Since Dinny said no further word on the subject occupying every mind, no word was said by anyone; and for this she was truly thankful. She spent the next three days trying to hide the fact that she was very unhappy. No letter had come from Wilfrid, no message from Stack; surely, if anything had happened, HE would have let her know. On the fourth day, feeling that she could bear the suspense no longer, she telephoned to Fleur and asked if she might come up to them.
The expressions on her father’s and her mother’s faces when she said she was going affected her as do the eyes and tails of dogs whom one must leave. How much more potent was the pressure put by silent disturbance than by nagging!
Panic assailed her in the train. Had her instinct to wait for Wilfrid to make the first move been wrong? Ought she not to have gone straight to him? And on reaching London she told her driver: “Cork Street.”
But he was out, and Stack did not know when he would be in. The henchman’s demeanour seemed to her strangely different, as if he had retreated to a fence and were sitting on it. Was Mr. Desert well? Yes. And the dog? Yes, the dog was well. Dinny drove away disconsolate. At South Square again no one was in; it seemed as if the world were in conspiracy to make her feel deserted. She had forgotten Wimbledon, the Horse Show, and other activities of the time of year. All such demonstrations of interest in life were, indeed, so far from her present mood that she could not conceive people taking part in them.
She sat down in her bedroom to write to Wilfrid. There was no longer any reason for silence, for Stack would tell him she had called.
“South Square, Westminster.
“Ever since Saturday I’ve been tortured by the doubt whether to write, or wait for you to write to me. Darling, I never meant to interfere in any way. I had come down to see Mr. Muskham and tell him that it’s I only who was responsible for what he so absurdly called the limit. I never expected you to be there. I didn’t really much hope even to find him. Please let me see you.
She went out herself to post it. On the way back she came on Kit, with his governess, the dog, and the two youngest of her Aunt Alison’s children. They seemed entirely happy; she was ashamed not to seem so too, so they all went together to Kit’s schoolroom to have tea. Before it was over Michael came in. Dinny, who had seldom seen him with his little son, was fascinated by the easy excellence of their relationship. It was, perhaps, a little difficult to tell which was the elder, though a certain difference in size and the refusal of a second helping of strawberry jam seemed to favour Michael. That hour, in fact, brought her the nearest approach to happiness she had known since she left Wilfrid five days ago. After it was over she went with Michael to his study.
“Anything wrong, Dinny?”
Wilfrid’s best friend, and the easiest person in the world to confide in, and she did not know what to say! And then suddenly she began to talk, sitting in his armchair, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands, staring not at him, but at her future. And Michael sat on the window-sill, his face now rueful, now whimsical, making little soothing sounds. Nothing would matter, she said, neither public opinion, the Press, nor even her family, if only there were not in Wilfrid himself this deep bitter unease, this basic doubt of his own conduct, this permanent itch to prove to others, and, above all, to himself, that he was not ‘yellow.’ Now that she had given way, it poured out of her, all that bottled-up feeling that she was walking on a marsh, where at any moment she might sink in some deep, unlooked-for hole thinly covered by specious surface. She ceased and lay back in the chair exhausted.
“But, Dinny,” said Michael, gently, “isn’t he really fond of you?”
“I don’t know, Michael; I thought so — I don’t know. Why should he be? I’m an ordinary person, he’s not.”
“We all seem ordinary to ourselves. I don’t want to flatter you, but you seem to me less ordinary than Wilfrid.”
“Poets,” said Michael gloomily, “give a lot of trouble. What are we going to do about it?”
That evening after dinner he went forth, ostensibly to the House, in fact to Cork Street.
Wilfrid was not in, so he asked Stack’s permission to wait. Sitting on the divan in that unconventional, dimly-lighted room, he twitted himself for having come. To imply that he came from Dinny would be worse than useless. Besides, he hadn’t. No! He had come to discover, if he could, whether Wilfrid really was in love with her. If not, then — well, then the sooner she was out of her misery the better. It might half break her heart, but that was better than pursuing a substance which wasn’t there. He knew, or thought he knew, that Wilfrid was the last person to endure a one-sided relationship. The worst of all disasters for Dinny would be to join herself to him under a misconception of his feelings for her. On a little table close to the divan, with the whisky, were the night’s letters — only two, one of them, he could see, from Dinny herself. The door was opened slightly and a dog came in. After sniffing at Michael’s trousers, it lay down with its head on its paws and its eyes fixed on the door. He spoke to it, but it took no notice — the right sort of dog. ‘I’ll give him till eleven,’ thought Michael. And almost immediately Wilfrid came. He had a bruise on one cheek and some plaster on his chin. The dog fluttered round his legs.
“Well, old man,” said Michael, “that must have been a hearty scrap.”
“It was. Whisky?”
He watched Wilfrid take up the letters and turn his back to open them.
‘I ought to have known he’d do that,’ thought Michael; ‘there goes my chance! He’s bound to pretend to be in love with her!’
Before turning round again Wilfrid made himself a drink and finished it. Then, facing Michael, he said: “Well?”
Disconcerted by the abruptness of that word, and by the knowledge that he had come to pump his friend, Michael did not answer.
“What d’you want to know?”
Michael said abruptly: “Whether you’re in love with Dinny.”
Wilfrid laughed. “Really, Michael!”
“I know. But things can’t go on like this. Damn it! Wilfrid, you ought to think of her.”
“I do.” He said it with a face so withdrawn and unhappy that Michael thought: ‘He means that.’
“Then for God’s sake,” he said, “show it! Don’t let her eat her heart out like this!”
Wilfrid had turned to the window. Without looking round he said:
“You’ve never had occasion to try and prove yourself the opposite of yellow. Well, don’t! You won’t find the chance. It comes when you don’t want it, not when you do.”
“Naturally! But, my dear fellow, that’s not Dinny’s fault.”
Wilfrid wheeled round.
“Oh! damn you, Michael! Go away! No one can interfere in this. It’s much too intimate.”
Michael rose and clutched his hat. Wilfrid had said exactly what he himself had really been thinking ever since he came.
“You’re quite right,” he said humbly. “Good-night, old man! That’s a nice dog.”
“I’m sorry,” said Wilfrid; “you meant well, but you can’t help. No one can. Good-night!”
Michael got out, and all the way downstairs he looked for the tail between his legs.
When he reached home Dinny had gone up, but Fleur was waiting down for him. He had not meant to speak of his visit, but, after looking at him keenly, she said:
“You haven’t been to the House, Michael. You’ve been to see Wilfrid.”
“I could have told you that. If you come across a man and woman quarrelling in the street, what do you do?”
“Pass by on the other side, if you can get there in time.”
“They’re NOT quarrelling.”
“No, but they’ve got a special world no one else can enter.”
“That’s what Wilfrid said.”
Michael stared. Yes, of course. She had once had her special world, and not with — him!
“It was stupid of me. But I AM stupid.”
“No, not stupid; well-intentioned. Are you going up?”
As he went upstairs he had the peculiar feeling that it was she who wanted to go to bed with him rather than he with her. And yet, once in bed, that would all change, for of such was the nature of man!
Dinny, in her room above theirs, through her open window could hear the faint murmur of their voices, and, bowing her face on her hands, gave way to a feeling of despair. The stars in their courses fought against her! External opposition one could cut through or get round; but this deep spiritual unease in the loved one’s soul, that — ah! that — one could not reach; and the unreachable could not be pushed away, cut through, or circumvented. She looked up at the stars that fought against her. Did the ancients really believe that, or was it, with them, as with her, just a manner of speaking? Did those bright wheeling jewels on the indigo velvet of all space really concern themselves with little men, the lives and loves of human insects, who, born from an embrace, met and clung and died and became dust? Those candescent worlds, circled by little offsplit planets — were their names taken in vain, or were they really in their motions and their relative positions the writing on the wall for men to read?
No! That was only human self-importance! To his small wheel man bound the Universe. Swing low, sweet chariots! But they didn’t! Man swung with them — in space . . . .
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08