Dinny sat in the little bare waiting-room turning over The Times. Young Croom stood at the window.
“Dinny,” he said, turning, “can you think of any way in which I can make this less beastly for her? It’s all my fault in a sense, but I have tried to keep myself in hand.”
Dinny looked at his troubled face. “I can’t; except by sticking to the exact truth.”
“Do you believe in that chap in there?”
“I rather do. I like his taking snuff.”
“I don’t believe in defending. Why should she be ragged in the witness-box for nothing? What does it matter if they bankrupt me?”
“We must prevent that somehow.”
“D’you think I’d let —”
“We won’t discuss it, Tony. Sufficient unto the day! Isn’t this a dingy place? Dentists try much harder — Marcus Stone on the walls, all the old Bystanders, and you can bring a dog.”
“Could we smoke?”
“These are only stinkers.”
Dinny took one, and they puffed for a minute in silence.
“It’s too foul!” he said, suddenly. “That fellow will have to come over, won’t he? He never can really have cared a scrap for her.”
“Oh! yes, he did. ‘Souvent homme varie, folle est qui s’y fie!’”
“Well,” said young Croom grimly, “I’d better be kept from him.” He went back to the window and stood looking out. Dinny sat thinking of that scene, when two men had not been kept apart, so pitifully like a dog fight and rending to her in its sequel.
Then Clare came in. There were spots of red in her pale cheeks. “Your turn, Tony.”
Young Croom came from the window, looked hard into her face, and passed into the lawyer’s room. Dinny felt very sorry for him.
“Ugh!” said Clare: “Let’s get out of this!”
On the pavement, she went on:
“I wish now we had been lovers, Dinny, instead of in this mock-pretty state that no one believes in.”
“We DO believe.”
“Oh! you and Dad. But that snuffy rabbit doesn’t, and no one else will. Still, I shall go through with it. I won’t let Tony down, and I won’t give Jerry an inch that I can help giving.”
“Let’s have tea,” said Dinny. “There must be tea somewhere in the City.”
In a crowded thoroughfare they soon saw an A.B.C.
“Then you didn’t like ‘very young’ Roger?” asked Dinny from across the small round table.
“Oh! he’s all right — rather decent, really. I suppose lawyers simply can’t believe. But nothing will shake me, Dinny, about not going into my married life. I will not, and that’s flat.”
“I see his point. You start with the battle half won against you.”
“I won’t allow the lawyers to work it in. We employ them, and they must do what we want. I’m going straight from here to the Temple, by the bye, and perhaps on to the House.”
“Excuse my reverting for a moment; but what are you going to do about Tony Croom till this comes on?”
“Go on just as we were, except for nights in cars. Though what the difference between day and night — in a car, or anywhere else — is, I don’t know.”
“I suppose they go by human nature as a whole.” And Dinny leaned back. So many girls, so many young men, snatching their teas and rolls and buns and cocoa; chatter and silence and a stale effluvium, little tables, and the attendant spirits. What WAS human nature as a whole? Didn’t they say that it had to be changed? The stuffy past wiped out! And yet this A.B.C. was just like the A.B.C. she went into with her mother before the war, and thought so thrilling because the bread was aerated. And the Divorce Court — into which she had never been yet — was that any different?
“Have you finished, old thing?” said Clare.
“Yes. I’ll come with you as far as the Temple.”
As they paused to part at Middle Temple Lane, a rather high and pleasant voice said:
“What luck!” and a light momentary grip was laid on her arm.
“If you’re going straight to the House,” said Clare, “I’ll run on and get my things and join you here.”
“Tactful,” said Dornford. “Let’s stand against this ‘portal.’ When I don’t see you for so long, Dinny, I feel lost. Jacob served for Rachel fourteen years — longevity is not what it was, so every month I serve is equal to one of his years.”
“Rachel and he were walking out.”
“I know. Well, I must just wait and hope. I just HAVE to wait.”
Leaning against the yellow ‘portal’ she looked at him. His face was quivering. Suddenly sorry, she said:
“Some day, perhaps, I shall come to life again. I won’t wait any more now. Good-bye, and thank you! . . .”
This sudden intrusion of herself was no comfort to her in her homing bus. The sight of his quivering face made her restless and uneasy. She did not want to cause him unhappiness — a nice man, considerate to Clare, a pleasant voice, an attractive face; and in range of interest nearer to her than Wilfrid had ever been. Only, where was that wild, sweet yearning, transmuting every value, turning the world into a single being, the one longed-for, dreamed-of mate? She sat very still in the bus, looking over the head of the woman on the opposite side, who, with fingers crisped on the satchel in her lap, wore the expression of a sportsman about to try a new field or spinney. The lights were coming up in Regent Street of a cold, just not snowy evening. There used to be the low curving roof-line, the rather nice, bilious yellow of the Quadrant. She remembered how on the top of a bus she had differed from the girl Millicent Pole about old Regent Street. Changing, changing, everything changing! And before her suddenly closed eyes came Wilfrid’s face, with its lips drawn back, as she had seen it last passing her in the Green Park.
Someone trod on her toe. She opened her eyes, and said: “I beg your pardon.”
“Granted, I’m sure.”
Very polite! People were more polite every year!
The bus had stopped. Dinny hurried from it. She went down Conduit Street, passing her father’s tailors. Poor darling, he never went there now. Clothes were so dear; and, of course, he loathed new clothes! She came to Bond Street.
The traffic staggered to a standstill, the whole street seemed one long line of held-up cars. And England ruined! She crossed into Bruton Street. And then, in front of her, she saw a familiar figure, walking slowly with his head down! She came up with him.
He raised his head; tears were trickling down his cheeks. He blinked his large dark prominent eyes, and passed his hand over his face.
“You miss? I was just coming to you.” And he held out a telegram.
Holding it up in the dim light, she read:
“Henry Stack, 50a Cork Street, London. Very sorry to inform you Honourable Wilfrid Desert drowned on expedition up-country some weeks ago. Body recovered and buried on spot. Report only just come in. No possible doubt. Condolences. British Consulate, Bangkok.”
Stonily she stood, seeing nothing. Stack’s fingers came up and detached the telegram.
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you. Show it to Mr. Mont, Stack. Don’t grieve.”
Dinny laid her fingers on his sleeve, gave it a little pull, and walked swiftly on.
Don’t grieve! Sleet was falling now. She raised her face to feel the tingling touch of those small flakes. No more dead to her than he had already been. But — DEAD! Away over there — utterly far! Lying in the earth by the river that had drowned him, in forest silence, where no one would ever see his grave. Every memory she had of him came to life with an intensity that seemed to take all strength from her limbs, so that she nearly collapsed in the snowy street. She stood for a minute with her gloved hand on the railing of a house. An evening postman stopped and looked round at her. Perhaps some tiny flame of hope — that some day he would come back — had flickered deep down within her; perhaps only the snowy cold was creeping into her bones; but she felt deadly cold and numb.
She reached Mount Street at last and let herself in. And there a sudden horror of betraying that anything had happened to awaken pity for her, interest in her, any sort of feeling, beset her, and she fled to her room. What was it to anyone but her? And pride so moved within her that even her heart felt cold as stone.
A hot bath revived her a little. She dressed for dinner early and went down.
The evening was one of silences more tolerable than the spasmodic spurts of conversation. Dinny felt ill. When she went up to bed her Aunt came to her room.
“Dinny, you look like a ghost.”
“I got chilled, Auntie.”
“Lawyers! — they do. I’ve brought you a posset.”
“Ah! I’ve always longed to know what a posset is.”
“Well, drink it.”
Dinny drank, and gasped.
“Yes. Your Uncle made it. Michael rang up.” And taking the glass, Lady Mont bent forward and kissed her cheek. “That’s all,” she said. “Now go to bed, or you’ll be ill.”
Dinny smiled. “I’m not going to be ill, Aunt Em.”
In pursuance of that resolve she went down to breakfast next morning.
The oracle, it seemed, had spoken in a typewritten letter signed Kingson, Cuthcott and Forsyte. It recommended putting in a defence, and had so advised Lady Corven and Mr. Croom. When it had taken the necessary proceedings it would advise further.
And that coldness in the pit of the stomach which follows the receipt of lawyers’ letters was felt even by Dinny, the pit of whose stomach was already deadly cold.
She went back to Condaford with her father by the morning train, repeating to her Aunt the formula: “I’m not going to be ill.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54