Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 14

Dropping Alan Tasburgh at his Club, the two girls headed the car for Chelsea. Dinny had sent no telegram, trusting to luck. On reaching the house in Oakley Street she got out and rang the bell. An elderly maid, with a frightened expression on her face, opened the door.

“Mrs. Ferse in?”

“No, Miss; Captain Ferse.”

“Captain Ferse?”

The maid, looking to right and left, spoke in a low and hurried voice.

“Yes, Miss; we’re dreadfully put about, we don’t know what to do. Captain Ferse came in sudden at lunch time, and we never knew nothing of it, beforehand. The Mistress was out. There’s been a telegram for her, but Captain Ferse took it; and someone’s been on the ‘phone for her twice but wouldn’t give a message.” Dinny sought for words in which to discover the worst.

“How — how does he seem?”

“Well, Miss, I couldn’t say. He never said nothing but ‘Where’s your mistress?’ He LOOKS all right, but not having heard anything, we’re afraid; the children are in and we don’t know where the Mistress is.”

“Wait a minute,” and Dinny went back to the car.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jean, getting out.

The two girls stood consulting on the pavement, while from the doorway the maid watched them.

“I ought to get hold of Uncle Adrian,” said Dinny. “There are the children.”

“You do that, and I’ll go in and wait for you. That maid looks scared.”

“I believe he used to be violent, Jean; he may have escaped, you know.”

“Take the car. I shall be all right.” Dinny squeezed her hand.

“I’ll take a taxi; then you’ll have the car if you want to get away.”

“Right! Tell the maid who I am, and then buzz off. It’s four o’clock.”

Dinny looked up at the house; and, suddenly, saw a face in the window of the dining-room. Though she had only twice seen Ferse, she recognised him at once. His face was not to be forgotten, it gave the impression of fire behind bars: A cut, hard face with a tooth-brush moustache, broad cheek-bones, strong-growing dark slightly-grizzled hair, and those steel-bright flickering eyes. They stared out at her now with a kind of dancing intensity that was painful, and she looked away.

“Don’t look up! He’s in there!” she said to Jean: “But for his eyes he looks quite normal — well-dressed and that. Let’s both go, Jean, or both stay.”

“No; I shall be quite all right; you go,” and she went into the house.

Dinny hurried away. This sudden reappearance of one whom all had assumed to be hopelessly unhinged was staggering. Ignorant of the circumstances of Ferse’s incarceration, ignorant of everything except that he had given Diana a terrible time before his break-down, she thought of Adrian as the only person likely to know enough. It was a long anxious drive. She found her uncle on the point of leaving the Museum, and told him hurriedly, while he stood looking at her with horror.

“Do you know where Diana is?” she finished.

“She was dining to-night with Fleur and Michael. I was going too, but till then I don’t know. Let’s get on back to Oakley Street. This is a thunderbolt.”

They got into the cab.

“Couldn’t you telephone to that Mental Home, Uncle?”

“Without seeing Diana, I daren’t. You say he looked normal?”

“Yes. Only his eyes — but they always were like that, I remember.”

Adrian put his hands up to his head. “It’s too horrible! My poor girl!”

Dinny’s heart began to ache — as much for him as for Diana.

“Horrible too,” said Adrian, “to be feeling like this because that poor devil has come back. Ah, me! This is a bad business, Dinny; a bad business.” Dinny squeezed his arm.

“What is the law about it, Uncle?”

“God knows! He never was certified. Diana wouldn’t have that. They took him as a private patient.”

“But surely he couldn’t come away just when he liked, without any notice being given?”

“Who knows what’s happened? He may be as crazy as ever and have got away in a flash of sanity. But whatever we do,” and Dinny felt moved by the expression on his face, “we must think of him as well as of ourselves. We mustn’t make it harder for him. Poor Ferse! Talk about trouble, Dinny — illness, poverty, vice, crime — none of them can touch mental derangement for sheer tragedy to all concerned.”

“Uncle,” said Dinny, “the night?”

Adrian groaned. “That we must save her from somehow.”

At the end of Oakley Street they dismissed the cab and walked to the door . . . .

On going in Jean had said to the maid: “I’m Miss Tasburgh. Miss Dinny has gone for Mr. Cherrell. Drawing-room upstairs? I’ll wait there. Has he seen the children?”

“No, Miss. He’s only been here half an hour. The children are up in the schoolroom with Mam’selle.”

“Then I shall be between them,” said Jean. “Take me up.”

“Shall I wait with you, Miss?”

“No. Keep a look-out for Mrs. Ferse and tell her at once.”

The maid gazed at her admiringly and left her in the drawing-room. Setting the door ajar Jean stood listening. There was no sound. And she began to move silently up and down from door to window. If she saw Diana approaching she meant to run down to her; if Ferse came up she meant to go out to him. Her heart beat a little faster than usual, but she felt no real nervousness. She had been patrolling thus for a quarter of an hour when she heard a sound behind her, and, turning, saw Ferse just within the room.

“Oh!” she said: “I’m waiting for Mrs. Ferse; are you Captain Ferse?”

The figure bowed. “And you?”

“Jean Tasburgh. I’m afraid you wouldn’t know me.”

“Who was that with you?”

“Dinny Cherrell.”

“Where has she gone?”

“To see one of her uncles, I believe.”

Ferse uttered a queer sound — not quite a laugh.

“Adrian?”

“I think so.”

He stood turning those bright flickering eyes on the pretty room.

“Prettier than ever,” he said, “I’ve been away some time. Do you know my wife?”

“I met her staying at Lady Mont’s.”

“Lippinghall? Is Diana well?”

The words came out with a sort of hungry harshness.

“Yes. Quite.”

“And beautiful?”

“Very.”

“Thank you.”

Looking at him from under her long lashes Jean could see nothing in him from top to toe that gave the impression of derangement. He looked what he was — a soldier in mufti, very neat and self-contained, all — all but those eyes.

“I haven’t seen my wife for four years,” he said, “I shall want to see her alone.”

Jean moved towards the door.

“I’ll go,” she said.

“No!” The word came out with startling suddenness: “Stay there!” And he blocked the doorway.

“Why?”

“I wish to be the first to tell her that I’m back.”

“Naturally.”

“Stay there, then!”

Jean moved back to the window. “Just as you like,” she said. There was a silence.

“Have you heard about me?” he asked, suddenly.

“Very little. I know you haven’t been well.”

He came from the door. “Do you see anything the matter with me?”

Jean looked up, her eyes held his till they went flickering away.

“Nothing. You look very fit.”

“I am. Sit down, won’t you?”

“Thank you.” Jean sat down.

“That’s right,” he said. “Keep your eyes on me.”

Jean looked at her feet. Again Ferse uttered that travesty of a laugh.

“You’ve never been mentally sick, I take it. If you had you’d know that everybody keeps their eyes on you; and you keep your eyes on everybody. I must go down now. Au revoir!”

He turned quickly and went out, shutting the door. Jean continued to sit quite still, expecting him to open it again. She had a feeling of having been worsted, and a curious tingling all over, as if she had been too close to a fire. He did not open the door again, and she got up to do so herself. It was locked. She stood looking at it. Ring the bell? Hammer on it and attract the maid? She decided to do neither, but went to the window and stood watching the street. Dinny would be back soon and she could call to her. Very coolly she reviewed the scene she had been through. He had locked her in because he meant no one to interfere before he saw his wife — suspicious of everyone — very natural! A dim sense of what it meant to be looked on as deranged penetrated her young hard intelligence. Poor man! She wondered if she could get out of the window without being noticed, and, deciding that she couldn’t, continued to stand watching the end of the street for the appearance of relief. And, suddenly, without anything to cause it, a shiver ran through her, the aftermath of that encounter. His eyes! It must be terrible to be his wife. She threw the window wider, and leaned out . . . .

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