Looking back on that second afternoon in Richmond Park, Dinny never knew whether she had betrayed herself before he said so abruptly:
“If you believe in it, Dinny, will you marry me?”
It had so taken her breath away that she sat growing paler and paler, then colour came to her face with a rush.
“I’m wondering why you ask me. You know nothing of me.”
“You’re like the East. One loves it at first sight, or not at all, and one never knows it any better.”
Dinny shook her head: “Oh! I am not mysterious.”
“I should never get to the end of you; no more than of one of those figures over the staircase in the Louvre. Please answer me, Dinny.”
She put her hand in his, nodded, and said: “That must be a record.”
At once his lips were on hers, and when they left her lips she fainted.
This was without exception the most singular action of her life so far, and, coming to almost at once, she said so.
“It’s the sweetest thing you could have done.”
If she had thought his face strange before, what was it now? The lips, generally contemptuous, were parted and quivering, the eyes, fixed on her, glowed; he put up his hand and thrust back his hair, so that she noticed for the first time a scar at the top of his forehead. Sun, moon, stars, and all the works of God stood still while they were looking each into the other’s face.
At last she said:
“The whole thing is most irregular. There’s been no courtship; not even a seduction.”
He laughed and put his arm around her. Dinny whispered:
“‘Thus the two young people sat wrapped in their beatitude.’ My poor mother!”
“Is she a nice woman?”
“A darling. Luckily she’s fond of father.”
“What is your father like?”
“The nicest General I know.”
“Mine is a hermit. You won’t have to realise him. My brother is an ass. My mother ran away when I was three, and I have no sisters. It’s going to be hard for you, with a nomadic, unsatisfactory brute like me.”
“‘Where thou goest, I go.’ We seem to be visible to that old gentleman over there. He’ll write to the papers about the awful sights to be seen in Richmond Park.”
“I don’t. There’s only one first hour. And I was beginning to think I should never have it.”
“Never been in love?”
She shook her head.
“How wonderful! When shall it be, Dinny?”
“Don’t you think our families ought first to know?”
“I suppose so. They won’t want you to marry me.”
“Certainly you are my social superior, young sir.”
“One can’t be superior to a family that goes back to the twelfth century. We only go back to the fourteenth. A wanderer and a writer of bitter verse. They’ll know I shall want to cart you off to the East. Besides, I only have fifteen hundred a year, and practically no expectations.”
“Fifteen hundred a year! Father may be able to spare me two — he’s doing it for Clare.”
“Well, thank God there’ll be no obstacle from your fortune.”
Dinny turned to him, and there was a touching confidence in her eyes.
“Wilfrid, I heard something about your having turned Moslem. That wouldn’t matter to me.”
“It would matter to them.”
His face had become drawn and dark. She clasped his hand tight in both of hers.
“Was that poem ‘The Leopard’ about yourself?”
He tried to draw his hand away.
“Yes. Out in Darfur. Fanatical Arabs. I recanted to save my skin. Now you can chuck me.” Exerting all her strength, Dinny pulled his hand to her heart.
“What you did or didn’t do is nothing. You are YOU!” To her dismay and yet relief, he fell on his knees and buried his face in her lap.
“Darling!” she said. Protective tenderness almost annulled the wilder, sweeter feeling in her.
“Does anyone know of that but me?”
“It’s known in the bazaars that I’ve turned Moslem, but it’s supposed of my free will.”
“I know there are things you would die for, Wilfrid, and that’s enough. Kiss me!”
The afternoon drew on while they sat there. The shadows of the oak trees splayed up to their log; the crisp edge of the sunlight receded over the young fern: some deer passed, moving slowly towards water. The sky, of a clear bright blue, with white promising clouds, began to have the evening look; a sappy scent of fern fronds and horse chestnut bloom crept in slow whiffs; and dew began to fall. The sane and heavy air, the grass so green, the blue distance, the branching, ungraceful solidity of the oak trees, made a trysting hour as English as lovers ever loved in.
“I shall break into cockney if we sit here much longer,” said Dinny, at last; “besides, dear heart, ‘fast falls the dewy eve.’” . . .
Late that evening in the drawing-room at Mount Street her aunt said suddenly:
“Lawrence, look at Dinny! Dinny, you’re in love.”
“You take me flat aback, Aunt Em. I am.”
“Who is it?”
“I used to tell Michael that young man would get into trouble. Does he love you too?”
“He is good enough to say so.”
“Oh! dear. I WILL have some lemonade. Which of you proposed?”
“As a fact, he did.”
“His brother has no issue, they say.”
“For heaven’s sake, Aunt Em!”
“Why not? Kiss me!”
But Dinny was regarding her uncle across her aunt’s shoulder.
He had said nothing.
Later, he stopped her as she was following out.
“Are your eyes open, Dinny?”
“Yes, this is the ninth day.”
“I won’t come the heavy uncle; but you know the drawbacks?”
“His religion; Fleur; the East? What else?”
Sir Lawrence shrugged his thin shoulders.
“That business with Fleur sticks in my gizzard, as old Forsyte would have said. One who could do that to the man he has led to the altar can’t have much sense of loyalty.”
Colour rose in her cheeks.
“Don’t be angry, my dear, we’re all too fond of you.”
“He’s been quite frank about everything, Uncle.”
Sir Lawrence sighed.
“Then there’s no more to be said, I suppose. But I beg you to look forward before it’s irrevocable. There’s a species of china which it’s almost impossible to mend. And I think you’re made of it.”
Dinny smiled and went up to her room, and instantly she began to look back.
The difficulty of imagining the physical intoxication of love was gone. To open one’s soul to another seemed no longer impossible. Love stories she had read, love affairs she had watched, all seemed savourless compared with her own. And she had only known him nine days, except for that glimpse ten years ago! Had she had what was called a complex all this time? Or was love always sudden like this? A wild flower seeding on a wild wind?
Long she sat half dressed, her hands clasped between her knees, her head drooping, steeped in the narcotic of remembrance, and with a strange feeling that all the lovers in the world were sitting within her on that bed bought at Pullbred’s in the Tottenham Court Road.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50