Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 32

Over any impending issue, whether test match, ultimatum, the Cambridgeshire, or the hanging of a man, excitement beats up in the last few hours, and the feeling of suspense in the Cherrell family became painful when the day of Hubert’s remand was reached. As some Highland clan of old, without summons issued, assembled when one of its number was threatened, so were Hubert’s relatives collected in the Police Court. Except Lionel, who was in session, and his and Hilary’s children, who were at school, they were all there. It might have been a wedding or a funeral, but for the grimness of their faces, and the sense of unmerited persecution at the back of every mind. Dinny and Clare sat between their father and mother, with Jean, Alan, Hallorsen and Adrian next them; just behind them were Hilary and his wife, Fleur and Michael and Aunt Wilmet; behind them again sat Sir Lawrence and Lady Mont, and in the extreme rear the Rector formed the spear tail of an inverted phalanx.

Coming in with his lawyer, Hubert gave them a clansman’s smile.

Now that she was actually in Court, Dinny felt almost apathetic. Her brother was innocent of all save self-defence. If they committed him, he would still be innocent. And, after she had answered Hubert’s smile, her attention was given to Jean’s face. If ever the girl looked like a leopardess, it was now; her strange, deep-set eyes kept sliding from her ‘cub’ to him who threatened to deprive her of it.

The evidence from the first hearing having been read over, the new evidence — Manuel’s affidavit — was produced by Hubert’s lawyer. But then Dinny’s apathy gave way, for this affidavit was countered by the prosecution with another, sworn by four muleteers, to the effect that Manuel had not been present at the shooting.

That was a moment of real horror.

Four half-castes against one!

Dinny saw a disconcerted look flit across the magistrate’s face.

“Who procured this second affidavit, Mr. Buttall?”

“The lawyer in charge of the case in La Paz, Your Honour. It became known to him that the boy Manuel was being asked to give evidence.”

“I see. What do you say now on the question of the scar shown us by the accused?”

“Beyond the accused’s own statement there is no evidence whatever before you, Sir, or before me, as to how or when that scar was inflicted.”

“That is so. You are not suggesting that this scar could have been inflicted by the dead man after he was shot?”

“If Castro, having drawn a knife, had fallen forward after he was shot, it is conceivable, I suppose.”

“Not likely, I think, Mr. Buttall.”

“No. But my evidence, of course, is that the shooting was deliberate, cold-blooded, and at a distance of some yards. I know nothing of Castro’s having drawn a knife.”

“It comes to this, then: Either your six witnesses are lying, or the accused and the boy Manuel are.”

“That would appear to be the position, Your Honour. It is for you to judge whether the sworn words of six citizens are to be taken, or the sworn words of two.”

Dinny saw the magistrate wriggle.

“I am perfectly aware of that, Mr. Buttall. What do you say, Captain Cherrell, to this affidavit that has been put in as to the absence of the boy Manuel?”

Dinny’s eyes leaped to her brother’s face. It was impassive, even slightly ironic.

“Nothing, Sir. I don’t know where Manuel was. I was too occupied in saving my life. All I know is that he came up to me almost immediately afterwards.”

“Almost? How long afterwards?”

“I really don’t know, Sir — perhaps a minute. I was trying to stop the bleeding; I fainted just as he came.”

During the speeches of the two lawyers which followed, Dinny’s apathy returned. It fled again during the five minutes of silence which succeeded them. In all the Court the magistrate alone seemed occupied; and it was as if he would never be done. Through her lowered lashes she could see him consulting this paper, consulting that; he had a red face, a long nose, a pointed chin, and eyes which she liked whenever she could see them. Instinctively she knew that he was not at ease. At last he spoke.

“In this case,” he said, “I have to ask myself not whether a crime has been committed, or whether the accused has committed it; I have only to ask myself whether the evidence brought before me is such as to satisfy me that the alleged crime is an extraditable offence, that the foreign warrant is duly authenticated, and that such evidence has been produced as would in this country justify me in committing the accused to take his trial.” He paused a moment and then added: “There is no question but that the crime alleged is an extraditable offence, and that the foreign warrant is duly authenticated.” He paused again, and in the dead silence Dinny heard a long sigh, as if from a spirit, so lonely and disembodied was the sound. The Magistrate’s eyes passed to Hubert’s face, and he resumed:

“I have come to the conclusion reluctantly that it is my duty on the evidence adduced to commit the accused to prison to await surrender to the foreign State on a warrant from the Secretary of State, if he sees fit to issue it. I have heard the accused’s evidence to the effect that he had an antecedent justification removing the act complained of from the category of crime, supported by the affidavit of a witness which is contradicted by the affidavit of four others. I have no means of judging between the conflicting evidence of these two affidavits except in so far that it is in the proportion of four to one, and I must therefore dismiss it from my mind. In face of the sworn testimony of six witnesses that the shooting was deliberate, I do not think that the unsupported word of the accused to the contrary would justify me in the case of an offence committed in this country in refusing to commit for trial; and I am therefore unable to accept it as justification for a refusal to commit for trial in respect of an offence committed in another country. I make no hesitation in confessing my reluctance to come to this conclusion, but I consider that I have no other course open to me. The question, I repeat, is not whether the accused is guilty or innocent, it is a question of whether or not there should be a trial. I am not able to take on myself the responsibility of saying that there should not. The final word in cases of this nature rests with the Secretary of State, who issues the surrender warrant. I commit you, therefore, to prison to await the issue of such a warrant. You will not be surrendered until after fifteen days, and you have the right to apply for a writ of habeas corpus in regard to the lawfulness of your custody. I have not the power to grant you any further bail; but it may be that you may secure it, if you so desire, by application to the King’s Bench Division.”

Dinny’s horrified eyes saw Hubert, standing very straight, make the magistrate a little bow, and leave the dock, walking slowly and without a look back. Behind him his lawyer, too, passed out of Court.

She herself sat as if stunned, and her only impression of those next minutes was the sight of Jean’s stony face, and of Alan’s brown hands gripping each other on the handle of his stick.

She came to herself conscious that tears were stealing down her mother’s face, and that her father was standing up.

“Come!” he said: “Let’s get out of here!”

At that moment she was more sorry for her father than for any other of them all. Since this thing began he had said so little and had felt so much. It was ghastly for him! Dinny understood very well his simple feelings. To him, in the refusal of Hubert’s word, an insult had been flung not merely in his son’s face, and his own as Hubert’s father, but in the face of what they stood for and believed in; in the face of all soldiers and all gentlemen! Whatever happened now, he would never quite get over this. Between justice and what was just, what inexorable incompatibility! Were there men more honourable than her father and her brother, or than that magistrate, perhaps? Following him out into that dishevelled backwater of life and traffic, Bow Street, she noted that they were all there except Jean, Alan and Hallorsen. Sir Lawrence said:

“We must just ‘take cabs and go about!’ Better come to Mount Street and consult what we can each best do.”

When half an hour later they assembled in Aunt Em’s drawing-room, those three were still absent.

“What’s happened to them?” asked Sir Lawrence.

“I expect they went after Hubert’s lawyer,” answered Dinny; but she knew better. Some desperate plan was being hatched, and she brought but a distracted mind to council.

In Sir Lawrence’s opinion Bobbie Ferrar was still their man. If he could do nothing with ‘Walter,’ nothing could be done. He proposed to go again to him and to the Marquess.

The General said nothing. He stood a little apart, staring at one of his brother-inlaw’s pictures, evidently without seeing it. Dinny realised that he did not join in because he could not. She wondered of what he was thinking. Of when he was young like his son, just married; of long field-days under burning sun among the sands and stones of India and South Africa; of longer days of administrative routine; of strenuous poring over maps with his eyes on the clock and his ear to the telephone; of his wounds and his son’s long sickness; of two lives given to service and this strange reward at the end?

She herself stood close to Fleur, with the instinctive feeling that from that clear, quick brain might come a suggestion of real value.

“The Squire carries weight with the Government; I might go to Bentworth,” she heard Hilary say, and the Rector add:

“Ah! I knew him at Eton, I’ll come with you.”

She heard her Aunt Wilmet’s gruff: “I’ll go to Hen again about Royalty.” And Michael’s:

“In a fortnight the House will be sitting”; and Fleur’s impatient:

“No good, Michael. The Press is no use either. I’ve got a hunch.”

‘Ah!’ she thought, and moved closer.

“We haven’t gone deep enough. What’s at the back of it? Why should the Bolivian Government care about a half-caste Indian? It’s not the actual shooting, it’s the slur on their country. Floggings and shootings by foreigners! What’s wanted is something done to the Bolivian Minister that will make him tell ‘Walter’ that they don’t really care.”

“We can’t kidnap him,” muttered Michael; “it’s not done in the best circles.”

A faint smile came on Dinny’s lips; she was not so sure.

“I’ll see,” said Fleur, as if to herself. “Dinny, you must come to us. They’ll get no further here.” And her eyes roved swiftly over the nine elders. “I shall go to Uncle Lionel and Alison. He won’t dare move, being a new judge, but she will, and she knows all the Legation people. Will you come, Dinny?”

“I ought to be with mother and father.”

“They’ll be here, Em’s just asked them. Well, if you stay here too, come round as much as you can; you might help.”

Dinny nodded, relieved at staying in town; for the thought of Condaford during this suspense oppressed her.

“We’ll go now,” said Fleur, “and I’ll get on to Alison at once.”

Michael lingered to squeeze Dinny’s arm.

“Buck up, Dinny! We’ll get him out of it somehow. If only it wasn’t ‘Walter!’ He’s the worst kind of egg. To fancy yourself ‘just’ is simply to addle.”

When all except her own people had gone, Dinny went up to her father. He was still standing before a picture, but not the same one. Slipping her hand under his arm, she said:

“It’s going to be all right, Dad dear. You could see the magistrate was really sorry. He hadn’t the power, but the Home Secretary must have.”

“I was thinking,” said the General, “what the people of this country would do if we didn’t sweat and risk our lives for them.” He spoke without bitterness, or even emphasis: “I was thinking why we should go on doing our jobs, if our words aren’t to be believed. I was wondering where that magistrate would be — oh! I dare say he’s all right according to his lights — if boys like Hubert hadn’t gone off before their time. I was wondering why we’ve chosen lives that have landed me on the verge of bankruptcy, and Hubert in this mess, when we might have been snug and comfortable in the City or the Law. Isn’t a man’s whole career to weigh a snap when a thing like this happens? I feel the insult to the Service, Dinny.”

She watched the convulsive movement of his thin brown hands, clasped as if he were standing at ease, and her whole heart went out to him, though she could perfectly well see the unreason of the exemption he was claiming. “It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass than for one tittle of the Law to fail.” Wasn’t that the text she had just read in what she had suggested might be made into a secret naval code?

“Well,” he said, “I must go out now with Lawrence. See to your mother, Dinny, her head’s bad.”

When she had darkened her mother’s bedroom, applied the usual remedies, and left her to try and sleep, she went downstairs again. Clare had gone out, and the drawing-room, just now so full, seemed deserted. She passed down its length and opened the piano. A voice said:

“No, Polly, you must go to bed, I feel too sad”; and she became aware of her Aunt in the alcove at the end placing her parakeet in its cage.

“Can we be sad together, Aunt Em?”

Lady Mont turned round.

“Put your cheek against mine, Dinny.”

Dinny did so. The cheek was pink and round and smooth and gave her a sense of relaxation.

“From the first I knew what he would say,” said Lady Mont, “his nose was so long. In ten years’ time it’ll touch his chin. Why they allow them, I don’t know. You can do nothing with a man like that. Let’s cry, Dinny. You sit there, and I’ll sit here.”

“Do you cry high or low, Aunt Em?”

“Either. You begin. A man who can’t take a responsibility. I could have taken that responsibility perfectly, Dinny. Why didn’t he just say to Hubert ‘Go and sin no more’?”

“But Hubert hasn’t sinned.”

“It makes it all the worse. Payin’ attention to foreigners! The other day I was sittin’ in the window at Lippin’hall, and there were three starlin’s on the terrace, and I sneezed twice. D’you think they paid any attention? Where is Bolivia?”

“In South America, Aunt Em.”

“I never could learn geography. My maps were the worst ever made at my school, Dinny. Once they asked me where Livin’stone kissed Stanley, and I answered? ‘Niagara Falls.’ And it wasn’t.”

“You were only a continent wrong there, Auntie.”

“Yes. I’ve never seen anybody laugh as my schoolmistress laughed when I said that. Excessive — she was fat. I thought Hubert lookin’ thin.”

“He’s always thin, but he’s looking much less ‘tucked up’ since his marriage.”

“Jean’s fatter, that’s natural. You ought, Dinny, you know.”

“You never used to be so keen on people getting married, Auntie.”

“What happened on the tiger the other day?”

“I can’t possibly tell you that, Aunt Em.”

“It must have been pretty bad, then.”

“Or do you mean good?”

“You’re laughin’ at me.”

“Did you ever know me disrespectful, Auntie?”

“Yes. I perfectly well remember you writin’ a poem about me:

‘I do not care for Auntie Em,
She says I cannot sew or hem.
Does she? Well! I can sew a dem
Sight better than my Auntie Em.’

I kept it. I thought it showed character.”

“Was I such a little demon?”

“Yes. There’s no way, is there, of shortenin’ dogs?” And she pointed to the golden retriever lying on a rug. “Bonzo’s middle is really too long.”

“I told you that, Aunt Em, when he was a puppy.”

“Yes, but I didn’t notice it till he began to scratch for rabbits. He can’t get over the hole properly. It makes him look so weak. Well! If we’re not goin’ to cry, Dinny, what shall we do?”

“Laugh?” murmured Dinny.

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