Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 20

Towards South Square, where Fleur was to be asked to give another reference, the girls left the Vicarage together.

“I’m afraid,” said Dinny, overcoming her shyness, “that I should want to take it out of somebody, if I were you. I can’t see why you should have lost your place.” She could see the girl scrutinizing her askance, as if trying to make up her mind whether or no to say what was in it.

“I got meself talked about,” she said, at last.

“Yes, I happened to come into the Court the day you were acquitted. I thought it brutal to make you stand there.”

“I reely did speak to a man,” said the girl, surprisingly, “I wouldn’t tell Mr. Cherrell, but I did. I was just fed-up with wanting money. D’you think it was bad of me?”

“Well, personally, I should have to want more than money before I did it.”

“You never have wanted money — not reely.”

“I suppose you’re right, although I’ve never had much.”

“It’s better than stealin’,” said the girl, grimly: “after all, what is it? You can forget about it. At least, that’s what I thought. Nobody thinks the worse of a man or does anything to him for it. But you won’t tell Mrs. Mont what I’m telling you?’

“Of course not. Had things been going very badly?”

“Shockin’. Me and my sister make just enough when we’re in full work. But she was ill five weeks, and on the top of that I lost my purse one day, with thirty bob in it. That wasn’t my fault, anyway.”

“Wretched luck.”

“Rotten! If I’d been a reel one d’you think they’d have spotted me — it was just my being green. I bet girls in high life have no trouble that way when they’re hard up.”

“Well,” said Dinny, “I suppose there are girls not above helping out their incomes in all sorts of ways. All the same, I think that kind of thing ought only to go with affection; but I expect I’m old-fashioned.”

The girl turned another long and this time almost admiring look on her.

“You’re a lady, Miss. I must say I should like to be one meself, but what you’re born you stay.”

Dinny wriggled. “Oh! Bother that word! The best ladies I’ve known are old cottage women in the country.”

“Reely?”

“Yes. And I think some of the girls in London shops are the equal of anyone.”

“Well, there is some awful nice girls, I must say. My sister is much better than me. She’d never ‘ave done a thing like that. Your uncle said something I shall remember, but I can’t never depend on meself. I’m one to like pleasure if I can get it; and why not?”

“The point is rather: What is pleasure? A casual man can’t possibly be pleasure. He’d be the very opposite.”

The girl nodded.

“That’s true enough. But when you’re bein’ chivied about for want of money you’re willin’ to put up with things you wouldn’t otherwise. You take my word for that.”

It was Dinny’s turn to nod.

“My uncle’s a nice man, don’t you think?”

“He’s a gentleman — never comes religion over you. And he’ll always put his hand in his pocket, if there’s anything there.”

“That’s not often, I should think,” said Dinny; “my family is pretty poor.”

“It isn’t money makes the gentleman.”

Dinny heard the remark without enthusiasm; she seemed, indeed, to have heard it before. “We’d better take a ‘bus now,” she said.

The day was sunny, and they got on the top. “D’you like this new Regent Street?” asked Dinny.

“Oh yes! I think it’s fine.”

“Didn’t you like the old street better?”

“No. It was so dull and yellow, and all the same.”

“But unlike any other street, and the regularity suited the curve.”

The girl seemed to perceive that a question of taste was concerned; she hesitated, then said assertively:

“It’s much brighter now, I think. Things seem to move more — not so formal-like.”

“Ah!”

“I do like the top of a ‘bus,” continued the girl; “you can see such a lot. Life does go on, don’t it?”

In the girl’s cockney-fied voice, those words hit Dinny a sort of blow. What was her own life but a cut-and-dried affair? What risks or adventure did it contain? Life for people who depended on their jobs was vastly more adventurous. Her own job so far had been to have no job. And, thinking of Jean, she said: “I’m afraid I live a very humdrum life. I always seem to be waiting for things.”

The girl again stole a sideway look.

“Why, you must have lots of fun, pretty like you are!”

“Pretty? My nose turns up.”

“Ah! but you’ve got style. Style’s everything. I always think you may have looks, but it’s style that gets you there.”

“I’d rather have looks.”

“Oh! no. Anyone can be a good-looker.”

“But not many are,” and with a glance at the girl’s profile Dinny added: “You’re lucky, yourself.”

The girl bridled.

“I told Mr. Cherrell I’d like to be a mannykin, but he didn’t seem to fall for it.”

“I’m afraid I think that of all inane pursuits that’s the worst. Dressing up for a lot of disgruntled women!”

“Someone’s got to do it,” said the girl, defiantly; “I like wearing clothes meself. But you need interest to get a thing like that. Perhaps Mrs. Mont’ll speak for me. My! Wouldn’t you make a mannykin, with your style, Miss, and slim.”

Dinny laughed. The ‘bus had halted at the Westminster end of Whitehall.

“We get off here. Ever been in Westminster Abbey?”

“No.”

“Perhaps you’d like a look before they pull it down and put up flats or a Cinema.”

“Are they reely goin’ to?”

“I fancy it’s only in the back of their minds so far. At present they talk about restoring it.”

“It’s a big place,” said the girl, but under the walls a silence fell on her, which remained unbroken when they passed within. Dinny watched her, as with chin uplifted she contemplated the statue to Chatham and its neighbour.

“Who’s the old beaver with no clothes on?”

“Neptune. He’s a symbol. Britannia rules the waves, you know.”

“Oh!” And they moved on till the full proportions of the old Museum were better disclosed.

“My! Isn’t it full of things?”

“It IS rather an Old Curiosity Shop. They’ve got all English history here, you know.”

“It’s awful dark. The pillars look dirty, don’t they?”

“Shall we just have a look at the Poets’ Corner?” said Dinny.

“What’s that?”

“Where they bury great writers.”

“Because they wrote rhymes?” said the girl. “Isn’t that funny?”

Dinny did not answer. She knew some of the rhymes and was uncertain. Having scrutinized a number of effigies and names which had for her a certain limited interest, and for the girl apparently none, they moved slowly down the aisle to where between two red wreaths lay the black and gold tablet to the Unknown Warrior.

“I wonder whether ‘e knows,” said the girl, “but I shouldn’t think ‘e cares, anyway; nobody knows ‘is name, so ‘e gets nothin’ out of it.”

“No. It’s we who get something out of it,” said Dinny, feeling the sensation in her throat with which the world rewards the Unknown Warrior.

Out in the street again the girl asked suddenly:

“Are you religious, Miss?”

“In a sort of way, I think,” said Dinny, doubtingly.

“I never was taught any — Dad and Mother liked Mr. Cherrell, but they thought it was a mistake; my Dad was a Socialist, you see, and he used to say religion was part of the capitalist system. Of course we don’t go to Church, in our class. We haven’t time, for one thing. You’ve got to keep so still in Church, too. I must say I like more movement. And then, if there’s a God, why is he called He? It puts me against Him, I know. Callin’ God He gets girls treated as they are, I think. Since my case I’ve thought about that a good deal after what the Court missionary said. A he can’t get on with creation without a she, anyway.”

Dinny stared.

“You should have said that to my uncle. It’s quite a thought.”

“They say women are the equal of men now,” the girl went on, “but they aren’t, you know. There wasn’t a girl at my place that wasn’t scared of the boss. Where the money is, there’s the power. And all the magistrates and judges and clergy are he’s, and all the generals. They’ve got the whip, you see, and yet they can’t do nothin’ without us; and if I was Woman as a whole, I’d show ’em.”

Dinny was silent. This girl was bitter from her experience, no doubt, but there was truth behind what she was saying. The Creator was bi-sexual, or the whole process would have ended at the start. In that was a primal equality, which she had never before quite realised. If the girl had been of her own order she would have answered, but it was impossible to be unreserved with her; and feeling herself snobbish, she fell back on irony.

“Some rebel! — as the Americans would say!”

“Of course I’m a rebel,” said the girl, “after that.”

“Well, here we are at Mrs. Mont’s. I’ve got one or two things to see to, so I’ll leave you with her. I hope we shall meet again.” She held out her hand, the girl took it and said simply: “I’ve enjoyed it.”

“So have I. Good luck!”

Leaving her in the hall, Dinny walked towards Oakley Street, and her mood was that of one who has failed to go as far as she has wished. She had touched on the uncharted, and recoiled. Her thoughts and feelings were like the twittering of Spring birds who have not yet shaped out their songs. That girl had roused in her some queer desire to be at grips with Life, without supplying the slightest notion of how to do it. It would be a relief even to be in love. How nice to know one’s mind, as Jean and Hubert seemed at once to have known it; as Hallorsen and Alan Tasburgh had declared they knew it. Existence seemed like a Shadow Show rather than Reality. And, greatly dissatisfied, she leaned her elbows on the river parapet, above the tide that was flowing up. Religious? In a sort of way. But what way? A passage in Hubert’s diary came back to her. “Anyone who believes he’s going to Heaven has a pull on chaps like me. He’s got a pension dangled.” Was religion belief in reward? If so, it seemed vulgar. Belief in goodness for the sake of goodness, because goodness was beautiful, like a perfect flower, a starry night, a lovely tune! Uncle Hilary did a difficult job well for the sake of doing it well. Was he religious? She must ask him. A voice at her side said:

“Dinny!”

She turned with a start, to see Alan Tasburgh standing there with a broad grin on his face.

“I went to Oakley Street to ask for you and Jean; they told me you were at the Monts’. I was on my way there, and here you are, stupendous luck!”

“I was wondering,” said Dinny, “whether I’m religious.”

“How queer! So was I!”

“D’you mean whether YOU were or whether I was?”

“As a matter of fact I look on us as one person.”

“Do you? Well, is one religious?”

“At a pinch.”

“Did you hear the news at Oakley Street?”

“No.”

“Captain Ferse is back there.”

“Cripes!”

“Precisely what everybody is saying! Did you see Diana?”

“No; only the maid — seemed a bit flustered. Is the poor chap still cracked?”

“No; but it’s awful for Diana.”

“She ought to be got away.”

“I’m going to stay there,” said Dinny, suddenly, “if she’ll have me.”

“I don’t like the idea of that.”

“I daresay not; but I’m going to.”

“Why? You don’t know her so very well.”

“I’m sick of scrimshanking.”

Young Tasburgh stared.

“I don’t understand.”

“The sheltered life has not come your way. I want to begin to earn my corn.”

“Then marry me.”

“Really, Alan, I never met anyone with so few ideas.”

“Better to have good ideas than many.”

Dinny walked on. “I’m going to Oakley Street now.”

They went along in silence till young Tasburgh said gravely:

“What’s biting you, my very dear?”

“My own nature; it doesn’t seem able to make trouble enough for me.”

“I could do that for you perfectly.”

“I am serious, Alan.”

“That’s good. Until you are serious you will never marry me. But why do you want to be bitten?”

Dinny shrugged. “I seem to have an attack of Longfellow: ‘Life is real, life is earnest’; I suppose you can’t realise that being a daughter in the country doesn’t amount to very much.”

“I won’t say what I was going to say.”

“Oh, do!”

“That’s easily cured. Become a mother in a town.”

“This is where they used to blush,” sighed Dinny. “I don’t want to turn everything into a joke, but it seems I do.”

Young Tasburgh slipped his hand through her arm.

“If you can turn being the wife of a sailor into a joke, you will be the first.”

Dinny smiled. “I’m not going to marry anyone till it hurts not to. I know myself well enough for that.”

“All right, Dinny; I won’t worry you.”

They moved on in silence; at the corner of Oakley Street she stopped.

“Now, Alan, don’t come any further.”

“I shall turn up at the Monts’ this evening and discover what’s happened to you. And if you want anything done — mind, anything — about Ferse, you’ve only to ‘phone me at the Club. Here’s the number.” He pencilled it on a card and handed it to her.

“Shall you be at Jean’s wedding tomorrow?”

“Sure thing! I give her away. I only wish —”

“Good-bye!” said Dinny.

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