CROSS CURRENTS

Vanessa Pennington had a husband who was poor, with few

extenuating circumstances, and an admirer who, though

comfortably rich, was cumbered with a sense of honour. His

wealth made him welcome in Vanessa’s eyes, but his code of

what was right impelled him to go away and forget her, or at

the most to think of her in the intervals of doing a great

many other things. And although Alaric Clyde loved Vanessa,

and thought he should always go on loving her, he gradually

and unconsciously allowed himself to be wooed and won by a

more alluring mistress; he fancied that his continued

shunning of the haunts of men was a self-imposed exile, but

his heart was caught in the spell of the Wilderness, and the

Wilderness was kind and beautiful to him. When one is young

and strong and unfettered the wild earth can be very kind

and very beautiful. Witness the legion of men who were once

young and unfettered and now eat out their souls in

dustbins, because, having erstwhile known and loved the

Wilderness, they broke from her thrall and turned aside into

beaten paths.

In the high waste places of the world Clyde roamed and

hunted and dreamed, death-dealing and gracious as some god

of Hellas, moving with his horses and servants and

four-footed camp followers from one dwelling ground to

another, a welcome guest among wild primitive village folk

and nomads, a friend and slayer of the fleet, shy beasts

around him. By the shores of misty upland lakes he shot the

wild fowl that had winged their way to him across half the

old world; beyond Bokhara he watched the wild Aryan horsemen

at their gambols; watched, too, in some dim-lit tea-house

one of those beautiful uncouth dances that one can never

wholly forget; or, making a wide cast down to the valley of

the Tigris, swam and rolled in its snow-cooled racing

waters. Vanessa, meanwhile, in a Bayswater back street, was

making out the weekly laundry list, attending bargain sales,

and, in her more adventurous moments, trying new ways of

cooking whiting. Occasionally she went to bridge parties,

where, if the play was not illuminating, at least one

learned a great deal about the private life of some of the

Royal and Imperial Houses. Vanessa, in a way, was glad that

Clyde had done the proper thing. She had a strong natural

bias towards respectability, though she would have preferred

to have been respectable in smarter surroundings, where her

example would have done more good. To be beyond reproach

was one thing, but it would have been nicer to have been

nearer to the Park.

And then of a sudden her regard for respectability and

Clyde’s sense of what was right were thrown on the scrapheap

of unnecessary things. They had been useful and highly

important in their time, but the death of Vanessa’s husband

made them of no immediate moment.

The news of the altered condition of things followed Clyde

with leisurely persistence from one place of call to

another, and at last ran him to a standstill somewhere in

the Orenburg Steppe. He would have found it exceedingly

difficult to analyze his feelings on receipt of the tidings.

The Fates had unexpectedly (and perhaps just a little

officiously) removed an obstacle from his path. He supposed

he was overjoyed, but he missed the feeling of elation which

he had experienced some four months ago when he had bagged a

snow-leopard with a lucky shot after a day’s fruitless

stalking. Of course he would go back and ask Vanessa to

marry him, but he was determined on enforcing a condition:

on no account would he desert his newer love. Vanessa would

have to agree to come out into the Wilderness with him.

The lady hailed the return of her lover with even more

relief than had been occasioned by his departure. The death

of John Pennington had left his widow in circumstances which

were more straitened than ever, and the Park had receded

even from her note-paper, where it had long been retained as

a courtesy title on the principle that addresses are given

to us to conceal our whereabouts. Certainly she was more

independent now than heretofore, but independence, which

means so much to many women, was of little account to

Vanessa, who came under the heading of the mere female. She

made little ado about accepting Clyde’s condition, and

announced herself ready to follow him to the end of the

world; as the world was round she nourished a complacent

idea that in the ordinary course of things one would find

oneself in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park Corner sooner or

later no matter how far afield one wandered.

East of Budapest her complacency began to filter away, and

when she saw her husband treating the Black Sea with a

familiarity which she had never been able to assume towards

the English Channel, misgivings began to crowd in upon her.

Adventures which would have presented an amusing and

enticing aspect to a better-bred woman aroused in Vanessa

only the twin sensations of fright and discomfort. Flies

bit her, and she was persuaded that it was only sheer

boredom that prevented camels from doing the same. Clyde

did his best, and a very good best it was, to infuse

something of the banquet into their prolonged desert

picnics, but even snow-cooled Heidsieck lost its flavour

when you were convinced that the dusky cupbearer who served

it with such reverent elegance was only waiting a convenient

opportunity to cut your throat. it was useless for Clyde to

give Yussuf a character for devotion such as is rarely found

in any Western servant. Vanessa was well enough educated to

know that all dusky-skinned people take human life as

unconcernedly as Bayswater folk take singing lessons.

And with a growing irritation and querulousness on her

part came a further disenchantment, born of the inability of

husband and wife. to find a common ground of interest. The

habits and migrations of the sand grouse, the folklore and

customs of Tartars and Turkomans, the points of a Cossack

pony—these were matters which evoked only a bored

indifference in Vanessa. On the other hand, Clyde was not

thrilled on being informed that the Queen of Spain detested

mauve, or that a certain Royal duchess, for whose tastes he

was never likely to be called on to cater, nursed a violent

but perfectly respectable passion for beef olives.

Vanessa began to arrive at the conclusion that a husband

who added a roving disposition to a settled income was a

mixed blessing. It was one thing to go to the end of the

world; it was quite another thing to make oneself at home

there. Even respectability seemed to lose some of its

virtue when one practised it in a tent.

Bored and disillusioned with the drift of her new life,

Vanessa was undisguisedly glad when distraction offered

itself in the person of Mr. Dobrinton, a chance acquaintance

whom they had first run against in the primitive hostelry of

a benighted Caucasian town. Dobrinton was elaborately

British, in deference perhaps to the memory of his mother,

who was said to have derived part of her origin from an

English governess who had come to Lemberg a long way back in

the last century. If you had called him Dobrinski when off

his guard he would probably have responded readily enough;

holding, no doubt, that the end crowns all, he had taken a

slight liberty with the family patronymic. To look at, Mr.

Dobrinton was not a very attractive specimen of masculine

humanity, but in Vanessa’s eyes he was a link with that

civilization which Clyde seemed so ready to ignore and

forgo. He could sing “Yip-I-Addy” and spoke of several

duchesses as if he knew them—in his more inspired moments

almost as if they knew him. He even pointed out blemishes

in the cuisine or cellar departments of some of the more

august London restaurants, a species of Higher Criticism

which was listened to by Vanessa in awestricken admiration.

And, above all, he sympathized, at first discreetly,

afterwards with more latitude, with her fretful discontent

at Clyde’s nomadic instincts. Business connected with

oil-wells had brought Dobrinton to the neighbourhood of

Baku; the pleasure of appealing to an appreciative female

audience induced him to deflect his return journey so as to

coincide a good deal with his new acquaintances’ line of

march. And while Clyde trafficked with Persian

horse-dealers or hunted the wild grey pigs in their lairs

and added to his notes on Central Asian game-fowl, Dobrinton

and the lady discussed the ethics of desert respectability

from points of view that showed a daily tendency to

converge. And one evening Clyde dined alone, reading

between the courses a long letter from Vanessa, justifying

her action in flitting to more civilized lands with a more

congenial companion.

It was distinctly evil luck for Vanessa, who really was

thoroughly respectable at heart, that she and her lover

should run into the hands of Kurdish brigands on the first

day of their flight. To be mewed up in a squalid Kurdish

village in close companionship with a man who was only your

husband by adoption, and to have the attention of all Europe

drawn to your plight, was about the least respectable thing

that could happen. And there were international

complications, which made things worse. “English lady and

her husband, of foreign nationality, held by Kurdish

brigands who demand ransom” had been the report of the

nearest Consul. Although Dobrinton was British at heart,

the other portions of him belonged to the Habsburgs, and

though the Habsburgs took no great pride or pleasure in this

particular unit of their wide and varied possessions, and

would gladly have exchanged him for some interesting bird or

mammal for the Schoenbrunn Park, the code of international

dignity demanded that they should display a decent

solicitude for his restoration. And while the Foreign

Offices of the two countries were taking the usual steps to

secure the release of their respective subjects a further

horrible complication ensued. Clyde, following on the track

of the fugitives, not with any special desire to overtake

them, but with a dim feeling that it was expected of him,

fell into the hands of the same community of brigands.

Diplomacy, while anxious to do its best for a lady in

misfortune, showed signs of becoming restive at this

expansion of its task; as a frivolous young gentleman in

Downing Street remarked, “Any husband of Mrs. Dobrinton’s

we shall be glad to extricate, but let us know how many

there are of them.” For a woman who valued respectability

Vanessa really had no luck.

Meanwhile the situation of the captives was not free from

embarrassment. When Clyde explained to the Kurdish headmen

the nature of his relationship with the runaway couple they

were gravely sympathetic, but vetoed any idea of summary

vengeance, since the Habsburgs would be sure to insist on

the delivery of Dobrinton alive, and in a reasonably

undamaged condition. They did not object to Clyde

administering a beating to his rival for half an hour every

Monday and Thursday, but Dobrinton turned such a sickly

green when he heard of this arrangement that the chief was

obliged to withdraw the concession.

And so, in the cramped quarters of a mountain hut, the

ill-assorted trio watched the insufferable hours crawl

slowly by. Dobrinton was too frightened to be

conversational, Vanessa was too mortified to open her lips,

and Clyde was moodily silent. The little Lemberg

negociant plucked up heart once to give a quavering

rendering of “Yip-I-Addy,” but when he reached the

statement “home was never like this” Vanessa tearfully

begged him to stop. And silence fastened itself with

growing insistence on the three captives who were so

tragically herded together; thrice a day they drew near to

one another to swallow the meal that had been prepared for

them, like desert beasts meeting in mute suspended hostility

at the drinking-pool, and then drew back to resume the vigil

of waiting.

Clyde was less carefully watched than the others.

“Jealousy will keep him to the woman’s side,” thought his

Kurdish captors. They did not know that his wilder, truer

love was calling to him with a hundred voices from beyond

the village bounds. And one evening, finding that he was

not getting the attention to which he was entitled, Clyde

slipped away down the mountain side and resumed his study of

Central Asian game-fowl. The remaining captives were

guarded henceforth with greater rigour, but Dobrinton at any

rate scarcely regretted Clyde’s departure.

The long arm, or perhaps one might better say the long

purse, of diplomacy at last effected the release of the

prisoners, but the Habsburgs were never to enjoy the guerdon

of their outlay. On the quay of the little Black Sea Port,

where the rescued pair came once more into contact with

civilization, Dobrinton was bitten by a dog which was

assumed to be mad, though it may only have been

indiscriminating. The victim did not wait for symptoms of

rabies to declare themselves, but died forthwith of fright,

and Vanessa made the homeward journey alone, conscious

somehow of a sense of slightly restored respectability.

Clyde, in the intervals of correcting the proofs of his book

on the game-fowl of Central Asia, found time to press a

divorce suit through the Courts, and as soon as possible

hied him away to the congenial solitudes of the Gobi Desert

to collect material for a work on the fauna of that region.

Vanessa, by virtue perhaps of her earlier intimacy with the

cooking rites of the whiting, obtained a place on the

kitchen staff of a West End Club. It was not brilliant, but

at least it was within two minutes of the Park.