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   Chapter 35 THE HOUR OF TRIUMPH

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 8987

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


A man may do a great many things without receiving from the world the least sign of regard or interest. He may write the most lovely verses-and no one will read them. He may design and invent the most beautiful play-which no one will act: he may advocate a measure certain to bring about universal happiness-but no one will so much as read it. There is one thing, however, by which he may awaken a spirit of earnest curiosity and interest concerning himself: he may get married. Everybody will read the announcement of his marriage in the paper: everybody will immediately begin to talk about him. The bridegroom's present position and future prospects, his actual income and the style in which he will live: the question whether he has done well for himself, or whether he has thrown himself away: the bride's family, her age, her beauty, her dot, if she has got any: the question whether she had not a right to expect a better marriage-all these points are raised and debated when a man is married. Also, which is even more remarkable, whatever a man does shall be forgotten by the world, but the story of his marriage shall never be forgotten. A man may live down calumny; he may hold up his head though he has been the defendant in a disgraceful cause; he may survive the scandal of follies and profligacies; he may ride triumphant over misfortune: but he can never live down his own marriage. All those who have married 'beneath' them-whether beneath them in social rank, in manners, in morals, character, in spiritual or in mental elevation, will bear unwilling and grievous testimony to this great truth.

When, therefore, the Times announced the marriage of Mr. Alexander Feilding, together with the fact that the announcement was no less than three years late, great amazement fell upon all men and all women-yea, and dismay upon all those girls who knew this Universal Genius-and upon all who knew or remembered the lady, daughter of the financial City person who let in everybody to so frightful a tune, and then, like another treacherous person, went away and hanged himself. And as many questions were asked at the breakfast-tables of London as there were riddles asked at the famous dinner-party at the town of Mansoul. To these riddles there were answers, but to those none. For instance, why had Alec Feilding concealed his marriage? Where had he hidden his wife? And (among a very few) how could he permit her to go about the country in a provincial troupe? To these replies there have never been any answers. The lady herself, who certainly ought to know, sometimes among her intimate friends alludes to the cruelty of relations, and the power which one's own people have of making mischief. She also speaks of the hard necessity, owing to these cruelties, of concealing her marriage. This throws the glamour and magic of romance-the romance of money-over the story. But there are some who remain unconvinced.

* * *

The bridegroom wrote one letter, and only one, of explanation. It was to Mr. Jagenal, the family solicitor.

'To so old a friend,' he wrote, 'the fullest explanations are due concerning things which may appear strange. Until the day before yesterday there were still existing certain family reasons which rendered it absolutely necessary for us to conceal our marriage and to act with so much prudence that no one should so much as suspect the fact. This will explain to you why we lent ourselves to the little harmless-perfectly harmless-pretence by which my wife appeared in the character of a widow. It also explains why she was unwilling-while under false colours-to go into general society. The unexpected disappearance of these family reasons caused her to abandon her charge hurriedly. I had not learned the fact when you called yesterday. Now, I hope that we may receive, though late, the congratulations of our friends.-A. F.'

* * *

'This,' said Mr. Jagenal, 'is an explanation which explains nothing. Well, it is all very irregular; and there is something behind; and it is no concern of mine. Most things in the world are irregular. The little windfall of which I told him yesterday will be doubly welcome now that he has a wife to spend his money for him. And now we understand why he was always dangling after Armorel-because his wife was with her-and why he did not fall in love with that most beautiful creature.'

He folded up the note; put it, with a few words of his own, into an envelope, and sent it to Philippa. Then he w

ent on with the cases in his hands. Among these were the materials for many other studies into the workings of the feminine heart and the masculine brain. The solicitor's tin boxes: the doctor's notebook: the priest's memory: should furnish full materials for that exhaustive psychological research which science will some day insist upon conducting.

In the afternoon of the same day was the Private View of the Grosvenor Gallery. There was the usual Private View crowd-so private now that everybody goes there. It would have been incomplete without the presence of Mr. Alec Feilding.

Now, at the very thickest and most crowded time, when the rooms were at their fullest, and when the talk was at its noisiest, he appeared, bearing on his arm a young, beautiful, and beautifully dressed woman. He calmly entered the room where half the people were talking of himself and of his marriage, concealed for three years, with as much coolness as if he had been about in public with his wife all that time: he spoke to his friends as if nothing had happened: and he introduced them to his wife as if it was by the merest accident that they had not already met. Nothing could exceed the unconsciousness of his manner, unless it was the simple and natural ease of his wife. No one could possibly guess that there was, or could be, the least awkwardness in the situation.

The thing itself, and the manner of carrying it through, constituted a coup of the most brilliant kind. This public appearance deprived the situation, in fact, of all its awkwardness. No one could ask them at the Grosvenor Gallery what it meant. There were one or two to whom the bridegroom whispered that it was a long and romantic story: that there had been a bar to the completion of his happiness, by a public avowal: that this bar-a purely private and family matter-had only yesterday been removed: nothing was really explained: but it was generally felt that the mystery added another to the eccentricities of genius. There was a something, they seemed to remember dimly, about the marriages and love-passages of Shelley, Coleridge, and Lord Byron.

Mrs. Feilding, clearly, was a woman born to be an artist's wife: herself, artistic in her dress, her manner, and her appearance: sympathetic in her caressing voice: gracious in her manners: and openly proud of a husband so richly endowed.

Alec presented a great many men to her. She had, it seemed, already made acquaintance with their works, which she knew by name: she betrayed involuntarily, by her gracious smile, and the interested, curious gaze of her large and limpid eyes, the genuine admiration which she felt for these works, and the very great pleasure with which she made the acquaintance of this very distinguished author. If any of them were on the walls, she bestowed upon them the flattery of measured and appreciative praise: she knew something of the technique.

'Alec is not exhibiting this year,' she said. 'I think he is right. He had but one picture: and that was in his old style. People will think he can do nothing but sea-coast, rock, and spray. So he is going to send his one picture away-if you want to see it you must make haste to the studio-and he is going-this is a profound secret-to break out in a new line-quite a new line. But you must not know anything about it.'

A paragraph in a column of personal news published the fact, the very next day, which shows how difficult it is to keep a secret.

Before Mrs. Feilding left the gallery she had made twenty friends for life, and had laid a solid foundation for her Sunday evenings.

In the evening there was a First Night. No First Nights are possible without the appearance of certain people, of whom Mr. Alec Feilding was one. He attended, bringing with him his wife. Some of the men who had been at the private view were also present at the performance, but not many, because the followers of one art do not-as they should-rally round any other. But all the dramatic critics were there, and all the regular first-nighters, including the wreckers-who go to pit and gallery-and the friends of the author and those of the actors. Between the acts there was a good deal of circulation and talking. Alec presented a good many more gentlemen to his wife. Before they went home Mrs. Feilding had made a dozen more friends for life, and placed her Sunday evenings on a firm and solid basis. Her social success-at least among the men-was assured from this first day.

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