Flowering Wilderness, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 35

When Wilfrid left Adrian’s room at the Museum, he had no plan or direction in his mind, and walked along like a man in one of those dreams where the theme is repeated over and over, and the only end is awakening. He went down the Kingsway to the Embankment, came to Westminster Bridge, turned on to it, and stood leaning over the parapet. A jump, and he would be out of it! The tide was running down — English water escaping to the seas, nevermore to come back, glad to go! Escape! Escape from all those who made him think of himself. To be rid of this perpetual self-questioning and self-consciousness! To end this damned mawkish indecision, this puling concern as to whether one would hurt her too much! But of course one would not hurt her too much! She would cry and get over it. Sentiment had betrayed him once! Not again! By God! Not again!

He stood there a long time, leaning on the parapet, watching the bright water and the craft creeping by; and every now and then a passing Cockney would stand beside him, as if convinced that he was looking out at something of sensational interest. And he was! He was seeing his own life finally ‘in the blue,’ unmoored, careering like the Flying Dutchman on far waters to the far ends of the world. But at least without need for bravado, kowtowing, appeal, or pretence, under his own flag, and that not at half-mast.

“I’ve ‘eard,” said a voice, “that lookin’ at the water long enough will make ’em jump sometimes.”

Wilfrid shuddered and walked away. God! How raw and jagged one had got! He walked off the bridge past the end of Whitehall into St. James’s Park, skirted the long water up to the geraniums and the large stone males, females, and fruits in front of the Palace, passed into the Green Park, and threw himself down on the dry grass. He lay there perhaps an hour on his back with his hand over his eyes, grateful for the sun soaking into him. When he got up he felt dizzy, and had to stand some minutes to get his balance before moving towards Hyde Park Corner. He had gone but a little way when he started and swerved off to the right. Coming towards him, nearer the riding track, were a young woman and a little boy. Dinny! He had seen her gasp, her hand go to her heart. And he had swerved and walked away. It was brutal, horrible, but it was final. So a man, who had thrust a dagger home, would feel. Brutal, horrible, but final! No more indecision! Nothing now but to get away as quick as ever he could! He turned towards his rooms, striding along as if possessed, his lips drawn back in such a smile as a man has in a dentist’s chair. He had stricken down the only woman who had ever seemed to him worth marrying, the only woman for whom he had felt what was worthy to be called real love. Well! Better strike her down like that than kill her by living with her! He was as Esau, and as Ishmael, not fit for a daughter of Israel. And a messenger boy turned and stared after him — the pace at which he walked was so foreign to the youth’s habitual feelings. He crossed Piccadilly with no concern whatever for its traffic, and plunged into the narrow mouth of Bond Street. It suddenly struck him that he would never see Scott’s hats again. The shop had just been shut, but those hats rested in rows, super-conventional hats, tropical hats, ladies’ hats, and specimens of the newest Trilby or Homburg, or whatever they called it now. He strode on, rounded the scent of Atkinson’s, and came to his own door. There he had to sit down at the foot of the stairs before he could find strength to climb. The spasmodic energy which had followed the shock of seeing her had ebbed out in utter lassitude. He was just beginning to mount when Stack and the dog came down. Foch rushed at his legs and stood against him, reaching his head up. Wilfrid crumpled his ears. To leave him once more without a master!

“I’m off early tomorrow morning, Stack. To Siam. I probably shan’t be coming back.”

“Not at all, sir?”

“Not at all.”

“Would you like me to come too, sir?”

Wilfrid put his hand on the henchman’s shoulder.

“Jolly good of you, Stack; but you’d be bored to death.”

“Excuse me, sir, but you’re hardly fit to travel alone at present.”

“Perhaps not, but I’m going to.”

The henchman bent his eyes on Wilfrid’s face. It was a grave intent gaze, as if he were committing that face finally to heart.

“I’ve been with you a long time, sir.”

“You have, Stack; and nobody could have been nicer to me. I’ve made provision in case anything happens to me. You’d prefer to go on here, I expect, keeping the rooms for when my father wants them.”

“I should be sorry to leave here, if I can’t come with you. Are you sure about that, sir?”

Wilfrid nodded. “Quite sure, Stack. What about Foch?”

Stack hesitated, then said with a rush: “I think I ought to tell you, sir, that when Miss Cherrell was here last — the night you went off to Epping — she said that if you was to go away at any time, she would be glad to have the dog. He’s fond of her, sir.”

Wilfrid’s face became a mask.

“Take him his run,” he said, and went on up the stairs.

His mind was once again in turmoil. Murder! But it was done! One did not bring a corpse to life with longing or remorse. The dog, if she wanted him, was hers, of course! Why did women cling to memories, when all they should wish should be to forget? He sat down at his bureau and wrote:

“I am going away for good. Foch comes to you with this. He is yours if you care to have him. I am only fit to be alone. Forgive me if you can, and forget me. — WILFRID.”

He addressed it, and sat on at the bureau slowly turning his head and looking round the room. Under three months since the day he had come back. He felt as if he had lived a lifetime. Dinny over there at the hearth, after her father had been! Dinny on the divan looking up at him! Dinny here, Dinny there!

Her smile, her eyes, her hair! Dinny, and that memory in the Arab tent, pulling at each other, wrestling for him. Why had he not seen the end from the beginning? He might have known himself! He took a sheet of paper and wrote:

“MY DEAR FATHER —

“England doesn’t seem to agree with me, and I am starting tomorrow for Siam. My bank will have my address from time to time. Stack will keep things going here as usual, so that the rooms will be ready whenever you want them. I hope you’ll take care of yourself. I’ll try and send you a coin for your collection now and then. Good-bye.

“Yours affectionately,

“WILFRID.”

His father would read it and say: “Dear me! Very sudden! Queer fellow!” And that was about all that anyone would think or say — except —!

He took another sheet of paper and wrote to his bank; then lay down, exhausted, on the divan.

Stack must pack, he hadn’t the strength. Luckily his passport was in order — that curious document which rendered one independent of one’s kind; that password to whatever loneliness one wanted. The room was very still, for at this hour of lull before dinner traffic began there was hardly any noise from the streets. The stuff which he took after attacks of malaria had opium in it, and a dreamy feeling came over him. He drew a long breath and relaxed. To his half-drugged senses scents kept coming — the scent of camels’ dung, of coffee roasting, carpets, spices, and humanity in the Suks, the sharp unscented air of the desert, and the foetid reek of some river village; and sounds — the whine of beggars, a camel’s coughing grunts, the cry of the jackal, Muezzin call, padding of donkeys’ feet, tapping of the silversmiths, the creaking and moaning of water being drawn. And before his half-closed eyes visions came floating; a sort of long dream-picture of the East as he had known it. Now it would be another East, further and more strange! . . . He slipped into a real dream . . . .

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