Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 19

If you had examined Hilary Cherrell, Vicar of St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads, in the privacy that lies behind all appearance, all spoken words, even all human gesture, you would have found that he did not really believe his faithful activity was leading anywhere. But to ‘serve’ was bred into his blood and bone, as they serve, that is, who lead and direct. As a setter dog, untrained, taken for a walk, will instantly begin to range, as a Dalmatian dog, taken out riding, will follow from the first under the heels of the horse, so was it bred into Hilary, coming of families who for generations had manned the Services, to wear himself out, leading, directing and doing things for the people round him, without conviction that in his leadership or ministrations he was more than marking the time of his own duty. In an age when doubt obscured everything and the temptation to sneer at caste and tradition was irresistible, he illustrated an ‘order’ bred to go on doing its job, not because it saw benefit to others, not because it sighted advantage to self, but because to turn tail on the job was equivalent to desertion. Hilary never dreamed of justifying his ‘order’ or explaining the servitude to which his father the diplomat, his uncle the Bishop, his brothers the soldier, the ‘curator,’ and the judge (for Lionel had just been appointed) were, in their different ways, committed. He thought of them and himself as just ‘plugging along.’ Besides, each of his activities had some specious advantage which he could point to, but which, in his heart, he suspected of being graven on paper rather than on stone.

He had dealt with a manifold correspondence when, at nine-thirty on the morning after the reappearance of Ferse, Adrian entered his somewhat threadbare study. Among Adrian’s numerous male friends Hilary alone understood and appreciated his brother’s feelings and position. There were but two years between them in age, they had been fast chums as boys; were both mountaineers, accustomed in pre-war days to each other’s company in awkward ascents and descents still more awkward; had both been to the war, Hilary as Padre in France, Adrian, who spoke Arabic, on liaison work in the East; and they had very different temperaments, always an advantage to abiding comradeship. There was no need of spiritual discovery between them, and they went at once into Committee of Ways and Means.

“Any news this morning?” asked Hilary.

“Dinny reports all quiet; but sooner or later the strain of being in the same house is bound to break down his control. For the moment the feeling of being home and free may be enough; but I don’t give that more than a week. I’m going down to the Home, but they’ll know no more than we.”

“Forgive me, old man, but normal life with her would be best.”

Adrian’s face quivered.

“It’s beyond human power, Hilary. There’s something about such a relationship too cruel for words. It shouldn’t be asked of a woman.”

“Unless the poor fellow’s going to stay sane.”

“The decision’s not for you, or me, or him — it’s for her; it’s more than anyone ought to have to bear. Don’t forget what she went through before he went into the Home. He ought to be got out of the house, Hilary.”

“It would be simpler if she took asylum.”

“Who would give it her, except myself, and that would send him over the edge again for a certainty.”

“If she could put up with the conditions here, we could take her,” said Hilary.

“But the children?”

“We could squeeze them in. But to leave him alone and idle wouldn’t help him to stay sane. Could he do any work?”

“I don’t suppose he could. Four years of that would rot any man. And who’d give him a job? If I could get him to come to me!”

“Dinny and that other young woman said that he looks and talks all right.”

“In a way he does. Those people down there may have some suggestion.”

Hilary took his brother’s arm.

“Old boy, it’s ghastly for you. But ten to one it won’t be so bad as we think. I’ll talk to May, and if, after you’ve seen those people, you think asylum here is the best thing for Diana — offer it.”

Adrian pressed the hand within his arm.

“I’ll get off now and catch my train.”

Left to himself Hilary stood frowning. He had seen in his time so much of the inscrutability of Providence that he had given up classing it as benevolent even in his sermons. On the other hand he had seen many people by sheer tenacity defeat many misfortunes, and many other people, defeated by their misfortunes, live well enough on them afterwards; he was convinced, therefore, that misery was over-rated, and that what was lost was usually won. The thing was to keep going and not worry. At this moment he received his second visitor, the girl Millicent Pole, who, though acquitted, had lost her job at Petter and Poplin’s; notoriety not being dispelled by legal innocence.

She came, by appointment, in a neat blue dress, and all her money, as it were, in her stockings, and stood waiting to be catechised.

“Well, Millie, how’s your sister?”

“She went back yesterday, Mr. Cherrell.”

“Was she fit to go?”

“I don’t think so, but she said if she didn’t, she’d likely lose her job, too.”

“I don’t see that.”

“She said if she stayed away any longer they’d think we was in THAT together.”

“Well, and what about YOU? Would you like to go into the country?”

“Oh, no.”

Hilary contemplated her. A pretty girl, with a pretty figure and ankles, and an easy-going mouth; it looked to him, frankly, as if she ought to be married.

“Got a young man, Millie?”

The girl smiled.

“Not very special, Sir.”

“Not special enough to get married?”

“He don’t want to, so far as I can see.”

“Do you?”

“I’m not in a hurry.”

“Well, have you any views?”

“I’d like — well, I’d like to be a mannykin.”

“I daresay. Have Petters given you a reference?”

“Yes, and they said they were sorry I had to go; but being so much in the papers the other girls —”

“Yes. Now Millie, you got yourself into that scrape, you know. I stood up for you because you were hard pressed, but I’m not blind. You’ve got to promise me that you won’t do that again; it’s the first step to blue ruin.”

The girl made just the answer he expected — none.

“I’m going to turn you over to my wife now. Consult with her, and if you can’t get a job like your old one, we might give you some quick training, and get you a post as a waitress. How would that suit you?”

“I wouldn’t mind that.”

She gave him a look half-shy, half-smiling; and Hilary thought: ‘Faces like that ought to be endowed by the State; there’s no other way to keep them safe.’

“Shake hands, Millie, and remember what I said. Your mother and father were friends of mine, and you’re going to remain a credit to them.”

“Yes, Mr. Cherrell.”

‘You bet!’ thought Hilary, and led her into the dining-room opposite, where his wife was working a typing machine. Back in his study he pulled out a drawer of his bureau and prepared to wrestle with accounts, for if there were a place where money was of more importance than in this slum centre of a Christendom whose religion scorns money, Hilary had yet to meet with it.

‘The lilies of the field,’ he thought, ‘toil not, neither do they spin, but they beg all right. How the deuce am I going to get enough to keep the Institute going over the year?’ The problem had not been solved when the maid said:

“Captain and Miss Cherrell, and Miss Tasburgh.”

‘Phew!’ he thought: ‘THEY don’t let grass grow.’

He had not seen his nephew since his return from the Hallorsen Expedition, and was struck by the darkened and aged look of his face.

“Congratulations, old man,” he said. “I heard something of your aspiration, yesterday.”

“Uncle,” said Dinny, “prepare for the role of Solomon.”

“Solomon’s reputation for wisdom, my irreverent niece, is perhaps the thinnest in history. Consider the number of his wives. Well?”

“Uncle Hilary,” said Hubert: “I’ve had news that a warrant may be issued for my extradition, over that muleteer I shot. Jean wants the marriage at once in spite of that —”

“Because of that,” put in Jean.

“I say it’s too chancey altogether; and not fair to her. But we agreed to put it to you, and abide by your judgment.”

“Thank you,” murmured Hilary; “and why to me?”

“Because,” said Dinny, “you have to make more decisions-while-they-wait than anybody, except police magistrates.”

Hilary grimaced. “With your knowledge of Scripture, Dinny, you might have remembered the camel and the last straw. However —!” And he looked from Jean to Hubert and back again.

“Nothing can possibly be gained by waiting,” said Jean; “because if they took him I should go out too, anyway.”

“You would?”

“Of course.”

“Could you prevent that, Hubert?”

“No, I don’t suppose I could.”

“Am I dealing, young people, with a case of love at first sight?”

Neither of them answered, but Dinny said:

“Very much so; I could see it from the croquet lawn at Lippinghall.”

Hilary nodded. “Well, that’s not against you; it happened to me and I’ve never regretted it. Is your extradition really likely, Hubert?”

“No,” said Jean.

“Hubert?”

“I don’t know; Father’s worried, but various people are doing their best. I’ve got this scar, you know,” and he drew up his sleeve.

Hilary nodded. “That’s a mercy.”

Hubert grinned. “It wasn’t at the time, in that climate, I can tell you.”

“Have you got the licence?”

“Not yet.”

“Get it, then. I’ll turn you off.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.”

“You aren’t.” And Jean seized his hand. “Will tomorrow at two o’clock be all right for you, Mr. Cherrell?”

“Let me look at my book.” He looked at it and nodded.

“Splendid!” cried Jean. “Now Hubert, you and I will go and get it.”

“I’m frightfully obliged to you, Uncle,” said Hubert; “if you really think it’s not rotten of me.”

“My dear boy,” said Hilary, “when you take up with a young woman like Jean here, you must expect this sort of thing. Au revoir, and God bless you both!”

When they had gone out, he turned to Dinny: “I’m much touched, Dinny. That was a charming compliment. Who thought of it?”

“Jean.”

“Then she’s either a very good or a very bad judge of character. I wonder which. That was quick work. It was ten five when you came in, it’s now ten fourteen; I don’t know when I’ve disposed of two lives in a shorter time. There’s nothing wrong about the Tasburghs, is there?”

“No, they seem rather sudden, that’s all.”

“On the whole,” said Hilary, “I like them sudden. It generally means sand.”

“The Zeebrugge touch.”

“Ah! Yes, there’s a sailor brother, isn’t there?”

Dinny’s eyelids fluttered.

“Has he laid himself alongside yet?”

“Several times.”

“And?”

“I’M not sudden, Uncle.”

“Backer and filler?”

“Especially backer.”

Hilary smiled affectionately at his favourite niece: “Blue eye true eye. I’ll marry you off yet, Dinny. Excuse me now, I have to see a man who’s in trouble with the hire-purchase system. He’s got in and he can’t get out — goes swimming about like a dog in a pond with a high bank. By the way, the girl you saw in Court the other day is in there with your Aunt. Like another look at her? She is, I fear, what we call an insoluble problem, which being interpreted means a bit of human nature. Have a shot at solving her.”

“I should love to, but she wouldn’t.”

“I don’t know that. As young woman to young woman you might get quite a lot of change out of her, and most of it bad, I shouldn’t wonder. That,” he added, “is cynical. Cynicism’s a relief.”

“It must be, Uncle.”

“It’s where the Roman Catholics have a pull over us. Well, good-bye, my dear. See you tomorrow at the execution.”

Locking up his accounts, Hilary followed her into the hall; opening the door of the dining-room, he said: “My Love, here’s Dinny! I’ll be back to lunch,” and went out, hatless.

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