Authors: Paula Marshall
He dismissed both Chance and Sir Ratcliffe and thought instead about Dinah. To his astonishment, and little had ever astonished him since his time in America's Southwest, his feelings towards her were undergoing a rapid, and daily, change.
He had rescued her out of pity: there had been nothing of love, or lust in his mind when he had done so. Yetâ¦yetâ¦day by day, living with her, watching her, even before she had come to change and blossom, something strange had begun to happen to him.
What were these new feelings? At first he had thought that it was simple protection that he felt: protection for someone who, although charmingly innocent, had proved to have a sharp and incisive mind. Was that what had attracted himâthat he could give her the opportunity to let that mind rove free? He had initiated her into the pleasures of the bed and she had rapidly become as adept as he, but it was not simple lust which he felt for her. No, it was more than that.
For all his clevernessâperhaps, indeed, because of itâhe could not give his feelings a name. Was this, then, love? If so, it was something which he had never felt before, and if it were, he knew that he had never loved Susanna as she had loved him. Or, if he had, it had been the untutored love of a boy, not this complex feeling which Dinah evoked in him.
He sat up, violently, pulled his hat away from his eyes, and stared across the beautiful garden to where Dinah was walking and talking with her mother.
No, he didn't want it, no. He did not want to be overcome by what he had deliberately renounced. For to love was to be obligated, to be in some way tied to the person loved, and he did not want that. He had spent ten years creating and preserving his solitude, and to love Dinah was to breach it, and destroy in a moment every brick in the wall which he had built around himself to keep others outâ¦and himself secure.
Long ago on a hot morning in the desert he had con
fronted the possibility of a cruel death at the hands of a man who was determined to make an example of him to deter others who might wish to free themselves from the bondage in which he and his master held them.
It was love and friendship which had brought him to that pass, and he had vowed then, that if he survived, he would never be at anyone's mercy again. He would live by and for himself, and no one else. If he helped others, it would always be on his own termsâ¦
But what had he done, all unwittingly? He had bought himself a wife, almost by accident, and in doing so was discovering that he had altered the nature of his whole world, that his personal future, once carefully mapped out, had changed completely. He had lost the key to the map of his life and was wandering on strange roads, not sure of his destination.
Cobie shook himself and lay down again. âMuch thinking hath made him mad,' had once been saidâby whom? Perhaps he ought to tryâfor a timeânot to do so. Slowly, slowly, he transported himself into the mindlessness trance again, but he knew, that when he awoke from it, his problems would still be there waiting for himâ¦
Dinah was having a heart-to-heart talk with her mother among the scents of the herb garden where, earlier in the year, Cobie had reluctantly done Violet's bidding and had been cruel to her. It seemed another life, not a mere few months ago, that she had left the haven of her mother's cottage, fearful of her future. She could not then have imagined her present situation as the admired wife of a man who had deserted Violet to marry her.
And if she still had no notion why he had done such a
thing, that was no longer a matter for worry. He had done soâand that was that.
âYou are happy?' her mother was asking. âYou look happy.'
Dinah thought for a moment. âYes, I suppose I am. Not completely so, but then, who is?'
She was thinking of Cobie and of her wish that he would come to love her as she loved him. Of course, it might be thought, if one were being logical, that she loved him because of what he had done for her. It would then followâor would it?âthat she might have to do something for him to make him love her. What in the world could she, powerless Dinah Grant, late Dinah Freville, ever be able to do to help the self-sufficient man who was her husband?
She could hardly say all that to her mother.
âTrue,' said her mother. She added shrewdly, âViolet tells me that you are the success of the Seasonâand him, too. Now, one might have expected his, but yours is the more surprisingâalthough not when I look at you now.'
âRidiculous, isn't it?' Dinah said, laughing a little ruefully. âI'm not entirely sure that I like it. People standing on chairs to stare at me. I'm not really such a knock-out, surely.'
âYou're different,' said her mother, shrewd again. âSociety always wants something different.'
âAnd strange,' agreed Dinah. âI suppose I might have been even more remarked on if I'd possessed two heads!'
âThat's it,' said her mother. âThat's the sort of thing you can get away with now. Violet tells me that your picture postcard is on sale in newsagents' shops. I'm surprised that you consented to that.'
âI didn't. Some photographer took me at Henley Regatta without my permissionâI was wearing my hat with the
snowdrops. The next thing we knew was that it was on sale entitled
The English Snowdrop
. Cobie thought of making a fuss and having it withdrawn, but he changed his mind and let it go. Besides, he said that it would make Violet fume to know that there was another Freville sister celebrated in the beauty stakesâshe had thought that she was the only one.'
âGood for him,' said her mother. âViolet needs a bit of taking down now and thenâit's good for her. Rainsborough and I spoiled her when she was a childânot a wise thing to do. I didn't make the same mistake with you.'
âNo, indeed,' said Dinah, laughing again. âFirm, but loving, that's what you wereâjust like Cobie.'
âAnd you are happy with him? You should beâ¦'
âSeeing what he's done for me? No, if I love him it's not because of that. It's for a dozen other reasons.'
âAnd the Prince. Violet also tells me that the Grants are high in his favour. Does he behave himself with you?'
âOh, yes. You see, the women he particularly favours are all much olderâand largerâthan I am. He sees me as a daughter, I think. He admires Cobie because he is an American who does things, but manages to look and talk like an English gentleman. In essence we're a couple of freaks.'
Her mother began to laugh. âOh, I see why you're a success, my dear. Now, if you will forgive me I will go indoors. Since I grew older, too much sun troubles me, but if you wish to remain outside, I quite understand.'
Impulsively Dinah kissed her mother on the cheek.
âI'm so glad Violet invited you. Yes, I will stay outside a little longer.'
She watched her mother walk away, before strolling down the very path in the Knot Garden on which she had stood with Cobie on that distant March day.
She could see him lying on the small lawn, in the shade of a willow, his hat over his eyes. She would not disturb him. She had already learned that there were times when he wished to be aloneâas she wished to be now.
Dinah sat down on the grass and looked about her. Like Cobie she began to muse on life, and on the problem of what she felt for himâand he for her. She had no doubt about her own feelings; for all his faultsâand she was wise enough to recognise themâshe loved himâand passionately.
But did he love her? That was the difficult question.
Perhaps it was simply that he pitied herâand pity was surely kin to loveâbut she wanted more than his pity, she wanted from him the equivalent of what she felt for him. Something told her that, if she were patient, then it was possible that she might win his love, either by
something for himâor
something for him, she was not sure which.
Patience, she told herself, all my short life I have been asked to exercise patience, so it should not be difficult to exercise it again.
Dinah looked about her. On the edge of a bed of thyme a solitary, late daisy nodded. She remembered what she had thought in Paris: that there were no daisies in the Faubourg St Germain. But here at Moorings, where she had suffered, and where she had met the man whom she loved so fiercely that it was almost painful, there was a daisyâone.
The last daisy.
Was it an omen? She would take it as one.
Dinah plucked it, and before she knew what she was doing, and after she had looked across at him, supine in the sun which he so closely resembled, Apollo himself, she began to strip the petals from it, one by one.
She whispered as she held each one for a moment in her hand, before letting it fall, oh, so gently, into her lap, âHe loves me, he loves me not.'
The litany continued until she plucked the flower's last petal, saying with quiet triumph, âHe loves me.'
Oh, yes, he would, he surely would.
Dinah's lips moved in a silent prayer that her wish would be granted while the last petal drifted slowly to the groundâ¦to be taken away by the light breeze.
In the distance Cobie stirred, his trance broken by he knew not what. He drifted slowly back to life, thinkingâwhat was he thinking? No, he was feelingâ¦what?
He brushed a daisy's petal from his cheek. The light breeze which blew across the garden had gifted him with it. From nowhere two thoughts crossed his mind before the sleep, which often followed the trance, claimed him.
Is it possible that I could learn to love?
Is it possible that I could love Dinahâwho is eminently loveable?
THE DOLLAR PRINCE'S WIFE
Copyright Â© 2001 by Paula Marshall
First North American Publication 2006
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