Over a hasty breakfast they consulted. To whom should they go?
“Not to the police,” said Dinny.
“I think we should go to Uncle Adrian first.”
They sent the maid for a taxi, and set out for Adrian’s rooms. It was not quite nine o’clock. They found him over tea and one of those fishes which cover the more ground when eaten, and explain the miracle of the seven baskets full.
Seeming to have grown greyer in these few days he listened to them, filling his pipe, and at last said:
“You must leave it to me now. Dinny, can you take Diana down to Condaford?”
“Before you go, could you get young Alan Tasburgh to go down to that Home and ask if Ferse is there, without letting them know that he’s gone off on his own? Here’s the address.”
Adrian raised Diana’s hand to his lips.
“My dear, you look worn out. Don’t worry; just rest down there with the children. We’ll keep in touch with you.”
“Will there be publicity, Adrian?”
“Not if we can prevent it. I shall consult Hilary; we’ll try everything first. Do you know how much money he had?”
“The last cheque cashed was for five pounds two days ago, but all yesterday he was out.”
“How was he dressed?”
“Blue overcoat, blue suit, bowler hat.”
“And you don’t know where he went yesterday?”
“No. Until yesterday he was never out at all.”
“Does he still belong to any Club?”
“Has any old friend been told of his return?”
“And he took no cheque book? How soon can you get hold of that young man, Dinny?”
“Now, if I could telephone, Uncle; he’s sleeping at his Club.”
Dinny went out to the telephone. She soon reported that Alan would go down at once, and let Adrian know. He would ask as an old friend, with no knowledge that Ferse had ever left. He would beg them to let him know if Ferse came back, so that he might come and see him.
“Good,” said Adrian; “you have a head, my child. And now go off and look after Diana. Give me your number at Condaford.”
Having jotted it down, he saw them back into their cab.
“Uncle Adrian is the best man in the world,” said Dinny.
“No one should know that better than I, Dinny.”
Back in Oakley Street, they went upstairs to pack. Dinny was afraid that at the last minute Diana might refuse to go. But she had given her word to Adrian, and they were soon on the way to the station. They spent a very silent hour and a half on the journey, leaning back in their corners, tired out. Dinny, indeed, was only now realising the strain she had been through. And yet, what had it amounted to? No violence, no attack, not even a great scene. How uncannily disturbing was insanity! What fear it inspired; what nerve-racking emotions! Now that she was free from chance of contact with Ferse he again seemed to her just pitiful. She pictured him wandering and distraught, with nowhere to lay his head and no one to take him by the hand; on the edge, perhaps already over that edge! The worst tragedies were always connected with fear. Criminality, leprosy, insanity, anything that inspired fear in other people — the victims of such were hopelessly alone in a frightened world. Since last night she understood far better Ferse’s outburst about the vicious circle in which insanity moved. She knew now that her own nerves were not strong enough, her own skin not thick enough, to bear contact with the insane; she understood the terrible treatment of the insane in old days. It was like the way dogs had, of setting on an hysterical dog, their own nerves jolted beyond bearing. The contempt lavished on the imbecile, the cruelty and contempt had been defensive — defensive revenge on something which outraged the nerves. All the more pitiable, all the more horrible to think about. And, while the train bore her nearer to her peaceful home, she was more and more torn between the wish to shut away all thought of the unhappy outcast and feelings of pity for him. She looked across at Diana lying back in the corner opposite with closed eyes. What must she be feeling, bound to Ferse by memory, by law, by children of whom he was the father? The face under the close casque hat had the chiselling of prolonged trial — fine-lined and rather hard. By the faint movement of the lips she was not asleep. ‘What keeps her going?’ thought Dinny. ‘She’s not religious; she doesn’t believe much in anything. If I were she I should throw everything up and rush to the ends of the earth — or should I?’ Was there perhaps something inside one, some sense of what was due to oneself, that kept one unyielding and unbroken?
There was nothing to meet them at the station, so, leaving their things, they set forth for the Grange on foot, taking a path across the fields.
“I wonder,” said Dinny, suddenly, “how little excitement one could do with in these days? Should I be happy if I lived down here all my time, like the old cottage folk? Clare is never happy here. She has to be on the go all the time. There IS a kind of jack-inthe-box inside one.”
“I’ve never seen it popping out of you, Dinny.”
“I wish I’d been older during the war. I was only fourteen when it stopped.”
“You were lucky.”
“I don’t know. You must have had a terribly exciting time, Diana.”
“I was your present age when the war began.”
“I suppose he was right through it?”
“Was that the cause?”
“An aggravation, perhaps.”
“Uncle Adrian spoke of heredity.”
Dinny pointed to a thatched cottage.
“In that cottage an old pet couple of mine have lived fifty years. Could you do that, Diana?”
“I could now; I want peace, Dinny.”
They reached the house in silence. A message had come through from Adrian: Ferse was not back at the Home: but he and Hilary believed they were on the right track.
After seeing the children Diana went to her bedroom to lie down, and Dinny to her Mother’s sitting-room.
“Mother, I must say it to someone — I am praying for his death.”
“For his own sake, for Diana’s, for the children’s, for everybody’s; even my own.”
“Of course, if it’s hopeless —”
“Hopeless or not, I don’t care. It’s too dreadful. Providence is a wash-out, Mother.”
“It’s too remote. I suppose there is an eternal Plan — but we’re like gnats for all the care it has for us as individuals.”
“You want a good sleep, darling.”
“Yes. But that won’t make any difference.”
“Don’t encourage such feelings, Dinny; they affect one’s character.”
“I don’t see the connection between beliefs and character. I’m not going to behave any worse because I cease to believe in Providence or an after life.”
“Surely, Dinny —”
“No; I’m going to behave BETTER; if I’m decent it’s because decency’s the decent thing; and not because I’m going to get anything by it.”
“But why is decency the decent thing, Dinny, if there’s no God?”
“O subtle and dear mother, I didn’t say there wasn’t God. I only said his Plan was too remote. Can’t you hear God saying: ‘By the way, is that ball the Earth still rolling?’ And an angel answering: ‘Oh! Yes, Sir, quite nicely.’ ‘Let’s see, it must be fungused over by now. Wasn’t there some particularly busy little parasite —’”
“‘Oh! Yes, Sir, you mean man!’ ‘Quite! I remember we called it that.’”
“Dinny, how dreadful!”
“No, mother, if I’m decent, it will be because decency is devised by humans for the benefit of humans; just as beauty is devised by humans for the delight of humans. Am I looking awful, darling? I feel as if I had no eyes. I think I’ll go and lie down. I don’t know why I’ve got so worked up about this, Mother. I think it must be looking at his face.” And with suspicious swiftness Dinny turned and went away.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54