The sight of Jean at the window stayed Dinny and her uncle on the doorstep.
“I’m locked in the drawing-room,” said Jean, quietly; “you might let me out.”
Adrian took his niece to the car.
“Stay here, Dinny. I’ll send her out to you. We mustn’t make a show of this.”
“Take care, Uncle! I feel as if you were Daniel going into —”
With a wan smile Adrian rang the bell. Ferse himself opened the door.
“Ah! Cherrell? Come in.”
Adrian held out his hand; but it was not taken.
“I can hardly expect a welcome,” said Ferse.
“My dear fellow!”
“No, I can hardly expect a welcome, but I’m going to see Diana. Don’t try and prevent me, Cherrell — you or anyone.”
“Of course not! Do you mind if I fetch young Jean Tasburgh? Dinny is waiting for her in the car.”
“I locked her in,” said Ferse, sombrely. “Here’s the key. Send her away.”
He went into the dining-room.
Jean was standing just inside the door.
“Go out to Dinny,” said Adrian, “and take her away. I’ll manage. No trouble, I hope?”
“Only being locked in.”
“Tell Dinny,” said Adrian, “that Hilary is almost sure to be able to put you both up; if you go on there now I shall know where you are if I want you. You have pluck, young lady.”
“Oh, not specially!” said Jean: “Good-bye!” and ran downstairs. Adrian heard the front door close and went slowly down to the dining-room. Ferse was at the window watching the girls start the car. He turned round sharply. The movement was that of a man used to being spied on. There was little change in him, less thin, less haggard, and his hair greyer — that was all. His dress as neat as ever, his manner composed; his eyes — but then — his eyes!
“Yes,” said Ferse, uncannily, “you can’t help pitying me, but you’d like to see me dead. Who wouldn’t? A fellow has no business to go off his chump. But I’m sane enough now, Cherrell, don’t make any mistake.”
Sane? Yes, he seemed sane. But what strain could he stand?
Ferse spoke again: “You all thought I was gone for good. About three months ago I began to mend. As soon as I realised that — I kept dark. Those who look after us”— he spoke with concentrated bitterness —“must be so certain of our sanity that if it were left to them we should never be sane again. It’s to their interest, you see.” And his eyes, burning into Adrian’s seemed to add: ‘And to yours, and to hers?’ “So I kept dark. I had the will-power to keep dark in that place for three months, in my right mind. It’s only this last week or so that I’ve shown them I’m responsible. They want much more than a week before they’ll write home about it. I didn’t want them writing home. I wanted to come straight here and show myself as I am. I didn’t want Diana or anybody warned. And I wanted to make sure of myself, and I have.”
“Terrible!” said Adrian below his breath.
Ferse’s eyes seemed to burn into him again.
“You used to be in love with my wife, Cherrell; you still are. Well?”
“We are just as we were,” said Adrian, “friends.”
“You’d say that anyway.”
“Perhaps. But there is no more to say, except that I’m bound to think of her first, as I always have.”
“That’s why you’re here, then?”
“Gracious, man! Haven’t you realised the shock it will be to her? Perhaps you can’t remember the life you led her before you went in there? But do you think she’s forgotten? Wouldn’t it be fairer to her and to yourself if you came to my room, say, at the Museum, and saw her there for the first time?”
“No; I’ll see her here in my own house.”
“This is where she went through hell, Ferse. You may have been right to keep dark, as you call it, so far as the doctors are concerned, but you’re certainly not right to spring your recovery on her like this.”
Ferse made a violent gesture.
“You want her kept from me.”
Adrian bowed his head.
“That may be,” he said, gently. “But look here, Ferse, you’re just as well able to gauge this situation as myself. Put yourself in her place. Imagine her coming in, as she may at any minute, seeing you without warning, knowing nothing of your recovery, needing time to believe in it — with all her memories of you as you were. What chance are you giving yourself?”
Ferse groaned. “What chance shall I be given, if I don’t take any chance I can? Do you think I trust anyone now? Try it — try four years of it, and see!” and his eyes went swiftly round: “Try being watched, try being treated like a dangerous child. I’ve looked on at my own treatment, as a perfectly sane man, for the last three months. If my own wife can’t take me for what I am — clothed and in my right mind, who will or can?”
Adrian went up to him.
“Gently!” he said: “That’s where you’re wrong. Only SHE knew you at the worst. It should be more difficult for her than for anyone.”
Ferse covered his face.
Adrian waited, grey with anxiety; but when Ferse uncovered his face again he could not bear the look on it, and turned his eyes away.
“Talk of loneliness!” said Ferse. “Go off your chump, Cherrell, then you’ll know what it means to be lonely for the rest of your days.”
Adrian put a hand on his shoulder.
“Look here, my dear fellow, I’ve got a spare room at my digs, come and put up with me till we get things straightened out.” Sudden suspicion grinned from Ferse’s face, an intense searching look came into his eyes; it softened as if with gratitude, grew bitter, softened again.
“You were always a white man, Cherrell; but no, thanks — I couldn’t. I must be here. Foxes have holes, and I’ve still got this.”
“Very well; then we must wait for her. Have you seen the children?”
“No. Do they remember me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do they know I’m alive?”
“Yes. They know that you’re away, ill.”
“Not —?” Ferse touched his forehead.
“No. Shall we go up to them?”
Ferse shook his head, and at that moment through the window Adrian saw Diana coming. He moved quietly towards the door. What was he to do or say? His hand was on the knob when Ferse pushed by him into the hall. Diana had come in with her latchkey. Adrian could see her face grow deadly pale below the casque of her close hat. She recoiled against the wall.
“It’s all right, Diana,” he said quickly, and held open the dining-room door. She came from the wall, passed them both into the room, and Ferse followed.
“If you want to consult me I shall be here,” said Adrian, and closed the door . . . .
Husband and wife stood breathing as if they had run a hundred yards instead of walking three.
“Diana!” said Ferse: “Diana!”
It seemed as if she couldn’t speak, and his voice rose:
“I’m all right. Don’t you believe me?”
She bent her head, and still didn’t speak.
“Not a word to throw to a dog?”
“It’s — it’s the shock.”
“I have come back sane, I have been sane for three months now.”
“I am so glad, so glad.”
“My God! You’re as beautiful as ever.”
And suddenly he gripped her, pressed her hard against him, and began kissing her hungrily. When he let her go, she sank breathless into a chair, gazing at him with an expression of such terror that he put his hands over his face.
“Ronald — I couldn’t — I couldn’t let it be as it was before. I couldn’t — I couldn’t!”
He dropped on his knees at her feet. “I didn’t mean to be violent. Forgive me!”
And then, from sheer exhaustion of the power of feeling, both rose and moved apart.
“We had better talk it over quietly,” said Ferse.
“Am I not to live here?”
“It’s your house. You must do whatever’s best for you.”
He uttered the sound that was so like a laugh.
“It would be best for me if you and everyone would treat me exactly as if nothing had happened to me.”
Diana was silent. She was silent so long that again he made that sound.
“Don’t!” she said. “I will try. But I must — I must have a separate room.”
Ferse bowed. Suddenly his eyes darted at her. “Are you in love with Cherrell?”
“I see. Naturally. Well, it’s not for God’s playthings to make terms. We take what we can get. Will you wire for them to send my things from that place? That will save any fuss they might want to make. I came away without saying good-bye. There is probably something owing too.”
“Of course. I will see to all that.”
“Can we let Cherrell go now?”
“I will tell him.”
“No, Ronald, I will,” and she moved resolutely past him.
Adrian was leaning against the wall opposite the door. He looked up at her and tried to smile; he had divined the upshot.
“He is to stay here, but apart. My dear, thank you so much for all. Will you see to that Home for me? I will let you know everything. I’ll take him up to the children now. Good-bye!” He kissed her hand and went out.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54