Dinny took her lover to Adrian’s door at the museum the next day, and left him there. Looking round at his tall, hatless, girt-in figure, she saw him give a violent shiver. But he smiled, and even at that distance she felt warmed by his eyes.
Adrian, already notified, received the young man with what he stigmatised to himself as ‘morbid curiosity,’ and placed him at once in mental apposition to Dinny. A curiously diverse couple they would make! Yet, with a perception not perhaps unconnected with the custody of skeletons, he had a feeling that his niece was not physically in error. This was a figure that could well stand or lie beside her. Its stringy grace and bony gallantry accorded with her style and slenderness; and the darkened face, with its drawn and bitter lines, had eyes which even Adrian, who had all the public-school-man’s impatience of male film stars, could see would be attractive to the feminine gender. Bones broke the ice to some degree; and over the identity of a supposed Hittite in moderate preservation they became almost cordial. Places and people whom they had both seen in strange conditions were a further incentive to human feeling. But not till he had taken up his hat to go did Wilfrid say suddenly:
“Well, Mr. Cherrell, what would YOU do?”
Adrian, who was looking up, halted and considered his questioner with narrowed eyes.
“I’m a poor hand at advice, but Dinny is a precious baggage —”
Adrian bent and shut the door of a cabinet.
“This morning,” he said, “I watched a solitary ant in my bathroom trying to make its way and find out about things. I’m sorry to say I dropped some ashes from my pipe on it to see what it would do. Providence all over — always dropping ashes from its pipe on us to observe the result. I’ve been in several minds, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re really in love with Dinny —” a convulsive movement of Wilfrid’s body ended in the tight clenching of his hands on his hat —“as I see you are, and as I know her to be with you, then stand fast and work your way with her through the ashes. She’d rather be in the cart with you than in a Pullman with the rest of us. I believe”— and Adrian’s face was illuminated by earnestness —“that she is one of those of whom it is not yet written, ‘and they twain shall be one SPIRIT.’” The young man’s face quivered.
‘Genuine!’ thought Adrian.
“So think first of her, but not in the ‘I love you so that nothing will induce me to marry you’ fashion. Do what she wants — when she wants it — she’s not unreasonable. And, honestly, I don’t believe you’ll either of you regret it.”
Desert took a step towards him, and Adrian could see that he was intensely moved. But he mastered all expression, save a little jerky smile, made a movement of one hand, turned, and went out.
Adrian continued to shut the doors of cupboards that contained bones. ‘That,’ he was thinking, ‘is the most difficult, and in some ways the most beautiful face I’ve seen. The spirit walks upon its waters and is often nearly drowned. I wonder if that advice was criminal, because for some reason or other I believe he’s going to take it.’ And he returned to the reading of a geographical magazine which Wilfrid’s visit had interrupted. It contained a spirited account of an Indian tribe on the Amazon which had succeeded, even without the aid of American engineers at capitalistic salaries, in perfecting the Communistic ideal. None of them, apparently, owned anything. Their whole lives, including the processes of nature, were passed in the public eye. They wore no clothes, they had no laws; their only punishment, something in connection with red ants, was inflicted for the only offence, that of keeping anything to themselves. They lived on the cassava root variegated with monkey, and were the ideal community!
‘A wonderful instance,’ thought Adrian, ‘of how the life of man runs in cycles. For the last twenty thousand years or so we’ve been trying, as we thought, to improve on the principle which guides the life of these Indians, only to find it reintroduced as the perfect pattern.’
He sat for some time with a smile biting deep into the folds about his mouth. Doctrinaires, extremists! That Arab who put a pistol to young Desert’s head was a symbol of the most mischievous trait in human nature! Ideas and creeds — what were they but half-truths, only useful in so far as they helped to keep life balanced? The geographical magazine slipped off his knee.
He stopped on the way home in the garden of his square to feel the sun on his cheek and listen to a blackbird. He had all he wanted in life: the woman he loved, fair health, a fair salary — seven hundred a year and the prospect of a pension — two adorable children, not his own, so that he was free from the misgivings of more normal parents; an absorbing job, a love of nature, and another thirty years, perhaps, before him. ‘If at this moment,’ he thought, ‘someone put a pistol to my head and said: “Adrian Cherrell, renounce Christianity or out go your brains!” should I say with Clive in India: “Shoot and be damned!”?’ And he could not answer. The blackbird continued to sing, the young leaves to twitter in the breeze, the sun to warm his cheek, and life to be desirable in the quiet of that one-time fashionable square . . . .
Dinny, when she left those two on the verge of acquaintanceship, had paused, in two minds, and then gone north to St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads. Her instinct was to sap the opposition of the outlying portions of her family, so as to isolate the defences of her immediate people. She moved towards the heart of practical Christianity with a certain rather fearful exhilaration.
Her Aunt May was in the act of dispensing tea to two young ex-Collegians before their departure to a club where they superintended the skittles, chess, draughts, and ping-pong of the neighbourhood.
“If you want Hilary, Dinny, he had two committees, but they might collapse, because he’s almost the whole of both.”
“You and uncle know about me, I suppose?”
Mrs. Hilary nodded. She was looking very fresh in a sprigged dress.
“Would you mind telling me what uncle feels about it?”
“I’d rather leave that to him, Dinny. We neither of us remember Mr. Desert very well.”
“People who don’t know him well will always misjudge him. But neither you nor uncle care what other people think.” She said this with a guileless expression which by no means deceived Mrs. Hilary, accustomed to Women’s Institutes.
“We’re neither of us very orthodox, as you know, Dinny, but we do both of us believe very deeply in what Christianity stands for, and it’s no good pretending we don’t.”
Dinny thought a moment.
“Is that more than gentleness and courage and self-sacrifice, and must one be a Christian to have those?”
“I’d rather not talk about it. I should be sorry to say anything that would put me in a position different from Hilary’s.”
“Auntie, how model of you!”
Mrs. Hilary smiled. And Dinny knew that judgment in this quarter was definitely reserved.
She waited, talking of other things, till Hilary came in. He was looking pale and worried. Her aunt gave him tea, passed a hand over his forehead, and went out.
Hilary drank off his tea and filled his pipe with a knot of tobacco screwed up in a circular paper.
“Why corporations, Dinny? Why not three doctors, three engineers, three architects, an adding machine, and a man of imagination to work it and keep them straight?”
“Are you in trouble, Uncle?”
“Yes, gutting houses on an overdraft is ageing enough, without corporational red tape.”
Looking at his worn but smiling face, Dinny thought: ‘I can’t bother him with my little affairs.’ “You and Aunt May couldn’t spare time, I suppose, to come to the Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday?”
“My goodness!” said Hilary, sticking one end of a match into the centre of the knob and lighting the knob with the other end, “how I would love to stand in a tent and smell azaleas!”
“We thought of going at one o’clock, so as to avoid the worst of the crush. Aunt Em would send for you.”
“Can’t promise, so don’t send. If we’re not at the main entrance at one, you’ll know that Providence has intervened. And now, what about you? Adrian has told me.”
“I don’t want to bother you, Uncle.”
Hilary’s shrewd blue eyes almost disappeared. He expelled a cloud of smoke.
“Nothing that concerns you will bother me, my dear, except in so far as it’s going to hurt you. I suppose you MUST, Dinny?”
“Yes, I must.”
“In that case it remains to make the best of it. But the world loves the martyrdom of others. I’m afraid he’ll have a bad Press, as they say.”
“I’m sure he will.”
“I can only just remember him, as a rather tall, scornful young man in a buff waistcoat. Has he lost the scorn?”
“It’s not the side I see much of at present.”
“I sincerely trust,” said Hilary, “that he has not what they call devouring passions.”
“Not so far as I have observed.”
“I mean, Dinny, that once that type has eaten its cake, it shows all the old Adam with a special virulence. Do you get me?”
“Yes. But I believe it’s a ‘marriage of true minds’ with us.”
“Then, my dear, good luck! Only, when people begin to throw bricks, don’t resent it. You’re doing this with your eyes open, and you’ll have no right to. Harder to bear than having your own toe trodden on is seeing one you love batted over the head. So catch hold of yourself hard at the start, and go on catching hold, or you’ll make it worse for him. If I’m not wrong, Dinny, you can get very hot about things.”
“I’ll try not to. When Wilfrid’s book of poems comes out, I want you to read one called ‘The Leopard’; it gives his state of mind about the whole thing.”
“Oh!” said Hilary blankly. “Justification? That’s a mistake.”
“That’s what Michael says. I don’t know whether it is or not; I think in the end — not. Anyway, it’s coming out.”
“There beginneth a real dog-fight. ‘Turn the other cheek’ and ‘too proud to fight’ would have been better left unsaid. All the same, it’s asking for trouble, and that’s all about it.”
“I can’t help it, Uncle.”
“I realise that, Dinny; it’s when I think of the number of things you won’t be able to help that I feel so blue. And what about Condaford? Is it going to cut you off from that?”
“People do come round, except in novels; and even there they have to in the end, or else die, so that the heroine may be happy. Will you say a word for us to Father if you see him, Uncle?”
“No, Dinny. An elder brother never forgets how superior he was to you when he was big and you were not.”
“Well, Uncle; thank you ever so for not believing in damnation, and even more for not saying so. I shall remember all you’ve said. Tuesday, one o’clock at the main entrance; and don’t forget to eat something first; it’s a very tiring business.”
When she had gone Hilary refilled his pipe.
‘“And even more for not saying so!”’ he repeated in thought. ‘That young woman can be caustic. I wonder how often I say things I don’t mean in the course of my professional duties.’ And, seeing his wife in the doorway, he added:
“May, would you say I was a humbug — professionally?”
“Yes, dear. How could it be otherwise?”
“You mean, the forms a parson uses aren’t broad enough to cover the variations of human nature? But I don’t see how they could be. Would you like to go to the Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday?”
Mrs. Hilary, thinking: ‘Dinny might have asked ME,’ replied cheerfully: “Very much.”
“Let’s try and arrange so that we can get there at one o’clock.”
“Did you talk to her about her affair?”
“Is she immovable?”
Mrs. Hilary sighed. “It’s an awful pity. Do you think a man could ever live that down?”
“Twenty years ago I should have said ‘No.’ Now I’m not sure. It seems a queer thing to say, but it’s not the really religious people who’ll matter.”
“Because they won’t come across them. It’s the army, and Empire people, and Englishmen overseas, whom they will come across continually. The hub of unforgiveness is in her own family to start with. It’s the yellow label. The gum they use putting that on is worse than the patent brand of any hotel that wants to advertise itself.”
“I wonder,” said Mrs. Hilary, “what the children would say about it?”
“Queer that we don’t know.”
“We know less about our children than any of their friends do. Were we like that to our own elders, I wonder?”
“Our elders looked on us as biological specimens; they had us at an angle, and knew quite a lot about us. WE’VE tried to put ourselves on a level with our youngsters, elder brother and sister business, and we don’t know a thing. We’ve missed the one knowledge, and haven’t got the other. A bit humiliating, but they’re a decent crowd. It’s not the young people I’m afraid of in Dinny’s business, it’s those who’ve had experience of the value of English prestige, and they’ll be justified; and those who like to think he’s done a thing they wouldn’t have done themselves — and they won’t be justified a bit.”
“I think Dinny’s over-estimating her strength, Hilary.”
“No woman really in love could do otherwise. To find out whether she is or not will be her job. Well, she won’t rust.”
“You speak as if you rather liked it.”
“The milk is spilled, and it’s no good worrying. Let’s get down to the wording of that new appeal. There’s going to be a bad trade slump. Just our luck! All the people who’ve got money will be sticking to it.”
“I wish people wouldn’t be less extravagant when times are bad. It only means less work still. The shopkeepers are moaning about that already.”
Hilary reached for a notebook and began writing. His wife looked over his shoulder presently and read:
“To all whom it may concern:
“And whom does it not concern that there should be in our midst thousands of people so destitute from birth to death of the bare necessities of life that they don’t know what real cleanliness, real health, real fresh air, real good food are?”
“One ‘real’ will cover the lot, dear.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54