Flowering Wilderness, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 30

Stepping from an omnibus, Dinny walked into the large of Wimbledon Common. After a nearly sleepless night, she had slipped out, leaving a note to say she would be away all day. She hurried over the grass into a birch grove, and lay down. The high moving clouds, the sunlight striking in and out of the birch-tree branches, the water wagtails, the little dry patches of sand, and that stout wood-pigeon, undismayed by her motionless figure, brought her neither peace nor the inclination to think of Nature. She lay on her back, quivering and dry-eyed, wondering for whose inscrutable delight she was thus suffering. The stricken do not look for outside help, they seek within. To go about exuding tragedy was abhorrent to her. She would not do that! But the sweetness of the wind, the moving clouds, the rustle of the breeze, the sound of children’s voices, brought no hint of how she was to disguise herself and face life afresh. The isolation in which she had been ever since the meeting with Wilfrid under Foch’s statue now showed nakedly. All her eggs had been in one basket, and the basket had fallen. She dug with her fingers at the sandy earth; and a dog, seeing a hole, came up and sniffed it. She had begun to live, and now she was dead. “No flowers by request!”

So sharp had been her realisation of finality yesterday evening that she did not even consider the possibility of tying up the broken thread. If he had pride, so had she! Not the same sort, but as deep in her marrow. No one had any real need of her! Why not go away? She had nearly three hundred pounds. The notion gave her neither exhilaration nor any real relief; but it would save her from making herself a nuisance to those who would expect her to be her old cheerful self. She thought of the hours she had spent with Wilfrid in places like this. So sharp was her memory that she had to cover her lips to prevent anguish welling out of them. Until she met him she had never felt alone. And now — she WAS alone! Chill, terrifying, endless! Remembering how she had found swift motion good for heartache, she got up and crossed the road where the Sunday stream of cars was already flowing out of town. Uncle Hilary had once exhorted her not to lose her sense of humour. But had she ever had one? At the end of Barnes Common she climbed on to a ‘bus and went back to London. She must have something to eat, or she would be fainting. She got down near Kensington Gardens and went into an hotel.

After lunch she sat some time in the Gardens, and then walked to Mount Street. No one was in, and she sank down on the sofa in the drawing-room. Thoroughly exhausted, she fell asleep. Her aunt’s entrance woke her, and, sitting up, she said:

“You can all be happy about me, Aunt Em. It’s finished.”

Lady Mont stared at her niece sitting there with such a ghostly little smile, and two tears, starting not quite together, ran down her cheeks.

“I didn’t know you cried at funerals, too, Aunt Em.”

She got up, went over to her aunt, and with her handkerchief removed the marks the tears had made.

“There!”

Lady Mont got up. “I MUST howl,” she said, “I simply must.” And she swayed rapidly out of the room.

Dinny sat on, that ghost of a smile still on her face. Blore brought in the tea-things, and she talked to him of Wimbledon, and his wife. He did not seem to know which of the two was in worse shape, but, as he was going out, he turned and said:

“And if I might suggest, Miss Dinny, a little sea air for you.”

“Yes, Blore, I was thinking of it.”

“I’m glad, miss; one overdoes it at this time of year.”

He, too, seemed to know that her course was run. And, feeling suddenly that she could not go on thus attending her own funeral, she stole to the door, listened for sounds, then slipped down the stairs and away.

But she was so physically exhausted that she could scarcely drag herself as far as St. James’s Park. There she sat down by the water. People, sunbeams, and ducks, shading leaves, spiky reeds, and this sirocco within her! A tall man walking from the Whitehall end made a little convulsive movement, as if to put his hand to his hat, corrected it at sight of her face, and lounged on. Realising what her face must be expressing, she got up, and, trailing on to Westminster Abbey, went in and sat down in a pew. There, bent forward, with her face resting on her arms, she stayed quite half an hour. She had not prayed, but she had rested, and the expression on her face had changed. She felt more fit to face people and not show so much.

It was past six, and she went on to South Square. Getting unseen to her room, she had a long hot bath, put on a dinner frock, and resolutely went down. Only Fleur and Michael were there, and neither of them asked her any questions. It was clear to her that they knew. She got through the evening somehow. When she was going up, both of them kissed her, and Fleur said:

“I’ve told them to put you a hot-water bottle; stuck against your back, it helps you to sleep. Good-night, bless you!”

Again Dinny had the feeling that Fleur had once suffered as she was suffering now. She slept better than she could have hoped.

With her early tea she received a letter with the heading of an hotel at Chingford.

“MADAM —

“The enclosed letter addressed to you was found in the pocket of a gentleman who is lying here with a very sharp attack of malaria. I am posting it on to you, and am

“Truly yours,

“ROGER QUEAL, M.D.”

She read the letter . . . “Whatever I do, forgive, and believe that I have loved you. Wilfrid.” And he was ill! All the impulses which sprang up she instantly thrust back. Not a second time would she rush in where angels feared to tread! But, hurrying down, she telephoned to Stack the news that he was lying at the Chingford hotel with an attack of malaria.

“He’ll want his pyjamas and his razors, then, miss. I’ll take ’em down to him.”

Forcing back the words: “Give him my love,” she said instead, “He knows where I am if there is anything I can do.”

The blacker bitterness of her mood was gone; yet she was as cut off from him as ever! Unless he came or sent for her she could make no move; and deep down she seemed to know that he would neither come nor send. No! He would strike his tent and flit away from where he had felt too much.

Towards noon Hubert came to say good-bye. It was at once clear to her that he, too, knew. He was coming back for the rest of his leave in October, he said. Jean was to stay at Condaford till after her child was born in November. She had been ordered to be out of the summer heat. He seemed to Dinny that morning like the old Hubert again. He dwelt on the advantage of being born at Condaford. And, endeavouring to be sprightly, she said:

“Quaint to find you talking like that, Hubert. You never used to care about Condaford.”

“It makes a difference to have an heir.”

“Oh! It’ll be an heir, will it?”

“Yes, we’ve made up our minds to a boy.”

“And will there be a Condaford by the time he comes into it?”

Hubert shrugged. “We’ll have a try at keeping it. Things don’t last unless you set yourself to keep them.”

“And not always then,” murmured Dinny.

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