The quality which from time immemorial has made the public men of England what they are, tempted so many lawyers into Parliament, caused so many divines to put up with being bishops, floated so many financiers, saved so many politicians from taking thought for the morrow, and so many judges from the pangs of remorse, was present in Eustace Dornford to no small degree. Put more shortly, he had an excellent digestion; could eat and drink at all times without knowing anything about it afterwards. He was an indefatigably hard worker even at play; and there was in him just that added fund of nervous energy which differentiates the man who wins the long jump from the man who loses it. And now, though his practice was going up by leaps and bounds since, two years ago, he had taken silk, he had stood for Parliament. And yet he was the last sort of man to incur the epithet ‘go-getter.’ His pale-brown, hazel-eyed, well-featured face had a considerate, even a sensitive look, and a pleasant smile. He had kept a little fine dark moustache, and his wig had not yet depleted his natural hair, which was dark and of rather curly texture. After Oxford he had eaten dinners and gone into the Chambers of a well-known Common Law Junior. Being a subaltern in the Shropshire Yeomanry when the war broke out, he had passed into the Cavalry, and not long after into the trenches, where he had known better luck than most people. His rise at the Bar after the war had been rapid. Solicitors liked him. He never fell foul of judges, and as a cross-examiner stood out, because he almost seemed to regret the points he scored. He was a Roman Catholic, from breeding rather than observance. Finally, he was fastidious in matters of sex, and his presence at a dinner-table on circuit had, if not a silencing, at least a moderating effect on tongues.
He occupied in Harcourt Buildings a commodious set of chambers designed for life as well as learning. Early every morning, wet or fine, he went for a ride in the Row, having already done at least two hours’ work on his cases. By ten o’clock, bathed, breakfasted, and acquainted with the morning’s news, he was ready for the Courts. When at four those Courts rose, he was busy again till half-past six on his cases. The evenings, hitherto free, would now be spent at the House: and since it would be seldom that he could go to bed without working an hour or so on some case or other, his sleep was likely to be curtailed from six hours to five, or even four.
The arrangement come to with Clare was simple. She arrived at a quarter to ten, opened his correspondence, and took his instructions from ten to a quarter past. She remained to do what was necessary, and came again at six o’clock, ready for anything fresh or left over.
On the evening after that last described, at the hour of eight-fifteen, he entered the drawing-room in Mount Street, was greeted, and introduced to Adrian, who had again been bidden. Discussing the state of the pound and other grave matters, they waited, till Lady Mont said suddenly: “Soup. What have you done with Clare, Mr. Dornford?”
His eyes, which had hitherto taken in little but Dinny, regarded his hostess with a faint surprise.
“She left the Temple at half-past six, saying we should meet again.”
“Then,” said Lady Mont, “we’ll go down.”
There followed one of those discomfortable hours well known to well-bred people, when four of them are anxious upon a subject which they must not broach to the fifth, and the fifth becomes aware of this anxiety.
They were, indeed, too few for the occasion, for all that each one of them said could be heard by the others. It was impossible for Eustace Dornford to be confidential with either of his neighbours; and since he instinctively felt that without a preliminary confidence he would only put his foot into it, he was careful to be public-minded and keep to such topics as the Premier, the undiscovered identity of certain poisoners, the ventilation of the House of Commons, the difficulty of knowing exactly what to do with one’s hat there, and other subjects of general interest. But, by the end of dinner he was so acutely aware that they were burning to say things he mustn’t hear, that he invented a professional telephone call, and was taken out of the room by Blore.
The moment he had gone Dinny said:
“She must have been waylaid, Auntie. Could I be excused and go and see?”
Sir Lawrence answered:
“Better wait till we break, Dinny; a few minutes can’t matter now.”
“Don’t you think,” said Adrian, “that Dornford ought to know how things stand? She goes to him every day.”
“I’ll tell him,” said Sir Lawrence.
“No,” said Lady Mont. “Dinny must tell him. Wait for him here, Dinny. We’ll go up.”
Thus it was that, returning to the dining-room after his trunk-call to someone whom he knew to be away from home, Dornford found Dinny waiting. She handed him the cigars and said:
“Forgive us, Mr. Dornford. It’s about my sister. Please light up, and here’s coffee. Blore, would you mind getting me a taxi?”
When they had drunk their coffee, and were standing together by the fire, she turned her face to it and went on hurriedly:
“You see, Clare has split from her husband, and he’s just come over to take her back. She won’t go, and it’s rather a difficult time for her.”
Dornford made a considerate sound.
“I’m very glad you told me. I’ve been feeling unhappy all dinner.”
“I must go now, I’m afraid, and find out what’s happened.”
“Could I come with you?”
“Oh! thank you, but —”
“It would be a real pleasure.”
Dinny stood hesitating. He looked like a present help in trouble; but she said: “Thank you, but perhaps my sister wouldn’t like it.”
“I see. Any time I can help, please let me know.”
“Your taxi’s at the door, Miss.”
“Some day,” she said, “I’d like to ask you about divorce.”
In the taxi she wondered what she would do if she could not get in; and then what she would do if she could get in and Corven were there. She stopped the cab at the corner of the Mews.
“Stay here, please, I’ll let you know in a minute if I want you again.”
Dark and private loomed that little backwater.
‘Like one’s life,’ thought Dinny, and pulled at the ornamental bell. It tinkled all forlorn, and nothing happened. Again and again she rang, then moved backward to look up at the windows. The curtains — she remembered they were heavy — had been drawn close; she could not decide whether or no there was light behind them. Once more she rang and used the knocker, holding her breath to listen. No sound at all! At last, baffled and disquiet, she went back to the cab. Clare had said Corven was staying at the Bristol, and she gave that address. There might be a dozen explanations; only why, in a town of telephones, had Clare not let them know? Half-past ten! Perhaps she had by now!
The cab drew up at the hotel. “Wait, please!” Entering its discreetly gilded hall, she stood for a moment at a loss. The setting seemed unsuitable for private trouble.
“Yes, madam?” said a page-boy’s voice.
“Could you find out for me, please, if my brother-inlaw, Sir Gerald Corven, is in the hotel?”
What should she say if they brought him to her? Her figure in its evening cloak was reflected in a mirror, and that it was straight filled her with a sort of surprise — she felt so as if she were curling and creeping this way and that. But they did not bring him to her. He was not in his room, nor in any of the public rooms. She went out again to her cab.
“Back to Mount Street, please.”
Dornford and Adrian were gone, her Aunt and Uncle playing piquet.
“I couldn’t get into her rooms, and he was not in his hotel.”
“You went there?”
“It was all I could think of to do.”
Sir Lawrence rose. “I’ll telephone to Burton’s.” Dinny sat down beside her Aunt.
“I feel she’s in trouble, Auntie. Clare’s never rude.”
“Kidnapped or locked up,” said Lady Mont. “There was a case when I was young. Thompson, or Watson — a great fuss. Habeas corpus, or something — husbands can’t now. Well, Lawrence?”
“He hasn’t been in the Club since five o’clock. We must just wait till the morning. She may have forgotten, you know; or got the evening mixed.”
“But she told Mr. Dornford that they would meet again.”
“So they will, tomorrow morning. No good worrying, Dinny.”
Dinny went up, but did not undress. Had she done all she could? The night was clear and fine and warm for November. Only a quarter of a mile or so away, was that backwater of Mews — should she slip out and go over there again?
She threw off her evening frock, put on a day dress, hat and fur coat, and stole downstairs. It was dark in the hall. Quietly drawing back the bolts, she let herself out, and took to the streets. When she entered the Mews — where a couple of cars were being put away for the night — she saw light coming from the upper windows of No. 2. They had been opened and the curtains drawn aside. She rang the bell.
After a moment Clare, in her dressing-gown, opened the door.
“Was it you who came before, Dinny?”
“Sorry I couldn’t let you in. Come up!”
She led the way up the spiral stairs, and Dinny followed.
Upstairs it was warm and light, the door into the tiny bathroom open, and the couch in disorder. Clare looked at her sister with a sort of unhappy defiance.
“Yes, I’ve had Jerry here, he’s not been gone ten minutes.”
A horrified shiver went down Dinny’s spine.
“After all, he’s come a long way,” said Clare; “good of you to worry, Dinny.”
“He was outside here when I got back from the Temple. I was an idiot to let him in. After that — oh! well, it doesn’t matter! I’ll take care it doesn’t happen again.”
“Would you like me to stay?”
“Oh! no. But have some tea. I’ve just made it. I don’t want anyone to know of this.”
“Of course not. I’ll say you had a bad headache and couldn’t get out to telephone.”
When they were drinking the tea Dinny said:
“This hasn’t altered your plans?”
“Dornford was there to-night. We thought it best to tell him you were having a difficult time.”
“It must all seem very funny to you.”
“It seems to me tragic.”
Clare shrugged, then stood up and threw her arms round her sister. After that silent embrace, Dinny went out into the Mews, now dark and deserted. At the corner leading into the Square she almost walked into a young man.
“Mr. Croom, isn’t it?”
“Miss Cherrell? Have you been at Lady Corven’s?”
“Is she all right?”
His face was worried, and his voice anxious. Dinny took a deep breath before answering:
“Oh! yes. Why not?”
“She was saying last night that man was over here. It worries me terribly.”
Through Dinny shot the thought: ‘If he’d met “that man”!’ But she said, quietly:
“Walk with me as far as Mount Street.”
“I don’t mind your knowing,” he said, “I’m over head and ears in love with her. Who wouldn’t be? Miss Cherrell, I don’t think she ought to be in that place alone. She told me he came yesterday while you were there.”
“Yes. I took him away with me, as I’m taking you. I think my sister should be left to herself.”
He seemed to hunch himself together.
“Have YOU ever been in love?”
“Well, then you know.”
Yes, she knew!
“It’s absolute torture not to be with her, able to see that she’s all right. She takes it all lightly, but I can’t.”
Takes it all lightly! Clare’s face looking at her! She did not answer.
“The fact is,” said young Croom, with incoherence, “people can say and think what they like, but if they felt as I feel, they simply couldn’t. I won’t bother her, I really won’t; but I can’t stand her being in danger from that man.”
Dinny controlled herself to say quietly: “I don’t think Clare’s in any danger. But she might be if it were known that you —” He met her eyes squarely.
“I’m glad she’s got you. For God’s sake look after her, Miss Cherrell.”
They had reached the corner of Mount Street, and she held out her hand.
“You may be certain that whatever Clare does I shall stick by her. Good-night! And cheer up!”
He wrung her hand, and went off as if the devil were after him. Dinny went in, and slid the bolts quietly.
On what thin ice! She could hardly drag one foot before the other as she went upstairs, and sank down on her bed exhausted.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08