Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 24

In the due course of justice, Hubert was brought up at Bow Street on a warrant issued by one of its magistrates. Attending, in common with other members of the family, Dinny sat through the proceedings in a state of passive protest. The sworn evidence of six Bolivian muleteers, testifying to the shooting and to its being unprovoked; Hubert’s countering statement, the exhibition of his scar, his record, and the evidence of Hallorsen, formed the material on which the magistrate was invited to come to his decision. He came to it. ‘Remanded’ till the arrival of the defendant’s supporting evidence. That principle of British law, ‘A prisoner is presumed innocent till he is proved guilty,’ so constantly refuted by its practice, was then debated in regard to bail, and Dinny held her breath. The idea of Hubert, just married, being presumed innocent in a cell, while his evidence crossed the Atlantic, was unbearable. The considerable bail offered by Sir Conway and Sir Lawrence, however, was finally accepted, and with a sigh of relief she walked out, her head held high. Sir Lawrence joined her outside.

“It’s lucky,” he said, “that Hubert looks so unaccustomed to lying.”

“I suppose,” murmured Dinny, “this will be in the papers.”

“On that, my nymph, you may bet the buttoned boots you haven’t got.”

“How will it affect Hubert’s career?”

“I think it will be good for him. The House of Commons questions were damaging. But ‘British Officer versus Bolivian Half-Castes,’ will rally the prejudice we all have for our kith and kin.”

“I’m more sorry for Dad than for anybody. His hair is distinctly greyer since this began.”

“There’s nothing dishonourable about it, Dinny.”

Dinny’s head tilted up.

“No, indeed!”

“You remind me of a two-year-old, Dinny — one of those whipcordy chestnuts that kick up their heels in the paddock, get left at the post, and come in first after all. Here’s your American bearing down on us. Shall we wait for him? He gave very useful evidence.”

Dinny shrugged her shoulders, and almost instantly Hallorsen’s voice said:

“Miss Cherrell!”

Dinny turned.

“Thank you very much, Professor, for what you said.”

“I wish I could have lied for you, but I had no occasion. How is that sick gentleman?”

“All right so far.”

“I am glad to hear that. I have been worried thinking of you.”

“What you said, Professor,” put in Sir Lawrence, “about not being seen dead with any of those muleteers hit the magistrate plumb centre.”

“To be seen alive with them was bad enough. I’ve an automobile here, can I take you and Miss Cherrell anywhere?”

“You might take us to the borders of civilisation, if you’re going West.”

“Well, Professor,” continued Sir Lawrence, when they were seated, “what do you think of London? Is it the most barbarous or the most civilised town on earth?”

“I just love it,” said Hallorsen, without ever taking his eyes off Dinny.

“I don’t,” murmured Dinny; “I hate the contrasts and the smell of petrol.”

“Well, a stranger can’t tell why he loves London, unless it’s the variety and the way you’ve gotten freedom and order all mixed up; or maybe it’s because it’s so different from our towns over there. New York is more wonderful and more exciting, but not so homey.”

“New York,” said Sir Lawrence, “is like strychnine. It perks you up until it lays you out.”

“I certainly couldn’t live in New York. The West for me.”

“The great open spaces,” murmured Dinny.

“Why yes, Miss Cherrell; you would love them.”

Dinny smiled wanly. “No one can be pulled up by the roots, Professor.”

“Ah!” said Sir Lawrence, “my son once took up the question of Emigration in Parliament. He found that people’s roots were so strong that he had to drop it like a hot potato.”

“Is that so?” said Hallorsen. “When I look at your town folk, undersized and pale and kind of disillusioned, I can’t help wondering what roots they can have.”

“The townier the type, the more stubborn its roots — no open spaces for them; the streets, fried fish, and the pictures. Would you put me down here, Professor? Dinny, where are you bound for?”

“Oakley Street.”

Hallorsen stopped the car and Sir Lawrence got out.

“Miss Cherrell, may I have the great pleasure of taking you as far as Oakley Street?”

Dinny bowed.

Seated thus side by side with him in the closed car, she wondered uneasily what use he would make of his opportunity. Presently, without looking at her, he said:

“As soon as your brother is fixed up I shall be sailing. I’m going to take an expedition to New Mexico. I shall always count it a privilege to have known you, Miss Cherrell.”

His ungloved hands were gripping each other between his knees; and the sight moved her.

“I am very sorry for misjudging you at first, Professor, just as my brother did.”

“It was natural. I shall be glad to think I have your good will when all’s been said and done.”

Dinny put out her hand impulsively.

“You have.”

He took the hand with gravity, raised it to his lips, and returned it to her gently. Dinny felt extremely unhappy. She said, timidly: “You’ve made me think quite differently about Americans, Professor.”

Hallorsen smiled.

“That is something, anyway.”

“I’m afraid I was very crude in my ideas. You see, I haven’t really known any.”

“That is the little trouble between us; we don’t really know each other. We get on each other’s nerves, with little things, and there it ends. But I shall always remember you as the smile on the face of this country.”

“That,” said Dinny, “is very pretty, and I wish it were true.”

“If I could have a picture of you, I should treasure it.”

“Of course you shall! I don’t know if I have a decent one, but I’ll send you the best.”

“I thank you. I think if you will allow me I will get out here; I am just not too sure of myself. The car will take you on.” He tapped on the glass and spoke to the chauffeur.

“Good-bye!” he said, and took her hand again, looked at it rather long, pressed it hard, and slid his long frame through the doorway.

“Good-bye!” murmured Dinny, sitting back, with rather a choky feeling in her throat.

Five minutes later the car pulled up before Diana’s house, and, very subdued, she went in.

Diana, whom she had not seen that morning, opened the door of her room as she was passing.

“Come in here, Dinny.” Her voice was stealthy, and a little shudder went through Dinny. They sat down side by side on the four-poster bed, and Diana spoke low and hurriedly:

“He came in here last night and insisted on staying. I didn’t dare refuse. There’s a change; I have a feeling that it’s the beginning of the end, again. His self-control is weakening, all round. I think I ought to send the children somewhere. Would Hilary take them?”

“I’m sure he would; or Mother would certainly.”

“Perhaps that would be better.”

“Don’t you think you ought to go, yourself?”

Diana sighed and shook her head.

“That would only precipitate things. Could you take the children down for me?”

“Of course. But do you really think he —?”

“Yes. I’m sure he’s working up again. I know the signs so well. Haven’t you noticed, Dinny, he’s been drinking more each evening? It’s all of a piece.”

“If he’d get over his horror of going out.”

“I don’t believe that would help. Here at all events we know what there is to know, and the worst at once if it comes. I dread something happening with strangers, and our hands being forced.”

Dinny squeezed her arm.

“When would you like the children taken down?”

“As soon as possible. I can’t say anything to him. You must just go off as quietly as you can. Mademoiselle can go down separately, if your mother will have her too.”

“I shall come back at once, of course.”

“Dinny, it isn’t fair on you. I’ve got the maids. It’s really too bad to bother you with my troubles.”

“But of course I shall come back. I’ll borrow Fleur’s car. Will he mind the children going?”

“Only if he connects it with our feeling about his state. I can say it’s an old invitation.”

“Diana,” said Dinny, suddenly, “have you any love for him left?”

“Love? No!”

“Just pity?”

Diana shook her head.

“I can’t explain; it’s the past and a feeling that if I desert him I help the fates against him. That’s a horrible thought!”

“I understand. I’m so sorry for you both, and for Uncle Adrian.”

Diana smoothed her face with her hands, as if wiping off the marks of trouble.

“I don’t know what’s coming, but it’s no good going to meet it. As to you, my dear, don’t for God’s sake let me spoil your time.”

“That’s all right. I’m wanting something to take me out of myself. Spinsters, you know, should be well shaken before being taken.”

“Ah! When ARE you going to be taken, Dinny?”

“I have just rejected the great open spaces, and I feel a beast.”

“Between the great open spaces and the deep sea — are you?”

“And likely to remain so. The love of a good man — and all that, seems to leave me frost-bitten.”

“Wait! Your hair is the wrong colour for the cloister.”

“I’ll have it dyed and sail in my true colours. Icebergs are sea-green.”

“As I said before — wait!”

“I will,” said Dinny . . . .

Fleur herself drove the South Square car to the door two days later. The children and some luggage were placed in it without incident, and they started.

That somewhat hectic drive, for the children were little used to cars, to Dinny was pure relief. She had not realised how much the tragic atmosphere of Oakley Street was on her nerves; and yet it was but ten days since she had come up from Condaford. The colours of ‘the fall’ were deepening already on the trees. The day had the soft and sober glow of fine October; the air, as the country deepened and grew remote, had again its beloved tang; wood smoke rose from cottage chimneys, and rooks from the bared fields.

They arrived in time for lunch, and, leaving the children with Mademoiselle, who had come down by train, Dinny went forth with the dogs alone. She stopped at an old cottage high above the sunken road. The door opened straight into the living-room, where an old woman was sitting by a thin fire of wood.

“Oh! Miss Dinny,” she said, “I am that glad. I haven’t seen you not all this month.”

“No, Betty; I’ve been away. How are you?”

The little old woman, for she was of pocket size, crossed her hands solemnly on her middle.

“My stummick’s bad again. I ‘aven’t nothin’ else the matter — the doctor says I’m wonderful. Just my stummick. ‘E says I ought to eat more; and I’ve such an appetite, Miss Dinny. But I can’t eat ‘ardly nothin’ without I’m sick, and that’s the truth.”

“Dear Betty, I’m so sorry. Tummies are a dreadful nuisance. Tummies and teeth. I can’t think why we have them. If you haven’t teeth you can’t digest; and if you have teeth you can’t digest either.”

The old lady cackled thinly.

“‘E du say I ought to ‘ave the rest of my teeth out, but I don’t like to part with ’em, Miss Dinny. Father ‘e’s got none, and ‘e can bite an apple, ‘e can. But at my age I can’t expect to live to ‘arden up like that.”

“But you could have some lovely false ones, Betty.”

“Oh! I don’t want to ‘ave no false teeth — so pretenshus. You wouldn’t never wear false teeth, would you, Miss Dinny?”

“Of course I would, Betty. Nearly all the best people have them nowadays.”

“You will ‘ave your joke. No, I shouldn’t like it. I’d as soon wear a wig. But my ‘air’s as thick as ever. I’m wonderful for my age. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for; it’s only my stummick, an’ that’s like as if there was somethin’ there.”

Dinny saw the pain and darkness in her eyes.

“How is Benjamin, Betty?”

The eyes changed, became amused and yet judgmatic, as if she were considering a child.

“Oh! Father’s all right, Miss; ‘e never ‘as anything the matter except ‘is rheumatiz; ‘e’s out now doin’ a bit o’ diggin’.”

“And how’s Goldie?” said Dinny, looking lugubriously at a goldfinch in a cage. She hated to see birds in cages, but had never been able to bring herself to say so to these old people with their small bright imprisoned pet. Besides, didn’t they say that if you released a tame goldfinch, it would soon be pecked to death?

“Oh!” said the old lady, “‘e thinks ‘e’s someone since you give him that bigger cage.” Her eyes brightened. “Fancy the Captain married, Miss Dinny, and that dreadful case against him an’ all — whatever are they thinkin’ about? I never ‘eard of such a thing in all my life. One of the Cherrell’s to be put in Court like that. It’s out of all knowledge.”

“It is, Betty.”

“I’m told she’s a fine young lady. And where’ll they be goin’ to live?”

“Nobody knows yet; we have to wait for this case to be over. Perhaps down here, or perhaps he’ll get a post abroad. They’ll be very poor, of course.”

“Dreadful; it never was like that in old days. The way they put upon the gentry now — oh, dear! I remember your great-grandfather, Miss Dinny, drivin’ four-inhand when I was a little bit of a thing. Such a nice old gentleman — curtly, as you might say.”

Such references to the gentry never ceased to make Dinny feel uneasy, only too well aware that this old lady had been one of eight children brought up by a farm worker whose wages had been eleven shillings a week, and that she and her husband now existed on their Old Age pensions, after bringing up a family of seven.

“Well, Betty dear, what CAN you digest, so that I can tell cook?”

“Thank you kindly, Miss Dinny; a nice bit of lean pork do seem to lie quiet sometimes.” Again her eyes grew dark and troubled. “I ‘ave such dreadful pain; really sometimes I feel I’d be glad to go ‘ome.”

“Oh! no, Betty dear. With a little proper feeding I know you’re going to feel better.”

The old lady smiled below her eyes.

“I’m wonderful for my age, so it’d never do to complain. And when are the bells goin’ to ring for you, Miss Dinny?”

“Don’t mention them, Betty. They won’t ring of their own accord — that’s certain.”

“Ah! People don’t marry young, and ‘ave the families they did in my young days. My old Aunt ‘ad eighteen an’ reared eleven.”

“There doesn’t seem room or work for them now, does there?”

“Aye! The country’s changed.”

“Less down here than in most places, thank goodness.” And Dinny’s eyes wandered over the room where these two old people had spent some fifty years of life; from brick floor to raftered ceiling it was scrupulously clean and had a look of homely habit.

“Well, Betty, I must go. I’m staying in London just now with a friend, and have to get back there this evening. I’ll tell cook to send some little things that’ll be better for you than pork even. Don’t get up!”

But the little old woman was on her feet, her eyes looking out from her very soul.

“I am that glad to ‘ave seen you, Miss Dinny. God bless you! And I do ‘ope the Captain won’t ‘ave any trouble with those dreadful people.”

“Good-bye, Betty dear, and remember me to Benjamin,” and pressing the old lady’s hand Dinny went out to where the dogs were waiting for her on the flagged pathway. As always after such visits she felt humble and inclined to cry. Roots! That was what she missed in London, what she would miss in the ‘great open spaces.’ She walked to the bottom of a narrow straggling beechwood, and entered it through a tattered gate that she did not even have to open. She mounted over the damp beech mast which smelled sweetly as of husks; to the left a grey-blue sky was rifted by the turning beeches, and to her right stretched fallow ground where a squatting hare turned and raced for the hedgerow; a pheasant rose squawking before one of the dogs and rocketed over the wood. She emerged from the trees at the top, and stood looking down at the house, long and stone-coloured, broken by magnolias and the trees on the lawn; smoke was rising from two chimneys, and the fantails speckled with white one gable. She breathed deeply, and for full ten minutes stood there, like a watered plant drawing up the food of its vitality. The scent was of leaves and turned earth and of rain not far away; the last time she had stood there had been at the end of May, and she had inhaled that scent of summer which is at once a memory and a promise, an aching and a draught of delight . . . .

After an early tea she started back, in the now closed car, sitting beside Fleur.

“I must say,” said that shrewd young woman, “Condaford is the most peaceful place I was ever in. I should die of it, Dinny. The rurality of Lippinghall is nothing thereto.”

“Old and mouldering, um?”

“Well, I always tell Michael that your side of his family is one of the least expressed and most interesting phenomena left in England. You’re wholly unvocal, utterly out of the limelight. Too unsensational for the novelists, and yet you’re there, and go on being there, and I don’t quite know how. Every mortal thing’s against you, from Death Duties down to gramophones. But you persist generally at the ends of the earth, doing things that nobody knows or cares anything about. Most of your sort haven’t even got Condafords now to come home and die in; and yet you still have roots, and a sense of duty. I’ve got neither, you know, I suppose that comes of being half French. My father’s family — the Forsytes — may have roots, but they haven’t a sense of duty — not in the same way; or perhaps it’s a sense of service that I mean. I admire it, you know, Dinny, but it bores me stiff. It’s making you go and blight your young life over this Ferse business. Duty’s a disease, Dinny; an admirable disease.”

“What do you think I ought to do about it?”

“Have your instincts out. I can’t imagine anything more ageing than what you’re doing now. As for Diana, she’s of the same sort — the Montjoys have a kind of Condaford up in Dumfriesshire — I admire her for sticking to Ferse, but I think it’s quite crazy of her. It can only end one way, and that’ll be the more unpleasant the longer it’s put off.”

“Yes; I feel she’s riding for a bad fall, but I hope I should do the same.”

“I know I shouldn’t,” said Fleur, cheerfully.

“I don’t believe that anybody knows what they’ll do about anything until it comes to the point.”

“The thing is never to let anything come to a point.”

Fleur spoke with a tang in her voice, and Dinny saw her lips harden. She always found Fleur attractive, because mystifying.

“You haven’t seen Ferse,” she said, “and without seeing him you can’t appreciate how pathetic he is.”

“That’s sentiment, my dear. I’m not sentimental.”

“I’m sure you’ve had a past, Fleur; and you can’t have had that without being sentimental.”

Fleur gave her a quick look, and trod on the accelerator.

“Time I turned on my lights,” she said.

For the rest of the journey she talked on Art, Letters, and other unimportant themes. It was nearly eight o’clock when she dropped Dinny at Oakley Street.

Diana was in, already dressed for dinner.

“Dinny,” she said, “he’s out.”

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