Flowering Wilderness, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 28

Except for receiving a little note in answer to her letter, which relieved her not at all, Dinny had spent these last two days in distress of mind. When Sir Lawrence made his communication, she felt as if all depended on whether she could get to Cork Street before he was back there, and in her taxi she sat with hands screwed tight together in her lap and her eyes fixed on the driver’s back, a back, indeed, so broad that it was not easy to fix them elsewhere. Useless to think of what she was going to say — she must say whatever came into her head when she saw him. His face would give her a lead. She realised that if he once got away from England it would be as if she had never seen him. She stopped the cab in Burlington Street and walked swiftly to his door. If he had come straight home, he must be in! In these last two days she had realised that Stack had perceived some change in Wilfrid and was conforming to it, and when he opened the door she said:

“You mustn’t put me off, Stack, I MUST see Mr. Desert.” And, slipping past, she opened the door of the sitting-room. Wilfrid was pacing up and down.

“Dinny!”

She felt that if she said the wrong thing it might be, then and there, the end; and she only smiled. He put his hands over his eyes; and, while he stood thus blinded, she stole up and put her arms round his neck.

Was Jean right? Ought she to —?

Then, through the opened door Foch came in. He slid the velvet of his muzzle under her hand, and she sank on her knees to kiss him. When she looked up, Wilfrid had turned away. Instantly she scrambled up, and stood, as it were, lost. She did not know of what, if of anything, she thought, not even whether she were feeling. All seemed to go blank within her. He had thrown the window open and was leaning there holding his hands to his head. Was he going to throw himself out? She made a violent effort to control her nerves, and said very gently: “Wilfrid!” He turned and looked at her, and she thought: ‘My God! He hates me!’ Then his expression changed, and became the one she knew; and she was aware once more of how at sea one is with wounded pride — so multiple and violent and changing in its moods!

“Well?” she said. “What do you wish me to do?”

“I don’t know. The whole thing is mad. I ought to have buried myself in Siam by now.”

“Would you like me to stay here to-night?”

“Yes! No! I don’t know.”

“Wilfrid, why take it so hard? It’s as if love were nothing to you. Is it nothing?”

For answer he took out Jack Muskham’s letter.

“Read this!”

She read it. “I see. It was doubly unfortunate that I came down.”

He threw himself down again on the divan, and sat there looking up at her.

‘If I do go,’ thought Dinny, ‘I shall only begin tearing to get back again.’ And she said: “What are you doing for dinner?”

“Stack’s got something, I believe.”

“Would there be enough for me?”

“Too much, if you feel as I do.”

She rang the bell.

“I’m staying to dinner, Stack. I only want about a pin’s head of food.”

And, craving for a moment in which to recover her balance, she said: “May I have a wash, Wilfrid?”

While she was drying her face and hands, she took hold of herself with all her might, and then as suddenly relaxed. Whatever she decided would be wrong, painful, perhaps impossible. Let it go!

When she came back to the sitting-room he was not there. The door into his bedroom was open, but it was empty. Dinny rushed to the window. He was not in the street. Stack’s voice said.

“Excuse me, miss: Mr. Desert was called out. He told me to say he would write. Dinner will be ready in a minute.”

Dinny went straight up to him.

“Your first impression of me was the right one, Stack; not your second. I am going now. Mr. Desert need have no fear of me. Tell him that, please.”

“Miss,” said Stack, “I told you he was very sudden; but this is the most sudden thing I’ve ever known him do. I’m sorry, miss. But I’m afraid it’s a case of cutting your losses. If I can be of service to you, I will.”

“If he leaves England,” said Dinny, “I should like to have Foch.”

“If I know Mr. Desert, miss, he means to go. I’ve seen it coming on him ever since he had that letter the night before you came round in the early morning.”

“Well,” said Dinny, “shake hands, and remember what I said.”

They exchanged a hand-grip, and, still unnaturally steady, she went out and down the stairs. She walked fast, giddy and strange in her head, and nothing but the word: So! recurring in her mind. All that she had felt, all that she had meant to feel, compressed into that word of two letters. In her life she had never felt so withdrawn and tearless, so indifferent as to where she went, what she did, or whom she saw. The world might well be without end, for its end had come. She did not believe that he had designed this way of breaking from her. He had not enough insight into her for that. But, in fact, no way could have been more perfect, more complete. Drag after a man! Impossible! She did not even have to form that thought, it was instinctive.

She walked and walked for three hours about the London streets, and turned at last towards Westminster with the feeling that if she didn’t she would drop. When she went in at South Square, she summoned all that was left in her to a spurt of gaiety; but, when she had gone up to her room, Fleur said:

“Something very wrong, Michael.”

“Poor Dinny! What the hell has he done now?”

Going to the window, Fleur drew aside the curtain. It was not yet quite dark. Except for two cats, a taxi to the right, and a man on the pavement examining a small bunch of keys, there was nothing to be seen.

“Shall I go up and see if she’ll talk?”

“No. If Dinny wants us, she’ll let us know. If it’s as you think, she’ll want no one. She’s proud as the devil when her back’s to the wall.”

“I hate pride,” said Fleur; and, closing the curtain, she went towards the door. “It comes when you don’t want it, and does you down. If you want a career, don’t have pride.” She went out.

‘I don’t know,’ thought Michael, ‘if I have pride, but I haven’t got a career.’ He followed slowly upstairs, and for some little time stood in the doorway of his dressing-room. But no sound came from upstairs . . .

Dinny, indeed, was lying on her bed, face down. So this was the end! Why had the force called love exalted and tortured her, then thrown her, used and exhausted, quivering, longing, wounded, startled, to eat her heart out in silence and grief? Love and pride, and the greater of these is pride! So the saying seemed to go within her, and to be squeezed into her pillow. Her love against his pride! Her love against her own pride! And the victory with pride! Wasteful and bitter! Of all that evening only one moment now seemed to her real: when he had turned from the window, and she had thought: ‘He hates me!’ Of course he hated her, standing like the figure of his wounded self-esteem; the one thing that prevented him from crying out: ‘God damn you all! Good-bye!’

Well, now he could cry it and go! And she — suffer, suffer — and slowly get over it. No! Lie on it, keep it down, keep it silent, press it into her pillows. Make little of it, make nothing of it, while inside her it swelled and ravaged her. The expression of instinct is not so clear as that; but behind all formless throbbing there is meaning; and that was the meaning within Dinny’s silent and half-smothered struggle on her bed. How could she have acted differently? Not her fault that Muskham had sent the letter with that phrase about the protection of a woman! Not her fault that she had rushed down to Royston! What had she done wrong? The whole thing arbitrary, gratuitous! Perhaps love in its courses was always so! It seemed to her that the night ticked while she lay there; the rusty ticking of an old clock. Was it the night, or her own life, abandoned and lying on its face?

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