Compson Grice, who had no mean disposition and a certain liking for Michael, went out to lunch mindful of his promise. A believer in the power of meals to solve difficulties, he would normally have issued an invitation and obtained his information over the second or third glass of really old brandy. But he was afraid of Wilfrid. Discussing his simple sole meunière and half-bottle of Chablis, he decided on a letter. He wrote it in the Club’s little green-panelled writing-room, with a cup of coffee by his side and a cigar in his mouth.
“The Hotch Potch Club.
“DEAR DESERT —
“In view of the remarkable success of The Leopard and the probability of further large sales, I feel that I ought to know definitely what you would like me to do with the royalty cheques when they fall due. Perhaps you would be so good as to tell me whether you contemplate going back to the East, and if so when; and at the same time let me have an address to which I can remit with safety. Possibly you would prefer that I should simply pay your royalties into your bank, whatever that is, and take their receipt. Hitherto our financial transactions have been somewhat lean, but The Leopard will certainly have — indeed, is already having — an influence on the sales of your two previous books; and it will be advisable that you should keep me in touch with your whereabouts in future. Shall you be in Town much longer? I am always delighted to see you, if you care to look in.
“With hearty congratulations and best wishes,
“I am, sincerely yours,
This letter, in his elegant and upright hand, he addressed to Cork Street and sent at once by the club messenger. The remains of his recess he spent sounding in his rather whispering voice the praises of his French Canadian product, and then took a taxi back to Covent Garden. A clerk met him in the lobby.
“Mr. Desert is waiting up in your room, sir.”
“Good!” said Compson Grice, subduing a tremor and thinking: ‘Quick work!’
Wilfrid was standing at a window which commanded a slanting view of Covent Garden market; and Grice was shocked when he turned round — the face was so dark and wasted and had such a bitter look: the hand, too, had an unpleasant dry heat in the feel of it.
“So you got my letter?” he said.
“Thanks. Here’s the address of my bank. Better pay all cheques into it and take their receipt.”
“You don’t look too fearfully well. Are you off again?”
“Probably. Well, good-bye, Grice. Thanks for all you’ve done.”
Compson Grice said, with real feeling: “I’m terribly sorry it’s hit you so hard.”
Wilfrid shrugged and turned to the door.
When he was gone his publisher stood, twisting the bank’s address, in his hands. Suddenly he said our loud: “I don’t like his looks; I absolutely don’t!” And he went to the telephone . . .
Wilfrid walked north; he had another visit to pay. He reached the museum just as Adrian was having his cup of ‘Dover’ tea and bun.
“Good!” said Adrian, rising. “I’m glad to see you. There’s a spare cup. Do sit down.”
He had experienced the same shock as Grice at the look on Desert’s face and the feel of his hand.
Wilfrid took a sip of tea. “May I smoke?” He lighted a cigarette, and sat, hunched in his chair. Adrian waited for him to speak.
“Sorry to butt in on you like this,” said Wilfrid, at last, “but I’m going back into the blue. I wanted to know which would hurt Dinny least — just to clear out or to write.”
Adrian lived through a wretched and bleak minute.
“You mean that if you see her you can’t trust yourself.” Desert gave a shivering shrug.
“It’s not that exactly. It sounds brutal, but I’m so fed up that I don’t feel anything. If I saw her — I might wound her. She’s been an angel. I don’t suppose you can understand what’s happened in me. I can’t myself. I only know that I want to get away from everything and everybody.”
“I was told you’d been ill — you don’t think that accounts for your present feeling? For God’s sake don’t make a mistake in your feelings now!”
“I’m used to malaria. It’s not that. You’ll laugh, but I feel like bleeding to death inside. I want to get to where nothing and nobody remind me. And Dinny reminds me more than anyone.”
“I see,” said Adrian gravely. And he was silent, passing his hand over his bearded chin. Then he got up and began to walk about.
“Do you think it’s fair to Dinny or yourself not to try what seeing her might do?”
Wilfrid answered, almost with violence: “I tell you, I should hurt her.”
“You’ll hurt her any way; her eggs are all in one basket. And look here, Desert! You published that poem deliberately. I always understood you did so as a form of expiation, even though you had asked Dinny to marry you. I’m not such a fool as to want you to go on with Dinny if your feelings have really changed; but are you sure they have?”
“My feelings haven’t changed. I simply have none. Being a pariah dog has killed them.”
“Do you realise what you’re saying?”
“Perfectly! I knew I was a pariah from the moment I recanted, and that whether people knew it or not didn’t matter. All the same — it HAS mattered.”
“I see,” said Adrian again, and came to a standstill. “I suppose that’s natural.”
“Whether it is to others, I don’t know; it is to me. I am out of the herd, and I’ll stay there. I don’t complain. I side against myself.” He spoke with desperate energy.
Adrian said, very gently: “Then you just want to know how to hurt Dinny least? I can’t tell you: I wish I could. I gave you the wrong advice when you came before. Advice is no good, anyway. We have to wrestle things out for ourselves.”
Wilfrid stood up. “Ironical, isn’t it? I was driven to Dinny by my loneliness. I’m driven away from her by it. Well, goodbye, sir; I don’t suppose I shall ever see you again. And thanks for trying to help me.”
“I wish to God I could.”
Wilfrid smiled the sudden smile that gave him his charm.
“I’ll try what one more walk will do. I may see some writing on the wall. Anyway, you’ll know I didn’t want to hurt her more than I could help. Good-bye!”
Adrian’s tea was cold and his bun uneaten. He pushed them away. He felt as if he had failed Dinny, and yet for the life of him could not see what he could have done. That young man looked very queer! ‘Bleeding to death inside!’ Gruesome phrase! And true, judging by his face! Fibre sensitive as his, and a consuming pride! “Going back into the blue.” To roam about in the East — a sort of Wandering Jew; become one of those mysterious Englishmen found in out-of-the-way places, with no origins that they would speak of, and no future but their present. He filled a pipe and tried his best to feel that, after all, in the long run Dinny would be happier unmarried to him. And he did not succeed. There was only one flowering of real love in a woman’s life, and this was hers. He had no doubt on that point. She would make shift — oh! yes; but she would have missed ‘the singing and the gold.’ And, grabbing his battered hat, he went out. He strode along in the direction of Hyde Park; then, yielding to a whim, diverged towards Mount Street.
When Blore announced him his sister was putting the last red stitches in the tongue of one of the dogs in her French tapestry. She held it up.
“It ought to drip. He’s looking at that bunny. Would blue drips be right?”
“Grey, Em, on that background.”
Lady Mont considered her brother sitting in a small chair with his long legs hunched up.
“You look like a war correspondent — camp stools, and no time to shave. I do want Dinny to be married, Adrian. She’s twenty-six. All that about bein’ yellow. They could go to Corsica.”
Adrian smiled. Em was so right, and yet so wrong!
“Con was here today,” resumed his sister, “he’d been seein’ Michael. Nobody knows anythin’. And Dinny just goes walks with Kit and Dandy, Fleur says, and nurses Catherine, and sits readin’ books without turnin’ the page.”
Adrian debated whether to tell her of Desert’s visit to him.
“And Con says,” went on Lady Mont, “that he can’t make two ends meet this year — Clare’s weddin’ and the Budget, and Jean expectin’— he’ll have to cut down some trees, and sell the horses. We’re hard up, too. It’s lucky Fleur’s got so much. Money is such a bore. What do you think?”
Adrian gave a start.
“Well, no one expects a good thing nowadays, but one wants enough to live on.”
“It’s havin’ dependants. Boswell’s got a sister that can only walk with one leg; and Johnson’s wife’s got cancer — poor thing! And everybody’s got somebody or somethin’. Dinny says at Condaford her mother does everythin’ in the village. So how it’s to go on, I don’t know. Lawrence doesn’t save a penny.”
“We’re falling between two stools, Em; and one fine day we shall reach the floor with a bump.”
“I suppose we shall live in almshouses.” And Lady Mont lifted her work up to the light. “No, I shan’t make it drip. Or else go to Kenya; they say there’s somethin’ that pays there.”
“What I hate,” said Adrian with sudden energy, “is the thought of Mr. Tom Noddy or somebody buying Condaford and using it for week-end cocktail parties.”
“I should go and be a Banshee in the woods. There couldn’t be Condaford without Cherrells.”
“There dashed well could, Em. There’s a confounded process called evolution; and England is its home.”
Lady Mont sighed, and, getting up, swayed over to her parakeet.
“Polly! You and I will go and live in an almshouse.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08