When she had come to from smiling, Dinny perceived that her uncle was looking at her quizzically.
“Can we go now, Uncle Hilary?”
“It would be as well, Dinny, before you’ve quite vamped the foreman.”
Outside, in the damp October air, for the day was English autumn personified, she said:
“Let’s go for a little breather, Uncle, and get the smell of that Court out of us.”
They turned down towards the distant sea, walking at a good pace.
“I’m frightfully anxious to know what went before me, Uncle; did I say anything contradictory?”
“No. It came out at once in Diana’s evidence that Ferse had come back from the Home, and the coroner treated her tenderly. It was lucky they called me before Adrian, so that his evidence was only a repetition of mine, and he was no way conspicuous. I feel quite sorry for the journalists. Juries avoid suicide and unsound mind when they can, and, after all, we don’t know what happened to poor Ferse at that last minute. He may quite easily have run on over the edge, it was pretty blind there and the light was failing.”
“Do you really think that, Uncle?”
Hilary shook his head. “No, Dinny. I think he meant to do it all along, and that was the nearest place to his old home. And, though I say it that shouldn’t, thank God he did, and is at rest.”
“Yes, oh! yes! What will happen to Diana and Uncle Adrian, now?”
Hilary filled his pipe and stopped to light it. “Well, my dear, I’ve given Adrian some advice. I don’t know whether he’ll take it, but you might back it up if you get a chance. He’s waited all these years. He’d better wait another.”
“Uncle, I agree terribly.”
“Oh!” said Hilary, surprised.
“Yes. Diana is simply not fit to think even of him. She ought to be left to herself and the children.”
“I’m wondering,” said Hilary, “whether one couldn’t wangle some ‘bones’ expedition that would take him out of England for a year.”
“Hallorsen!” said Dinny, clasping her hands: “He’s going again. And he loves Uncle Adrian.”
“Good! But would he take him?”
“If I asked him,” said Dinny, simply.
Hilary again gave her a quizzical look. “What a dangerous young woman you are! I daresay the Trustees would give Adrian leave. I can set old Shropshire and Lawrence on to it. We must go back now, Dinny. I’ve got to catch a train. It’s distressing, because this air smells good; but the Meads are pining for me.”
Dinny slipped her hand through his arm.
“I do admire you, Uncle Hilary.”
Hilary stared. “I doubt if I follow you, my dear.”
“Oh! you know what I mean: you’ve got all the old ‘I serve’ tradition, and that kind of thing; and yet you’re so frightfully up-to-date, and tolerant, and free-thinking.”
“H’m!” said Hilary, emitting a cloud of smoke.
“I’m sure you believe in birth control?”
“Well,” said Hilary, “the position there is ironical for us parsons. It used to be considered unpatriotic to believe in limiting our population. But now that flying and poison gas have made food for powder unnecessary, and unemployment is rampant, I’m afraid there’s no question but that it’s unpatriotic NOT to believe in limiting our population. As for our Christian principles; being patriots, we didn’t apply the Christian principle ‘Thou shalt not kill’ during the war, so, being patriots, we can’t logically apply the Christian principle ‘Thou shalt not limit’ now. Birth control is essential for the slums anyway.”
“And you don’t believe in hell.”
“I do, they’ve got it.”
“You support games on Sundays, don’t you?” Hilary nodded. “And sun bathing with nothing on?”
“I might, if there were any sun.”
“And pyjamas and smoking for women.”
“Not stinkers; emphatically not stinkers.”
“I call that undemocratic.”
“I can’t help it, Dinny. Sniff!” And he puffed some smoke at her.
Dinny sniffed. “There’s latakia in that, it does smell good; but women can’t smoke pipes. I suppose we all have a blind spot somewhere, and yours is: ‘No stinkers.’ Apart from that you’re amazingly modern, Uncle. When I was in that Court looking at all those people, it seemed to me that yours was the only really modern face.”
“It’s a Cathedral town, my dear.”
“Well, I think the amount of modernity is awfully overestimated.”
“You don’t live in London, Dinny. All the same, you’re right in a way. Frankness about things is not change. The difference between the days of my youth and today is only the difference of expression. We had doubts, we had curiosity, we had desires; but we didn’t express them. Now they do. I see a lot of young ‘Varsity men — they come and work in the Meads, you know. Well, from their cradles they’ve been brought up to say whatever comes into their heads, and just don’t they? We didn’t, you know; but the same things came into our heads. That’s all the difference. That and cars.”
“Then I’m still old-fashioned. I’m not a bit good at expressing things.”
“That’s your sense of humour, Dinny. It acts as a restraint, and keeps you self-conscious. Few young people nowadays seem to have much sense of humour; they often have wit — it isn’t the same thing. Our young writers, and painters and musicians, could they carry on as they do if they could see a joke against themselves? Because that’s the real test of humour.”
“I’ll think that over.”
“Yes, but don’t lose your sense of humour, Dinny. It’s the scent to the rose. Are you going back to Condaford now?”
“I expect so, Hubert’s remand won’t be till after that mail boat comes in, and that’s not for ten days yet.”
“Well, give my love to Condaford. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have days again quite so good as when we were children there.”
“That’s what I was thinking, Uncle, when I was waiting to be the last little nigger boy.”
“You’re a bit young for that conclusion, Dinny. Wait till you’re in love.”
“What, in love?”
“No, in waiting.”
“Fearsome process, being in love,” said Hilary. “Still, I never regretted it.”
Dinny gazed at him sideways, and her teeth showed.
“What if you took it again, Uncle?”
“Ah! there,” said Hilary, knocking his pipe out on a pillar box, “I’m definitely out of it. In my profession we can’t run to it. Besides, I’ve never really got over my first attack.”
“No,” said Dinny, with compunction, “Aunt May’s such a duck.”
“You’ve said a mouthful. Here’s the station. Good-bye, and bless you! I sent my bag down this morning.” He waved his hand and was gone.
On reaching the hotel Dinny sought Adrian. He was not in, and, rather disconsolate, she wandered out again into the Cathedral. She was just about to sit down and take its restful beauty in, when she saw her Uncle standing against a column with his eyes fixed on the rose window. Going up she slid her arm through his. He squeezed it, but said nothing.
“Fond of glass, Uncle?”
“Terribly fond of good glass, Dinny. Ever see York Minster?”
Dinny shook her head; then, conscious that nothing she could say would lead up to what she wanted to say, she asked directly: “What are you going to do now, Uncle dear?”
“Have you been talking to Hilary?”
“He wants me to keep away for a year.”
“So do I.”
“It’s a long time, Dinny; I’m getting on.”
“Would you go on Professor Hallorsen’s expedition if he wanted you?”
“He wouldn’t want me.”
“Yes, he would.”
“I could only go if I were certain that Diana wished it.”
“She would never say so, but I’m quite sure she wants complete rest for a long time.”
“When you worship the sun,” said Adrian, very low, “it is hard to go where the sun never shines.”
Dinny squeezed his arm. “I know; but you’d have it to look forward to. And it’s a nice healthy expedition this time, only to New Mexico. You’d come back very young, with hair all down the outsides of your legs. They do in the films. You’d be irresistible, Uncle; and I do want you to be irresistible. All that’s wanted is to let the tumult and the shouting die.”
“And my job?”
“Oh! that can be wangled all right. If Diana doesn’t have to think of anything for a year, she’ll be a different creature, and you will seem like the promised land. I do feel I know what I’m talking about.”
“You’re an endearing little serpent,” said Adrian, with his shadowy smile.
“Diana is pretty badly wounded.”
“I sometimes think it’s a mortal wound, Dinny.”
“Why should she think of me again, if I once go away?”
“Because women are like that.”
“What do you know about women, at your age? I went away long ago, and she thought of Ferse. I fancy I’m made of the wrong stuff.”
“If you are, New Mexico’s the very place. You’ll come back a ‘he-man’. Think of that! I promise to watch over her, and the children will keep you to the fore. They’re always talking of you. And I’ll see that they go on doing it.”
“It’s certainly curious,” said Adrian, impersonally, “but I feel she’s further from me now than when Ferse was alive.”
“For the moment, and it’ll be a long moment. But I know it’ll dry straight in the long run. Really, Uncle.”
Adrian was silent a long time. Then he said:
“I’ll go, Dinny, if Hallorsen will take me.”
“He shall. Bend down, Uncle. I MUST kiss you.”
Adrian bent down. The kiss lighted on his nose. A verger coughed . . . .
The return to Condaford was made by car that afternoon in precisely the same order, young Tasburgh driving. He had been extremely tactful during these twenty-four hours, had not proposed at all, and Dinny was proportionately grateful. If Diana wanted peace, so did she. Alan left that same evening, Diana and the children the following day, and Clare came back from her long stay in Scotland, so that none but her own family were at the Grange. Yet had she no peace. For now that the preoccupation with poor Ferse was gone, she was oppressed and worried by the thought of Hubert. Extraordinary what power of disturbance was in that overhanging issue! He and Jean wrote cheerfully from the East Coast. According to themselves they were not worrying. Dinny was. And she knew that her mother, and even more her father, were. Clare was more angry than worried, and the effect of anger on her was to stimulate her energy, so that she went out ‘cubbing’ with her father; and in the afternoons would disappear with the car to neighbouring houses, where she would often stay till after dinner. The festive member of the family, she was always in great request. Dinny had her anxiety to herself. She had written to Hallorsen about her uncle, sending him the promised photograph, which depicted her in her presentation frock of two years back, when she and Clare had been economically presented together. Hallorsen answered promptly: “The picture is just too lovely. Nothing will please me more than to take your uncle, I am getting in touch with him rightaway”: he signed himself “Always your devoted servant.”
She read the letter gratefully, but without a tremor, and called herself a hard-hearted beast. Her mind thus set at rest about Adrian, for she knew his year of leave could be safely left to Hilary, she thought all the time of Hubert with a growing presentiment of evil. She tried to persuade herself that this came from having nothing particular to do, from the reaction after Ferse, and the habit of nerves into which he had thrown her; but such excuses were unconvincing. If they did not believe Hubert sufficiently here to refuse his extradition, what chance would he have out there? She spent surreptitious minutes staring at the map of Bolivia, as if its conformation could give her insight into the psychology of its people. She had never loved Condaford more passionately than during these uneasy days. The place was entailed, and if Hubert were sent out there and condemned, or died in prison, or was murdered by one of those muleteers, and if Jean had no son, it would pass away to Hilary’s eldest boy — a cousin she had barely seen, a boy at school; in the family, yes, but as good as lost. With Hubert’s fate was wrapped up the fate of her beloved home. And, though astonished that she could think of herself at all, when it meant so terribly much more to Hubert, she never quite lost the thought.
One morning she got Clare to run her over to Lippinghall. Dinny hated driving, and not without reason, for her peculiar way of seeing the humours of what she was passing had often nearly brought her to grief. They arrived at lunch time. Lady Mont was just sitting down, and greeted them with:
“My dears, but how provokin’! Unless you can eat carrots — your Uncle’s away — so purifyin’. Blore, see if Augustine has a cooked bird somewhere. Oh! and, Blore, ask her to make those nice pancakes with jam, that I can’t eat.”
“Oh! but, Aunt Em, nothing that you can’t eat, please.”
“I can’t eat anythin’ just now. Your Uncle’s fattin’, so I’m slimmin’. And, Blore, cheese ramequins, and a nice wine — and coffee.”
“But this is awful, Aunt Em.”
“Grapes, Blore. And those cigarettes up in Mr. Michael’s room. Your Uncle doesn’t smoke them, and I smoke gaspers, so we run low. And, Blore.”
“Yes, my lady?”
“Aunt Em, we never drink cocktails.”
“You do; I’ve seen you. Clare, you’re lookin’ thin; are you slimmin’ too?”
“No. I’ve been in Scotland, Aunt Em.”
“Followin’ the guns, and fishin’. Now run about the house. I’ll wait for you.”
When they were running about the house, Clare said to Dinny:
“Where on earth did Aunt Em learn to drop her g’s?”
“Father told me once that she was at a school where an undropped ‘g’ was worse than a dropped ‘h’. They were bringin’ in a county fashion then, huntin’ people, you know. Isn’t she a dear?”
Clare nodded, slightly brightening her lips.
Re-entering the dining-room, they heard Lady Mont say:
“James’s trousers, Blore.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“They look as if they were comin’ down. Can somethin’ be done about it?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Here you are! Your Aunt Wilmet’s gone to stay with Hen, Dinny. They’ll be differin’ all over the place. You’ve got a cold bird each. Dinny, what have you been doin’ with Alan? He’s lookin’ so interestin’, and his leave’s up tomorrow.”
“I’ve not been doing anything with him, Aunt Em.”
“That’s it, then. No. Give me my carrots, Blore. Aren’t you goin’ to marry him? I know he has prospects in Chancery — somewhere — Wiltshire, is it? He comes and puts his head in my hand about you.”
Under Clare’s gaze Dinny sat with fork suspended.
“If you don’t take care, he’ll be gettin’ transferred to China and marryin’ a purser’s daughter. They say Hong Kong’s full of them. Oh! And my portulaca’s dead, Dinny. Boswell and Johnson went and watered it with liquid manure. They’ve no sense of smell. D’you know what they did once?”
“No, Aunt Em.”
“Had hay fever all over my pedigree rabbit — sneezin’ about the hutch, and the poor thing died. I gave them notice, but they didn’t go. They don’t, you know. Your Uncle pets them. Are you to wed, Clare?”
“To ‘wed!’ Aunt Em!”
“I think it’s rather sweet, the uneducated papers use it. But are you?”
“Of course not.”
“Why? Haven’t you the time? I don’t like carrots really — so depressin’. But your Uncle’s gettin’ to a time of life — I have to be careful. I don’t know why men have a time of life. By rights he ought to be over it.”
“He is, Aunt Em. Uncle Lawrence is sixty-nine; didn’t you know?”
“Well, he’s never shown any signs yet. Blore!”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“There are some things,” said Lady Mont, as the door closed, “that you can’t talk about before Blore — birth control, and your uncle, and that. Poor Pussy!”
She rose, went to the window, and dropped a cat into a flower bed.
“How perfectly sweet Blore is with her!” murmured Dinny.
“They stray,” she said, as she came back, “at forty-five, and they stray at sixty-five, and I don’t know when after that. I never strayed. But I’m thinkin’ of it with the Rector.”
“Is he very lonely now, Auntie?”
“No,” said Lady Mont, “he’s enjoyin’ himself. He comes up here a lot.”
“It would be delicious if you could work up a scandal.”
“Uncle Lawrence would love it.”
Lady Mont seemed to go into a sort of coma.
“Where’s Blore?” she said: “I want one of those pancakes after all.”
“You sent him away.”
“Shall I tread on the gas, Aunt Em?” said Clare; “it’s under my chair.”
“I had it put there for your Uncle. He’s been readin’ me Gulliver’s Travels, Dinny. The man was coarse, you know.”
“Not so coarse as Rabelais, or even as Voltaire.”
“Do you read coarse books?”
“Oh! well, those are classics.”
“They say there was a book — Achilles, or something; your Uncle bought it in Paris; and they took it away from him at Dover. Have you read that?”
“No,” said Dinny.
“I have,” said Clare.
“From what your Uncle tells me, you oughtn’t to.”
“Oh! one reads anything now, Auntie, it never makes any difference.”
Lady Mont looked from one niece to the other.
“Well,” she said, cryptically, “there’s the Bible. Blore!”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Coffee in the hall on the tiger. And put a sniff on the fire, Blore. My Vichy.”
When she had drunk her glass of Vichy they all rose.
“Marvellous!” whispered Clare in Dinny’s ear.
“What are you doin’ about Hubert?” said Lady Mont, in front of the hall fire.
“Sweating in our shoes, Auntie.”
“I told Wilmet to speak to Hen. She sees Royalty, you know. Then there’s flyin’. Couldn’t he fly somewhere?”
“Uncle Lawrence went bail for him.”
“He wouldn’t mind. We could do without James, he’s got adenoids; and we could have one man instead of Boswell and Johnson.”
“Hubert would mind, though.”
“I’m fond of Hubert,” said Lady Mont: “and bein’ married — it’s too soon. Here’s the sniff.”
Blore, bearing coffee and cigarettes, was followed by James bearing a cedar log; and a religious silence ensued while Lady Mont made coffee.
“Two spoonfuls, please.”
“Three for me. I know it’s fattenin’. Clare?”
The girls sipped, and Clare sighed out:
“Yes. Why is your coffee so much better than anybody else’s, Aunt Em?”
“I agree,” said her aunt. “About that poor man, Dinny: I was so relieved that he didn’t bite either of you after all. Adrian will get her now. Such a comfort.”
“Not for some time, Aunt Em: Uncle Adrian’s going to America.”
“We all thought it best. Even he did.”
“When he goes to Heaven,” said Lady Mont, “someone will have to go with him, or he won’t get in.”
“Surely he’ll have a seat reserved!”
“You never know. The Rector was preachin’ on that last Sunday.”
“Does he preach well?”
“I expect Jean wrote his sermons.”
“Yes, they used to have more zip. Where did I get that word, Dinny?”
“From Michael, I expect.”
“He always caught everythin’. The rector said we were to deny ourselves; he came here to lunch.”
“And had a whacking good feed.”
“What does he weigh, Aunt Em?”
“Without his clothes — I don’t know.”
“Oh! quite a lot. He’s goin’ to write a book.”
“The Tasburghs. There was that one that was buried, and lived in France afterwards, only she was a Fitzherbert by birth. Then there was the one that fought the battle of — not Spaghetti — the other word, Augustine gives it us sometimes.”
“Navarino? But did he?”
“Yes, but they said he didn’t. The rector’s goin’ to put that right. Then there was the Tasburgh that got beheaded, and forgot to put it down anywhere. The rector’s nosed that out.”
“In what reign?”
“I never can be bothered with reigns, Dinny. Edward the Sixth — or Fourth, was it? He was a red rose. Then there was the one that married into us. Roland his name was — or was it? But he did somethin’ strikin’— and they took away his land. Recusancy — what is that?”
“It means he was a Catholic, Auntie, in a Protestant reign.”
“They burnt his house first. He’s in Mercurius Rusticus, or some book. The rector says he was greatly beloved. They burnt his house twice, I think, and then robbed it — or was it the other way? It had a moat. And there’s a list of what they took.”
“Jam, and silver, and chickens, and linen, and I think his umbrella, or something funny.”
“When was all this, Auntie?”
“In the Civil War. He was a Royalist. Now I remember his name wasn’t Roland, and she was Elizabeth after you, Dinny. History repeatin’ itself.”
Dinny looked at the log.
“Then there was the last Admiral — under William the Fourth — he died drunk, not William. The Rector says he didn’t, so he’s writin’ to prove it. He says he caught cold and took rum for it; and it didn’t click — where did I get THAT word?”
“I sometimes use it, Auntie.”
“Yes. So there’s quite a lot, you see, besides all the dull ones, right away back to Edward the Confessor or somebody. He’s tryin’ to make out they’re older than we are. So unreasonable.”
“My Aunt!” murmured Clare. “Who would read a book like that?”
“I shouldn’t think so. But he’ll simply love snobbin’ into it: and it’ll keep him awake. Here’s Alan! Clare, you haven’t seen where my portulaca was. Shall we take a turn?”
“Aunt Em, you’re shameless,” said Dinny in her ear; “and it’s no good.”
“‘If at first you don’t succeed’— d’you remember every mornin’ when we were little? Wait till I get my hat, Clare.”
They passed away.
“So your leave’s up, Alan?” said Dinny, alone with the young man. “Where shall you be?”
“Is that nice?”
“Might be worse. Dinny, I want to talk to you about Hubert. If things go wrong at the Court next time, what’s going to happen?”
All ‘bubble and squeak’ left Dinny, she sank down on a fireside cushion, and gazed up with troubled eyes.
“I’ve been enquiring,” said young Tasburgh; “they leave it two or three weeks for the Home Secretary to go into, and then, if he confirms, cart them off as soon as they can. From Southampton it would be, I expect.”
“You don’t really think it will come to that, do you?”
He said gloomily: “I don’t know. Suppose a Bolivian had killed somebody, here, and gone back, we should want him rather badly, shouldn’t we, and put the screw on to get him?”
“But it’s fantastic!”
The young man looked at her with an extremely resolute compassion.
“We’ll hope for the best; but if it goes wrong something’s got to be done about it. I’m not going to stand for it, nor is Jean.”
“But what could be done?”
Young Tasburgh walked round the hall looking at the doors; then, leaning above her, he said:
“Hubert can fly, and I’ve been up every day since Chichester. Jean and I are working the thing out — in case.”
Dinny caught his hand.
“My dear boy, that’s crazy!”
“No crazier than thousands of things done in the war.”
“But it would ruin your career.”
“Blast my career! Look on and see you and Jean miserable for years, perhaps, and a man like Hubert broken rottenly like that — what d’you think?”
Dinny squeezed his hand convulsively and let it go.
“It can’t, it shan’t come to that. Besides, how could you get Hubert? He’d be under arrest.”
“I don’t know, but I shall know all right if and when the time comes. What’s certain is that if they once get him over there, he’ll have a damned thin chance.”
“Have you spoken to Hubert?”
“No. It’s all perfectly vague as yet.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t consent.”
“Jean will see to that.”
Dinny shook her head. “You don’t know Hubert; he would never let you.”
Alan grinned, and she suddenly recognised that in him there was something formidably determined.
“Does Professor Hallorsen know?”
“No, and he won’t, unless it’s absolutely necessary. But he’s a good egg, I admit.”
She smiled faintly. “Yes, he’s a good egg; but an outsize.”
“Dinny, you’re not gone on him, are you?”
“No, my dear.”
“Well, thank God for that! You see,” he went on, “they’re not likely to treat Hubert as an ordinary criminal. That will make things easier perhaps.”
Dinny gazed at him, thrilled to her very marrow. Somehow that last remark convinced her of the reality of his purpose. “I’m beginning to understand Zeebrugge. But —”
“No buts, and buck up! That boat arrives the day after tomorrow, and then the case will be on again. I shall see you in Court, Dinny. I must go now — got my daily flight. I just thought I’d like you to know that if the worst comes to the worst, we aren’t going to take it lying down. Give my love to Lady Mont; shan’t be seeing her again. Good-bye, and bless you!” And, kissing her hand, he was out of the hall before she could speak.
Dinny sat on beside the cedar log, very still, and strangely moved. The idea of defiance had not before occurred to her, mainly perhaps because she had never really believed that Hubert would be committed for trial. She did not really believe it now, and that made this ‘crazy’ idea the more thrilling; for it has often been noticed that the less actual a risk, the more thrilling it seems. And to the thrill was joined a warmer feeling for Alan. The fact that he had not even proposed added to the conviction that he was in dead earnest. And on that tiger-skin, which had provided very little thrill to the eighth baronet, who from an elephant had shot its owner while it was trying to avoid notice, Dinny sat, warming her body in the glow from the cedar log, and her spirit in the sense of being closer to the fires of life than she had ever yet been. Her Uncle’s old black and white spaniel dog, Quince, who in his master’s absences, which were frequent, took little interest in human beings, came slowly across the hall and, lying down four-square, put his head on his fore-paws and looked up at her with eyes that showed red rims beneath them. “It may be all that, and it may not,” he seemed to say. The log hissed faintly, and a grandfather clock on the far side of the hall struck three with its special slowness.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08