Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 2

Condaford Grange had passed from the de Campforts (whence its name) into possession of the Cherrells in 1217, when their name was spelt Kerwell and still at times Keroual, as the spirit moved the scribe. The story of its passing was romantic, for the Kerwell who got it by marrying a de Campfort had got the de Campfort by rescuing her from a wild boar. He had been a landless wight whose father, a Frenchman from Guienne, had come to England after Richard’s crusade; and she had been the heiress of the landed de Campforts. The boar was incorporated on the family ‘shield,’ and some doubted whether the boar on the shield did not give rise to the story, rather than the story to the boar. In any case parts of the house were certified by expert masons to go back to the twelfth century. It had undoubtedly been moated; but under Queen Anne a restorative Cherrell, convinced of the millennium perhaps, and possibly inconvenienced by insects, had drained off the water, and there was now little sign that a moat had ever been.

The late Sir Conway, elder brother of the bishop, knighted in 1901 on his appointment to Spain, had been in the diplomatic service. He had therefore let the place down badly. He had died in 1904, at his post, and the letting-down process had been continued by his eldest son, the present Sir Conway, who, continually on Service, had enjoyed only spasmodic chances of living at Condaford till after the Great War. Now that he did live there, the knowledge that folk of his blood had been encamped there practically since the Conquest had spurred him to do his best to put it in order, so that it was by now unpretentiously trim without and comfortable within, and he was almost too poor to live in it. The estate contained too much covert to be profitable, and, though unencumbered, brought in but a few hundreds a year of net revenue. The pension of a General and the slender income of his wife (by birth the Honourable Elizabeth Frensham) enabled the General to incur a very small amount of supertax, to keep two hunters, and live quietly on the extreme edge of his means. His wife was one of those Englishwomen who seem to count for little, but for that very reason count for a good deal. She was unobtrusive, gentle, and always busy. In a word, she was background; and her pale face, reposeful, sensitive, a little timid, was a continual reminder that culture depends but slightly on wealth or intellect. Her husband and her three children had implicit confidence in her coherent sympathy. They were all of more vivid nature, more strongly coloured, and she was a relief.

She had not accompanied the General to Porthminster and was therefore awaiting his return. The furniture was about to come out of chintz, and she was standing in the tea room wondering whether that chintz would last another season, when a Scotch terrier came in, followed by her eldest daughter Elizabeth — better known as ‘Dinny.’ Dinny was slight and rather tall; she had hair the colour of chestnuts, an imperfect nose, a Botticellian mouth, eyes cornflower blue and widely set, and a look rather of a flower on a long stalk that might easily be broken off, but never was. Her expression suggested that she went through life trying not to see it as a joke. She was, in fact, like one of those natural wells, or springs, whence one cannot procure water without bubbles: ‘Dinny’s bubble and squeak,’ her uncle Sir Lawrence Mont called it. She was by now twenty-four.

“Mother, do we have to go into black edging for Uncle Cuffs?”

“I don’t think so, Dinny; or very slight.”

“Is he to be planted here?”

“I expect in the Cathedral, but Father will know.”

“Tea, darling? Scaramouch, up you come, and don’t bob your nose into the Gentleman’s Relish.”

“Dinny, I’m so worried about Hubert.”

“So am I, dear; he isn’t Hubert at all, he’s like a sketch of himself by Thom the painter, all on one side. He ought never to have gone on that ghastly expedition, Mother. There’s a limit to hitting it off with Americans, and Hubert reaches it sooner than almost anybody I know. He never could get on with them. Besides, I don’t believe civilians ever ought to have soldiers with them.”

“Why, Dinny?”

“Well, soldiers have the static mind. They know God from Mammon. Haven’t you noticed it, dear?”

Lady Cherrell had. She smiled timidly, and asked:

“Where is Hubert? Father will be home directly.”

“He went out with Don, to get a leash of partridges for dinner. Ten to one he’ll forget to shoot them, and anyway they’ll be too fresh. He’s in that state of mind into which it has pleased God to call him; except that for God read the devil. He broods over that business, Mother. Only one thing would do him good, and that’s to fall in love. Can’t we find the perfect girl for him? Shall I ring for tea?”

“Yes, dear. And this room wants fresh flowers.”

“I’ll get them. Come along, Scaramouch!”

Passing out into September sunshine, Dinny noted a green woodpecker on the lower lawn, and thought: ‘If seven birds with seven beaks should peck for half a term, do you suppose, the lady thought, that they could find a worm?’ It WAS dry! All the same the zinnias were gorgeous this year; and she proceeded to pick some. They ran the gamut in her hand from deepest red through pink to lemon-yellow — handsome blossoms, but not endearing. ‘Pity,’ she thought, ‘we can’t go to some bed of modern maids and pick one for Hubert.’ She seldom showed her feelings, but she had two deep feelings not for show — one for her brother, the other for Condaford, and they were radically entwined. All the coherence of her life belonged to Condaford; she had a passion for the place which no one would have suspected from her way of talking of it, and she had a deep and jealous desire to bind her only brother to the same devotion. After all, she had been born there while it was shabby and run-down, and had survived into the period of renovation. To Hubert it had only been a holiday and leave-time perch. Dinny, though the last person in the world to talk of her roots, or to take them seriously in public, had a private faith in the Cherrells, their belongings and their works, which nothing could shake. Every Condaford beast, bird and tree, even the flowers she was plucking, were a part of her, just as were the simple folk around in their thatched cottages, and the Early-English church, where she attended without belief to speak of, and the grey Condaford dawns which she seldom saw, the moonlit, owl-haunted nights, the long sunlight over the stubble, and the scents and the sounds and the feel of the air. When she was away from home she never said she was homesick, but she was; when she was at home she never said she revelled in it, but she did. If Condaford should pass from the Cherrells, she would not moan, but would feel like a plant pulled up by its roots. Her father had for it the indifferent affection of a man whose active life had been passed elsewhere; her mother the acquiescence of one who had always done her duty by what had kept her nose to the grindstone and was not exactly hers; her sister treated it with the matter-of-fact tolerance of one who would rather be somewhere more exciting; and Hubert — what had Hubert? She really did not know. With her hands full of zinnias and her neck warm from the lingering sunshine, she returned to the drawing-room.

Her mother was standing by the tea table.

“The train’s late,” she said. “I do wish Clare wouldn’t drive so fast.”

“I don’t see the connection, darling.” But she did. Mother was always fidgety when Father was behind time.

“Mother, I’m all for Hubert sending his version to the papers.”

“We shall see what your Father says — he’ll have talked to your Uncle Lionel.”

“I hear the car now,” said Dinny.

The General was followed into the room by his younger daughter. Clare was the most vivid member of the family. She had dark fine shingled hair and a pale expressive face, of which the lips were slightly brightened. The eyes were brown, with a straight and eager glance, the brow low and very white. Her expression was old for a girl of twenty, being calm and yet adventurous. She had an excellent figure and walked with an air.

“This poor dear has had no lunch, Mother,” she said.

“Horrible cross-country journey, Liz. Whisky-and-soda and a biscuit’s all I’ve had since breakfast.”

“You shall have an egg-nogg, darling,” said Dinny, and left the room. Clare followed her.

The General kissed his wife. “The old boy looked very fine, my dear, though, except for Adrian, we only saw him after. I shall have to go back for the funeral. It’ll be a swell affair, I expect. Great figure — Uncle Cuffs. I spoke to Lionel about Hubert; he doesn’t see what can be done. But I’ve been thinking.”

“Yes, Con?”

“The whole point is whether or not the Authorities are going to take any notice of that attack in the House. They might ask him to send in his commission. That’d be fatal. Sooner than that he’d better hand it in himself. He’s due for his medical on October the first. Can we pull any strings without his knowing? — the boy’s proud. I can go and see Topsham and you could get at Follanby, couldn’t you?”

Lady Cherrell made wry her face.

“I know,” said the General, “it’s rotten; but the real chance would be Saxenden, only I don’t know how to get at him.”

“Dinny might suggest something.”

“Dinny? Well, I suppose she HAS more brains than any of us, except you, my dear.”

“I,” said Lady Cherrell, “have no brains at all.”

“Bosh! Oh! Here she is.”

Dinny advanced, bearing a frothy liquor in a glass.

“Dinny, I was saying to your mother that we want to get into touch with Lord Saxenden about Hubert’s position. Can you suggest any way?”

“Through a country neighbour, Dad. Has he any?”

“His place marches with Wilfred Bentworth’s.”

“There it is, then. Uncle Hilary or Uncle Lawrence.”

“How?”

“Wilfred Bentworth is Chairman of Uncle Hilary’s Slum Conversion Committee. A little judicious nepotism, dear.”

“Um! Hilary and Lawrence were both at Porthminster — wish I’d thought of that.”

“Shall I talk to them for you, Father?”

“By George, if you would, Dinny! I hate pushing our affairs.”

“Yes, dear. It’s a woman’s job, isn’t it?”

The General looked at his daughter dubiously — he never quite knew when she was serious.

“Here’s Hubert,” said Dinny, quickly.

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