Flowering Wilderness, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 36

Seeing him turn away from her in the Green Park, Dinny had known for certain it was all over. The sight of his ravaged face had moved her to the depths. If only he could be happy again she could put up with it. For since the evening he left her in his rooms she had been steeling herself, never really believing in anything but this. After those moments with Michael in the dark hall she slept a little and had her coffee upstairs. A message was brought her about ten o’clock that a man with a dog was waiting to see her.

She finished dressing quickly, put on her hat, and went down.

It could only be Stack.

The henchman was standing beside the ‘sarcophagus,’ holding Foch on a lead. His face, full of understanding as ever, was lined and pale, as if he had been up all night.

“Mr. Desert sent this, miss.” He held out a note.

Dinny opened the door of the drawing-room.

“Come in here, please, Stack. Let’s sit down.”

He sat down and let go of the lead. The dog went to her and put his nose on her knee. Dinny read the note.

“Mr. Desert says that I may have Foch.”

Stack bent his gaze on his boots. “He’s gone, miss. Went by the early service to Paris and Marseilles.”

She could see moisture in the folds of his cheeks. He gave a loud sniff, and angrily brushed his hand over his face.

“I’ve been with him fourteen years, miss. It was bound to hit me. He talks of not coming back.”

“Where has he gone?”

“Siam.”

“A long way,” said Dinny with a smile. “The great thing is that he should be happy again.”

“That is so, miss. I don’t know if you’d care to hear about the dog’s food. He has a dry biscuit about nine, and shin of beef or sheep’s head, cooked, with crumbled hound-meal, between six and seven, and nothing else. A good quiet dog, he is, perfect gentleman in the house. He’ll sleep in your bedroom if you like.”

“Do you stay where you are, Stack?”

“Yes, miss. The rooms are his lordship’s. As I told you, Mr. Desert is sudden; but I think he means what he says. He never was happy in England.”

“I’m sure he means what he says. Is there anything I can do for you, Stack?”

The henchman shook his head, his eyes rested on Dinny’s face, and she knew he was debating whether he dared offer sympathy. She stood up.

“I think I’ll take Foch a walk and get him used to me.”

“Yes, miss. I don’t let him off the lead except in the parks. If there’s anything you want to know about him any time, you have the number.”

Dinny put out her hand.

“Well, good-bye, Stack, and best wishes.”

“The same to you, miss, I’m sure.” His eyes had what was more than understanding in them, and the grip of his hand had a spasmodic strength. Dinny continued to smile till he was gone and the door closed, then sat down on the sofa with her hands over her eyes. The dog, who had followed Stack to the door, whined once, and came back to her. She uncovered her eyes, took Wilfrid’s note from her lap, and tore it up.

“Well, Foch,” she said, “what shall we do? Nice walk?”

The tail moved; he again whined slightly.

“Come along, then, boy.”

She felt steady, but as if a spring had broken. With the dog on the lead she walked towards Victoria Station, and stopped before the statue. The leaves had thickened round it, and that was all the change. Man and horse, remote, active, and contained — ‘workmanlike’! A long time she stood there, her face raised, dry-eyed, thin and drawn; and the dog sat patiently beside her.

Then, with a shrug, she turned away and led him rapidly towards the Park. When she had walked some time, she went to Mount Street and asked for Sir Lawrence. He was in his study.

“Well, my dear,” he said, “that looks a nice dog; is he yours?”

“Yes. Uncle Lawrence, will you do something for me?”

“Surely.”

“Wilfrid has gone. He went this morning. He is not coming back. Would you be so very kind as to let my people know, and Michael, and Aunt Em, and Uncle Adrian. I don’t want ever to have to speak of it.”

Sir Lawrence inclined his head, took her hand and put it to his lips. “There was something I wanted to show you, Dinny.” He took from his table a little statuette of Voltaire. “I picked that up two days ago. Isn’t he a delightful old cynic? Why the French should be so much pleasanter as cynics than other people is mysterious, except, of course, that cynicism, to be tolerable, must have grace and wit; apart from those, it’s just bad manners. An English cynic is a man with a general grievance. A German cynic is a sort of wild boar. A Scandinavian cynic is a pestilence. An American jumps around too much to make a cynic, and a Russian’s state of mind is not constant enough. You might get a perfectly good cynic in Austria, perhaps, or northern China — possibly it’s a question of latitude.”

Dinny smiled.

“Give my love to Aunt Em, please. I’m going home this afternoon.”

“God bless you, my dear,” said Sir Lawrence. “Come here, or to Lippinghall, whenever you want; we love having you.” And he kissed her forehead.

When she had gone, he went to the telephone, and then sought his wife.

“Em, poor Dinny has just been here. She looks like a smiling ghost. It’s all over. Desert went off for good this morning. She doesn’t want ever to speak of it. Can you remember that?”

Lady Mont, who was arranging some flowers in a Chinese ginger jar, dropped them and turned round.

“Oh! dear!” she said. “Kiss me, Lawrence!”

They stood for a moment embraced. Poor Em! Her heart was soft as butter! She said into his shoulder: “Your collar’s all covered with hairs. You WILL brush your hair after you’ve put your coat on. Turn! I’ll pick them off.”

Sir Lawrence turned.

“I’ve telephoned to Condaford and Michael and Adrian. Remember, Em! The thing is as if it never was.”

“Of course I shall remember. Why did she come to you?”

Sir Lawrence shrugged. “She’s got a new dog, a black spaniel.”

“Very faithful, but they get fat. There! Did they say anything on the telephone?”

“Only: ‘Oh!’ and ‘I see,’ and ‘Of course.’”

“Lawrence, I want to cry; come back presently and take me somewhere.”

Sir Lawrence patted her shoulders and went out quickly. He, too, felt peculiar. Back in his study, he sat in thought. Desert’s flight was the only possible solution! Of all those affected by this incident, he had the clearest and most just insight into Wilfrid. True, probably, that the fellow had a vein of gold in him which his general nature did its best to hide! But to live with? Not on your life! Yellow? Of course he wasn’t that! The thing was not plain-sailing, as Jack Muskham and the pukka sahibs supposed, with their superstition that black was not white, and so on. No, no! Young Desert had been snared in a most peculiar way. Given his perverse nature, its revolts, humanitarianism, and want of belief, given his way of hob-nobbing with the Arabs, his case was as different from that of the ordinary Englishman as chalk from cheese. But, whatever his case, he was not a man to live with! Poor Dinny was well out of that! What pranks Fate played! Why should her choice have fallen there? If you came to that, why anything where love was concerned? It knew no laws, not even those of common sense. Some element in her had flown straight to its kindred element in him, disregarding all that was not kindred, and all outside circumstance. She might never get again the chance of that particular ‘nick,’ as Jack Muskham would call it. But — good Gad! — marriage was a lifelong business; yes, even in these days, no passing joke! For marriage you wanted all the luck and all the give and take that you could get. Not much give and take about Desert — restless, disharmonic, and a poet! And proud — with that inner self-depreciative pride which never let up on a man! A liaison, one of those leaping companionships young people went in for now — possibly; but that didn’t fit Dinny; even Desert must have felt so. In her the physical without the spiritual seemed out of place. Ah! Well! Another long heartache in the world — poor Dinny.

‘Where,’ he thought, ‘can I take Em at this time in the morning? The Zoo she doesn’t like; I’m sick of the Wallace. Madame Tussaud’s! Gaiety will break through. Madame Tussaud’s!’

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