Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 23

In that resort of those who know — the Piedmont Grill — the knowing were in various stages of repletion, bending towards each other as if in food they had found the link between their souls. They sat, two by two, and here and there four by five, and here and there a hermit, moody or observant over a cigar, and between the tables moved trippingly the lean and nimble waiters with faces unlike their own, because they were harassed by their memories. Lord Saxenden and Jean, in a corner at the near end, had already consumed a lobster, drunk half a bottle of hock, and talked of nothing in particular, before she raised her eyes slowly from an empty claw and said:

“Well, Lord Saxenden?”

His blue stare goggled slightly at that thick-lashed glance.

“Good lobster?” he said.

“Amazing.”

“I always come here when I want to be well fed. Is that partridge coming, waiter?”

“Yes, milord.”

“Well, hurry with it. Try this hock, Miss Tasburgh; you’re not drinking.”

Jean raised her greenish glass. “I became Mrs. Hubert Cherrell yesterday. It’s in the paper.”

Lord Saxenden’s cheeks expanded slightly with the thought: ‘Now, how does that affect me? Is this young lady more amusing single or more amusing married?’

“You don’t waste time,” he said, his eyes exploring her, as though seeking confirmation of her changed condition. “If I’d known, I shouldn’t have had the cheek to ask you to lunch without him.”

“Thank you,” said Jean; “he’s coming along presently.” And, through her lashes, she looked at him draining his glass thoughtfully.

“Have you any news for me?”

“I’ve seen Walter.”

“Walter?”

“The Home Secretary.”

“How terribly nice of you!”

“It was. Can’t bear the fellow. Got a head like an egg, except for his hair.”

“What did he say?”

“Young lady, nobody in any official department ever SAYS anything. He always ‘thinks it over.’ Administration has to be like that.”

“But of course he’ll pay attention to what YOU said. What DID you say?”

Lord Saxenden’s iced eyes seemed to answer: ‘Really, you know, really!’

But Jean smiled; and the eyes thawed gradually.

“You’re the most direct young woman I’ve ever come across. As a matter of fact I said: ‘Stop it, Walter.’”

“How splendid!”

“He didn’t like it. He’s a ‘just beast’.”

“Could I see him?”

Lord Saxenden began to laugh. He laughed like a man who has come across the priceless.

Jean waited for him to finish, and said:

“Then I shall.”

The partridge filled the ensuing gap.

“Look here!” said Lord Saxenden, suddenly: “If you really mean that, there’s one man who might wangle you an interview — Bobble Ferrar. He used to be with Walter when he was Foreign Secretary. I’ll give you a chit to Bobbie. Have a sweet?”

“No, thank you. But I SHOULD like some coffee, please. There’s Hubert!”

Just free of the revolving cage, which formed the door, was Hubert, evidently in search of his wife.

“Bring him over here!”

Jean looked intently at her husband. His face cleared, and he came towards them.

“You’ve got the eye all right,” murmured Lord Saxenden, rising. “How de do? You’ve married a remarkable wife. Have some coffee? The brandy’s good here.” And taking out a card he wrote on it in a hand both neat and clear:

“Robert Ferrar, Esq., P.O., Whitehall. Dear Bobbie, do see my young friend Mrs. Hubert Charwell and get her an interview with Walter if at all possible. Saxenden.”

Then, handing it to Jean, he asked the waiter for his bill.

“Hubert,” said Jean, “show Lord Saxenden your scar,” and, undoing the link of his cuff, she pushed up his sleeve. That livid streak stared queer and sinister above the tablecloth.

“H’m!” said Lord Saxenden: “useful wipe, that.”

Hubert wriggled his arm back under cover. “She still takes liberties,” he said.

Lord Saxenden paid his bill and handed Hubert a cigar.

“Forgive me if I run off now. Stay and finish your coffee. Good-bye and good luck to you both!” And, shaking their hands, he threaded his way out among the tables. The two young people gazed after him.

“Such delicacy,” said Hubert, “is not his known weakness, I believe. Well, Jean?”

Jean looked up.

“What does F.O. mean?”

“Foreign Office, my country girl.”

“Finish your brandy, and we’ll go and see this man.”

But in the courtyard a voice behind them said:

“Why! Captain! Miss Tasburgh!”

“My wife, Professor.”

Hallorsen seized their hands.

“Isn’t that just wonderful? I’ve a cablegram in my pocket, Captain, that’s as good as a wedding present.”

Over Hubert’s shoulder, Jean read out: “‘Exonerating statement sworn by Manuel mailed stop American Consulate La Paz.’ That’s splendid, Professor. Will you come with us and see a man at the Foreign Office about this?”

“Surely. I don’t want any grass to grow. Let’s take an automobile.”

Opposite to them in the cab he radiated surprised benevolence.

“You were mighty quick off the mark, Captain.”

“That was Jean.”

“Yes,” said Hallorsen, as if she were not present, “when I met her at Lippinghall I thought she could move. Is your sister pleased?”

“Is she, Jean?”

“Rather!”

“A wonderful young lady. There’s something good in low buildings. This Whitehall of yours makes me feel fine. The more sun and stars you can see from a street the more moral sense there is to the people. Were you married in a stovepipe hat, Captain?”

“No; just as I am now.”

“I’m sorry about that. They seem to me so cunning; like carrying a lost cause about on your head. I believe you are of an old family, too, Mrs. Cherrell. Your habit over here of families that serve their country from father to son is inspiring, Captain.”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

“I had a talk with your brother, Ma’am, at Lippinghall, he informed me you’d had a sailor in your family for centuries. And I’m told that in yours, Captain, there’s always been a soldier. I believe in heredity. Is this the Foreign Office?” He looked at his watch. “I’m just wondering whether that guy will be in? I’ve a kind of impression they do most of their business over food. We should do well to go and look at the ducks in the Park till three o’clock.”

“I’ll leave this card for him,” said Jean.

She rejoined them quickly. “He’s expected in at any minute.”

“That’ll be half an hour,” said Hallorsen. “There’s one duck here I’d like your opinion of, Captain.”

Crossing the wide road to the water they were nearly run down by the sudden convergence of two cars embarrassed by unwonted space. Hubert clutched Jean convulsively. He had gone livid under his tan. The cars cleared away to right and left. Hallorsen, who had taken Jean’s other arm, said with an exaggeration of his drawl:

“That just about took our paint off.”

Jean said nothing.

“I sometimes wonder,” continued Hallorsen, as they reached the ducks, “whether we get our money’s worth out of speed. What do you say, Captain?”

Hubert shrugged. “The hours lost in going by car instead of by train are just about as many as the hours saved, anyway.”

“That is so,” said Hallorsen. “But flying’s a real saver of time.”

“Better wait for the full bill before we boast about flying.”

“You’re right, Captain. We’re surely headed for hell. The next war will mean a pretty thin time for those who take part in it. Suppose France and Italy came to blows, there’d be no Rome, no Paris, no Florence, no Venice, no Lyons, no Milan, no Marseilles within a fortnight. They’d just be poisoned deserts. And the ships and armies maybe wouldn’t have fired a shot.”

“Yes. And all governments know it. I’m a soldier, but I can’t see why they go on spending hundreds of millions on soldiers and sailors who’ll probably never be used. You can’t run armies and navies when the nerve centres have been destroyed. How long could France and Italy function if their big towns were gassed? England or Germany certainly couldn’t function a week.”

“Your Uncle the Curator was saying to me that at the rate Man was going he would soon be back in the fish state.”

“How?”

“Why! Surely! Reversing the process of evolution — fishes, reptiles, birds, mammals. We’re becoming birds again, and the result of that will soon be that we shall creep and crawl, and end up in the sea when land’s uninhabitable.”

“Why can’t we all bar the air for war?”

“How can we bar the air?” said Jean. “Countries never trust each other. Besides, America and Russia are outside the League of Nations.”

“We Americans would agree. But maybe not our Senate.”

“That Senate of yours,” muttered Hubert, “seems to be a pretty hard proposition.”

“Why! It’s like your House of Lords before a whip was taken to it in 1910. That’s the duck,” and Hallorsen pointed to a peculiar bird. Hubert stared at it.

“I’ve shot that chap in India. It’s a — I’ve forgotten the name. We can get it from one of these boards — I shall remember if I see.”

“No!” said Jean; “it’s a quarter past three. He must be in by now.” And, without allocating the duck, they returned to the Foreign Office.

Bobbie Ferrar’s handshake was renowned. It pulled his adversary’s hand up and left it there. When Jean had restored her hand, she came at once to the point. “You know about this extradition business, Mr. Ferrar?”

Bobbie Ferrar nodded.

“This is Professor Hallorsen, who was head of the expedition. Would you like to see the scar my husband has?”

“Very much,” murmured Bobbie Ferrar, through his teeth.

“Show him, Hubert.”

Unhappily Hubert bared his arm again.

“Amazing!” said Bobbie Ferrar: “I told Walter.”

“You’ve seen him?”

“Sir Lawrence asked me to.”

“What did Wal — the Home Secretary say?”

“Nothing. He’d seen Snubby; he doesn’t like Snubby, so he’s issued the order to Bow Street.”

“Oh! Does that mean there will be a warrant?”

Bobbie Ferrar nodded, examining his nails.

The two young people stared at each other.

Hallorsen said, gravely:

“Can no one stop this gang?”

Bobbie Ferrar shook his head, his eyes looked very round.

Hubert rose.

“I’m sorry that I let anyone bother himself in the matter. Come along, Jean!” and with a slight bow he turned and went out. Jean followed him.

Hallorsen and Bobbie Ferrar were left confronted.

“I don’t understand this country,” said Hallorsen. “What ought to have been done?”

“Nothing,” answered Bobbie Ferrar. “When it comes before the magistrate, bring all the evidence you can.”

“We surely will. Mr. Ferrar, I am glad to have met you!”

Bobbie Ferrar grinned. His eyes looked even rounder.

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