If one thing is more certain than another — which is extremely doubtful — it is that nothing connected with a Public Department will run as a private individual expects.
A more experienced and less simply faithful sister than Dinny would have let sleeping dogs lie. But she had as yet no experience of the fact that the usual effect of letters to those in high places is the precise opposite of what was intended by the sender. Arousing his amour-propre, which in the case of public men should be avoided, it caused Lord Saxenden to look no further into the matter. Did that young woman suppose for a moment that he didn’t see how this American chap was feeding out of her hand? In accordance, indeed, with the irony latent in human affairs, Hallorsen’s withdrawal of the charge had promoted in the authorities a more suspicious and judgmatic attitude, and Hubert received, two days before his year of leave was up, an intimation to the effect that it was extended indefinitely and he was to go on half-pay, pending an enquiry into the matter raised in the House of Commons by Major Motley, M.P. A letter from that military civilian had appeared in reply to Hallorsen’s asking whether he was to assume that the shooting and flogging mentioned in his book had not really taken place, and if so, what explanation could this American gentleman afford of such an amazing discrepancy? This, in turn, had elicited from Hallorsen the answer that the facts were as stated in his book, but that his deductions from them had been erroneous, and that Captain Charwell had been perfectly justified in his actions.
On receiving intimation that his leave was extended, Hubert went up to the War office. He obtained no comfort, beyond the non-official saying of an acquaintance that the Bolivian Authorities were ‘butting in.’ This news created little less than consternation at Condaford. None of the four young people, indeed, for the Tasburghs were still there, and Clare away in Scotland, appreciated the report at its full value, for none of them had as yet much knowledge of the extent to which officialdom can go when it starts out to do its duty; but to the General it had so sinister a significance that he went up to stay at his Club.
After tea that day in the billiard room, Jean Tasburgh, chalking her cue, said quietly:
“What does that Bolivian news mean, Hubert?”
“It may mean anything. I shot a Bolivian, you know.”
“But he tried to kill you first.”
She leaned her cue against the table; her hands brown, slim, and strong, gripped the cushion; suddenly she went up to him and put her hand through his arm. “Kiss me,” she said; “I am going to belong to you.”
“No, Hubert; no chivalry and that sort of nonsense. You shan’t have all this beastliness alone. I’m going to share it. Kiss me.”
The kiss was given. It was long, and soothing to them both; but, when it was over, he said:
“Jean, it’s quite impossible, until things dry straight.”
“Of course they’ll dry straight, but I want to help dry them. Let’s be married quickly, Hubert. Father can spare me a hundred a year; what can you manage?”
“I’ve three hundred a year of my own, and half pay, which may be cut off.”
“That’s four hundred a year certain; people have married on lots less, and that’s only for the moment. Of course we can be married. Where?”
Hubert stood breathless.
“When the war was on,” said Jean, “people married at once; they didn’t wait because the man was going to be killed. Kiss me again.”
And Hubert stood more breathless than ever, with her arms round his neck. It was so that Dinny found them.
Without moving her arms, Jean said:
“We’re going to be married, Dinny. Where do you think best? A Registry Office? Banns take so much time.”
“I didn’t think you’d propose quite so soon, Jean.”
“I had to. Hubert is full of stuffy chivalry. Dad won’t like a Registry Office; why not a special licence?”
Hubert’s hands on her shoulders held her away from him.
“Be serious, Jean.”
“I am. With a special licence, nobody need know till it’s over. So nobody will mind.”
“Well,” said Dinny, quietly, “I believe you’re right. When a thing has to be, it had better be quickly. I daresay Uncle Hilary would tie you up.”
Hubert dropped his hands. “You’re both cracked.”
“Polite!” said Jean. “Men are absurd. They want a thing, and when it’s offered they carry on like old women. Who is Uncle Hilary?”
“Vicar of St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads; he has no sense of propriety to speak of.”
“Good! You go up tomorrow, Hubert, and get the licence. We’ll come after you. Where can we stay, Dinny?”
“Diana would have us, I think.”
“That settles it. We’ll have to go round by Lippinghall, for me to get some clothes, and see Dad. I can cut his hair while I’m talking to him; there won’t be any trouble. Alan can come too; we shall want a best man. Dinny, you talk to Hubert.” Left alone with her brother, Dinny said:
“She’s a wonderful girl, Hubert, and far from cracked, really. It’s breathless, but terribly good sense. She’s always been poor, so it won’t make any difference to her in that way.”
“It isn’t that. It’s the feeling of something hanging over me, that’ll hang over her too.”
“It’ll hang over her worse, if you don’t. I really should, dear boy. Father won’t mind. He likes her, and he’d rather you married a girl of breeding and spirit than any amount of money.”
“It doesn’t seem decent — a special licence,” muttered Hubert.
“It’s romantic, and people won’t have a chance to discuss whether you ought to or not; when it’s done they’ll accept it, as they always do.”
“What about Mother?”
“I’ll tell Mother, if you like. I’m sure she won’t really mind — you’re not being fashionable, marrying a chorus girl or anything of that sort. She admires Jean. So do Aunt Em and Uncle Lawrence.”
Hubert’s face cleared.
“I’ll do it. It’s too wonderful. After all, I’ve nothing to be ashamed of.”
He walked up to Dinny, kissed her almost violently, and hurried out. Dinny stayed in the billiard room practising the spot stroke. Behind her matter-of-fact attitude, she was extremely stirred. The embrace she had surprised had been so passionate; the girl was so strange a mixture of feeling and control, of lava and of steel, so masterful and yet so amusingly young. It might be a risk; but Hubert was already a different man because of it. All the same she was fully conscious of inconsistency; for to herself such a sensational departure would not be possible. The giving of her heart would be no rushing affair. As her old Scotch nurse used to say: “Miss Dinny aye knows on hoo many toes a pussy-cat goes.” She was not proud of that ‘sense of humour not devoid of wit which informed and somewhat sterilised all else.’ Indeed, she envied Jean her colourful decision, Alan his direct conviction, Hallorsen’s robust adventurousness. But she had her compensations, and, with a smile breaking her lips apart, went to find her mother.
Lady Cherrell was in her sanctum next to her bedroom, making muslin bags for the leaves of the scented verbena which grew against the house.
“Darling,” said Dinny, “prepare for slight concussion. You remember my saying I wished we could find the perfect girl for Hubert. Well, she’s found; Jean has just proposed to him.”
“They’re going to be married offhand by special licence.”
“Exactly, darling. So we go up tomorrow, and Jean and I stay with Diana till it’s over. Hubert will tell Father.”
“But, Dinny, really —!”
Dinny came through the barrage of muslin, knelt down and put her arm round her mother.
“I feel exactly like you,” she said, “only different, because after all I didn’t produce him; but, Mother darling, it is all right. Jean is a marvellous creature, and Hubert’s head over ears. It’s done him a lot of good already, and she’ll see to it that he goes ahead, you know.”
“But, Dinny — money?”
“They’re not expecting Dad to do anything. They’ll just be able to manage, and they needn’t have children, you know, till later.”
“I suppose not. It’s terribly sudden. Why a special licence?”
“Intuition,” and, with a squeeze of her mother’s slender body, she added: “Jean has them. Hubert’s position IS awkward, Mother.”
“Yes; I’m scared about it, and I know your father is, though he’s not said much.”
This was as far as either of them would go in disclosure of their uneasiness, and they went into committee on the question of a perch for the adventuring couple.
“But why shouldn’t they live here until things are settled?” said Lady Cherrell.
“They’ll find it more exciting if they have to do their own washing up. The great thing is to keep Hubert’s mind active just now.”
Lady Cherrell sighed. Correspondence, gardening, giving household orders, and sitting on village committees were certainly not exciting, and Condaford would be even less exciting if, like the young, one had none of these distractions.
“Things ARE quiet here,” she admitted.
“And thank God for it,” murmured Dinny; “but I feel Hubert wants the strenuous life just now, and he’ll get it with Jean in London. They might take a workman’s flat. It can’t be for long, you know. So, Mother dear, you’ll not seem to know anything about it this evening, and we shall all know you do. That’ll be so restful for everybody.” And, kissing the rueful smile on her mother’s face, she went away.
Next morning the conspirators were early afoot, Hubert looking, so Jean put it, as though he were ‘riding at a bullfinch’; Dinny resolutely whimsical. Alan had the handy air of a best man in embryo; Jean alone appeared unmoved. They set forth in the Tasburghs’ brown roadster, dropping Hubert at the station and proceeding towards Lippinghall. Jean drove. The other two sat behind.
“Dinny,” said young Tasburgh, “couldn’t WE have a special licence, too?”
“Reduction on taking a quantity. Behave yourself. You will go to sea and forget all about me in a month.”
“Do I look like that?”
Dinny regarded his brown face.
“Well, in spots.”
“Do be serious!”
“I can’t; I keep seeing Jean snipping a lock and saying: ‘Now Dad, bless me or I’ll tonsure you!’ and the Rector answering ‘I— er — nevah —!’ and Jean snipping another lock and saying: ‘That’s all right then, and I must have a hundred a year or off go your eyebrows!’”
“Jean’s a holy terror. Promise me anyway, Dinny, not to marry anyone else?”
“But suppose I met someone I liked terribly, would you wish to blight my young life?”
“Not so do they answer on the ‘screen.’”
“You’d make a saint swear.”
“But not a naval lieutenant. Which reminds me: Those texts at the head of the fourth column of the ‘Times.’ It struck me this morning what a splendid secret code could be made out of ‘The Song of Solomon,’ or that Psalm about the Leviathan. ‘My beloved is like a young roe’ might mean ‘Eight German battleships in Dover harbour. Come quickly.’ ‘And there is that Leviathan that takes his pastime therein’ could be ‘Tirpirz in command,’ and so on. No one could possibly decipher it unless they had a copy of the code.”
“I’m going to speed,” said Jean, looking back. The speedometer rose rapidly: Forty — forty-five — fifty — fifty-five —!
The sailor’s hand slipped under Dinny’s arm.
“This can’t last, the car will bust. But it’s a tempting bit of road.”
Dinny sat with a fixed smile; she hated being driven really fast, and, when Jean had dropped again to her normal thirty-five, said plaintively:
“Jean, I have a nineteenth century inside.”
At Folwell she leaned forward again: “I don’t want them to see me at Lippinghall. Please go straight to the Rectory and hide me somewhere while you deal with your parent.”
Refuged in the dining-room opposite the portrait of which Jean had spoken, Dinny studied it curiously. Underneath were the words: “1553, Catherine Tastburgh, née Fitzherbert, ætate 35; wife of Sir Walter Tastburgh.”
Above the ruff encircling the long neck, that time-yellowed face might truly have been Jean fifteen years hence, the same tapering from the broad cheek-bones to the chin, the same long dark-lashed luring eyes; even the hands, crossed on the stomacher, were the very spit of Jean’s. What had been the history of that strange prototype; did they know it, and would it be repeated by her descendant?
“Awfully like Jean, isn’t she?” said young Tasburgh: “She was a corker, from all accounts; they say she staged her own funeral, and got out of the country when Elizabeth set about the Catholics in the fifteen-sixties. D’you know what was the fate of anyone who celebrated Mass just then? Ripping up was a mere incident in it. The Christian religion! What oh! That lady had a hand in most pies, I fancy. I bet she speeded when she could.”
“Any news from the front?”
“Jean went into the study with an old ‘Times,’ a towel, and a pair of scissors. The rest is silence.”
“Isn’t there anywhere from which we can see them when they come out?”
“We could sit on the stairs. They wouldn’t notice us, there, unless they happen to go up.”
They went out and sat in a dark corner of the stairway, whence through the bannisters they could see the study door. With some of the thrill of childhood Dinny watched for it to open. Suddenly Jean came forth, with a sheet of newspaper folded as a receptacle in one hand, and in the other a pair of scissors. They heard her say:
“Remember, dear, you’re not to go out without a hat today.”
An inarticulate answer was shut off by the closing of the door. Dinny rose above the bannisters: “Well?”
“It’s all right. He’s a bit grumpy — doesn’t know who’ll cut his hair and that; thinks a special licence a waste of money; but he’s going to give me the hundred a year. I left him filling his pipe.” She stood still, looking into the sheet of newspaper. “There was an awful lot to come away. We’ll have lunch in a minute, Dinny, and then be off again.”
The Rector’s manner at lunch was still courtly, and Dinny observed him with admiring attention. Here was a widower well on in years, about to be deprived of his only daughter, who did everything about the house and parish, even to the cutting of his hair, yet he was apparently unmoved. Not a murmur escaped his lips. Was it breeding, benevolence, or unholy relief? She could not be sure; and her heart quailed a little. Hubert would soon be in his shoes. She stared at Jean. Little doubt but that she could stage her own funeral, if not other people’s; still, there would be nothing ungraceful or raucous about her dominations; no vulgar domesticity in the way she stirred her pies. If only she and Hubert had enough sense of humour!
After lunch the Rector took her apart.
“My deah Dinny — if I may call you that — how do you feel about it? And how does your Mothah feel?”
“We both feel it’s a little bit like ‘The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea!’”
“‘In a beautiful pea-green boat.’ Yes, indeed, but not ‘with plenty of money’ I feah. Still,” he added, dreamily, “Jean is a good girl; very — ah — capable. I am glad our families are to be — er — reunited. I shall miss her, but one must not be — ah — selfish.”
“‘What we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts,’” murmured Dinny.
The Rector’s blue eyes twinkled.
“Ah!” he said, “yes, indeed; the rough with the smooth. Jean refuses to let me give her away. Here is her birth certificate in case of — ah — questions. She is of age.”
He produced a long yellowed slip. “Deah me!” he added, sincerely: “Deah me!”
Dinny continued to feel doubtful whether she was sorry for him: and, directly after, they resumed their journey.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54