Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 18

By pertinacious use of the telephone, Jean had discovered Hubert at ‘The Coffee House’ and learned his news. She passed Dinny and Adrian as they were coming in.

“Whither away?”

“Shan’t be long,” said Jean, and walked round the corner.

Her knowledge of London was small, and she hailed the first cab. Arriving in Eaton Square before a mansion of large and dreary appearance, she dismissed the cab and rang the bell.

“Lord Saxenden in Town?”

“Yes, my lady, but he’s not in.”

“When will he be in?”

“His lordship will be in to dinner, but —”

“Then I’ll wait.”

“Excuse me — my lady —”

“Not my lady,” said Jean, handing him a card; “but he’ll see me, all the same.”

The man struggled a moment, received a look straight between the eyes, and said:

“Will you come in here, my — Miss?”

Jean went. The little room was barren except for gilt-edged chairs of the Empire period, a chandelier, and two marble-topped console tables.

“Please give him my card the moment he comes in.”

The man seemed to rally.

“His Lordship will be pressed for time, Miss.”

“Not more than I am, don’t worry about that.” And on a gilt-edged chair she sat down. The man withdrew. With her eyes now on the darkening Square, now on a marble and gilt clock, she sat slim, trim, vigorous, interlacing the long fingers of browned hands from which she had removed her gloves. The man came in again and drew the curtains.

“You wouldn’t,” he said, “like to leave a message, Miss, or write a note?”

“Thank you, no.”

He stood a moment, looking at her as if debating whether she was armed.

“Miss Tasburgh?” he said.

“Tasborough,” answered Jean. “Lord Saxenden knows me,” and raised her eyes.

“Quite so, Miss,” said the man, hastily, and again withdrew.

The clock’s hands crept on to seven before she heard voices in the hall. A moment later the door was opened and Lord Saxenden came in with her card in his hand, and a face on which his past, present, and future seemed to agree.

“Pleasure!” he said: “A pleasure.”

Jean raised her eyes, and the thought went through her: ‘Purring stockfish.’ She extended her hand.

“It’s terribly nice of you to see me.”

“Not at all.”

“I wanted to tell you of my engagement to Hubert Cherrell — you remember his sister at the Monts’. Have you heard of this absurd request for his extradition? It’s too silly for words — the shooting was in pure self-defence — he’s got a most terrible scar he could show you at any time.”

Lord Saxenden murmured something inaudible. His eyes had become somewhat frosted.

“So you see, I wanted to ask you to put a stop to it. I know you have the power.”

“Power? Not a bit — none at all.”

Jean smiled.

“Of course you have the power. Everybody knows that. This means such a lot to me.”

“But you weren’t engaged, were you, the other night?”

“No.”

“Very sudden!”

“Aren’t all engagements sudden?” She could not perhaps realise the impact of her news on a man over fifty who had entered the room with at all events vague hopes of having made an impression on Youth; but she did realise that she was not all that he had thought her, and that he was not all that she had thought him. A wary and polite look had come over his face.

‘More hard-boiled than I imagined,’ was her reflection. And changing her tone, she said coldly: “After all, Captain Cherrell is a D.S.O. and one of you. Englishmen don’t let each other down, do they? Especially when they’ve been to the same school.”

This remarkably astute utterance, at that disillusioned moment, impressed him who had been ‘Snubby Bantham.’

“Oh!” he said: “Was he there, too?”

“Yes. And you know what a time he had on that expedition. Dinny read you some of his diary.”

The colour deepened in his face, and he said with sudden exasperation: “You young ladies seem to think I’ve nothing to do but meddle in things that don’t concern me. Extradition is a legal job.”

Jean looked up through her lashes, and the unhappy peer moved as if to duck his head.

“What can I do?” he said, gruffly. “They wouldn’t listen to me.”

“Try,” said Jean. “Some men are always listened to.”

Lord Saxenden’s eyes bulged slightly.

“You say he’s got a scar. Where?”

Jean pushed up the sleeve on her left arm.

“From here to here. He shot as the man came on again.”

“H’m!”

Looking intently at the arm, he repeated that profound remark, and there was silence, till Jean said suddenly: “Would YOU like to be extradited, Lord Saxenden?”

He made an impatient movement.

“But this is an official matter, young lady.”

Jean looked at him again.

“Is it really true that no influence is ever brought to bear on anybody about anything?”

He laughed.

“Come and lunch with me at the Piedmont Grill the day after tomorrow — no, the day after that, and I’ll let you know if I’ve been able to do anything.”

Jean knew well when to stop; never in parish meetings did she talk on. She held out her hand: “Thank you ever so. One-thirty?”

Lord Saxenden gave her an astonished nod. This young woman had a directness which appealed to one whose life was passed among public matters conspicuous for the lack of it.

“Good-bye!” she said.

“Good-bye, Miss Tasburgh; congratulations.”

“Thank you. That will depend on you, won’t it?” And before he could answer she was through the door. She walked back, her mind not in a whirl. She thought clearly and quickly, with a natural distrust of leaving things to others. She must see Hubert that very night; and, on getting in, she went at once to the telephone again and rang up ‘The Coffee House.’

“Is that you, Hubert? Jean speaking.”

“Yes, darling.”

“Come here after dinner. I must see you.”

“About nine?”

“Yes. My love to you. That’s all.” And she cut off.

She stood for a moment before going up to dress, as if to endorse that simile of ‘leopardess.’ She looked, indeed, like Youth stalking its own future — lithe, intent, not to be deviated, in Fleur’s finished and stylistic drawing-room as much at home and yet as foreign to its atmosphere as a cat might be.

Dinner, when any of the diners have cause for really serious anxiety and the others know of it, is conspicuous for avoidance of all but quick-fire conversation. Nobody touched on the Ferse topic, and Adrian left as soon as he had drunk his coffee. Dinny saw him out.

“Good-night, Uncle dear. I shall sleep with my emergency suit-case; one can always get a taxi here at a moment’s notice. Promise me not to worry.”

Adrian smiled, but he looked haggard. Jean met her coming from the door and told her the fresh news of Hubert. Her first feeling, of complete dismay, was succeeded by burning indignation.

“What utter ruffianism!”

“Yes,” said Jean. “Hubert’s coming in a minute or two and I want him to myself.”

“Take him up to Michael’s study, then. I’ll go and tell Michael. Parliament ought to know; only,” she added, “it’s not sitting. It only seems to sit when it oughtn’t to.”

Jean waited in the hall to let Hubert in. When he had gone up with her to that room whose walls were covered with the graven witticisms of the last three generations, she put him into Michael’s most comfortable chair, and sat down on his knee. Thus, with her arm round his neck, and her lips more or less to his, she stayed for some minutes.

“That’ll do,” she said, rising, and lighting cigarettes. “This extradition business isn’t going to come to anything, Hubert.”

“But suppose it does.”

“It won’t. But if it does — all the more reason for our being married at once.”

“My darling girl, I can’t possibly.”

“You must. You don’t suppose that if you WERE extradited — which is absurd — I shouldn’t go too. Of course I should, and by the same boat — married or not.”

Hubert looked at her.

“You’re a marvel,” he said, “but —”

“Oh! yes, I know. Your father, and your chivalry, and your desire to make me unhappy for my own good, and all that. I’ve seen your uncle Hilary. He’s ready to do it; he’s a padre and a man of real experience. Now, look here — we’ll tell him of this development, and if he’ll still do it, we’ll be done. We’ll go to him together tomorrow morning.”

“But —”

“But! Surely you can trust him; he strikes me as a real person.”

“He is,” said Hubert; “no one more so.”

“Very well then; that’s settled. Now you can kiss me again.” And she resumed her position on his knee. So, but for her acute sense of hearing, they would have been surprised. She was, however, examining the White Monkey on the wall, and Hubert was taking out his cigarette case, when Dinny opened the door.

“This monkey is frightfully good,” said Jean. “We’re going to be married, Dinny, in spite of this new nonsense — that is, if your Uncle Hilary still will. You can come with us to him again tomorrow morning, if you like.”

Dinny looked at Hubert, who had risen.

“She’s hopeless,” he said: “I can’t do anything with her.”

“And you can’t do anything without her. Imagine! He thought, if the worst came to the worst and he was sent out to be tried, that I shouldn’t be going too. Men really are terribly like babies. Well, Dinny?”

“I’m glad.”

“It depends on Uncle Hilary,” said Hubert; “you understand that, Jean.”

“Yes. He’s in touch with real life, and what he says shall go. Come for us at ten tomorrow. Turn your back, Dinny. I’ll give him one kiss, and then he must be off.”

Dinny turned her back.

“Now,” said Jean. They went down; and soon after, the girls went up to bed. Their rooms were next each other, and furnished with all Fleur’s taste. They talked a little, embraced and parted. Dinny dawdled over her undressing.

The quiet Square, inhabited for the most part by Members of Parliament away on holiday, had few lights in the windows of its houses; no wind stirred the dark branches of the trees; through her open window came air that had no night sweetness; and rumbling noises of the Town kept alive in her the tingling sensations of that long day.

‘I couldn’t live with Jean,’ she thought, ‘but,’ she added with the greater justice, ‘Hubert could. He needs that sort of thing.’ And she smiled wryly, mocking her sense of having been supplanted. Once in bed she lay, thinking of Adrian’s fear and dismay, of Diana, and that poor wretch, her husband — longing for her — shut off from her — shut off from everyone. In the darkness she seemed to see his eyes flickering, burning and intense; the eyes of a being that yearned to be at home, at rest, and could not be. She drew the bedclothes up to her own eyes, and over and over, for comfort, repeated to herself the nursery rhyme:

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
Silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty girls all of a row!”

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