Flowering Wilderness, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 21

Wilfred’s mood when he left his publisher at ‘The Jessamine’ was angry and confused. Without penetrating to the depths of Compson Grice’s mental anatomy, he felt that he had been manipulated; and the whole of that restless afternoon he wandered, swung between relief at having burnt his boats and resentment at the irrevocable. Thus preoccupied, he did not really feel the shock his note would be to Dinny, and only when, returning to his rooms, he received her answer did his heart go out to her, and with it himself to where she had fortuitously found him. In the few minutes while they paraded Mount Street, silent and half-embraced, she had managed to pass into him her feeling that it was not one but two against the world. Why keep away and make her more unhappy than he need? And he sent her a note by Stack next morning asking her to go ‘joy-riding.’ He had forgotten the Derby, and their car was involved almost at once in a stream of vehicles.

“I’ve never seen the Derby,” said Dinny. “Could we go?”

There was the more reason why they should go because there seemed to be no reasonable chance of not going.

Dinny was astonished at the general sobriety. No drinking and no streamers, no donkey-carts, false noses, badinage. Not a four-inhand visible, not a coster nor a Kate; nothing but a wedged and moving stream of motor ‘buses and cars mostly shut.

When, at last, they had ‘parked’ on the Downs, eaten their sandwiches and moved into the crowd, they turned instinctively toward the chance of seeing a horse.

Frith’s “Derby Day” seemed no longer true, if it ever was. In that picture people seemed to have lives and to be living them; in this crowd everybody seemed trying to get somewhere else.

In the paddock, which at first sight still seemed all people and no horses, Wilfrid said suddenly:

“This is foolish, Dinny; we’re certain to be seen.”

“And if we are? Look, there’s a horse!”

Quite a number of horses, indeed, were being led round in a ring. Dinny moved quickly towards them.

“They all look beautiful to me,” she said in a hushed voice, “and just as good one as the other — except this one; I don’t like his back.”

Wilfrid consulted his card. “That’s the favourite.”

“I still don’t. D’you see what I mean? It comes to a point too near the tail, and then droops.”

“I agree, but horses run in all shapes.”

“I’ll back the horse you fancy, Wilfrid.”

“Give me time, then.”

The people to her left and right kept on saying the horses’ names as they passed. She had a place on the rail with Wilfrid standing close behind her.

“He’s a pig of a horse,” said a man on her left, “I’ll never back the brute again.”

She took a glance at the speaker. He was broad and about five feet six, with a roll of fat on his neck, a bowler hat, and a cigar in his mouth. The horse’s fate seemed to her the less dreadful.

A lady sitting on a shooting-stick to her right said:

“They ought to clear the course for the horses going out. That lost me my money two years ago.”

Wilfrid’s hand rested on her shoulder.

“I like that one,” he said, “Blenheim. Let’s go and put our money on.”

They went to where people were standing in little queues before a row of what looked like pigeon-holes.

“Stand here,” he said. “I’ll lay my egg and come back to you.”

Dinny stood watching.

“How d’you do, Miss Cherrell?” A tall man in a grey top-hat, with a very long case of field-glasses slung round him, had halted before her. “We met at the Foch statue and your sister’s wedding — remember?”

“Oh! yes. Mr. Muskham.” Her heart was hurrying, and she restrained herself from looking towards Wilfrid.

“Any news of your sister?”

“Yes, we heard from Egypt. They must have had it terribly hot in the Red Sea.”

“Have you backed anything?”

“Not yet.”

“I shouldn’t touch the favourite — he won’t stay.”

“We thought of Blenheim.”

“Well, nice horse, and handy for the turns. But there’s one more fancied in his stable. I take it you’re a neophyte. I’ll give you two tips, Miss Cherrell. Look for one or both of two things in a horse: leverage behind, and personality — not looks, just personality.”

“Leverage behind? Do you mean higher behind than in front?”

Jack Muskham smiled. “That’s about it. If you see that in a horse, especially where it has to come up a hill, back it.”

“But personality? Do you mean putting his head up and looking over the tops of people into the distance? I saw one horse do that.”

“By Jove, I should like you as a pupil! That’s just about what I do mean.”

“But I don’t know which horse it was,” said Dinny.

“That’s awkward.” And then she saw the interested benevolence on his face stiffen. He lifted his hat and turned away. Wilfrid’s voice behind her said:

“Well, you’ve got a tenner on.”

“Let’s go to the Stand and see the race.” He did not seem to have seen Muskham; and, with his hand within her arm, she tried to forget the sudden stiffening of Jack Muskham’s face. The crowd’s multiple entreaty that she should have her ‘fortune told’ did its best to distract her, and she arrived at the Stand in a mood of indifference to all but Wilfrid and the horses. They found standing room close to the bookmakers near the rails.

“Green and chocolate — I can remember that. Pistache is my favourite-chocolate filling. What shall I win if I do win, darling?”

“Listen!”

They isolated the words “Eighteen to one Blenheim!”

“A hundred and eighty!” said Dinny. “Splendid!”

“Well, it means that he’s not fancied by the stable; they’ve got another running. Here they come! Two with chocolate and green. The second of them is ours.”

The parade, enchanting to all except the horses, gave her the chance to see the brown horse they had backed adorning its perched rider.

“How d’you like him, Dinny?”

“I love them nearly all. How can people tell which is the best by looking at them?”

“They can’t.”

The horses were turning now and cantering past the Stand.

“Would you say Blenheim is higher behind than in front?” murmured Dinny.

“No. Very nice action. Why?”

But she only pressed his arm and gave a little shiver.

Neither of them having glasses, all was obscure to them when the race began. A man just behind kept saying: “The favourite’s leadin’! The favourite’s leadin’!”

As the horses came round Tattenham Corner, the same man burbled: “The Pasha — the Pasha’ll win — no, the favourite — the favourite wins! — no, he don’t — Iliad — Iliad wins.”

Dinny felt Wilfrid’s hand grip her arm.

“Ours,” he said, “on this side — look!”

Dinny saw a horse on the far side in pink and brown, and nearer her the chocolate and green. It was ahead, it was ahead! They had won!

Amidst the silence and discomfiture those two stood smiling at each other. It seemed an omen!

“I’ll draw your money, and we’ll go to the car and be off.”

He insisted on her taking all the money, and she ensconced it with her other wealth — so much more insurance against any sudden decision to deprive her of himself.

They drove again into Richmond Park on the way home, and sat a long time among the young bracken, listening to the cuckoos, very happy in the sunny, peaceful, whispering afternoon.

They dined together in a Kensington restaurant, and he left her finally at the top of Mount Street.

That night she slept unvisited by doubts or dreams, and went down to breakfast with clear eyes and a flush of sunburn on her cheeks. Her uncle was reading The Daily Phase. He put it down and said:

“When you’ve had your coffee, Dinny, you might glance at this. There is something about publishers,” he added, “which makes one doubt sometimes whether they are men and brothers. And there is something about editors which makes it certain sometimes that they are not.”

Dinny read Compson Grice’s letter, printed under the headlines:

“MR. DESERT’S APOSTASY.

OUR CHALLENGE TAKEN UP.

A CONFESSION.”

Two stanzas from Sir Alfred Lyall’s poem Theology in Extremis followed:

“Why? Am I bidding for glory’s roll?
I shall be murdered and clean forgot;
Is it a bargain to save my soul?
God, whom I trust in, bargains not.
Yet for the honour of English race
May I not live or endure disgrace . . .

“I must be gone to the crowd untold
Of men by the Cause which they served unknown,
Who moulder in myriad graves of old;
Never a story and never a stone
Tells of the martyrs who die like me,
Just for the pride of the old countree.”

And the pink of sunburn gave way to a flood of crimson.

“Yes,” murmured Sir Lawrence, watching her, “‘the fat is in the fire,’ as old Forsyte would have said. Still, I was talking to a man last night who thought that nowadays nothing makes an indelible mark. Cheating at cards, boning necklaces — you go abroad for two years and it’s all forgotten. As for sex abnormality, according to him it’s no longer abnormal. So we must cheer up!”

Dinny said passionately: “What I resent is that any worm will have the power to say what he pleases.”

Sir Lawrence nodded: “The greater the worm, the greater the power. But it’s not the worms we need bother about; it’s the people with ‘pride of English race,’ and there are still a few about.”

“Uncle, is there any way in which Wilfrid can show publicly that he’s not a coward?”

“He did well in the war.”

“Who remembers the war?”

“Perhaps,” muttered Sir Lawrence, “we could throw a bomb at his car in Piccadilly, so that he could look at it over the side and light a cigarette. I can’t think of anything more helpful.”

“I saw Mr. Muskham yesterday.”

“Then you were at the Derby?” He took a very little cigar from his pocket. “Jack takes the view that you are being victimised.”

“Oh! Why can’t people leave one alone?”

“Attractive nymphs are never left alone. Jack’s a misogynist.”

Dinny gave a little desperate laugh.

“I suppose one’s troubles ARE funny.”

She got up and went to the window. It seemed to her that all the world was barking, like dogs at a cornered cat, and yet there was nothing in Mount Street but a van from the Express Dairy.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/flower/chapter21.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37