Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 25

Portentous — those simple words!

“After you’d gone this morning he was in a great state — seemed to think we were all in a conspiracy to keep things from him.”

“As we were,” murmured Dinny.

“Mademoiselle’s going upset him again. Soon after, I heard the front door bang — he hasn’t been back since. I didn’t tell you, but last night was dreadful. Suppose he doesn’t come back?”

“Oh! Diana, I wish he wouldn’t.”

“But where has he gone? What can he do? Whom can he go to? O God! It’s awful!”

Dinny looked at her in silent distress.

“Sorry, Dinny! You must be tired and hungry. We won’t wait dinner.”

In Ferse’s ‘lair,’ that charming room panelled in green shot with a golden look, they sat through an anxious meal. The shaded light fell pleasantly on their bare necks and arms, on the fruit, the flowers, the silver; and until the maid was gone they spoke of indifferent things.

“Has he a key?” asked Dinny.

“Yes.”

“Shall I ring up Uncle Adrian?”

“What can he do? If Ronald does come in, it will be more dangerous if Adrian is here.”

“Alan Tasburgh told me he would come any time if anyone was wanted.”

“No, let’s keep it to ourselves to-night. To-morrow we can see.”

Dinny nodded. She was scared, and more scared of showing it, for she was there to strengthen Diana by keeping cool and steady.

“Come upstairs and sing to me,” she said, at last.

Up in the drawing-room Diana sang ‘The Sprig of Thyme,’ ‘Waley, Waley,’ ‘The Bens of Jura,’ ‘Mowing the Barley,’ ‘The Castle of Dromore,’ and the beauty of the room, of the songs, of the singer, brought to Dinny a sense of unreality. She had gone into a drowsy dream, when, suddenly, Diana stopped.

“I heard the front door.”

Dinny got up and stood beside the piano.

“Go on, don’t say anything, don’t show anything.”

Diana began again to play, and sing the Irish song ‘Must I go bound and you go free.’ Then the door was opened, and, in a mirror at the end of the room, Dinny saw Ferse come in and stand listening.

“Sing on,” she whispered.

“‘Must I go bound, and you go free?
Must I love a lass that couldn’t love me?
Oh! was I taught so poor a wit
As love a lass would break my heart.’”

And Ferse stood there listening. He looked like a man excessively tired or overcome with drink; his hair was disordered and his lips drawn back so that his teeth showed. Then he moved. He seemed trying to make no noise. He passed round to a sofa on the far side and sank down on it. Diana stopped singing. Dinny, whose hand was on her shoulder, felt her trembling with the effort to control her voice.

“Have you had dinner, Ronald?”

Ferse did not answer, staring across the room with that queer and ghostly grin.

“Play on,” whispered Dinny.

Diana played the Red Sarafan; she played the fine simple tune over and over, as if making hypnotic passes towards that mute figure. When, at last, she stopped, there followed the strangest silence. Then Dinny’s nerve snapped and she said, almost sharply:

“Is it raining, Captain Ferse?”

Ferse passed his hand down his trouser, and nodded.

“Hadn’t you better go up and change them, Ronald?”

He put his elbows on his knees, and rested his head on his hands.

“You must be tired, dear; won’t you go to bed? Shall I bring you something up?”

And still he did not move. The grin had faded off his lips; his eyes were closed. He looked like a man suddenly asleep, as some overdriven beast of burden might drop off between the shafts.

“Shut the piano,” whispered Dinny; “let’s go up.”

Diana closed the piano without noise and rose. With their arms linked they waited, but he did not stir.

“Is he really asleep?” whispered Dinny.

Ferse started up. “Sleep! I’m for it. I’m for it again. And I won’t stand it. By God! I won’t stand it!”

He stood a moment transfigured with a sort of fury; then, seeing them shrink, sank back on the sofa and buried his face in his hands. Impulsively Diana moved towards him.

Ferse looked up. His eyes were wild.

“Don’t!” he growled out. “Leave me alone! Go away!”

At the door Diana turned and said:

“Ronald, won’t you see someone? Just to make you sleep — just for that.”

Ferse sprang up again. “I’ll see no one. Go away!”

They shrank out of the room, and up in Dinny’s bedroom stood with their arms round each other, quivering.

“Have the maids gone to bed?”

“They always go early, unless one of them is out.”

“I think I ought to go down and telephone, Diana.”

“No, Dinny, I will. Only to whom?”

That was, indeed, the question. They debated it in whispers. Diana thought her doctor; Dinny thought Adrian or Michael should be asked to go round to the doctor and bring him.

“Was it like this before the last attack?”

“No. He didn’t know then what was before him. I feel he might kill himself, Dinny.”

“Has he a weapon?”

“I gave his Service revolver to Adrian to keep for me.”

“Razors?”

“Only safety ones; and there’s nothing poisonous in the house.”

Dinny moved to the door.

“I MUST go and telephone.”

“Dinny, I can’t have you —”

“He wouldn’t touch ME. It’s you that are in danger. Lock the door while I’m gone.”

And before Diana could stop her, she slid out. The lights still burned, and she stood a moment. Her room was on the second floor, facing the street. Diana’s bedroom and that of Ferse were on the drawing-room floor below. She must pass them to reach the hall and the little study where the telephone was kept. No sound came up. Diana had opened the door again and was standing there; and, conscious that at any moment she might slip past her and go down, Dinny ran forward and began descending the stairs. They creaked and she stopped to take off her shoes. Holding them in her hand she crept on past the drawing-room door. No sound came thence; and she sped down to the hall. She noticed Ferse’s hat and coat thrown across a chair, and, passing into the study, closed the door behind her. She stood a moment to recover breath, then, turning on the light, took up the directory. She found Adrian’s number and was stretching out her hand for the receiver when her wrist was seized, and with a gasp she turned to face Ferse. He twisted her round and stood pointing to the shoes still in her hand.

“Going to give me away,” he said, and, still holding her, took a knife out of his side pocket. Back, at the full length of her arm, Dinny looked him in the face. Somehow she was not so scared as she had been; her chief feeling was a sort of shame at having her shoes in her hand.

“That’s silly, Captain Ferse,” she said, icily. “You know we’d neither of us do you any harm.”

Ferse flung her hand from him, opened the knife, and with a violent effort severed the telephone wire. The receiver dropped on the floor. He closed the knife and put it back into his pocket. Dinny had the impression that with action he had become less unbalanced.

“Put on your shoes,” he said.

She did so.

“Understand me, I’m not going to be interfered with, or messed about. I shall do what I like with myself.”

Dinny remained silent. Her heart was beating furiously, and she did not want her voice to betray it.

“Did you hear?”

“Yes. No one wants to interfere with you, or do anything you don’t like. We only want your good.”

“I know that good,” said Ferse. “No more of that for me.” He went across to the window, tore a curtain aside, and looked out. “It’s raining like hell,” he said, then turned and stood looking at her. His face began to twitch, his hands to clench. He moved his head from side to side. Suddenly he shouted: “Get out of this room, quick! Get out, get out!”

As swiftly as she could without running Dinny slid to the door, closed it behind her and flew upstairs. Diana was still standing in the bedroom doorway. Dinny pushed her in, locked the door, and sank down breathless.

“He came out after me,” she gasped, “and cut the wire. He’s got a knife; I’m afraid there’s mania coming on. Will that door hold if he tries to break it down? Shall we put the bed against it?”

“If we do we should never sleep.”

“We shall never sleep, anyway,” and she began dragging at the bed. They moved it square against the door.

“Do the maids lock their doors?”

“They have, since he’s been back.”

Dinny sighed with relief. The idea of going out again to warn them made her shudder. She sat on the bed looking at Diana, who was standing by the window.

“What are you thinking of, Diana?”

“I was thinking what I should be feeling if the children were still here.”

“Yes, thank heaven, they’re not.”

Diana came back to the bed and took Dinny’s hand. Grip and answering grip tightened till they were almost painful.

“Is there nothing we can do, Dinny?”

“Perhaps he’ll sleep, and be much better in the morning. Now there’s danger I don’t feel half so sorry for him.”

Diana said stonily: “I’m past feeling. I wonder if he knows yet that I’m not in my own room? Perhaps I ought to go down and face it.”

“You shan’t!” And taking the key from the lock Dinny thrust it into the top of her stocking: its cold hardness rallied her nerves.

“Now,” she said, “we’ll lie down with our feet to the door. It’s no good getting worn out for nothing.”

A sort of apathy had come over both of them, and they lay a long time thus, close together under the eiderdown, neither of them sleeping, neither of them quite awake. Dinny had dozed off at last when a stealthy sound awakened her. She looked at Diana. She was asleep, really asleep, dead asleep. A streak of light from outside showed at the top of the door, which fitted loosely. Leaning on her elbow she strained her ears. The handle of the door was turned, and softly shaken. There was a gentle knocking.

“Yes,” said Dinny, very low, “what is it?”

“Diana,” said Ferse’s voice, but quite subdued: “I want her.”

Dinny crouched forward close to the keyhole.

“Diana’s not well,” she said. “She’s asleep now, don’t disturb her.”

There was silence. And then to her horror she heard a long moaning sigh; a sound so miserable, and as it were so final that she was on the point of taking out the key. The sight of Diana’s face, white and worn, stopped her. No good! Whatever that sound meant — no good! And crouching back on the bed, she listened. No more sound! Diana slept on, but Dinny could not get to sleep again. ‘If he kills himself,’ she thought, ‘shall I be to blame?’ Would that not be best for everyone, for Diana and his children, for himself? But that long sighing moan went on echoing through her nerves. Poor man, poor man! She felt nothing now but a dreadful sore pity, a sort of resentment at the inexorability of Nature that did such things to human creatures. Accept the mysterious ways of Providence? Who could? Insensate and cruel! Beside the worn-out sleeper she lay, quivering. What had they done that they ought not to have done? Could they have helped him more than they had tried to? What could they do when morning came? Diana stirred. Was she going to wake? But she just turned and sank back into her heavy slumber. And slowly a drowsy feeling stole on Dinny herself and she slept.

A knocking on the door awakened her. It was daylight. Diana was still sleeping. She looked at her wrist watch. Eight o’clock. She was being called.

“All right, Mary!” she answered, softly: “Mrs. Ferse is here.”

Diana sat up, her eyes on Dinny’s half-clothed figure.

“What is it?”

“It’s all right, Diana. Eight o’clock! We’d better get up and put the bed back. You’ve had a real good sleep. The maids are up.”

They put on wrappers, and pulled the bed into place. Dinny took the key from its queer hiding nook, and unlocked the door.

“No good craning at it. Let’s go down!”

They stood a moment at the top of the stairs listening, and then descended. Diana’s room was untouched. The maid had evidently been in and pulled aside the curtains. They stood at the door that led from it to Ferse’s room. No sound came from there. They went out to the other door. Still no sound!

“We’d better go down,” whispered Dinny. “What shall you say to Mary?”

“Nothing. She’ll understand.”

The dining room and study doors were open. The telephone receiver still lay severed on the floor; there was no other sign of last night’s terrors.

Suddenly, Dinny said: “Diana, his hat and coat are gone. They were on that chair.”

Diana went into the dining room and rang the bell. The elderly maid, coming from the basement stairs, had a scared and anxious look.

“Have you seen Captain Ferse’s hat and coat this morning Mary?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“What time did you come down?”

“Seven o’clock.”

“You haven’t been to his room?”

“Not yet, Ma’am.”

“I was not well last night; I slept upstairs with Miss Dinny.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

They all three went upstairs.

“Knock on his door.”

The maid knocked. Dinny and Diana stood close by. There was no answer.

“Knock again, Mary, louder.”

Again and again the maid knocked. No answer. Diana put her aside and turned the handle. The door came open. Ferse was not there. The room was in disorder, as if someone had tramped and wrestled in it. The water bottle was empty, and tobacco ash was strewn about. The bed had been lain on, but not slept in. There was no sign of packing or of anything having been taken from the drawers. The three women looked at each other. Then Diana said:

“Get breakfast quick, Mary. We must go out.”

“Yes, Ma’am — I saw the telephone.”

“Hide that up, and get it mended; and don’t tell the others anything. Just say: ‘He’s away for a night or two.’ Make things here look like that. We’ll dress quickly, Dinny.”

The maid went downstairs again.

Dinny said: “Has he any money?”

“I don’t know. I can see if his cheque book has gone.”

She ran down again, and Dinny waited. Diana came back into the hall.

“No; it’s on the bureau in the dining-room. Quick, Dinny, dress!”

That meant . . . What did it mean? A strange conflict of hopes and fears raged within Dinny. She flew upstairs.

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