When from that Post Office she had despatched telegrams to her father and Jean, and telephoned to Fleur, to Adrian and Hilary, she took a taxi to Mount Street, and opened the door of her Uncle’s study. Sir Lawrence, before the fire with a book he was not reading, looked up.
“What’s your news, Dinny?”
“Thanks to you!”
“Bobbie Ferrar says, thanks to the Magistrate. I nearly wrecked it, Uncle.”
“Ring the bell!” Dinny rang.
“Blore, tell Lady Mont I want her.”
“Good news, Blore; Mr. Hubert’s free.”
“Thank you, Miss; I was laying six to four on it.”
“What can we do to relieve our feelings, Dinny?”
“I must go to Condaford, Uncle.”
“Not till after dinner. You shall go drunk. What about Hubert? Anybody going to meet him?”
“Uncle Adrian said I’d better not, and he would go. Hubert will make for the flat, of course, and wait for Jean.”
Sir Lawrence gave her a whimsical glance.
“Where will she be flying from?”
“So that was the centre of operations! The closing down of that enterprise gives me almost as much satisfaction, Dinny, as Hubert’s release. You can’t get away with that sort of thing, nowadays.”
“I think they might have,” said Dinny, for with the removal of the need for it, the idea of escape seemed to have become less fantastic. “Aunt Em! What a nice wrapper!”
“I was dressin’. Blore’s won four pounds. Dinny, kiss me. Give your Uncle one, too. You kiss very nicely — there’s body in it. If I drink champagne, I shall be ill tomorrow.”
“But need you, Auntie?”
“Yes. Dinny, promise me to kiss that young man.”
“Do you get a commission on kissing, Aunt Em?”
“Don’t tell me he wasn’t goin’ to cut Hubert out of prison, or something. The Rector said he flew in with a beard one day, and took a spirit level and two books on Portugal. They always go to Portugal. The Rector’ll be so relieved; he was gettin’ thin about it. So I think you ought to kiss him.”
“A kiss means nothing nowadays, Auntie. I nearly kissed Bobbie Ferrar; only he saw it coming.”
“Dinny can’t be bothered to do all this kissing,” said Sir Lawrence; “she’s got to sit to my miniature painter. The young man will be at Condaford tomorrow, Dinny.”
“Your Uncle’s got a bee, Dinny; collectin’ the Lady. There aren’t any, you know. It’s extinct. We’re all females now.”
By the only late evening train Dinny embarked for Condaford. They had plied her with wine at dinner, and she sat in sleepy elation, grateful for everything — the motion, and the moon-ridden darkness flying past the windows. Her exhilaration kept breaking out in smiles. Hubert free! Condaford safe! Her father and mother at ease once more! Jean happy! Alan no longer threatened with disgrace! Her fellow-passengers, for she was travelling third-class, looked at her with the frank or furtive wonderment that so many smiles will induce in the minds of any taxpayers. Was she tipsy, weak-minded, or merely in love? Perhaps all three! And she looked back at them with a benevolent compassion because they were obviously not half-seas-over with happiness. The hour and a half seemed short, and she got out on to the dimly lighted platform, less sleepy, but as elated as when she had got into the train. She had forgotten to add in her telegram that she was coming, so she had to leave her things and walk. She took the main road; it was longer, but she wanted to swing along and breathe home air to the full. In the night, as always, things looked unfamiliar, and she seemed to pass houses, hedges, trees that she had never known. The road dipped through a wood. A car came with its headlights glaring luridly, and in that glare she saw a weasel slink across just in time — queer little low beast, snakily humping its long back. She stopped a moment on the bridge over their narrow twisting little river. That bridge was hundreds of years old, nearly as old as the oldest parts of the Grange, and still very strong. Just beyond it was their gate, and when the river flooded, in very wet years, it crept up the meadow almost to the shrubbery where the moat had once been. Dinny pushed through the gate and walked on the grass edging of the drive between the rhododendrons. She came to the front of the house, which was really its back — long, low, unlighted. They did not expect her, and it was getting on for midnight; and the idea came to her to steal round and see it all grey and ghostly, tree-and-creeper-covered in the moonlight. Past the yew trees, throwing short shadows under the raised garden, she came round on to the lawn, and stood breathing deeply, and turning her head this way and that, so as to miss nothing that she had grown up with. The moon flicked a ghostly radiance on to the windows, and shiny leaves of the magnolias; and secrets lurked all over the old stone face. Lovely! Only one window was lighted, that of her father’s study. It seemed strange that they had gone to bed already, with relief so bubbling in them. She stole from the lawn on to the terrace and stood looking in through the curtains not quite drawn. The General was at his desk with a lot of papers spread before him, sitting with his hands between his knees, and his head bent. She could see the hollow below his temple, the hair above it, much greyer of late, the set mouth, the almost beaten look on the face. The whole attitude was that of a man in patient silence, preparing to accept disaster. Up in Mount Street she had been reading of the American Civil War, and she thought that just so, but for his lack of beard, might some old Southern General have looked, the night before Lee’s surrender. And, suddenly, it came to her that by an evil chance they had not yet received her telegram. She tapped on the pane. Her father raised his head. His face was ashen grey in the moonlight, and it was evident that he mistook her apparition for confirmation of the worst; he opened the window. Dinny leaned in, and put her hands on his shoulders.
“Dad! Haven’t you had my wire? It’s all right, Hubert’s free.”
The General’s hands shot up and grasped her wrists, colour came into his face, his lips relaxed, he looked suddenly ten years younger.
“Is it — is it certain, Dinny?”
Dinny nodded. She was smiling, but tears stood in her eyes.
“My God! That’s news! Come in! I must go up and tell your Mother!” He was out of the room before she was in it.
In this room, which had resisted her mother’s and her own attempts to introduce aestheticism, and retained an office-like barrenness, Dinny stood staring at this and at that evidence of Art’s defeat, with the smile that was becoming chronic. Dad with his papers, his military books, his ancient photographs, his relics of India and South Africa, and the old-style picture of his favourite charger, his map of the estate; his skin of the leopard that had mauled him, and the two fox masks — happy again! Bless him!
She had the feeling that her mother and he would rather be left alone to rejoice, and slipped upstairs to Clare’s room. That vivid member of the family was asleep with one pyjama-d arm outside the sheet and her cheek resting on the back of the hand. Dinny looked amiably at the dark shingled head and went out again. No good spoiling beauty sleep! She stood at her opened bedroom window, gazing between the nearly bare elm-trees, at the moonlit rise of fields and the wood beyond. She stood and tried hard not to believe in God. It seemed mean and petty to have more belief in God when things were going well than when they were instinct with tragedy; just as it seemed mean and petty to pray to God when you wanted something badly, and not pray when you didn’t. But after all God was Eternal Mind that you couldn’t understand; God was not a loving Father that you could. The less she thought about all that the better. She was home like a ship after storm; it was enough! She swayed, standing there, and realised that she was nearly asleep. Her bed was not made ready; but getting out an old, thick dressing-gown, she slipped off shoes, dress, and corset belt, put on the gown and curled up under the eiderdown. In two minutes, still with that smile on her lips, she was sleeping . . . .
A telegram from Hubert, received at breakfast next morning, said that he and Jean would be down in time for dinner.
“‘The Young Squire Returns!’” murmured Dinny. “‘Brings Bride!’ Thank goodness it’ll be after dark, and we can kill the fatted calf in private. Is the fatted calf ready, Dad?”
“I’ve got two bottles of your great-grandfather’s Chambertin 1865 left. We’ll have that, and the old brandy.”
“Hubert likes woodcock best, if there are any to be had, Mother, and pancakes. And how about the inland oyster? He loves oysters.”
“I’ll see, Dinny.”
“And mushrooms,” added Clare.
“You’ll have to scour the country, I’m afraid, Mother.”
Lady Cherrell smiled, she looked quite young.
“It’s ‘a mild hunting day,’” said the General: “What about it, Clare? The meet’s at Wyvell’s Cross, eleven.”
Returning from the stables after seeing her father and Clare depart, Dinny and the dogs lingered. The relief from that long waiting, the feeling of nothing to worry about, was so delicious that she did not resent the singular similarity in the present state of Hubert’s career to the state which had given her so much chagrin two months back. He was in precisely the same position, only worse, because married; and yet she felt as blithe as a ‘sandboy.’ It proved that Einstein was right, and everything relative!
She was singing ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ on her way to the raised garden when the sound of a motor-cycle on the drive caused her to turn. Someone in the guise of a cyclist waved his hand, and shooting the cycle into a rhododendron bush came towards her, removing his hood.
Alan, of course! And she experienced at once the sensation of one about to be asked in marriage. Nothing — she felt — could prevent him this morning, for he had not even succeeded in doing the dangerous and heroic thing which might have made the asking for reward too obvious.
‘But perhaps,’ she thought, ‘he still has a beard — that might stop him.’ Alas! He had only a jaw rather paler than the rest of his brown face.
He came up holding out both hands and she gave him hers. Thus grappled, they stood looking at each other.
“Well,” said Dinny, at last, “tell your tale. You’ve been frightening us out of our wits, young man.”
“Let’s go and sit down up there, Dinny.”
“Very well. Mind Scaramouch, he’s under your foot, and the foot large.”
“Not so very. Dinny, you look —”
“No,” said Dinny; “rather worn than otherwise. I know all about the Professor and the special case for his Bolivian bones, and the projected substitution of Hubert on the ship.”
“We’re not half-wits, Alan. What was YOUR special lay, beard and all? We can’t sit on this seat without something between us and the stone.”
“I couldn’t be the something?”
“Certainly not. Put your overall there. Now!”
“Well,” he said, looking with disfavour at his boot, “if you really want to know. There’s nothing certain, of course, because it all depended on the way they were going to export Hubert. We had to have alternatives. If there was a port of call, Spanish or Portuguese, we WERE going to use the box trick. Hallorsen was to be on the ship, and Jean and I at the port with a machine and the real bones. Jean was to be the pilot when we got him — she’s a natural flier; and they were to make for Turkey.”
“Yes,” said Dinny; “we guessed all that.”
“Never mind. What about the alternative?”
“If there was no port of call it wasn’t going to be easy; we’d thought of a faked telegram to the chaps in charge of Hubert when the train arrived at Southampton or whatever the port was, telling them to take him to the Police Station and await further instructions. On the way there Hallorsen on a cycle would have bumped into the taxi on one side, and I should have bumped in on the other; and Hubert was to slip out into my car and be nipped off to where the machine was ready.”
“Mm!” said Dinny. “Very nice on the screen; but are they so confiding in real life?”
“Well, we really hadn’t got that worked out. We were betting on the other.”
“Has all that money gone?”
“No; only about two hundred, and we can re-sell the machine.” Dinny heaved a long sigh, and her eyes rested on him.
“Well,” she said, “if you ask me, you’re jolly well out of it.”
He grinned. “I suppose so; especially as if it had come off I couldn’t very well have bothered you. Dinny, I’ve got to rejoin today. Won’t you —?”
Dinny said softly: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, Alan. When you come back next time, I really will see.”
“May I have one kiss?”
“Yes.” She tilted her cheek towards him.
‘Now,’ she thought, ‘is when they kiss you masterfully full on the lips. He hasn’t! He must almost respect me!’ And she got up.
“Come along, dear boy; and thank you ever so for all you luckily didn’t have to do. I really will try and become less virginal.”
He looked at her ruefully, as though repenting of his self-control, then smiled at her smile. And soon the splutter of his motor-cycle faded into the faintly sighing silence of the day.
Still with the smile on her lips Dinny went back to the house. He was a dear! But really one must have time! Such a lot of repenting at leisure could be done even in these days!
After their slight and early lunch Lady Cherrell departed in the Ford driven by the groom in search of the fatted calf. Dinny was preparing to hunt the garden for whatever flowers November might yield when a card was brought to her:
“Mr. Neil Wintney,
‘Help!’ she thought; ‘Uncle Lawrence’s young man!’ “Where is he, Amy?”
“In the hall, Miss.”
“Ask him into the drawing-room; I’ll be there in a minute.”
Divested of her gardening gloves and basket, she looked at her nose in her little powdery mirror; then, entering the drawing-room through the French window, saw with surprise the ‘young man’ sitting up good in a chair with some apparatus by his side. He had thick white hair, and an eyeglass on a black ribbon; and when he stood she realised that he must be at least sixty. He said:
“Miss Cherrell? Your Uncle, Sir Lawrence Mont, has commissioned me to do a miniature of you.”
“I know,” said Dinny; “only I thought —” She did not finish. After all, Uncle Lawrence liked his little joke, or possibly this was his idea of youth.
The ‘young man’ had screwed his monocle into a comely red cheek, and through it a full blue eye scrutinized her eagerly. He put his head on one side and said: “If we can get the outline, and you have some photographs, I shan’t give you much trouble. What you have on — that flax-blue — is admirable for colour; background of sky — through that window — yes, not too blue — an English white in it. While the light’s good, can we —?” And, talking all the time, he proceeded to make his preparations.
“Sir Lawrence’s idea,” he said, “is the English lady; culture deep but not apparent. Turn a little sideways. Thank you — the nose —”
“Yes,” said Dinny; “hopeless.”
“Oh! no, no! Charming. Sir Lawrence, I understand, wants you for his collection of types. I’ve done two for him. Would you look down? No! Now full at me! Ah! The teeth — admirable!”
“All mine, so far.”
“That smile is just right, Miss Cherrell: it gives us the sense of spoof we want; not too much spoof, but just spoof enough.”
“You don’t want me to hold a smile with exactly three ounces of spoof in it?”
“No, no, my dear young lady; we shall chance on it. Now suppose you turn three-quarters. Ah! Now I get the line of the hair; the colour of it admirable.”
“Not too much ginger, but just ginger enough?”
The ‘young man’ was silent. He had begun with singular concentration to draw and to write little notes on the margin of the paper.
Dinny, with crinkled eyebrows, did not like to move. He paused and smiled at her with a sort of winey sweetness.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “I see, I see.”
What did he see? The nervousness of the victim seized her suddenly, and she pressed her open hands together.
“Raise the hands, Miss Cherrell. No! Too Madonnaish. We must think of the devil in the hair. The eyes to me, full.”
“Glad?” asked Dinny.
“Not too glad; just — Yes, an English eye; candid but reserved. Now the turn of the neck. Ah! A leetle tilt. Ye — es. Almost stag-like; almost — a touch of the — not startled — no, of the aloof.”
He again began to draw and write with a sort of remoteness, as if he were a long way off.
And Dinny thought: ‘If Uncle Lawrence wants self-consciousness he’ll get it all right.’
The ‘young man’ stopped and stood back, his head very much on one side, so that all his attention seemed to come out of his eyeglass.
“The expression,” he muttered.
“I expect,” said Dinny, “you want an unemployed look.”
“Naughty!” said the ‘young man’: “Deeper. Could I play that piano for a minute?”
“Of course. But I’m afraid it’s not been played on lately.”
“It will serve.” He sat down, opened the piano, blew on the keys, and began playing. He played strongly, softly, well. Dinny stood in the curve of the piano, listening, and speedily entranced. It was obviously Bach, but she did not know what. An endearing, cool, and lovely tune, coming over and over and over, monotonous, yet moving as only Bach could be.
“What is it?”
“A Chorale of Bach, set by a pianist.” And the ‘young man’ nodded his eyeglass towards the keys.
“Glorious! Your ears on heaven and your feet in flowery fields,” murmured Dinny.
The ‘young man’ closed the piano and stood up.
“That’s what I want, that’s what I want, young lady!”
“Oh!” said Dinny. “Is that all?”
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54