Preoccupied with this stupendous secret, Dinny’s first instinct was for solitude, but she was booked for dinner with the Adrian Cherrells. On her uncle’s marriage with Diana Ferse the house of painful memories in Oakley Street had been given up, and they were economically installed in one of those spacious Bloomsbury squares now successfully regaining the gentility lost in the eighteen-thirties and forties. The locality had been chosen for its proximity to Adrian’s ‘bones,’ for at his age he regarded as important every minute saved for the society of his wife. The robust virility which Dinny had predicted would accrue to her uncle from a year spent in the presence of Professor Hallorsen and New Mexico was represented by a somewhat deeper shade of brown in his creased cheeks, and a more frequent smile on his long face. It was a lasting pleasure to Dinny to think that she had given him the right advice, and that he had taken it. Diana, too, was fast regaining the sparkle which, before her marriage with poor Ferse, had made her a member of ‘Society.’ But the hopeless nature of Adrian’s occupation and the extra time he needed from her had precluded her from any return to that sacred ring. She inclined more and more, in fact, to be a wife and mother. And this seemed natural to one with Dinny’s partiality for her uncle. On her way there she debated whether or not to say what she had been doing. Having little liking for shifts and subterfuge, she decided to be frank. ‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘a maiden in love always likes to talk about the object of her affections.’ Again, if not to have a confidant became too wearing, Uncle Adrian was the obvious choice; partly because he knew at first hand something of the East, but chiefly because he was Uncle Adrian.
The first topics at dinner, however, were naturally Clare’s marriage and Hubert’s return. Dinny was somewhat exercised over her sister’s choice. Sir Gerald (Jerry) Corven was forty, active and middle-sized, with a daring face. She recognised that he had great charm, and her fear was, rather, that he had too much. He was high in the Colonial service, one of those men who — people instinctively said — would go far. She wondered also whether Clare was not too like him, daring and brilliant, a bit of a gambler, and, of course, seventeen years younger. Diana, who had known him well, said:
“The seventeen years’ difference is the best thing about it. Jerry wants steadying. If he can be a father to her as well, it may work. He’s had infinite experiences. I’m glad it’s Ceylon.”
“He won’t meet his past.”
“Has he an awful lot of past?”
“My dear, he’s very much in love at the moment; but with men like Jerry you never know; all that charm, and so much essential liking for thin ice.”
“Marriage doth make cowards of us all,” murmured Adrian.
“It won’t have that effect on Jerry Corven; he takes to risk as a goldfish takes to mosquito larvae. Is Clare very smitten, Dinny?”
“Yes, but Clare loves thin ice, too.”
“And yet,” said Adrian, “I shouldn’t call either of them really modern. They’ve both got brains and like using them.”
“That’s quite true, uncle. Clare gets all she can out of life, but she believes in life terribly. She might become another Hester Stanhope.”
“Good for you, Dinny! But to be that she’d have to get rid of Gerald Corven first. And if I read Clare, I think she might have scruples.”
Dinny regarded her uncle with wide eyes.
“Do you say that because you know Clare, or because you’re a Cherrell, Uncle?”
“I think because SHE’S a Cherrell, my dear.”
“Scruples,” murmured Dinny. “I don’t believe Aunt Em has them. Yet she’s as much of a Cherrell as any of us.”
“Em,” said Adrian, “reminds me of nothing so much as a find of bones that won’t join up. You can’t say of what she’s the skeleton. Scruples are emphatically co-ordinate.”
“No! Adrian,” murmured Diana, “not bones at dinner. When does Hubert arrive? I’m really anxious to see him and young Jean. After eighteen months of bliss in the Soudan which will be top dog?”
“Jean, surely,” said Adrian.
Dinny shook her head. “I don’t think so, Uncle.”
“That’s your sisterly pride.”
“No. Hubert’s got more continuity. Jean rushes at things and must handle them at once, but Hubert steers the course, I’m pretty sure. Uncle, where is a place called Darfur? And how do you spell it?”
“With an ‘r’ or without. It’s west of the Soudan; much of it is desert and pretty inaccessible, I believe. Why?”
“I was lunching today with Mr. Desert, Michael’s best man, you remember, and he mentioned it.”
“Has he been there?”
“I think he’s been everywhere in the Near East.”
“I know his brother,” said Diana, “Charles Desert, one of the most provocative of the younger politicians. He’ll almost certainly be Minister of Education in the next Tory Government. That’ll put the finishing touch to Lord Mullyon’s retirement. I’ve never met Wilfrid. Is he nice?”
“Well,” said Dinny, with what she believed to be detachment, “I only met him yesterday. He seems rather like a mince pie, you take a spoonful and hope. If you can eat the whole, you have a happy year.”
“I should like to meet the young man,” said Adrian. “He did good things in the war, and I know his verse.”
“Really, Uncle? I could arrange it; so far we are in daily communication.”
“Oh!” said Adrian, and looked at her. “I’d like to discuss the Hittite type with him. I suppose you know that what we are accustomed to regard as the most definitely Jewish characteristics are pure Hittite according to ancient Hittite drawings?”
“But weren’t they all the same stock, really?”
“By no means, Dinny. The Israelites were Arabs. What the Hittites were we have yet to discover. The modern Jew in this country and in Germany is probably more Hittite than Semite.”
“Do you know Mr. Jack Muskham, Uncle?”
“Only by repute. He’s a cousin of Lawrence’s and an authority on bloodstock. I believe he advocates a reintroduction of Arab blood into our race-horses. There’s something in it if you could get the very best strain. Has young Desert been to Nejd? You can still only get it there, I believe.”
“I don’t know. Where is Nejd?”
“Centre of Arabia. But Muskham will never get his idea adopted, there’s no tighter mind than the pukka racing man’s. He’s a pretty pure specimen himself, I believe, except for this bee in his bonnet.”
“Jack Muskham,” said Diana, “was once romantically in love with one of my sisters; it’s made him a misogynist.”
“H’m! That’s a bit cryptic!”
“He’s rather fine-looking, I think,” said Dinny.
“Wears clothes wonderfully and has a reputation for hating everything modern. I haven’t met him for years, but I used to know him rather well. Why, Dinny?”
“I just happened to see him the other day, and wondered.”
“Talking of Hittites,” said Diana, “I’ve often thought those very old Cornish families, like the Deserts, have a streak of Phoenician in them. Look at Lord Mullyon. There’s a queer type!”
“Fanciful, my love. You’d be more likely to find that streak in the simple folk. The Deserts must have married into non-Cornish stock for hundreds of years. The higher you go in the social scale, the less chance of preserving a primitive strain.”
“ARE they a very old family?” said Dinny.
“Hoary and pretty queer. But you know my views about old families, Dinny, so I won’t enlarge.”
Dinny nodded. She remembered very well that nerve-racked walk along Chelsea Embankment just after Ferse returned. And she looked affectionately into his face. It WAS nice to think that he had come into his own at last . . . .
When she got back to Mount Street that night her uncle and aunt had gone up, but the butler was seated in the hall. He rose as she entered.
“I didn’t know you had a key, Miss.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Blore, you were having such a nice snooze.”
“I was, Miss Dinny. After a certain age, as you’ll find out, one gets a liking for dropping off at improper moments. Now Sir Lawrence, he’s not a good sleeper, but, give you my word, if I go into his study almost any time when he’s at work, I’ll find him opening his eyes. And my Lady, she can do her eight hours, but I’ve known her to drop off when someone’s talking to her, especially the old Rector at Lippinghall, Mr. Tasburgh — a courtly old gentleman, but he has that effect. Even Mr. Michael — but then he’s in Parliament, and they get the ‘abit. Still, I do think, Miss, whether it was the war, or people not having any hope of anything, and running about so, that there’s a tendency, as the saying is, towards sleep. Well, it does you good. Give you my word, Miss; I was dead to the world before I had that forty winks, and now I could talk to you for hours.”
“That would be lovely, Blore. Only I find, so far, that I’m sleepiest at bedtime.”
“Wait till you’re married, Miss. Only I do hope you won’t be doing that yet awhile. I said to Mrs. Blore last night: ‘If Miss Dinny gets taken off, it’ll be the life and soul of the party gone!’ I’ve never seen much of Miss Clare, so that leaves me cold; but I heard my Lady yesterday telling you to go and find out for yourself how it was done, and, as I said to Mrs. Blore, ‘Miss Dinny’s like a daughter of the house, and’— well — you know my sentiments, Miss.”
“Dear Blore! I’m afraid I must go up now, I’ve had rather a tiring day.”
“Quite, Miss. Pleasant dreams!”
Pleasant dreams! Perhaps the dreams might be, but would reality? What uncharted country was she not entering with just a star to guide! And was it a fixed star, or some flaring comet? At least five men had wanted to marry her, all of whom she had felt she could sum up, so that a marriage would have been no great risk. And now she only wanted to marry one, but there he was, an absolutely uncertain quantity except that he could rouse in her a feeling she had never had before. Life was perverse. You dipped your finger in a lucky bag, and brought out — what? To-morrow she would walk with him. They would see trees and grass together; scenery and gardens, pictures, perhaps; the river, and fruit blossom. She would know at least how his spirit and her own agreed about many things she cared for. And yet, if she found they didn’t agree, would it make any difference to her feeling? It would not.
‘I understand now,’ she thought, ‘why we call lovers dotty. All I care about is that he should feel what I feel, and be dotty too. And of course he won’t — why should he?’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54