment had not taken birth in Paula's charming little head, and he guessed from whom she had derived it.
'I have no doubt Mr. Dalmaine would agree with you,' he said smiling. 'I believe I have heard him say something of the kind.'
'I m glad to hear it. Mr. Dalmaine is an authority in such matters.'
'And I, the very reverse of one?'
'Well, I really do think, Mr. Egremont, that you are taking up things for which you are not--not exactly suited, you know.'
She said it with the prettiest air of patronage, looking at him for a moment, then, as usual, letting her eyes wander about the room.
'Miss Tyrrell,' he replied, with gravity that was half genuine, 'tell me for what I am exactly suited, and you will do me a vast kindness.'
'Oh, there are lots of things you do very nicely indeed. I've seen you play croquet beautifully. But I've always thought it a pity you weren't a clergyman.'
'Well, a local preacher is next to it.'
Both were at once carried back to the evening at Ullswater. Paula kept silence; her eyes were directed towards Dalmaine, who almost at the same moment looked towards her. She played with her fan.
'You know that my uncle has been ill?' she said.
'No, I have heard nothing of that.'
Paula looked surprised.
'Don't you hear from--from them?'
'I have a letter from Mr. Newthorpe very occasionally But surely the illness has not been serious?'
'Mamma heard this morning about it. I don't know what's been the matter. I shouldn't wonder if they come to London before long.'
Egremont shortly changed his place, and saw that Dalmaine took the vacant seat by Paula. The two seemed to get on very well together. Paula was evidently exerting herself to be charming; Dalmaine was doing his best to trifle.
He sought more information from Mrs. Tyrrell regarding Mr. Newthorpe. She seemed to fear that her brother-in-law might have been in more danger than Annabel in her letter admitted.
'They certainly must come south,' she said. 'They are having a terrible winter, and it has evidently tried Mr. Newthorpe beyond his strength. You have influence with him, I believe, Mr. Egremont. Pray join me in my efforts to bring them both back to civilisation.'
'I fear my influence will effect nothing if yours fails,' said Walter. 'But Mr. Newthorpe should certainly not risk his health.'
He next had a chat with Mr. John Tyrrell, junior. Paula's brother was two-and-twenty, a frankly sensual youth, of admirable temper, great in turf matters, with a genius for conviviality. Jack's health was perfect, for he had his father's habit of enjoying life without excess, and his stamina allowed a wide limit to the term moderation. Like the rest of his family, he had the secret of conciliating goodwill; there was no humbug in him, and one respected him as a fine specimen of the young male developed at enormous expense. For Egremont he had a certain reverence: a man who habitually thought was clearly, he admitted, of a higher grade than himself, and he had no objection whatever to proclaim his own inferiority. Egremont, talking with him, was half disposed to envy Jack Tyrrell. What a simple thing life was with limitless cash, a perfect digestion, and good-humour in the place of brains!
His room seemed very cold and lonely when he got back to it shortly before midnight. The fire had been let out; the books round the walls had a musty appearance; there was stale tobacco in the air. He paced the floor, thinking of Annabel, wondering whether she would soon be in London, longing to see her. And before he went to bed, he wrote a letter to Mr. Newthorpe, expressing the anxiety with which he had heard of his illness. Of himself he said little; the few words that came to his pen concerning the Lambeth crusade were rather lifeless.
He was being talked of meanwhile in the Tyrrells' drawing-room. The last guests being gone, there was chat for a few minutes between the members of the family.
'Egremont isn't looking quite up to the mark,' said Mr. Tyrrell, as he stood before the fire, hands in pockets.
'I thought the same,' said his wife. 'He seems worried. What a deplorable thing it is, to think that he will spend large sums of money on this library scheme!'
Mr. Tyrrell made inarticulate noises, and at length laughed.
'He must amuse himself in his own way.'
'But after all, papa,' said Paula, whose advocacy went much by the rule of contraries, 'it must be a good thing to give people books to read. I dare say it prevents them from going to the public-house.'
'Shouldn't wonder if it does, Paula,' he replied, with a benevolent gaze.
'Then what's your objection?'
'I don't object to the library in particular. It's only that Egremont isn't the man to do these kind of things. It is to be hoped that he'll get tired of it, and find something more in his line.'
'What is his line?'
'Ah, that's the question! Very likely he hasn't one at all. It seems to me there's a good many young fellows in that case nowadays. They have education, they have money, and they don't know what the deuce to do with either one or the other. They're a cut above you, Mr. Jack; it isn't enough for them to live and enjoy themselves. So they get it into their heads that they're called upon to reform the world --a nice handy little job, that'll keep them going. The girls, I notice, are beginning to have the same craze. I shouldn't wonder if Paula gets an idea that she'll be a hospital-nurse, or go district-visiting in Bethnal Green.'
'I certainly should if I thought it would amuse me,' said Paula. 'But why shouldn't Mr. Egremont do work of this kind? He's in earnest; he doesn't only do it for fun.'
'Of course he's in earnest, and there's the absurdity of it. Social reform, pooh! Why, who are the real social reformers? The men who don't care a scrap for the people, but take up ideas because they can make capital out of them. It isn't idealists who do the work of the world, but the hard-headed, practical, selfish men. A big employer of labour 'll do more good in a day, just because he sees profit 'll come of it, than all the mooning philanthropists in a hundred years. Nothing solid has ever been gained in this world that wasn't pursued out of self-interest. Look at Dalmaine. How much do you think he cares for the factory-hands he's always talking about? But he'll do them many a good turn; he'll make many a life easier; and just because it's his business to do so, because it's the way of advancing himself. He aims at being Home Secretary one of these days, and I shouldn't wonder if he is. There's your real social reformer. Egremont's an amateur, a dilettante. In many ways he's worth a hundred of Dalmaine, but Dalmaine will benefit the world, and it's well if Egremont doesn't do harm.'
In all which it is not impossible that Mr. John Tyrrell hit the nail on the head. Much satisfied with his little oration, he went off to don a jacket and enjoy a cigar by his smoking-room fire.
A couple of days later, Mr. Dalmaine called at the house before luncheon. After speaking with Mrs. Tyrrell, he had a private interview with Paula. The event was referred to in a letter Paula addressed to her cousin Annabel in the course of the ensuing week.
'Dear Bell,--We are much relieved by your letter. It is of course impossible to stay among those mountains for the rest of the winter; I hope uncle will very soon be well enough to come south. The plan of living at Eastbourne for a time is no doubt a good one. You'll have Mrs. Ormonde to talk to. She is very nice, though I've generally found her a little serious: but then she's like you in that. I think it's a pity people trouble themselves about things that only make them gloomy.
'I have a little piece of news for you. It really looks as if I was going to be married. In fact, I've said I would be, and I think it likely I shall keep my word. My name will be Mrs. Dalmaine. Don't you remember Mr. Egremont speaking of Mr. Dalmaine and calling him names? From that moment I made up my mind that he must be a very nice man, and when we made his acquaintance I found that I wasn't so far wrong. You see, poor Mr. Egremont so hates everything and everybody that's practical. Now I'm practical, as you know, so it's right I should marry a practical man. Papa has the highest opinion of Mr. Dalmaine's abilities; he thinks he has a great future in politics. Wouldn't it be delightful if one's husband really became Prime Minister or something of the kind!
'Do you know, it really is a pity that Mr. Egremont is going on in this way! He's going to spend enormous sums of money in establishing a library in Lambeth. It's very good of him, of course, but we are all so sure it's a mistake. Shall I tell you my own view? Mr. Egremont is an idealist, and idealists are not the people to do serious work of this kind. The real social reformers are the hard-headed, practical men, who at heart care only for their own advancement. If you think, I'm sure you'll find this is true. You see that I am beginning to occupy myself with serious questions. It will be necessary in the wife of an active politician. But if you could hint to Mr. Egremont that he is going shockingly astray! He dined with us the other night, and doesn't look at all well. I am so afraid lest he is doing all this just because you tell him to. Is it so?
'But I have fifty other letters to write. My best love to uncle; tell him to get well as quickly as possible. I wonder that dreadful lonely place hasn't killed you both. I shall be so glad to see you again, for I do really like you, Bell, and I know you are awfully wise and good. Think of me sometimes and hope that I shall be happy. --Yours affectionately,