Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 10

Seated between Hallorsen and young Tasburgh, Dinny had a slanting view of her Aunt and Lord Saxenden at the head of the table, with Jean Tasburgh round the corner on his right. “She was a ‘leopardess’ oh! so fair!” The tawnied skin, oblique face, and wonderful eyes of the young woman fascinated her. They appeared also to fascinate Lord Saxenden, whose visage was redder and more genial than Dinny had seen it yet. His attentions to Jean, indeed, were throwing Lady Mont to the clipped tongue of Wilfred Bentworth. For ‘the Squire,’ though a far more distinguished personality, too distinguished to accept a peerage, was, in accordance with the table of precedence, seated on her left. Next to him again Fleur was engaging Hallorsen; so that Dinny herself was exposed to the broadside of young Tasburgh. He talked easily, directly, frankly, like a man not yet calloused by female society, and manifested what Dinny described to herself as ‘transparent admiration’; yet twice at least she went into what he described as a ‘near-dream,’ her head turned high, and motionless, towards his sister.

“Ah!” he said. “What do you think of her?”

“Fascinating.”

“I’ll tell her that, she won’t turn a hair. The earth’s most matter-of-fact young woman. She seems to be vamping her neighbour all right. Who is he?”

“Lord Saxenden.”

“Oh! And who’s the John Bull at the corner on our side?”

“Wilfred Bentworth, ‘the Squire,’ they call him.”

“And next to you — talking to Mrs. Michael?”

“That’s Professor Hallorsen from America.”

“He’s a fine-looking chap.”

“So everybody says,” said Dinny, drily.

“Don’t you think so?”

“Men oughtn’t to be so good-looking.”

“Delighted to hear you say that.”

“Why?”

“It means that the ugly have a look in.”

“Oh! Do you often go trawling?”

“You know, I’m terribly glad I’ve met you at last.”

“At last? You’d never even heard of me this morning.”

“No. But that doesn’t prevent you from being my ideal.”

“Goodness! Is this the way they have in the Navy?”

“Yes. The first thing they teach us is to make up our minds quickly.”

“Mr. Tasburgh —”

“Alan.”

“I begin to understand the wife in every port.”

“I,” said young Tasburgh, seriously, “haven’t a single one. And you’re the first I’ve ever wanted.”

“Oo! Or is it: Coo!”

“Fact! You see, the Navy is very strenuous. When we see what we want, we have to go for it at once. We get so few chances.”

Dinny laughed. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Then you weren’t at Zeebrugge?”

“I was.”

“I see. It’s become a habit to lay yourself alongside.”

“And get blown up for it.”

Her eyes rested on him kindly.

“I am now going to talk to my enemy.”

“Enemy? Can I do anything about that?”

“His demise would be of no service to me, till he’s done what I want.”

“Sorry for that; he looks to me dangerous.”

“Mrs. Charles is lying in wait for you,” murmured Dinny, and she turned to Hallorsen, who said deferentially: “Miss Cherrell,” as if she had arrived from the moon.

“I hear you shot amazingly, Professor.”

“Why! I’m not accustomed to birds asking for it as they do here. I’ll maybe get used to that in time. But all this is quite an experience for me.”

“Everything in the garden lovely?”

“It certainly is. To be in the same house with you is a privilege I feel very deeply, Miss Cherrell.”

“‘Cannon to right of me, cannon to left of me!’” thought Dinny.

“And have you,” she asked, suddenly, “been thinking what amend you can make to my brother?”

Hallorsen lowered his voice.

“I have a great admiration for you, Miss Cherrell, and I will do what you tell me. If you wish, I will write to your papers and withdraw the remarks in my book.”

“And what would you want for that, Professor Hallorsen?”

“Why, surely, nothing but your goodwill.”

“My brother has given me his diary to publish.”

“If that will be a relief to you — go to it.”

“I wonder if you two ever began to understand each other.”

“I judge we never did.”

“And yet you were only four white men, weren’t you? May I ask exactly what annoyed you in my brother?”

“You’d have it up against me if I were to tell you.”

“Oh! no, I CAN be fair.”

“Well, first of all, I found he’d made up his mind about too many things, and he wouldn’t change it. There we were in a country none of us knew anything about, amongst Indians and people that were only half civilised; but the captain wanted everything done as you might in England: he wanted rules, and he wanted ’em kept. Why, I judge he would have dressed for dinner if we’d have let him.”

“I think you should remember,” said Dinny, taken aback, “that we English have found formality pay all over the world. We succeed in all sorts of wild out of the world places because we stay English. Reading his diary, I think my brother failed from not being stolid enough.”

“Well, he is not your John Bull type,” he nodded towards the end of the table, “like Lord Saxenden and Mr. Bentworth there; maybe I’d have understood him better if he were. No, he’s mighty high-strung and very tight held-in; his emotions kind of eat him up from within. He’s like a race-horse in a hansom cab. Yours is an old family, I should judge, Miss Cherrell.”

“Not yet in its dotage.”

She saw his eyes leave her, rest on Adrian across the table, move on to her Aunt Wilmet, and thence to Lady Mont.

“I would like to talk to your uncle the Curator about old families,” he said.

“What else was there in my brother that you didn’t like?”

“Well, he gave me the feeling that I was a great husky.”

Dinny raised her brows a little.

“There we were,” went on Hallorsen, “in the hell of a country — pardon me! — a country of raw metal. Well, I was raw metal myself, out to meet and beat raw metal; and he just wouldn’t be.”

“Perhaps couldn’t be. Don’t you think what was really wrong was your being American and his being English? Confess, Professor, that you don’t like us English.”

Hallorsen laughed.

“I like YOU terribly.”

“Thank you, but every rule —”

“Well,” his face hardened, “I just don’t like the assumption of a superiority that I don’t believe in.”

“Have we a monopoly of that? What about the French?”

“If I were an orang-outang, Miss Cherrell, I wouldn’t care a hoot whether a chimpanzee thought himself superior.”

“I see; too far removed. But, forgive me, Professor, what about yourselves? Are you not the chosen people? And don’t you frequently say so? Would you exchange with any other people in the world?”

“I certainly would not.”

“But isn’t that an assumption of a superiority that WE don’t believe in?”

He laughed. “You have me there; but we haven’t touched rock-bottom in this matter. There’s a snob in every man. We’re a new people; we haven’t gotten your roots and your old things; we haven’t gotten your habit of taking ourselves for granted; we’re too multiple and various and too much in the making. We have a lot of things that you could envy us besides our dollars and our bathrooms.”

“What ought we to envy you? I should very much like it made clear to me.”

“Well, Miss Cherrell, we know that we have qualities and energy and faith and opportunities that you just ought to envy; and when you don’t do it, we feel we’ve no use for that kind of gone-dead, bone-superior attitude. It’s like a man of sixty looking down his nose at a youth of thirty; and there’s no such God-darned — pardon me! — mistake as that.”

Dinny sat looking at him, silent and impressed.

“Where,” Hallorsen went on, “you British irritate us is that you’ve lost the spirit of enquiry; or if you’ve still gotten it, you have a dandy way of hiding it up. I judge there are many ways in which we irritate you. But we irritate your epidermis and you irritate our nerve centres. That’s about all there is to it, Miss Cherrell.”

“I see,” said Dinny; “that’s terribly interesting and I daresay quite true. My aunt’s getting up, so I must remove my epidermis and leave your nerve centres to quiet down.” She rose, and over her shoulder smiled back at him.

Young Tasburgh was at the door. At him too she smiled, and murmured: “Talk to my friend the enemy; he’s worth it.”

In the drawing-room she sought out the ‘leopardess,’ but converse between them suffered from the inhibition of a mutual admiration which neither wished to show. Jean Tasburgh was just twenty-one, but she impressed Dinny as older than herself. Her knowledge of things and people seemed precise and decided, if not profound; her mind was made up on all the subjects they touched on; she would be a marvellous person — Dinny thought — in a crisis, or if driven to the wall; would be loyal to her own side, but want to rule whatever roost she was in. But alongside her hard efficiency Dinny could well perceive a strange, almost feline fascination that would go to any man’s head, if she chose that it should. Hubert would succumb to her at once! And at that conclusion his sister was the more doubtful whether she wished him to. Here was the very girl to afford the swift distraction she was seeking for her brother. But was he strong enough and alive enough for the distractor? Suppose he fell in love with her and she would have none of him? Or suppose he fell in love with her and she had all of him! And then — money! If Hubert received no appointment or lost his commission what would they live on? He had only three hundred a year without his pay, and the girl presumably nothing. The situation was perverse. If Hubert could plunge again into soldiering, he would not need distraction. If he continued to be shelved, he would need distraction but could not afford it. And yet — was not this exactly the sort of girl who would carve out a career somehow for the man she married? So they talked of Italian pictures.

“By the way,” said Jean, suddenly, “Lord Saxenden says you want him to do something for you.”

“Oh!”

“What is it? Because I’ll make him.”

Dinny smiled.

“How?”

Jean gave her a look from under her lashes.

“It’ll be quite easy. What is it you want from him?”

“I want my brother back in his regiment, or, better — some post for him. He’s under a cloud owing to that Bolivian expedition with Professor Hallorsen.”

“The big man? Is that why you had him down here?”

Dinny had a feeling that she would soon have no clothes on.

“If you want frankness, yes.”

“He’s rather fine to look at.”

“So your brother said.”

“Alan’s the most generous person in the world. He’s taken a toss over you.”

“So he was telling me.”

“He’s an ingenuous child. But, seriously, shall I go for Lord Saxenden?”

“Why should you worry?”

“I like to put my fingers into pies. Give me a free hand, and I’ll bring you that appointment on a charger.”

“I am credibly informed,” said Dinny, “that Lord Saxenden is a tough proposition.”

Jean stretched herself.

“Is your brother Hubert like you?”

“Not a scrap; he’s dark, and brown-eyed.”

“You know our families intermarried a long way back. Are you interested in breeding? I breed Airedales, and I don’t believe much in either the tail male or the tail female theories. Prepotency can be handed down through either male or female, and at any point of the pedigree.”

“Perhaps, but except for not being covered with yellow varnish, my father and my brother are both very like the earliest portrait we have of a male ancestor.”

“Well, we’ve got a Fitzherbert woman who married a Tasburgh in 1547, and she’s the spit of me except for the ruff; she’s even got my hands.” And the girl spread out to Dinny two long brown hands, crisping them slightly as she did so.

“A strain,” she went on, “may crop out after generations that have seemed free from it. It’s awfully interesting. I should like to see your brother, if he’s so unlike you.”

Dinny smiled.

“I’ll get him to drive over from Condaford and fetch me. You may not think him worth your wiles.”

And at this moment the men came in.

“They do so look,” murmured Dinny, “as if they were saying: ‘Do I want to sit next to a female, and if so, why?’ Men are funny after dinner.”

Sir Lawrence’s voice broke the hush:

“Saxenden, you and the Squire for Bridge?”

At those words Aunt Wilmet and Lady Henrietta rose automatically from the sofa where they had been having a quiet difference, and passed towards where they would continue the motion for the rest of the evening; they were followed closely by Lord Saxenden and the Squire.

Jean Tasburgh grimaced: “Can’t you just see Bridge growing on people like a fungus?”

“Another table?” said Sir Lawrence: “Adrian? No. Professor?”

“Why, I think not, Sir Lawrence.”

“Fleur, you and I then against Em and Charles. Come along, let’s get it over.”

“You can’t see it growing on Uncle Lawrence,” murmured Dinny. “Oh! Professor! Do you know Miss Tasburgh?”

Hallorsen bowed.

“It’s an amazing night,” said young Tasburgh on her other side: “Couldn’t we go out?”

“Michael,” said Jean, rising, “we’re going out.”

The night had been justly described. The foliage of holmoaks and elms clung on the dark air unstirring; stars were diamond bright, and there was no dew; the flowers had colour only when peered into; and sounds were lonely — the hooting of an owl from away towards the river, the passing drone of a chafer’s flight. The air was quite warm, and through the cut cypresses the lighted house stared vaguely. Dinny and the sailor strolled in front.

“This is the sort of night,” he said, “when you can see the Scheme a bit. My old Governor is a dear old boy, but his Services are enough to kill all belief. Have you any left?”

“In God, do you mean?” said Dinny: “Ye-es, without knowing anything about it.”

“Don’t YOU find it impossible to think of God except in the open and alone?”

“I HAVE been emotionalised in church.”

“You want something beyond emotion, I think; you want to grasp infinite invention going on in infinite stillness. Perpetual motion and perpetual quiet at the same time. That American seems a decent chap.”

“Did you talk about cousinly love?”

“I kept that for you. One of our great-great-great-great-grandfathers was the same, under Anne; we’ve got his portrait, terrible, in a wig. So we’re cousins — the love follows.”

“Does it? Blood cuts both ways. It certainly makes every difference glare out.”

“Thinking of Americans?”

Dinny nodded.

“All the same,” said the sailor, “there isn’t a question in my mind that in a scrap I’d rather have an American with me than any other kind of foreigner. I should say we all felt like that in the Fleet.”

“Isn’t that just because of language being the same?”

“No. It’s some sort of grain and view of things in common.”

“But surely that can only apply to British-stock Americans?”

“That’s still the American who counts, especially if you lump in the Dutch and Scandinavian-stock Americans, like this fellow Hallorsen. We’re very much that stock ourselves.”

“Why not German-Americans, then?”

“To some extent. But look at the shape of the German head. By and large, the Germans are Central or Eastern Europeans.”

“You ought to be talking to my Uncle Adrian.”

“Is that the tall man with the goatee? I like his face.”

“He’s a dear,” said Dinny. “We’ve lost the others and I can feel dew.”

“Just one moment. I was perfectly serious in what I said at dinner. You ARE my ideal, and I hope you’ll let me pursue it.”

Dinny curtsied.

“Young Sir, you are very flattering. ‘But —’ she went on with a slight blush —‘I would point out that you have a noble profession —’”

“Are you never serious?”

“Seldom, when the dew is falling.”

He seized her hand.

“Well, you will be one day; and I shall be the cause of it.”

Slightly returning the pressure of his hand, Dinny disengaged hers, and walked on.

“Pleached alley — can you stand that expression? It seems to give joy to so many people.”

“Fair cousin,” said young Tasburgh, “I shall be thinking of you day and night. Don’t trouble to answer.”

And he held open a French window.

Cicely Muskham was at the piano, and Michael standing behind her.

Dinny went up to him.

“If I go to Fleur’s sitting-room now, could you show Lord Saxenden where it is, Michael? If he doesn’t come by twelve, I shall go to bed. I must sort out the bits I want to read to him.”

“All right, Dinny. I’ll leave him on the door-mat. Good luck!”

Fetching the diary, Dinny threw open the window of the little sitting-room and sat down to make her selections. It was half-past-ten, and not a sound disturbed her. She selected six fairly long passages which seemed to illustrate the impossible nature of her brother’s task. Then, lighting a cigarette, she waited, leaning out. The night was neither more nor less ‘amazing’ than it had been, but her own mood was deeper. Perpetual motion in perpetual quiet? If that, indeed, were God, He was not of much immediate use to mortals but why should He be? When Saxenden tailored the hare and it had cried, had God heard and quivered? When her hand was pressed, had He seen and smiled? When Hubert in the Bolivian wilds had lain fever-stricken, listening to the cry of the loon, had He sent an angel with quinine? When that star up there went out billions of years hence, and hung cold and lightless, would He note it on his shirt-cuff? The million million leaves and blades of grass down there that made the texture of the deeper darkness, the million million stars that gave the light by which she saw that darkness, all — all the result of perpetual motion in endless quiet, all part of God. And she herself, and the smoke of her cigarette; the jasmine under her nose, whose colour was invisible, and the movement of her brain, deciding that it was not yellow; that dog barking so far away that the sound was as a thread by which the woof of silence could be grasped; all — all endowed with the purpose remote, endless, pervading, incomprehensible, of God!

She shivered and withdrew her head. Sitting down in an armchair, with the diary in her lap, she gazed round the room. Fleur’s taste had remodelled it; there was fine colour in the carpet, the light was softly shaded and fell pleasantly on her sea-green frock and hands resting on the diary. The long day had tired her. She lay back tilting up her face, looking drowsily at the frieze of baked China Cupids with which some former Lady Mont had caused the room to be encircled. Fat funny little creatures they seemed to her — thus tied by rosy chains to the perpetual examination of each other’s behinds from stated distances. Chase of the rosy hours, of the rosy —! Dinny’s eyelids drooped, her lips opened, she slept. And the discreet light visiting her face and hair and neck revealed their negligence in slumber, their impudent daintiness, as of the fair Italians, so very English, whom Botticelli painted. A tendril of short ripe hair had come apart, a smile strayed off and on to the parted lips; eyelashes, a little darker than the hair, winked flutteringly on cheeks which seemed to have a sort of transparence; and in the passing of her dreams, the nose twitched and quivered as if mocking at its slight tiptilt. Uplifted thus, the face looked as if but a twist were needed to pluck it from its white stalk of neck . . . .

With a start her head came to the erect. He who had been ‘Snubby Bantham’ was standing in the middle of the room, regarding her with a hard blue unwinking stare.

“Sorry,” he said; “sorry! You were having a nice snooze.”

“I was dreaming of mince pies,” said Dinny. “It’s terribly good of you to come at whatever time of night it is.”

“Seven bells. You won’t be long, I suppose. D’you mind if I smoke a pipe?”

He sat down on a sofa opposite to her and began to fill his pipe. He had the look of a man who meant her to get it over, and was going to reserve judgment when she had. She better understood at that moment the conduct of public affairs. ‘Of course,’ she thought, ‘he’s giving his quo and he doesn’t see his quid. That’s the result of Jean!’ And whether she felt gratitude to the ‘leopardess’ for having deflected his interest, or whether a sort of jealousy, neither she nor any other woman would have told. Her heart was beating, however, and in a quick, matter-of-fact voice she began. She read through three of the passages before she looked at him again. His face, but for the lips sucking at his pipe, might have been made of a well-coloured wood. His eyes still regarded her in a curious and now slightly hostile way, as if he were thinking: ‘This young woman is trying to make me feel something. It’s very late.’

With an increasing hatred of her task Dinny hurried on. The fourth passage was — except for the last — the most harrowing, at least to herself; and her voice quivered a little as she finished it.

“Bit thick that,” said Lord Saxenden; “mules have no feelings, you know — most extraordinary brutes.”

Dinny’s temper rose; she would not look at him again. And she read on. This time she lost herself in that tortured recital, thus put into sound for the first time. She finished, breathless, quivering all over with the effort of keeping her voice controlled. Lord Saxenden’s chin was resting on his hand. He was asleep.

She stood looking at him, as he not long before had looked at her. For the moment she was on the point of jerking his hand from under his chin. Her sense of humour saved her, and gazing at him rather as Venus gazes at Mars in Botticelli’s picture, she took a sheet of notepaper from Fleur’s bureau, wrote the words: ‘So sorry I exhausted you. Good-night,’ and laid it with infinite precaution on his knee. Rolling up the diary, she stole to the door, opened it and looked back, faint sounds, that would soon be snoring, were coming from him. ‘Appeal to his feelings and he sleeps,’ she thought: ‘That’s exactly how he must have won the war.’ And, turning, she found herself staring up at Professor Hallorsen.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37