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   Chapter 5 No.5

Denzil Quarrier By George Gissing Characters: 14438

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


For a characteristic scene of English life one could not do better than take Mr. Liversedge's dining-room when the family had assembled for the midday meal. Picture a long and lofty room, lighted by windows which opened upon a lawn and flower-garden, adorned with large oil paintings (cattle-pieces and portraits) in massive and, for the most part, tarnished frames, and furnished in the solidest of British styles-mahogany chairs and table, an immense sideboard, a white marble fireplace, and a chandelier hanging with ponderous menace above the gleaming expanse of table-cloth. Here were seated eleven persons: Mr. Liversedge and his wife, their seven children (four girls and three boys), Miss Pope the governess, and Mr. Denzil Quarrier; waited upon by two maid-servants, with ruddy cheeks, and in spotless attire. Odours of roast meat filled the air. There was a jolly sound of knife-and-fork play, of young voices laughing and chattering, of older ones in genial colloquy. A great fire blazed and crackled up the chimney. Without, a roaring wind stripped the autumnal leafage of the garden, and from time to time drenched the windows with volleys of rain.

Tobias Liversedge was a man of substance, but in domestic habits he followed the rule of the unpretentious middle-class. Breakfast at eight, dinner at one, tea at five, supper at nine-such was the order of the day that he had known in boyhood, and it suited him well enough now that he was at the head of a household. The fare was simple, but various and abundant; no dishes with foreign names, no drinks more luxurious than sherry and claret. If he entertained guests, they were people of his own kind, who thought more of the hearty welcome than of what was set before them. His children were neither cockered nor held in too strait a discipline; they learnt from their parents that laughter was better than sighing, that it was good to be generous, that they had superiors in the world as well as inferiors, that hard work was the saving grace, and a lie the accursed thing. This training seemed to agree with them, for one and all were pictures of health. Tom, the first-born, numbered fifteen years; Daisy, the latest arrival, had seen but three summers, yet she already occupied a high chair at the dinner-table, and conducted herself with much propriety. The two elder boys went to the Grammar School morning and afternoon; for the other children there was Miss Pope, with her smile of decorum, eyes of intelligence, and clear, decided voice.

Mrs. Liversedge was obviously Denzil Quarrier's sister; she had his eyes and his nose-not uncomely features. It did not appear that her seven children were robust at their mother's expense; she ate with undisguised appetite, laughed readily (just showing excellent teeth), and kept a shapely figure, clad with simple becomingness. Her age was about eight-and-thirty, that of her husband forty-five. This couple-if any in England-probably knew the meaning of happiness. Neither had experienced narrow circumstances, and the future could but confirm their security from sordid cares. Even if seven more children were added to their family, all would be brought up amid abundance, and sent forth into the world as well equipped for its struggles as the tenderest heart could desire. Father and mother were admirably matched; they knew each other perfectly, thought the same thoughts on all essential matters, exchanged the glances of an absolute and unshakeable confidence.

Seeing him thus at the end of his table, one would not have thought Mr. Liversedge a likely man to stand forth on political platforms and appeal to the populace of the borough for their electoral favour. He looked modest and reticent; his person was the reverse of commanding. A kind and thoughtful man, undoubtedly; but in his eye was no gleam of ambition, and it seemed doubtful whether he would care to trouble himself much about questions of public policy. Granted his position and origin, it was natural enough that he should take a stand on the Liberal side, but it could hardly be expected that he should come up to Mr. Chown's ideal of a Progressive leader.

He was talking lightly on the subject with his brother-in-law.

"I should have thought," he said, "that William Glazzard might have had views that way. He's a man with no ties and, I should say, too much leisure."

"Oh," exclaimed Mrs. Liversedge, "the idea of his getting up to make speeches! It always seems to me as if he found it a trouble even to talk. His brother would be far more likely, wouldn't he, Denzil?"

"What, Eustace Glazzard?" replied Quarrier. "He regards Parliament and everything connected with it with supreme contempt. Suggest the thing when he comes this evening, and watch his face."

"What is he doing?" Mr. Liversedge asked.

"Collecting pictures, playing the fiddle, gazing at sunflowers, and so on. He'll never do anything else."

"How contradictory you are in speaking about him!" said his sister. "One time you seem to admire and like him extremely, and another"--

"Why, so I do. A capital fellow! He's weak, that's all. I don't mean weak in the worst way, you know; a more honourable and trustworthy man doesn't live. But-well, he's rather womanish, I suppose."

Mrs. Liversedge laughed.

"Many thanks! It's always so pleasing to a woman to hear that comparison. Do you mean he reminds you of Mrs. Wade?"

The boy Tom, who had been attentive, broke into merriment.

"Uncle Denzil wouldn't dare to have said it in her presence!" he cried.

"Perhaps not," conceded Denzil, with a smile. "By-the-bye, is that wonderful person still in Polterham?"

"Oh yes!" Mrs. Liversedge replied. "She has been very prominent lately."

"How?"

The lady glanced at her husband, who said quietly, "We'll talk over it some other time."

But Tom was not to be repressed.

"Mother means that Revivalist business," he exclaimed. "Mrs. Wade went against it."

"My boy, no meddling with things of that kind," said his father, smiling, but firm. He turned to Denzil. "Has Glazzard exhibited anything lately?"

"No; he gave up his modelling, and he doesn't seem to paint much nowadays. The poor fellow has no object in life, that's the worst of it."

The meal was nearly at an end, and presently the two men found themselves alone at the table. Mr. Liversedge generally smoked a cigar before returning for an hour or two to the soap-works.

"Any more wine?" he asked. "Then come into my snuggery and let us chat."

They repaired to a room of very homely appearance. The furniture was old and ugly; the carpet seemed to have been beaten so often that it was growing threadbare by force of purification. There was a fair collection of books, none of very recent date, and on the walls several maps and prints. The most striking object was a great stuffed bird that stood in a glass-case before the window-a capercailzie shot by Quarrier long ago in Norway, and presented to his brother-in-law. Tobias settled himself in a chair, and kicked a coal from the bars of the grate.

"Tom is very strong against religious fanaticism," he said, laughing. "I have to pull him up now and then. I suppose you heard about

the crazy goings-on down here in the summer?"

"Not I. Revivalist meetings?"

"The whole town was turned upside down. Such frenzy among the women I never witnessed. Three times a day they flocked in swarms to the Public Hall, and there screeched and wept and fainted, till it really looked as if some authority ought to interfere. If I had had my way, I would have drummed the preachers out of the town. Mary and Mrs. Wade and one or two others were about the only women who escaped the epidemic. Seriously, it led to a good deal of domestic misery. Poor Tomkins's wife drove him to such a pass by her scandalous neglect of the house, that one morning he locked her into her bedroom, and there he kept her on very plain diet for three days. We thought of getting up a meeting to render public thanks to Tomkins, and to give him some little testimonial."

Denzil uttered roars of laughter; the story was exactly of the kind that made appeal to his humorous instincts.

"Has the ferment subsided?" he asked.

"Tolerably well; leaving a good deal of froth and scum, however. The worst of it was that, in the very week when those makebates had departed, there came down on us a second plague, in the shape of Mrs. Hitchin, the apostle of-I don't quite know what, but she calls it Purity. Of course, you know her by repute. She, too, had the Public Hall, and gave addresses to which only women were admitted. I have a very strong opinion as to the tendency of those addresses, and if Rabelais had come to life among us just then-but never mind. The fact is, old Polterham got into a thoroughly unwholesome condition, and we're anything but right yet. Perhaps a little honest fighting between Liberal and Tory may help to clear the air.-Well, now, that brings me to what I really wish to talk about. To tell you the truth, I don't feel half satisfied with what I have done. My promise to stand, you know, was only conditional, and I think I must get out of it."

"Why?"

"Mary was rather tickled with the idea at first; naturally she had no objection to be Mrs. M.P., and she persuaded herself that I was just the man to represent Polterham. I felt rather less sure of it, and now I am getting pretty well convinced that I had better draw back before I make a fool of myself."

"What about your chances? Is there any hope of a majority?"

"That's more than I can tell you. The long-headed men, like your Uncle Sam (an unwilling witness) and Edward Coke, say that the day has come for the Liberals. I don't know, but I suspect that a really brisk and popular man might carry it against either of the Welwyn-Bakers. That fellow Hugh will never do-by the way, that might be the beginning of an election rhyme! He's too much of a blackguard, and nowadays, you know, even a Tory candidate must preserve the decencies of life."

Denzil mused, and muttered something indistinct.

"Now listen," pursued the speaker, shifting about in his chair. "What I want to say is this: why shouldn't you come forward?"

Quarrier pursed his lips, knit his brows, and grunted.

"I am very serious in thinking that you might be the best man we could find."

And Mr. Liversedge went on to exhibit his reasons at some length. As he listened, Denzil became restless, crossing and recrossing his legs, spreading his shoulders, smiling, frowning, coughing; and at length he jumped up.

"Look here, Toby!" he exclaimed, "is this a self-denying ordinance? have you and Molly put your heads together to do me what you think a good turn?"

"I haven't spoken to her, I assure you. I am sincere in saying that I don't wish to go through with it. And I should be right heartily glad to see you come out instead."

The face of the younger man worked with subdued excitement. There was a flush in his cheeks, and he breathed rapidly. The emotion that possessed him could not be altogether pleasurable, for at moments he cast his eyes about him with a pained, almost a desperate look. He walked up and down with clenched fist, occasionally digging himself in the side.

"Toby," he burst out at length, "let me think this over I can't possibly decide at once. The notion is absolutely new to me; I must roll it about, and examine it on all sides."

Mr. Liversedge cheerfully agreed, and, after a little more talk, he went his way to business, leaving Denzil alone in the snuggery. There sat the young man in deep but troubled meditation. He sat for nearly an hour. Then his sister came in.

"Denzil, you are wanted. Mr. Wykes wishes to see you. Shall I send him here?"

"Mr. Wykes! What about, I wonder? Yes, let him come."

A clumping was heard without, and the bright face of the Institute's Secretary, so strongly in contrast with his wretched body, presented itself in the doorway. Quarrier received him with a friendly consideration due rather to pity than to any particular interest in the man himself. He placed him in a comfortable chair, and waited in attentive attitude for an explanation of the call. Mr. Wykes lost no time in making known his business; he told what had happened at the Institute, and respectfully begged for Mr. Quarrier's aid in averting disappointment on the next evening.

"I am sure, sir, that your appearance on our platform would give very general pleasure. I should have time to post announcements here and there. We should have a splendid hall."

"The deuce! But, Mr. Wykes, it is no such simple matter to prepare a lecture in four-and-twenty hours. What am I to talk about?"

"Any subject, sir, that would be of interest to a wide-awake audience. If I might suggest, there are your travels, for instance. And I understand that you are deeply conversant with the Northern literatures; I am sure something"--

"Pardon me. I hardly think I should care to go so far away for a theme."

The Secretary heard this with pleasure.

"All the better, Sir! Any subject of the day; nothing could be more acceptable. You probably know our position at the Institute. In practice, we are something like a Liberal Club. You have heard that the other party are going to start a Society of their own?"

"I have-a Society with an imbecile Dame." He pondered. "Suppose I were to talk about 'The Position of Woman in our Time'?"

"Capital, Mr. Quarrier! Couldn't be better, sir! Do permit me to announce it at once!"

"It's rather a ticklish responsibility I'm undertaking-but-very well, I will do my best, Mr. Wykes. Who is chairman?"

"Mr. William Glazzard, sir."

"Ho ho! All right; I'll turn up to time. Eight o'clock, I suppose? Evening dress, or not? Oh, of course, if it's usual; I didn't know your custom."

Mr. Wykes did not linger. Left alone again, Denzil walked about in excited mood. At length, with a wave of the arm which seemed to announce a resolution, he went to the drawing-room. His sister was reading there in solitude.

"Molly, I'm going to lecture at the Institute tomorrow, vice somebody or other who can't turn up. What subject, think you?"

"The Sagas, probably?"

"The Sagas be blowed! 'Woman's Place in our Time,' that's the title."

Mrs. Liversedge laughed, and showed astonishment.

"And what have you to say about her?"

"Wait and see!"

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