Condaford resented this business of love, and was, with a fine rain, as if sorrowing for the loss of its two daughters.
Dinny found her father and mother elaborately ‘making no bones’ over the loss of Clare, and only hoped they would continue the motion in her own case. Feeling, as she said, ‘very towny,’ she prepared for the ordeal of disclosure by waterproofing herself and going for a tramp. Hubert and Jean were expected in time for dinner, and she wished to kill all her birds with one stone. The rain on her face, the sappy fragrance, the call of the cuckoos, and that state of tree when each has leaves in different stage of opening, freshened her body but brought a little ache to her heart. Entering a covert, she walked along a ride. The trees were beech and ash, with here and there an English yew, the soil being chalky. A woodpecker’s constant tap was the only sound, for the rain was not yet heavy enough for leaf-dripping to have started. Since babyhood she had been abroad but three times — to Italy, to Paris, to the Pyrenees, and had always come home more in love with England and Condaford than ever. Henceforth her path would lie she knew not where; there would, no doubt, be sand, fig-trees, figures by wells, flat roofs, voices calling the Muezzin, eyes looking through veils. But surely Wilfrid would feel the charm of Condaford and not mind if they spent time there now and then. His father lived in a show place, half shut up and never shown, which gave everyone the blues. And that, apart from London and Eton, was all he seemed to know of England, for he had been four years away in the war and eight years away in the East.
‘For me to discover England to him,’ she thought; ‘for him to discover the East to me.’
A gale of last November had brought down some beech trees. Looking at their wide flat roots exposed, Dinny remembered Fleur saying that selling timber was the only way to meet death duties. But Dad was only sixty-two! Jean’s cheeks the night of their arrival, when Aunt Em quoted the ‘multiply exceedingly.’ A child coming! Surely a son. Jean was the sort to have sons. Another generation of Cherrells in direct line! If Wilfrid and she had a child! What then? One could not wander about with babes. A tremor of insecurity went through her. The future, how uncharted! A squirrel crossed close to her still figure and scampered up a trunk. Smiling, she watched it, lithe, red, bushy-tailed. Thank God, Wilfrid cared for animals! ‘When to God’s fondouk the donkeys are taken.’ Condaford, its bird life, woods and streams, mullions, magnolias, fantails, pastures green, surely he would like it! But her father and mother, Hubert and Jean; would he like them? Would they like him? They would not — too unshackled, too fitful, and too bitter; all that was best in him he hid away, as if ashamed of it; and his yearning for beauty they would not understand! And his change of religion, even though they would not know what he had told her, would seem to them strange and disconcerting!
Condaford Grange had neither butler nor electric light, and Dinny chose the moment when the maids had set decanters and dessert on the polished chestnut wood, lit by candles.
“Sorry to be personal,” she said, quite suddenly; “but I’m engaged.”
No one answered. Each of those four was accustomed to say and think — not always the same thing — that Dinny was the ideal person to marry, so none was happier for the thought that she was going to be married. Then Jean said:
“To whom, Dinny?”
“Wilfrid Desert, the second son of Lord Mullyon — he was Michael’s best man.”
“Oh! but —!”
Dinny was looking hard at the other three. Her father’s face was impassive, as was natural, for he did not know the young man from Adam; her mother’s gentle features wore a fluttered and enquiring look; Hubert’s an air as if he were biting back vexation.
Then Lady Cherrell said: “But, Dinny, when did you meet him?”
“Only ten days ago, but I’ve seen him every day since. I’m afraid it’s a first-sight case like yours, Hubert. We remembered each other from Michael’s wedding.”
Hubert looked at his plate. “You know he’s become a Moslem, or so they say in Khartoum.”
“What!” said the General.
“That’s the story, sir.”
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen him. He’s been a lot about in the East.”
On the point of saying: ‘One might just as well be Moslem as Christian, if one’s not a believer,’ Dinny stopped. It was scarcely a testimonial to character.
“I can’t understand a man changing his religion,” said the General bluntly.
“There doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm,” murmured Dinny.
“My dear, how can there be when we don’t know him?”
“No, of course, Mother. May I ask him down? He CAN support a wife; and Aunt Em says his brother has no issue.”
“Dinny!” said the General.
“I’m not serious, darling.”
“What is serious,” said Hubert, “is that he seems to be a sort of Bedouin — always wandering about.”
“Two can wander about, Hubert.”
“You’ve always said you hate to be away from Condaford.”
“I remember when you said you couldn’t see anything in marriage, Hubert. And I’m sure both you and Father said that at one time, Mother. Have any of you said it since?”
With that simple word Jean closed the scene.
But at bedtime in her mother’s room, Dinny said:
“May I ask Wilfrid down, then?”
“Of course, when you like. We shall be only too anxious to see him.”
“I know it’s a shock, Mother, coming so soon after Clare; still, you did expect me to go some time.”
Lady Cherrell sighed: “I suppose so.”
“I forgot to say that he’s a poet, a real one.”
“A poet?” repeated her mother, as if this had put the finishing touch to her disquiet.
“There are quite a lot in Westminster Abbey. But don’t worry, HE’LL never be there.”
“Difference in religion is serious, Dinny, especially when it comes to children.”
“Why, Mother? No child has any religion worth speaking of till it’s grown up, and then it can choose for itself. Besides, by the time my children, if I have any, are grown up, the question will be academic.”
“It’s nearly so even now, except in ultra-religious circles. Ordinary people’s religion becomes more and more just ethical.”
“I don’t know enough about it to say, and I don’t think you do.”
“Mother, dear, stroke my head.”
“Oh! Dinny, I do hope you’ve chosen wisely.”
“Darling, it chose me.”
That she perceived was not the way to reassure her mother, but as she did not know one, she took her good-night kiss and went away.
In her room she sat down and wrote:
“Condaford Grange: Friday.
“This is positively and absolutely my first love-letter, so you see I don’t know how to express myself. I think I will just say ‘I love you’ and leave it at that. I have spread the good tidings. They have, of course, left everyone guessing, and anxious to see you as soon as possible. When will you come? Once you are here the whole thing will seem to me less like a very real and very lovely dream. This is quite a simple place. Whether we should live in style if we could, I can’t say. But three maids, a groom-chauffeur, and two gardeners are all our staff. I believe you will like my mother, and I don’t believe you will get on very well with my father or brother, though I expect his wife Jean will tickle your poetic fancy, she’s such a vivid creature. Condaford itself I’m sure you’ll love. It has the real ‘old’ feeling. We can go riding; and I want to walk and talk with you and show you my pet nooks and corners. I hope the sun will shine, as you love it so much. For me almost any sort of day does down here; and absolutely any will do if I can be with you. The room you will have is away by itself and supernaturally quiet; you go up to it by five twisty steps, and it’s called the priest’s room, because Anthony Charwell, brother of the Gilbert who owned Condaford under Elizabeth, was walled up there and fed from a basket let down nightly to his window. He was a conspicuous Catholic priest, and Gilbert was a Protestant, but he put his brother first, as any decent body would. When he’d been there three months they took the wall down one night, and got him across country all the way south to the Beaulieu river and ‘aboard the lugger.’ The wall was put up again to save appearances and only done away with by my great-grandfather, who was the last of us to have any money to speak of. It seemed to prey on his nerves, so he got rid of it. They still speak of him in the village, probably because he drove four-inhand. There’s a bath-room at the bottom of the twisty steps. The window was enlarged, of course and the view’s jolly from it, especially now, at lilac and apple-blossom time. My own room, if it interests you to know, is somewhat cloistral and narrow, but it looks straight over the lawns to the hill-rise and the woods beyond. I’ve had it ever since I was seven, and I wouldn’t change for anything, until you’re making me
‘brooches and toys for my delight
Of birds’ song at morning and starshine at night.’
I almost think that little ‘Stevenson’ is my favourite poem; so you see, in spite of my homing tendency, I must have a streak of the wanderer in me. Dad, by the way, has a great feeling for Nature, likes beasts and birds and trees. I think most soldiers do — it’s rather odd. But, of course, their love is on the precise and knowledgeable rather than the aesthetic side. Any dreaminess they incline to look on as ‘a bit barmy.’ I have been wondering whether to put my copies of your poems under their noses. On the whole I don’t think; they might take you too seriously. There is always something about a person more ingratiating than his writings. I don’t expect to sleep much to-night, for this is the first day that I haven’t seen you since the world began. Goodnight, my dear, be blessed and take my kiss.
“P.S. — I have looked you out the photo where I approximate most to the angels, or rather where my nose turns up least — to send tomorrow. In the meantime here are two snaps. And when, sir, do I get some of you?
And that was the end of this to her far from perfect day.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50