Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 33

Her father and Sir Lawrence not coming back to dinner, and her mother remaining in bed, Dinny dined alone with her aunt, for Clare was staying with friends.

“Aunt Em,” she said, when they had finished, “do you mind if I go round to Michael’s? Fleur has had a hunch.”

“Why?” said Lady Mont: “It’s too early for that — not till March.”

“You’re thinking of the hump, Auntie. A ‘hunch’ means an idea.”

“Then why didn’t she say so?” And, with that simple dismissal of the more fashionable forms of speech, Lady Mont rang the bell.

“Blore, a taxi for Miss Dinny. And, Blore, when Sir Lawrence comes in, let me know; I’m goin’ to have a hot bath, and wash my hair.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Do you wash your hair when you’re sad, Dinny?”

Driving through the misty dark evening to South Square, Dinny experienced melancholy beyond all she had felt yet. The thought of Hubert actually in a prison cell, torn from a wife not more than three weeks married, facing separation that might be permanent, and a fate that would not bear thinking of; and all because they were too scrupulous to stretch a point and take his word, caused fear and rage to bank up in her spirit, as unspent heat before a storm.

She found Fleur and her Aunt Lady Alison discussing ways and means. The Bolivian Minister, it appeared, was away convalescing after an illness, and a subordinate was in charge. This in Lady Alison’s opinion made it more difficult, for he would probably not take any responsibility. She would, however, arrange a luncheon to which Fleur and Michael should be bidden, and Dinny, too, if she wished; but Dinny shook her head — she had lost faith in her power of manipulating public men.

“If you and Fleur can’t manage it, Aunt Alison, I certainly can’t. But Jean is singularly attractive when she likes.”

“Jean telephoned just now, Dinny. If you came in to-night, would you go round and see her at their flat; otherwise she was writing to you.”

Dinny stood up. “I’ll go at once.”

She hurried through the mist along the Embankment and turned down towards the block of workmen’s flats where Jean had found her lodgment. At the corner boys were crying the more sanguinary tidings of the day; she bought a paper to see if Hubert’s case was mentioned, and opened it beneath a lamp. Yes! There it was! “British officer committed. Extradition on shooting charge.” How little attention she would have given to that, if it had not concerned her! This, that was agony to her and hers, was to the Public just a little pleasurable excitement. The misfortunes of others were a distraction; and the papers made their living out of it! The man who had sold the paper to her had a thin face, dirty clothes, and was lame; and, throwing a libationary drop out of her bitter cup, she gave him back the paper and a shilling. His eyes widened in a puzzled stare, his mouth remained a little open. Had she backed the winner — that one?

Dinny went up the bricked stairs. The flat was on the second floor. Outside its door a grown black cat was spinning round after its own tail. It flew round six times on the same spot, then sat down, lifted one of its back legs high into the air, and licked it.

Jean herself opened the door. She was evidently in the throes of packing, having a pair of combinations over her arm. Dinny kissed her and looked round. She had not been here before. The doors of the small sitting-room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom were open; the walls were distempered apple green, the floors covered with dark-green linoleum. For furniture there was a double bed, and some suit-cases in the bedroom, two armchairs and a small table in the sitting-room; a kitchen table and some bath salts in a glass jar; no rugs, no pictures, no books, but some printed linen curtains to the windows and a hanging cupboard along one whole side of the bedroom, from which Jean had been taking the clothes piled on the bed. A scent of coffee and lavender bags distinguished the atmosphere from that on the stairs.

Jean put down the combinations.

“Have some coffee, Dinny? I’ve just made it.”

She poured out two cups, sweetened them, handed Dinny one and a paper packet of cigarettes, then pointed to one of the armchairs and sat down in the other.

“You got my message, then? I’m glad you’ve come — saves my making up a parcel. I hate making parcels, don’t you?”

Her coolness and unharassed expression seemed to Dinny miraculous.

“Have you seen Hubert since?”

“Yes. He’s fairly comfortable. It’s not a bad cell, he says, and they’ve given him books and writing paper. He can have food in, too; but he’s not allowed to smoke. Someone ought to move about that. According to English law Hubert’s still as innocent as the Home Secretary; there’s no law to prevent the Home Secretary smoking, is there? I shan’t be seeing him again, but you’ll be going, Dinny — so give him my special love, and take him some cigarettes in case they let him.”

Dinny stared at her.

“What are you going to do, then?”

“Well, I wanted to see you about that. This is all strictly for your ear only. Promise to lie absolutely doggo, Dinny, or I shan’t say anything.”

Dinny said, resolutely: “Cross my heart as they say. Go on.”

“I’m going to Brussels tomorrow. Alan went today; he’s got extension of leave for urgent family affairs. We’re simply going to prepare for the worst, that’s all. I’m to learn flying in double quick time. If I go up three times a day, three weeks will be quite enough. Our lawyer has guaranteed us three weeks, at least. Of course, he knows nothing. Nobody is to know anything, except you. I want you to do something for me.” She reached forward and took out of her vanity bag a tissue-papered packet.

“I’ve got to have five hundred pounds. We can get a good second-hand machine over there for very little, they say, but we shall want all the rest. Now, look here Dinny, this is an old family thing. It’s worth a lot. I want you to pop it for five hundred; if you can’t get as much as that by popping, you’ll have to sell it. Pop, or sell, in your name, and change the English notes into Belgian money and send it to me registered to the G.P.O. Brussels. You ought to be able to send me the money within three days.” She undid the paper, and disclosed an old-fashioned but very beautiful emerald pendant.

“Oh!”

“Yes,” said Jean, “it really is good. You can afford to take a high line. Somebody will give you five hundred on it, I’m sure. Emeralds are up.”

“But why don’t you ‘pop’ it yourself before you go?”

Jean shook her head.

“No, nothing whatever that awakens suspicion. It doesn’t matter what you do, Dinny, because you’re not going to break the law. We possibly are, but we’re not going to be copped.”

“I think,” said Dinny, “you ought to tell me more.”

Again Jean shook her head.

“Not necessary, and not possible; we don’t know enough yet ourselves. But make your mind easy, they’re not going to get away with Hubert. You’ll take this, then?” And she wrapped up the pendant.

Dinny took the little packet, and, having brought no bag, slipped it down her dress. She leaned forward and said earnestly:

“Promise you won’t do anything, Jean, till everything else has failed.”

Jean nodded. “Nothing till the very last minute. It wouldn’t be good enough.”

Dinny grasped her hand. “I oughtn’t to have let you in for this, Jean, it was I who brought the young things together, you know.”

“My dear, I’d never have forgiven you if you hadn’t. I’m in love.”

“But it’s so ghastly for you.”

Jean looked into the distance so that Dinny could almost feel the cub coming round the corner.

“No! I like to think it’s up to me to pull him out of it. I’ve never felt so alive as I feel now.”

“Is there much risk for Alan?”

“Not if we work things properly. We’ve several schemes, according as things shape.”

Dinny sighed.

“I hope to God they’ll none of them be necessary.”

“So do I, but it’s impossible to leave things to chance, with a ‘just beast’ like ‘Walter’.”

“Well, good-bye, Jean, and good luck!”

They kissed, and Dinny went down into the street with the emerald pendant weighing like lead on her heart. It was drizzling now and she took a cab back to Mount Street. Her father and Sir Lawrence had just come in. Their news was inconsiderable. Hubert, it seemed, did not wish for bail again. ‘Jean,’ thought Dinny, ‘has to do with that.’ The Home Secretary was in Scotland and would not be back till Parliament sat, in about a fortnight’s time. The warrant could not be issued till after that. In expert opinion they had three weeks at least in which to move heaven and earth. Ah! but it was easier for heaven and earth to pass than for one tittle of the Law to fail. And yet was it quite nonsense when people talked of ‘interest’ and ‘influence’ and ‘wangling’ and ‘getting things through’? Was there not some talismanic way of which they were all ignorant?

Her father kissed her and went dejectedly up to bed, and Dinny was left alone with Sir Lawrence. Even he was in heavy mood.

“No bubble and squeak in the pair of us,” he said. “I sometimes think, Dinny, that the Law is overrated. It’s really a rough-and-ready system, with about as much accuracy in adjusting penalty to performance as there is to a doctor’s diagnosis of a patient he sees for the first time; and yet for some mysterious reason we give it the sanctity of the Holy Grail and treat its dicta as if they were the broadcastings of God. If ever there was a case where a Home Secretary might let himself go and be human, this is one. And yet I don’t see him doing it. I don’t, Dinny, and Bobbie Ferrar doesn’t. It seems that some wrongly-inspired idiot, not long ago, called Walter ‘the very spirit of integrity,’ and Bobbie says that instead of turning up his stomach, it went to his head, and he hasn’t reprieved anybody since. I’ve been wondering whether I couldn’t write to the ‘Times’ and say: ‘This pose of inexorable incorruptibility in certain quarters is more dangerous to justice than the methods of Chicago.’ Chicago ought to fetch him. He’s been there, I believe. It’s an awful thing for a man to cease to be human.”

“Is he married?”

“Not even that, now,” said Sir Lawrence.

“But some men don’t even begin to be human, do they?”

“That’s not so bad; you know where you are, and can take a fire-shovel to them. No, it’s the blokes who get swelled head that make the trouble. By the way, I told my young man that you would sit for your miniature.”

“Oh! Uncle, I simply couldn’t sit with Hubert on my mind!”

“No, no! Of course not! But something must turn up.” He looked at her shrewdly and added: “By the way, Dinny, young Jean?”

Dinny lifted a wide and simple gaze:

“What about her?”

“She doesn’t look to me too easy to bite.”

“No, but what can she do, poor dear?”

“I wonder,” said Sir Lawrence, raising one eyebrow, “I just wonder. ‘They’re dear little innocent things, they are, they’re angels without any wings, they are. That’s ‘Punch’ before your time, Dinny. And it will continue to be ‘Punch’ after your time, except that wings are growing on you all so fast.”

Dinny, still looking at him innocently, thought: ‘He’s rather uncanny, Uncle Lawrence!’ And soon after she went up to bed.

To go to bed with one’s whole soul in a state of upheaval! And yet how many other upheaved souls lay, cheek to pillow, unsleeping! The room seemed full of the world’s unreasoning misery. If one were talented, one would get up and relieve oneself in a poem about Azrael, or something! Alas! It was not so easy as all that. One lay, and was sore — sore and anxious and angry. She could remember still how she had felt, being thirteen, when Hubert, not quite eighteen, had gone off to the war. That had been horrid, but this was much worse; and she wondered why. Then he might have been killed at any minute; now he was safer than anybody who was not in prison. He would be preserved meticulously even while they sent him across the world and put him up for trial in a country not his own, before some judge of alien blood. He was safe enough for some months yet. Why, then, did this seem so much worse than all the risks through which he had passed since he first went soldiering, even than that long, bad time on the Hallorsen expedition? Why? If not that those old risks and hardships had been endured of his free will; while the present trouble was imposed on him. He was being held down, deprived of the two great boons of human existence, independence and private life, boons to secure which human beings in communities had directed all their efforts for thousands of years, until — until they went Bolshy! Boons to every human being, but especially to people like themselves, brought up under no kind of whip except that of their own consciences. And she lay there as if she were lying in his cell, gazing into his future, longing for Jean, hating the locked-in feeling, cramped and miserable and bitter. For what had he done, what in God’s name had he done that any other man of sensibility and spirit would not do!

The mutter of the traffic from Park Lane formed a sort of ground base to her rebellious misery. She became so restless that she could not lie in bed, and, putting on her dressing gown, stole noiselessly about her room till she was chilled by the late October air coming through the opened window. Perhaps there was something in being married, after all; you had a chest to snuggle against and if need be weep on; you had an ear to pour complaint into; and lips that would make the mooing sounds of sympathy. But worse than being single during this time of trial was being inactive. She envied those who, like her father and Sir Lawrence, were at least taking cabs and going about; greatly she envied Jean and Alan. Whatever they were up to was better than being up to nothing, like herself! She took out the emerald pendant and looked at it. That at least was something to do on the morrow, and she pictured herself with this in her hand forcing large sums of money out of some flinty person with a tendency towards the art of lending.

Placing the pendant beneath her pillow, as though its proximity were an insurance against her sense of helplessness, she fell asleep at last.

Next morning she was down early. It had occurred to her that she could perhaps pawn the pendant, get the money, and take it to Jean before she left. And she decided to consult the butler, Blore. After all, she had known him since she was five; he was an institution and had never divulged any of the iniquities she had confided in him in her childhood.

She went up to him, therefore, when he appeared with her Aunt’s special coffee machine.

“Blore.”

“Yes, Miss Dinny.”

“Will you be frightfully nice and tell me, IN CONFIDENCE, who is supposed to be the best pawnbroker in London?”

Surprised but impassive — for, after all, anybody might have to ‘pop’ anything in these days — the butler placed the coffee machine at the head of the table and stood reflecting.

“Well, Miss Dinny, of course there’s Attenborough’s, but I’m told the best people go to a man called Frewen in South Molton Street. I can get you the number from the telephone book. They say he’s reliable and very fair.”

“Splendid, Blore! It’s just a little matter.”

“Quite so, Miss.”

“Oh! And, Blore, would you — should I give my own name?”

“No, Miss Dinny; if I might suggest: give my wife’s name and this address. Then, if there has to be any communication, I could get it to you by telephone, and no one the wiser.”

“Oh! that’s a great relief. But wouldn’t Mrs. Blore mind?”

“Oh! no, Miss, only too glad to oblige you. I could do the matter for you if you wish.”

“Thank you, Blore, but I’m afraid I must do it myself.”

The butler caressed his chin and regarded her; his eye seemed to Dinny benevolent but faintly quizzical.

“Well, Miss, if I may say so, a little nonchalance goes a long way even with the best of them. There are others if he doesn’t offer value.”

“Thank you frightfully, Blore; I’ll let you know if he doesn’t. Would half past nine be too early?”

“From what I hear, Miss, that is the best hour; you get him fresh and hearty.”

“Dear Blore!”

“I’m told he’s an understanding gent, who can tell a lady when he sees one. He won’t confuse you with some of those Tottie madams.”

Dinny laid her finger to her lips.

“Cross your heart, Blore.”

“Oh! absolutely, Miss. After Mr. Michael you were always my favourite.”

“And so were you, Blore.” She took up ‘The Times’ as her father entered, and Blore withdrew.

“Sleep well, Dad?”

The General nodded.

“And Mother’s head?”

“Better. She’s coming down. We’ve decided that it’s no use to worry, Dinny.”

“No, darling, it isn’t, of course. D’you think we could begin breakfast?”

“Em won’t be down, and Lawrence has his at eight. You make the coffee.”

Dinny, who shared her Aunt’s passion for good coffee went reverentially to work.

“What about Jean?” asked the General, suddenly. “Is she coming to us?”

Dinny did not raise her eyes.

“I don’t think so, Dad; she’ll be too restless; I expect she’ll just make out by herself. I should want to, if I were her.”

“I daresay, poor girl. She’s got pluck, anyway. I’m glad Hubert married a girl of spirit. Those Tasburghs have got their hearts in the right place. I remember an uncle of hers in India — daring chap, a Goorkha regiment, they swore by him. Let me see, where was he killed?”

Dinny bent lower over the coffee.

It was barely half past nine when she went out with the pendant in her vanity bag, and her best hat on. At half past nine precisely she was going up to the first floor above a shop in South Molton Street. Within a large room, at a mahogany table, were two seated gentlemen, who might have seemed to her like high-class bookmakers if she had known what such were like. She looked at them anxiously, seeking for signs of heartiness. They appeared, at least, to be fresh, and one of them came towards her.

Dinny passed an invisible tongue over her lips.

“I’m told that you are so good as to lend money on valuable jewellery?”

“Quite, Madam.” He was grey, and rather bald, and rather red, with light eyes, and he stood regarding her through a pair of pince-nez which he held in his hand. Placing them on his nose, he drew a chair up to the table, made a motion with one hand, and resumed his seat. Dinny sat down.

“I want rather a lot, five hundred,” and she smiled: “It was an heirloom, quite nice.”

Both the seated gentlemen bowed slightly.

“And I want it at once, because I have to make a payment. Here it is!” And out of her bag she drew the pendant, unwrapped it and pushed it forward on the table. Then, remembering the needed touch of nonchalance, she leaned back and crossed her knees.

Both of them looked at the pendant for a full minute without movement or speech. Then the second gentleman opened a drawer and took out a magnifying glass. While he was examining the pendant, Dinny was conscious that the first gentleman was examining herself. That — she supposed — was the way they divided labour. Which would they decide was the more genuine piece? She felt rather breathless, but kept her eyebrows slightly raised and her eyelids half closed.

“Your own property, Madam?” said the first gentleman.

Remembering once more the old proverb, Dinny uttered an emphatic: “Yes.”

The second gentleman lowered his glass, and seemed to weigh the pendant in his hand.

“Very nice,” he said. “Old-fashioned, but very nice. And for how long would you want the money?”

Dinny, who had no idea, said boldly: “Six months; but I suppose I could redeem it before?”

“Oh! yes. Five hundred, did you say?”

“Please.”

“If you are satisfied, Mr. Bondy,” said the second gentleman, “I am.”

Dinny raised her eyes to Mr. Bondy’s face. Was he going to say, ‘No, she’s just told me a lie?’ Instead, he pushed his underlip up over his upper lip, bowed to her and said:

“Quite!”

‘I wonder,’ she thought, ‘if they always believe what they hear, or never? I suppose it’s the same thing, really — THEY get the pendant and it’s I who have to trust them — or, rather, it’s Jean.’

The second gentleman now swept up the pendant, and, producing a book, began to write in it. Mr. Bondy, on the other hand, went towards a safe.

“Did you wish for notes, Madam?”

“Please.”

The second gentleman, who had a moustache and white spats, and whose eyes goggled slightly, passed her the book.

“Your name and address, Madam.”

As she wrote: ‘Mrs. Blore’ and her aunt’s number in Mount Street, the word ‘Help!’ came into her mind, and she cramped her left hand as to hide what should have been the ringed finger. Her gloves fitted dreadfully well and there was no desirable circular protuberance.

“Should you require the article, we shall want £550 on the 29th of April next. After that, unless we hear from you, it will be for sale.”

“Yes, of course. But if I redeem it before?”

“Then the amount will be according. The interest is at 20 per cent., so in a month, say, from now, we should only require £508 6s. 8d.”

“I see.”

The first gentleman detached a slip of paper and gave it to her.

“That is the receipt.”

“Could the pendant be redeemed on payment by anyone with this receipt, in case I can’t come myself?”

“Yes, Madam.”

Dinny placed the receipt in her vanity bag, together with as much of her left hand as would go in, and listened to Mr. Bondy counting notes on the table. He counted beautifully; the notes, too, made a fine crackle, and seemed to be new. She took them with her right hand, inserted them into the bag, and still holding it with her concealed left hand, arose.

“Thank you very much.”

“Not at all, Madam, the pleasure is ours. Delighted to be of service. Good-bye!”

Dinny bowed, and made slowly for the door. There, from under her lashes she distinctly saw the first gentleman close one eye.

She went down the stairs rather dreamily, shutting her bag.

‘I wonder if they think I’m going to have a baby,’ she thought; ‘or it may be only the Cambridgeshire.’ Anyway she had the money, and it was just a quarter to ten. Thomas Cook’s would change it, perhaps, or at least tell her where to get Belgian money.

It took an hour and visits to several places before she had most of it in Belgian money, and she was hot when she passed the barrier at Victoria with a platform ticket. She moved slowly down the train, looking into each carriage. She had gone about two-thirds down when a voice behind had called:

“Dinny!” And, looking round, she saw Jean in the doorway of a compartment.

“Oh! there you are, Jean! I’ve had such a rush. Is my nose shiny?”

“You never look hot, Dinny.”

“Well! I’ve done it; here’s the result, five hundred nearly all in Belgian.”

“Splendid!”

“And the receipt. Anyone can get it on this. The interest’s at 20 per cent, calculated from day to day, but after April 28th, unless redeemed, it’ll be for sale.”

“You keep that, Dinny.” Jean lowered her voice. “If we have to do things, it will mean we shan’t be on hand. There are several places that have no treaties with Bolivia, and that’s where we shall be till things have been put straight somehow.”

“Oh!” said Dinny, blankly, “I could have got more. They lapped it up.”

“Never mind! I must get in. G.P.O. Brussels. Good-bye! Give my dear love to Hubert and tell him all’s well.” She flung her arms round Dinny, gave her a hug, and sprang back into the train. It moved off almost at once, and Dinny stood waving to that brilliant browned face turned back towards her.

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