When Dinny saw Hallorsen’s eyes fixed, over her head, on the sleeping peer, she swallowed a gasp. What was he imagining of her, stealing thus at midnight away from a man of title in a little private room? His eyes, now looking into hers, were extremely grave. And, terrified lest he should say: “Pardon me!” and rouse the sleeper, she clutched the diary, put her finger to her lips, murmured: “Don’t wake the baby!” and glided down the passage.
In her room she laughed her fill, then sat up and reviewed her sensations. Given the reputation of the titled in democratic countries, Hallorsen probably thought the worst. But she did him some rather remarkable justice. Whatever he thought of her would not go beyond him. Whatever he was — he was a BIG dog. She could imagine him at breakfast tomorrow, saying gravely: “Miss Cherrell, I am delighted to see you looking so well.” And, saddened by her conduct of Hubert’s affairs, she got into bed. She slept badly, awoke tired and pale, and had her breakfast upstairs.
During country house parties one day is very like another. The men put on the same kind of variegated tie and the same plus fours, eat the same breakfast, tap the same barometer, smoke the same pipes and kill the same birds. The dogs wag the same tails, lurk in the same unexpected spots, utter the same agonised yelps, and chase the same pigeons on the same lawns. The ladies have the same breakfast in bed or not, put the same salts in the same bath, straggle in the same garden, say of the same friends with the same spice of animosity, “I’m frightfully fond of them, of course”; pore over the same rock borders with the same passion for portulaca; play the same croquet or tennis with the same squeaks; write the same letters to contradict the same rumours, or match the same antiques; differ with the same agreement, and agree with the same difference. The servants have the same way of not being visible, except at the same stated moments. And the house has the same smell of pot-pourri, flowers, tobacco, books, and sofa cushions.
Dinny wrote a letter to her brother in which she said nothing of Hallorsen, Saxenden, or the Tasburghs, but discoursed in lively fashion of Aunt Em, Boswell and Johnson, Uncle Adrian, Lady Henrietta, and asked him to come over for her in the car. In the afternoon the Tasburghs came in for tennis, and not until the shooting was over did she see either Lord Saxenden or the American. But he who had been ‘Snubby Bantham’ gave her so long and so peculiar a stare from the corner where he was having tea, that she knew he had not forgiven her. Careful not to notice, she was at heart dismayed. So far she seemed to have done Hubert nothing but harm. ‘I’ll let Jean loose on him,’ she thought, and went out to find ‘the leopardess.’ On her way she came on Hallorsen, and hastily deciding to regain her ground with him, said:
“If you had come up a little earlier last night, Professor Hallorsen, you could have heard me read some of my brother’s diary to Lord Saxenden. It might have done you more good than it did him.”
Hallorsen’s face cleared.
“Why,” he said, “I’ve been wondering what soporific you had administered to that poor lord.”
“I was preparing him for your book. You ARE giving him a copy?”
“I judge not, Miss Cherrell; I am not that interested in his health. He may lie awake for me. I have very little use for any man that could listen to you and go to sleep on it. What does he do in life, this lord?”
“What does he do? Well, he is what I think you call a Big Noise. I don’t quite know where he makes it, but my father says he is a man who counts. I hope you have been wiping his eye again today, Professor, because the more you wipe his eye the better chance my brother has of recovering the position he lost by going on your expedition.”
“Is that so? Do personal feelings decide these things over here?”
“Don’t they over there?”
“Why — yes! But I thought the old countries had too much tradition for that.”
“Oh! we wouldn’t ADMIT the influence of personal feelings, of course.”
“Isn’t that just wonderful? All the world is kin. You would enjoy America, Miss Cherrell; I would like the chance to show it you some day.”
He had spoken as if America were an antique that he had in his trunk; and she did not quite know how to take a remark which might have no significance or an absurdly great one. Then by his face she saw that he meant it to have the absurdly great one; and, revealing her teeth, answered:
“Thank you, but you are still my enemy.”
Hallorsen put out his hand, but she had drawn back.
“Miss Cherrell, I am going to do all I can to remove the unpleasant impression you have of me. I am your very humble servant, and I hope some day to have a chance to be something else to you.”
He looked terribly tall, handsome, and healthy, and she resented it.
“Let us not take anything too seriously, Professor; it leads to trouble. Forgive me now, I have to find Miss Tasburgh.”
With that she skimmed away. Ridiculous! Touching! Flattering! Odious! It was all crazy! Whatever one did would be all criss-crossed and tangled, to trust to luck was best, after all!
Jean Tasburgh, who had just finished a single with Cicely Muskham, was removing a fillet from her hair.
“Come along to tea,” said Dinny; “Lord Saxenden is pining for you.”
At the door of the room where tea was being served, however, she herself was detached by Sir Lawrence, who, saying he had seen nothing of her yet, invited her to his study to look at his miniatures.
“My record of national characteristics, Dinny; all women, you see: French, German, Italian, Dutch, American, Spanish, Russian; and I should immensely like one of you, Dinny. Would you sit to a young man?”
“Because,” said Sir Lawrence, scrutinising her through his monocle, “you contain the answer to the riddle of the English lady, and I collect the essential difference between national cultures.”
“That sounds terribly exciting.”
“Look at this one. Here’s French culture in excelsis; quick intelligence, wit, industry, decision, intellectual but not emotional aestheticism, no humour, conventional sentiment but no other, a having tendency — mark the eye; a sense of form, no originality, very clear but limited mental vision — nothing dreamy about her; quick but controlled blood. All of a piece, with very distinct edges. Now here’s an American of rare type, tip-top cultured variety. Notice chiefly a look as if she had an invisible bit in her mouth and knew it; in her eyes is a battery she’ll make use of but only with propriety. She’ll be very well preserved to the end of her days. Good taste, a lot of knowledge, not much learning. See this German! Emotionally more uncontrolled, and less sense of form than either of those others, but has a conscience, is a hard worker, great sense of duty, not much taste, some rather unhandy humour. If she doesn’t take care she’ll get fat. Plenty, of sentiment, plenty of good sound sense too. More capacious in every way. She isn’t perhaps a very good specimen. I can’t get one. Here’s my prize Italian. She’s interesting. Beautifully varnished, with something feral, or let’s say — natural, behind. Has a mask on, prettily shaped, prettily worn, liable to fall off. Knows her own mind, perhaps too well, gets her own way if she can, and if she can’t, gets somebody else’s. Poetic only in connection with her senses. Strong feelings, domestic and otherwise. Clear-eyed towards danger, plenty of courage but easily unnerved. Fine taste, subject to bad lapses. No liking for Nature, here. Intellectually decisive, but not industrious or enquiring. And here,” said Sir Lawrence, suddenly confronting Dinny, “I shall have my prize English specimen. Do you want to hear about her?”
“Oh! I’ll be quite impersonal. Here we have a self-consciousness, developed and controlled to the point when it becomes unselfconsciousness. To this lady Self is the unforgivable intruder. We observe a sense of humour, not devoid of wit, which informs and somewhat sterilises all else. We are impressed by what I may call a look not so much of domestic as of public or social service, not to be found in our other types. We discover a sort of transparency, as if air and dew had got into the system. We decide that PREcision is lacking, precision of learning, action, thought, judgment, but that DEcision is very present. The senses are not highly developed; the aesthetic emotions are excited more readily by natural than by artificial objects. There is not the capacity of the German; the clarity of the French woman; the duality or colour of the Italian; the disciplined neatness of the American; but there is a peculiar something — for which, my dear, I will leave you to discover the word — that makes me very anxious to have you in my collection of cultures.”
“But I am not in the least cultured, Uncle Lawrence.”
“I use the infernal word for want of a better, and by it I don’t mean learning. I mean the stamp left by blood plus bringing-up, the two taken strictly together. If that French woman had had your bringing-up, she yet wouldn’t have had your stamp, Dinny; nor would you with her bringing-up have had her stamp. Now look at this pre-war Russian; more fluid and more fluent than any of the others. I found her in the Caledonian Market. That woman must have wanted to go deep into everything, and never wanted to stay there long. I’ll wager she ran through life at a great pace, and, if alive, is still running; and it’s taking much less out of her than it would take out of you. The face gives you the feeling that she’s experienced more emotions, and been less exhausted by them than any of the others. Here’s my Spaniard; perhaps the most interesting of the lot. That’s woman brought up apart from man; I suspect she’s getting rare. There’s a sweetness here, a touch of the convent; not much curiosity, not much energy, a lot of pride, very little conceit; might be devastating in her affections, don’t you think, and rather difficult to talk to? Well, Dinny, will you sit to my young man?”
“If you really want me to, of course.”
“I do. This is my hobby. I’ll arrange it. He can come down to you at Condaford. I must get back now and see ‘Snubby’ off. Have you proposed to him yet?”
“I read him to sleep last night with Hubert’s diary. He dislikes me intensely. I daren’t ask him anything. Is he really ‘a big noise,’ Uncle Lawrence?”
Sir Lawrence nodded mysteriously. “Snubby,” he said, “is the ideal public man. He has practically no feelers, and his feelings are always connected with Snubby. You can’t keep a man like him down; he will always be there or thereabouts. India-rubber. Well, well, the State needs him. If we were all thin-skinned, who would sit in the seats of the mighty? They are hard, Dinny, and full of brass tacks. So you’ve wasted your time?”
“I think I’ve tied a second string to my bow.”
“Excellent. Hallorsen’s off too. I like that chap. Very American, but sound wood.”
He left her, and, unwilling to encounter again either the india-rubber or the sound wood, Dinny went up to her room.
Next morning by ten o’clock, with the rapidity peculiar to the break-up of house-parties, Fleur and Michael were bearing Adrian and Diana off to Town in their car; the Muskhams had departed by train, and the Squire and Lady Henrietta were motoring across country to their Northamptonshire abode; Aunt Wilmet and Dinny alone were left, but the Tasburghs were coming to lunch and bringing their father.
“He’s amiable, Dinny,” said Lady Mont: “Old School, very courtly, says ‘Nevah,’ ‘Evah,’ like that. It’s a pity they’ve no money. Jean is strikin’, don’t you think?”
“She scares me a little, Aunt Em; knows her own mind so completely.”
“Match-makin’,” replied her aunt, “is rather amusin’. I haven’t done any for a long time. I wonder what Con and your mother will say to me. I shall wake up o’ nights.”
“First catch your Hubert, Auntie.”
“I was always fond of Hubert; he has the family face — you haven’t, Dinny, I don’t know where you get your colourin’— and he looks so well on a horse. Where does he get his breeches?”
“I don’t believe he’s had a new pair since the war, Auntie.”
“And he wears nice long waistcoats. Those short waistcoats straight across are so abbreviatin’. I shall send him out with Jean to see the rock borders. There’s nothin’ like portulaca for bringin’ people together. Ah! There’s Boswell-and-Johnson — I must catch him.”
Hubert arrived soon after noon, and almost the first thing he said was:
“I’ve changed my mind about having my diary published, Dinny. Exhibiting one’s sore finger is too revolting.”
Thankful that as yet she had taken no steps, she answered meekly:
“Very well, dear.”
“I’ve been thinking: If they’re not going to employ me here, I might get attached to a Soudan regiment; or I believe they’re short of men for the Indian Police. I shall be jolly glad to get out of the country again. Who’s here?”
“Only Uncle Lawrence, Aunt Em, and Aunt Wilmet. The Rector and his family are coming to lunch — the Tasburghs, they’re distant cousins.”
“Oh!” said Hubert, glumly.
She watched the advent of the Tasburghs almost maliciously. Hubert and young Tasburgh at once discovered mutual service in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. They were talking about it when Hubert became conscious of Jean. Dinny saw him give her a long look, enquiring and detached, as of a man watching a new kind of bird; saw him avert his eyes, speak and laugh, then gaze back at her.
Her aunt’s voice said: “Hubert looks thin.”
The Rector spread his hands, as if to draw attention to his present courtly bulk. “Dear Lady, at his age I was thinnah.”
“So was I,” said Lady Mont; “thin as you, Dinny.”
“We gathah unearned increment, ah-ha! Look at Jean — lithe is the word; in forty years — but perhaps the young of today will nevah grow fat. They do slimming — ah-ha!”
At lunch the Rector faced Sir Lawrence across the shortened table, and the two elder ladies sat one on each side of him. Alan faced Hubert and Dinny faced Jean.
“For what we are about to receive the Lord make us truly thankful.”
“Rum thing — grace!” said young Tasburgh in Dinny’s ear. “Benediction on murder, um?”
“There’ll be hare,” said Dinny, “and I saw it killed. It cried.”
“I’d as soon eat dog as hare.”
Dinny gave him a grateful look.
“Will you and your sister come and see us at Condaford?”
“Give me a chance!”
“When do you go back to your ship?”
“I’ve got a month.”
“I suppose you are devoted to your profession?”
“Yes,” he said, simply. “It’s bred in the bone, we’ve always had a sailor in the family.”
“And we’ve always had a soldier.”
“Your brother’s deathly keen. I’m awfully glad to have met him.”
“No, Blore,” said Dinny to the butler, “cold partridge, please. Mr. Tasburgh too will eat something cold.”
“Beef, Sir; lamb, partridge.”
“Partridge, thank you.”
“I’ve seen a hare wash its ears,” added Dinny.
“When you look like that,” said young Tasburgh, “I simply —”
“As if you weren’t there, you know.”
“Dinny,” said Sir Lawrence, “who was it said the world was an oyster? I say it’s a clam. What’s your view?”
“I don’t know the clam, Uncle Lawrence.”
“You’re fortunate. That travesty of the self-respecting bivalve is the only tangible proof of American idealism. They’ve put it on a pedestal, and go so far as to eat it. When the Americans renounce the clam, they will have become realists and joined the League of Nations. We shall be dead.”
But Dinny was watching Hubert’s face. The brooding look was gone: his eyes seemed glued to Jean’s deep luring eyes. She uttered a sigh.
“Quite right,” said Sir Lawrence, “it will be a pity not to live to see the Americans abandon the clam, and embrace the League of Nations. For, after all,” he continued, pursing up his left eye, “it WAS founded by an American and is about the only sensible product of our time. It remains, however, the pet aversion of another American called Monroe who died in 1831, and is never alluded to without a scoff by people like ‘Snubby.’
“‘A scoff, a sneer, a kick or two,
With few, but with how splendid jeers’—
D’you know that thing by Elroy Flecker?”
“Yes,” said Dinny, startled, “it’s in Hubert’s diary; I read it out to Lord Saxenden. It was just then he went to sleep.”
“He would. But don’t forget, Dinny, that Snubby’s a deuced clever fellow, and knows his world to a T. It may be a world you wouldn’t be seen dead in, but it’s the world where ten million more-or-less-young men were recently seen dead. I wonder,” concluded Sir Lawrence, more thoughtfully, “when I have been so well fed at my own table as these last days; something has come over your aunt.”
Organising after lunch a game of croquet between herself and Alan Tasburgh against his father and Aunt Wilmet, Dinny watched the departure of Jean and her brother towards the rock borders. They stretched from the sunken garden down to an old orchard, beyond which rose a swell of meadow-land.
‘THEY won’t stop at the portulaca,’ she thought.
Two games, indeed, were over before she saw them again coming from a different direction, deep in talk. ‘This,’ she thought, hitting the Rector’s ball with all her force, is about the quickest thing ever known.’
“God bless me!” murmured the smitten clergyman, and Aunt Wilmet, straight as a grenadier, uttered a loud: “Damn it, Dinny, you’re impossible! . . .”
Later, beside her brother in the open car, she was silent, making up her mind, as it were, to second place. Though what she had hoped for had come to pass, she was depressed. She had been first with Hubert until now. She needed all her philosophy watching the smile coming and going on his lips.
“Well, what do you think of our cousins?”
“He’s a good chap. I thought he seemed rather gone on you.’”
“Did you now? When would you like them to come over?”
Seeing that he did not mean to be drawn, she lapsed into savouring the day’s slowly sinking light and beauty. The high land, Wantage, and Faringdon way, was glamoured by level sunlight; and Wittenham Clumps bastioned-up the rise ahead. Rounding to the right, they came on the bridge. In the middle of it she touched his arm:
“That stretch up there is where we saw the kingfishers, Hubert; d’you remember?”
Halted, they gazed up the quiet river, deserted and fit for the bright birds. Falling light sprinkled it through willows on the southern bank. The quietest river, it seemed, in the world, most subdued to the moods of men, flowing with an even clear stream among bright fields and those drooping shapely trees; having, as it were, a bland intensity of being, a presence of its own, gracious and apart.
“Three thousand years ago,” said Hubert suddenly, “this old river used to be like those I’ve seen in the wilds, an unshaped flow of water in matted jungle.”
He drove on. They had their backs to the sunlight now, and it was like driving into what had been painted for them.
And so they sped on, while into the sky crept the sunset glow, and the cleaned-up fields darkened a little, and gathered loneliness under the evening flight of birds.
At the door of Condaford Grange Dinny got out, humming: “‘She was a shepherdess oh! so fair’,” and looking into her brother’s face. He was, however, busy with the car and did not appear to see the connection.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08