When Dinny opened her eyes on the morning after she had told her father, she could not remember what her trouble was. Realisation caused her to sit up with a feeling of terror. Suppose Wilfrid ran away from it all, back to the East or further! He well might, and think he was doing it for her sake.
‘I can’t wait till Thursday,’ she thought; ‘I must go up. If only I had money, in case —!’ She rummaged out her trinkets and took hasty stock of them. The two gentlemen of South Molton Street! In the matter of Jean’s emerald pendant they had behaved beautifully. She made a little parcel of her pledgeable ornaments, reserving the two or three she normally wore. There were none of much value, and to get a hundred pounds on them, she felt, would strain benevolence.
At breakfast they all behaved as if nothing had happened. So then, they all knew the worst!
‘Playing the angel!’ she thought.
When her father announced that he was going up to Town, she said she would come with him.
He looked at her, rather like a monkey questioning man’s right not to be a monkey too. Why had she never before noticed that his brown eyes could have that flickering mournfulness?
“Very well,” he said.
“Shall I drive you?” asked Jean.
“Thankfully accepted,” murmured Dinny.
Nobody said a word on the subject occupying all their thoughts.
In the opened car she sat beside her father. The may-blossom, rather late, was at its brightest, and its scent qualified the frequent drifts of petrol fume. The sky had the high brooding grey of rain withheld. Their road passed over the Chilterns, through Hampden, Great Missenden, Chalfont, and Chorley Wood; land so English that no one, suddenly awakened, could at any moment of the drive have believed he was in any other country. It was a drive Dinny never tired of; but today the spring green and brightness of the may and apple blossom, the windings and divings through old villages, could not deflect her attention from the impassive figure by whom she sat. She knew instinctively that he was going to try and see Wilfrid, and, if so — she was, too. But when he talked it was of India. And when she talked it was of birds. And Jean drove furiously and never looked behind her. Not till they were in the Finchley Road did the General say:
“Where d’you want to be set down, Dinny?”
“You’re staying up, then?”
“Yes, till Friday.”
“We’ll drop you, and I’ll go on to my Club. You’ll drive me back this evening, Jean?”
Jean nodded without turning and slid between two vermilion-coloured buses, so that two drivers simultaneously used the same qualitative word.
Dinny was in a ferment of thought. Dared she telephone Stack to ring her up when her father came? If so, she could time her visit to the minute. Dinny was of those who at once establish liaison with ‘staff.’ She could not help herself to a potato without unconsciously conveying to the profferer that she was interested in his personality. She always said ‘Thank you,’ and rarely passed from the presence without having made some remark which betrayed common humanity. She had only seen Stack three times, but she knew he felt that she was a human being, even if she did not come from Barnstaple. She mentally reviewed his no longer youthful figure, his monastic face, black-haired and large-nosed, with eyes full of expression, his curly mouth, at once judgmatic and benevolent. He moved upright and almost at a trot. She had seen him look at her as if saying to himself: ‘If this is to be our fate, could I do with it? I could.’ He was, she felt, permanently devoted to Wilfrid. She determined to risk it. When they drove away from her at Mount Street, she thought: ‘I hope I shall never be a father!’
“Can I telephone, Blore?”
She gave Wilfrid’s number.
“Is that Stack? Miss Cherrell speaking. . . . Would you do me a little favour? My father is going to see Mr. Desert today, General Sir Conway Cherrell; I don’t know at what time, but I want to come myself while he’s there. . . . Could you ring me up here as soon as he arrives? I’ll wait in. . . . Thank you so very much. . . . Is Mr. Desert well? . . . Don’t tell him or my father, please, that I’m coming. Thank you ever so!”
‘Now,’ she thought, ‘unless I’ve misread Dad! There’s a picture gallery opposite, I shall be able to see him leave from the window of it.’
No call came before lunch, which she had with her aunt.
“Your uncle has seen Jack Muskham,” said Lady Mont, in the middle of lunch; “Royston, you know; and he brought back the other one, just like a monkey — they won’t say anything. But Michael says he mustn’t, Dinny.”
“Mustn’t what, Aunt Em?”
“Publish that poem.”
“Oh! but he will.”
“Why? Is it good?”
“The best he has ever written.”
“Wilfrid isn’t ashamed, Aunt Em.”
“Such a bore for you, I do think. I suppose one of those companionable marriages wouldn’t do, would it?”
“I’ve offered it, dear.”
“I’m surprised at you, Dinny.”
“He didn’t accept it.”
“Thank God! I should hate you to get into the papers.
“Not more than I should myself, Auntie.”
“Fleur got into the papers, libellin’.”
“What’s that thing that comes back and hits you by mistake?”
“I knew it was Australian. Why do they have an accent like that?”
“Really I don’t know, darling.”
“And marsupials? Blore, Miss Dinny’s glass.”
“No more, thank you, Aunt Em. And may I get down?”
“Let’s both get down”; and, getting up, Lady Mont regarded her niece with her head on one side. “Deep breathin’ and carrots to cool the blood. Why Gulf Stream, Dinny? What gulf is that?”
“The eels come from there, I was readin’. Are you goin’ out?”
“I’m waiting for a ‘phone call.”
“When they say tr-r-roubled, it hurts my teeth. Nice girls, I’m sure. Coffee?”
“It does. One comes together like a puddin’ after it.”
Dinny thought: ‘Aunt Em always sees more than one thinks.’
“Bein’ in love,” continued Lady Mont, “is worse in the country — there’s the cuckoo. They don’t have it in America, somebody said. Perhaps they don’t fall in love there. Your Uncle’ll know. He came back with a story about a poppa at Nooport. But that was years and years ago. I feel other people’s insides,” continued her aunt, uncannily. “Where’s your father gone?”
“To his Club.”
“Did you tell him, Dinny?”
“You’re his favourite.”
“Oh, no! Clare is.”
“Did the course of your love run smooth, Aunt Em?”
“I had a good figure,” replied her aunt; “too much, perhaps; we had then. Lawrence was my first.”
“Except for choir-boys and our groom, and a soldier or two. There was a little captain with a black moustache. Inconsiderate, when one’s fourteen.”
“I suppose your ‘wooing’ was very decorous?”
“No; your uncle was passionate. ‘Ninety-one. There’d been no rain for thirty years.”
“No such rain?”
“No! No rain at all — I forget where. There’s the telephone!”
Dinny reached the ‘phone just in front of the butler.
“It’ll be for me, Blore, thank you.”
She took up the receiver with a shaking hand.
“Yes? . . . I see . . . thank you, Stack . . . thank you very much. . . . Will you get me a taxi, Blore?”
She directed the taxi to the gallery opposite Wilfrid’s rooms, bought a catalogue, and went upstairs to the window. Here, under pretext of minutely examining Number 35, called ‘Rhythm,’ a misnomer so far as she could see, she kept watch on the door opposite. Her father could not already have left Wilfrid, for it was only seven minutes since the telephone call. Very soon, however, she saw him issuing from the door, and watched him down the street. His head was bent, and he shook it once or twice; she could not see his face, but she could picture its expression.
‘Gnawing his moustache,’ she thought; ‘poor lamb!’
The moment he rounded the corner she ran down, slipped across the street and up the first flight. Outside Wilfrid’s door she stood with her hand raised to the bell. Then she rang.
“Am I too late, Stack?”
“The General’s just gone, Miss.”
“Oh! May I see Mr. Desert? Don’t announce me.”
“No, miss,” said Stack. Had she ever seen eyes more full of understanding?
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door. Wilfrid was standing at the hearth with his head bent down on his folded arms. She stole silently up, waiting for him to realise her presence.
Suddenly he threw his head up, and saw her.
“Darling!” said Dinny, “so sorry for startling you!” And she tilted her head, with lips a little parted and throat exposed, watching the struggle on his face.
He succumbed and kissed her.
“Dinny, your father —”
“I know. I saw him go. ‘Mr. Desert, I believe! My daughter has told me of an engagement, and — er — your position. I— er — have come about that. You have — er — considered what will happen when your — er — escapade out there becomes — er — known. My daughter is of age, she can please herself, but we are all extremely fond of her, and I think you will agree that in the face of such a — er — scandal it would be wholly wrong on your part — er — to consider yourself engaged to her at present.”
“And you answered?”
“That I’d think it over. He’s perfectly right.”
“He is perfectly wrong. I have told you before, ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ Michael thinks you ought not to publish The Leopard.”
“I must. I want it off my chest. When I’m not with you I’m hardly sane.”
“I know! But, darling, those two are not going to say anything; need it ever come out? Things that don’t come out quickly often don’t come out at all. Why go to meet trouble?”
“It isn’t that. It’s some damned fear in me that I WAS yellow. I want the whole thing out. Then, yellow or not, I can hold my head up. Don’t you see, Dinny?”
She did see. The look on his face was enough. ‘It’s my business,’ she thought, ‘to feel as he does, whatever I think; only so can I help him; perhaps only so can I keep him.’
“I understand, perfectly. Michael’s wrong. We’ll face the music, and our heads shall be ‘bloody but unbowed.’ But we won’t be ‘captains of our souls,’ whatever happens.”
And, having got him to smile, she drew him down beside her. After that long close silence, she opened her eyes with the slow look all women know how to give.
“To-morrow is Thursday, Wilfrid. Will you mind if we drop in on Uncle Adrian on the way home? He’s on our side. And about our engagement, we can say we aren’t engaged, and BE all the same. Good-bye, my love!”
Down in the vestibule by the front door as she was opening it, Stack’s voice said:
“Excuse me, miss.”
“I’ve been with Mr. Desert a long time, and I was thinking. You’re engaged to him, if I don’t mistake, miss?”
“Yes and no, Stack. I hope to marry him, however.”
“Quite, miss. And a good thing, too, if you’ll excuse me. Mr. Desert is a sudden gentleman, and I was thinking if we were in leeaison, as you might say, it’d be for his good.”
“I quite agree; that’s why I rang you up this morning.”
“I’ve seen many young ladies in my time, but never one I’d rather he married, miss, which is why I’ve taken the liberty.”
Dinny held out her hand. “I’m terribly glad you did; it’s just what I wanted; because things are difficult, and going to be more so, I’m afraid.”
Having polished his hand, Stack took hers, and they exchanged a rather convulsive squeeze.
“I know there’s something on his mind,” he said. “That’s not my business. But I have known him to take very sudden decisions. And if you were to give me your telephone numbers, miss, I might be of service to you both.”
Dinny wrote them down. “This is the town one at my uncle, Sir Lawrence Mont’s, in Mount Street; and this is my country one at Condaford Grange in Oxfordshire. One or the other is almost sure to find me. And thank you ever so. It takes a load off my mind.”
“And off mine, miss. Mr. Desert has every call on me. And I want the best for him. He’s not everybody’s money, but he’s mine.”
“And mine, Stack.”
“I won’t bandy compliments, miss, but he’ll be a lucky one, if you’ll excuse me.”
Dinny smiled. “No, I shall be the lucky one. Good-bye, and thank you again.”
She went away, treading, so to speak, on Cork Street. She had an ally in the lion’s mouth; a spy in the friend’s camp; a faithful traitor! Thus mixing her metaphors, she scurried back to her aunt’s house. Her father would almost certainly go there before returning to Condaford.
Seeing his unmistakable old bowler in the hall, she took the precaution of removing her own hat before going to the drawing-room. He was talking to her aunt, and they stopped as she came in. Everyone would always stop now as she came in! Looking at them with quiet directness, she sat down.
The General’s eyes met hers.
“I’ve been to see Mr. Desert, Dinny.”
“I know, dear. He is thinking it over. We shall wait till everyone knows, anyway.”
The General moved uneasily.
“And if it is any satisfaction to you, we are not formally engaged.”
The General gave her a slight bow, and Dinny turned to her aunt, who was fanning a pink face with a piece of lilac-coloured blotting-paper.
There was a silence, then the General said:
“When are you going to Lippinghall, Em?”
“Next week,” replied Lady Mont, “or is it the week after? Lawrence knows. I’m showing two gardeners at the Chelsea Flower Show. Boswell and Johnson, Dinny.”
“Oh! Are they still with you?”
“More so. Con, you ought to grow pestifera — no, that’s not the name — that hairy anemone thing.”
“Charmin’ flowers. They want lime.”
“We’re short of lime at Condaford,” said the General, “as you ought to know, Em.”
“Our azaleas were a dream this year, Aunt Em.”
Lady Mont put down the blotting-paper.
“I’ve been tellin’ your father, Dinny, that it’s no good fussin’ you.”
Dinny, watching her father’s glum face, said: “Do you know that nice shop in Bond Street, Auntie, where they make animals? I got a lovely little vixen and her cubs there to make Dad like foxes better.”
“Huntin’,” said Lady Mont, and sighed. “When they get up chimneys, it’s rather touchin’.”
“Even Dad doesn’t like digging out, or stopping earths, do you, Dad?”
“N-no!” said the General, “on the whole, no!”
“Bloodin’ children, too,” said Lady Mont. “I saw you blooded, Con.”
“Messy job, and quite unnecessary! Only the old raw-hide school go in for it now.”
“He looked so nasty, Dinny.”
“Yes, you haven’t got the face for it, Dad. It wants one of those snub-nosed, red-haired, freckled boys, that like killing for the sake of killing.”
The General rose.
“I must be going back to the Club. Jean picks me up there. When shall we see you, Dinny? Your mother —” and he stopped.
“Aunt Em’s keeping me till Saturday.”
The General nodded. He suffered his sister’s and daughter’s kiss with a face that seemed to say, ‘Yes — but —’
From the window Dinny watched his figure moving down the street, and her heart twitched.
“Your father!” said her aunt’s voice behind her. “All this is very wearin’, Dinny.”
“I think it’s very dear of Dad not to have mentioned the fact that I’m dependent on him.”
“Con IS a dear,” said Lady Mont; “he said the young man was respectful. Who was it said: ‘Goroo — goroo’?”
“The old Jew in David Copperfield.”
“Well, it’s what I feel.”
Dinny turned from the window.
“Auntie! I don’t feel the same being at all as I did two weeks ago. I’m utterly changed. Then I didn’t seem to have any desires; now I’m all one desire, and I don’t seem to care whether I’m decent or not. Don’t say Epsom salts!”
Lady Mont patted her arm.
“‘Honour thy father and thy mother,’” she said; “but then there was ‘Forsake all and follow me,’ so you can’t tell.”
“I can,” said Dinny. “Do you know what I’m hoping now? That everything will come out tomorrow. If it did, we could be married at once.”
“Let’s have some tea, Dinny. Blore, tea! Indian and rather strong!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54