She had parted from the young man lightly, but she stood on the doorstep with nerves taut as fiddlestrings. Never having come into contact with mental trouble, her thought of it was the more scaring. The same elderly maid admitted her. Mrs. Ferse was with Captain Ferse, and would Miss Cherrell come up to the drawing-room? Where Jean had been locked in Dinny waited some time. Sheila came in, said: “Hallo! Are you waiting for Muvver?” and went out again. When Diana did appear her face wore an expression as if she were trying to collect the evidence of her own feelings.
“Forgive me, my dear, I was going through papers. I’m trying my best to treat him as if nothing had happened.” Dinny went up to her and stood stroking her arm.
“But it can’t last, Dinny; it won’t last. I can see it won’t last.”
“Let me come and stay. You can put it that it was arranged before.”
“But, Dinny, it may be rather horrible. I don’t know what to do with him. He dreads going out, or meeting people. And yet he won’t hear of going away where nobody knows; and he won’t see a doctor, or take any advice. He won’t see anyone.”
“He’ll see me, and that’ll accustom him. I expect it’s only the first few days. Shall I go off now and get my things?”
“If you ARE going to be an angel, do!”
“I’ll let Uncle Adrian know before I come back; he went down to the Home this morning.”
Diana crossed to the window and stood there with her back to Dinny. Suddenly she turned:
“I’ve made up my mind, Dinny: I won’t let him down in any way. If there’s anything I can do to give him a chance, I’m going to do it.”
“Bless you!” said Dinny. “I’ll help!” And, not trusting either Diana or herself further, she went out and down the stairs. Outside, in passing the dining-room window, she was again conscious of a face with eyes, burningly alive, watching her go by. A feeling of tragic unfairness was with her all the way back to South Square.
Fleur said at lunch:
“It’s no good fashing yourself till something happens, Dinny. It’s lucky that Adrian’s been such a saint. But this is a very good instance of how little the Law can help. Suppose Diana could have got free, it wouldn’t have prevented Ferse coming straight back to her, or her feeling about him as she does. The Law can’t touch the human side of anything. Is Diana in love with Adrian?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not. I find it difficult enough to know what goes on inside myself.”
“Which reminds me that your American rang up. He wants to call.”
“Well, he can. But I shall be at Oakley Street.”
Fleur gave her a shrewd look.
“Am I to back the sailor, then?”
“No. Put your money on Old Maid.”
“My dear! Unthinkable!”
“I don’t see what one gains by marriage.”
Fleur answered with a little hard smile:
“We can’t stand still, you know, Dinny. At least, we don’t; it’s too dull.”
“You’re modern, Fleur; I’m mediæval.”
“Well, you ARE rather early Italian in face. But the early Italians never escaped. Entertain no flattering hopes. Sooner or later you’ll be fed up with yourself, and then!”
Dinny looked at her, startled by this flash of discernment in her disillusioned cousin-inlaw.
“What have YOU gained, Fleur?”
“I at least am the complete woman, my dear,” Fleur answered, drily.
“Children, you mean?”
“They are possible without marriage, or so I am told, but improbable. For you, Dinny, impossible; you’re controlled by an ancestral complex, really old families have an inherited tendency towards legitimacy. Without it they can’t be really old, you see.”
Dinny wrinkled her forehead.
“I never thought of it before, but I SHOULD strongly object to having an illegitimate child. By the way, did you give that girl a reference?”
“Yes. I don’t see at all why she shouldn’t be a mannequin. She’s narrow enough. I give the boyish figure another year, at least. After that, mark my words, skirts will lengthen, and we shall go in for curves again.”
“Rather degrading, isn’t it?”
“Chopping and changing shape and hair and all that.”
“Good for trade. We consent to be in the hands of men in order that they may be in ours. Philosophy of vamping.”
“That girl won’t have much chance of keeping straight as a mannequin, will she?”
“More, I should say. She might even marry. But I always refuse to worry about my neighbour’s morals. I suppose you have to keep up the pretence at Condaford, having been there since the Conquest. By the way, has your father made provision against Death Duties?”
“He’s not old, Fleur.”
“No, but people do die. Has he got anything besides the estate?”
“Only his pension.”
“Is there plenty of timber?”
“I loathe the idea of cutting down trees. Two hundred years of shape and energy all gone in half an hour. It’s revolting.”
“My dear, there’s generally nothing else for it, except selling, and clearing out.”
“We shall manage somehow,” said Dinny shortly; “we’d never let Condaford go.”
“Don’t forget Jean.”
Dinny sat up very straight.
“She’d never, either. The Tasburghs are just as old as we are.”
“Admitted; but that’s a young woman of infinite variety and go. She’ll never vegetate.”
“Condaford is not vegetation.”
“Don’t get ruffled, Dinny; I’m only thinking for the best. I don’t want to see you outed, any more than I want Kit to lose Lippinghall. Michael is thoroughly unsound. He says that if he’s one of the country’s roots he’s sorry for the country, which is silly of course. No one,” added Fleur, with a sudden queer depth, “will ever know from me what pure gold Michael is.” Then, seeming to notice Dinny’s surprised eyes, she added: “So, I can wash out the American?”
“You can. Three thousand miles between me and Condaford — no, Ma’am!”
“Then I think you should put the poor brute out of his misery, for he confided to me that you were what he called his ‘ideal.’”
“Not that again!” cried Dinny.
“Yes, indeed; and he further said that he was crazy about you.”
“That means nothing.”
“From a man who goes to the ends of the earth to discover the roots of civilisation it probably does. Most people would go to the ends of the earth to avoid discovering them.”
“The moment this thing of Hubert’s is over,” said Dinny, “I will put an end to him.”
“I think you’ll have to take the veil to do it. You’ll look very nice in the veil, Dinny, walking down the village aisle with the sailor, in a feudal atmosphere, to a German tune. May I be there to see!”
“I’m not going to marry anyone.”
“Well, in the meantime shall we ring up Adrian?”
From Adrian’s rooms came the message that he was expected back at four o’clock. He was asked to come on to South Square, and Dinny went up to put her things together. Coming down again at half past three, she saw on the coat ‘sarcophagus’ a hat whose brim she seemed to recognize. She was slinking back towards the stairs when a voice said:
“Why! This is fine! I was scared I’d missed you.”
Dinny gave him her hand, and together they entered Fleur’s ‘parlour’; where, among the Louis Quinze furniture, he seemed absurdly male.
“I wanted to tell you, Miss Cherrell, what I’ve done about your brother. I’ve fixed it for our Consul in La Paz to get that boy Manuel to cable his sworn testimony that the Captain was attacked with a knife. If your folk here are anyway sensible, that should clear him. This fool game’s got to stop if I have to go back to Bolivia myself.”
“Thank you ever so, Professor.”
“Why! There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for your brother, now. I’ve come to like him as if he were my own.”
Those ominous words had a large simplicity, a generous warmth, which caused her to feel small and thin.
“You aren’t looking all that well,” he said, suddenly. “If there’s anything worrying you, tell me and I’ll fix it.”
Dinny told him of Ferse’s return.
“That lovely lady! Too bad! But maybe she’s fond of him, so it’ll be a relief to her mind after a time.”
“I am going to stay with her.”
“That’s bully of you! Is this Captain Ferse dangerous?”
“We don’t know yet.”
He put his hand into a hip pocket and brought out a tiny automatic.
“Put that in your bag. It’s the smallest made. I bought it for this country, seeing you don’t go about with guns here.”
“Thank you, Professor, but it would only go off in the wrong place. And, even if there were danger, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“That’s so! It didn’t occur to me, but that’s so. A man afflicted that way has every consideration due to him. But I don’t like to think of you going into danger.”
Remembering Fleur’s exhortation, Dinny said hardily:
“Because you are very precious to me.”
“That’s frightfully nice of you; but I think you ought to know, Professor, that I’m not in the market.”
“Surely every woman’s in the market till she marries.”
“Some think that’s when she begins to be.”
“Well,” said Hallorsen gravely, “I’ve no use for adultery myself. I want a straight deal in sex as in everything else.”
“I hope you will get it.”
He drew himself up. “And I want it from you. I have the honour to ask you to become Mrs. Hallorsen, and please don’t say ‘No’ right away.”
“If you want a straight deal, Professor, I must.”
She saw his blue eyes film as if with pain, and felt sorry. He came a little closer, looking, as it seemed to her, enormous, and she gave a shiver.
“Is it my nationality?”
“I don’t know what it is.”
“Or the grouch you had against me over your brother?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can’t I hope?”
“No. I am flattered, and grateful, believe me. But no.”
“Pardon me! Is there another man?”
Dinny shook her head.
Hallorsen stood very still; his face wore a puzzled expression, then cleared suddenly.
“I judge,” he said, “I haven’t done enough for you. I’ll have to serve a bit.”
“I’m not worth service. It’s simply that I don’t feel like that towards you.”
“I have clean hands and a clean heart.”
“I’m sure you have; I admire you, Professor, but I should never love you.”
Hallorsen drew back again to his original distance, as if distrusting his impulses. He gave her a grave bow. He looked really splendid standing there, full of simple dignity. There was a long silence, then he said:
“Well, I judge there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Command me in any way. I am your very faithful servant.” And, turning round, he went out.
Dinny heard the front door close with a slight choke in her throat. She felt pain at having caused him pain, but relief, too, the relief one feels when something very large, simple, primitive — the sea, a thunderstorm, a bull — is no longer imminent. In front of one of Fleur’s mirrors she stood despitefully, as though she had just discovered the over-refinement of her nerves. How could that great handsome, healthy creature care for one so spindly and rarefied as she looked reflected there? He could snap her off with his hands. Was that why she recoiled? The great open spaces of which he seemed a part, with his height, strength, colour, and the boom of his voice! Funny, silly perhaps — but very real recoil! She belonged where she belonged — not to such as them, to such as him. About such juxtapositions there was even something comic. She was still standing there with a wry smile when Adrian was ushered in.
She turned to him impulsively. Sallow and worn and lined, subtle, gentle, harassed, no greater contrast could have appeared, not any that could have better soothed her jangled nerves. Kissing him, she said:
“I waited to see you before going to stay at Diana’s!”
“You ARE going, Dinny?”
“Yes. I don’t believe you’ve had lunch or tea or anything,” and she rang the bell. “Coaker, Mr. Adrian would like —”
“A brandy and soda, Coaker, thank you!”
“Now, Uncle?” she said, when he had drunk it.
“I’m afraid, Dinny, one can’t set much store by what they say down there. According to them Ferse ought to go back. But why he should, so long as he acts sanely, I don’t know. They query the idea of his recovery, but they can bring nothing abnormal against him for some weeks past. I got hold of his personal attendant and questioned him. He seems a decent chap, and he thinks Ferse at the moment is as sane as himself. But — and the whole trouble lies there — he says he was like this once before for three weeks, and suddenly lapsed again. If anything really upsets him — opposition or what not — he thinks Ferse will be just as bad again as ever, perhaps worse. It’s a really terrible position.”
“When he’s in mania is he violent?”
“Yes; a kind of gloomy violence, more against himself than anyone else.”
“They’re not going to do anything to get him back?”
“They can’t. He went there voluntarily; I told you he hasn’t been certified. How is Diana?”
“She looks tired, but lovely. She says she is going to do everything she can to give him a chance.”
“That’s like her; she has wonderful pluck. And so have you, my dear. It’s a great comfort to know you’ll be with her. Hilary is ready to take Diana and the children if she’d go, but she won’t, you say.”
“Not at present, I’m sure.”
“Well, we must chance it.”
“Oh! Uncle,” said Dinny. “I AM so sorry for you.”
“My dear, what happens to the fifth wheel doesn’t matter so long as the car runs. Don’t let me keep you. You can get at me any time either at the Museum or my rooms. Good-bye and bless you! My love to her, and tell her all I’ve told you.”
Dinny kissed him again, and soon after in a cab set forth with her things to Oakley Street.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08