Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 34

This active and successful opening to her day had the most acute drawbacks, for it meant that she was now the more loose-ended.

The absence of the Home Secretary and the Bolivian Minister seemed likely to hold up all activity even if she could have been of use in those directions, which was improbable. Nothing for it but to wait, eating one’s heart out! She spent the rest of the morning wandering about, looking at shop windows, looking at the people who looked at shop windows. She lunched off poached eggs at an A.B.C. and went into a cinema, with a vague idea that whatever Jean and Alan were preparing would seem more natural if she could see something of the sort on the screen. She had no luck. In the film she saw were no aeroplanes, no open spaces, no detectives, no escaping from justice whatever; it was the starkest record of a French gentleman, not quite in his first youth, going into wrong bedrooms for an hour and more on end, without anyone actually losing her virtue. Dinny could not help enjoying it — he was a dear, and perhaps the most accomplished liar she had ever watched.

After this warmth and comfort, she set her face again towards Mount Street.

She found that her mother and father had taken the afternoon train back to Condaford, and this plunged her into uncertainty. Ought she to go back, too, and ‘be a daughter’ to them? Or ought she to remain ‘on the spot’ in case anything turned up for her to do?

She went up to her room undecided, and began half-heartedly to pack. Pulling open a drawer, she came on Hubert’s diary, which still accompanied her. Turning the pages idly, she lighted on a passage which seemed to her unfamiliar, having nothing to do with his hardships:

“Here’s a sentence in a book I’m reading: ‘We belong, of course, to a generation that’s seen through things, seen how futile everything is, and had the courage to accept futility, and say to ourselves: There’s nothing for it but to enjoy ourselves as best we can.’ Well, I suppose that’s my generation, the one that’s seen the war and its aftermath; and, of course, it IS the attitude of quite a crowd; but when you come to think of it, it might have been said by any rather unthinking person in any generation; certainly might have been said by the last generation after religion had got the knock that Darwin gave it. For what does it come to? Suppose you admit having seen through religion and marriage and treaties, and commercial honesty and freedom and ideals of every kind, seen that there’s nothing absolute about them, that they lead of themselves to no definite reward, either in this world or a next which doesn’t exist perhaps, and that the only thing absolute is pleasure and that you mean to have it — are you any farther towards getting pleasure? No! you’re a long way farther off. If everybody’s creed is consciously and crudely ‘grab a good time at all costs,’ everybody is going to grab it at the expense of everybody else, and the devil will take the hindmost, and that’ll be nearly everybody, especially the sort of slackers who naturally hold that creed, so that THEY, most certainly, aren’t going to get a good time. All those things they’ve so cleverly seen through are only rules of the road devised by men throughout the ages to keep people within bounds, so that we may all have a reasonable chance of getting a good time, instead of the good time going only to the violent, callous, dangerous and able few. All our institutions, religion, marriage, treaties, the law, and the rest, are simply forms of consideration for others necessary to secure consideration for self. Without them we should be a society of feeble motor-bandits and streetwalkers in slavery to a few super-crooks. You can’t, therefore, disbelieve in consideration for others without making an idiot of yourself and spoiling your own chances of a good time. The funny thing is that no matter how we all talk, we recognise that perfectly. People who prate like the fellow in that book don’t act up to their creed when it comes to the point. Even a motor-bandit doesn’t turn King’s evidence. In fact, this new philosophy of ‘having the courage to accept futility and grab a good time’ is simply a shallow bit of thinking; all the same, it seemed quite plausible when I read it.”

Dinny dropped the page as if it had stung her, and stood with a transfigured look on her face. Not the words she had been reading caused this change — she was hardly conscious of what they were. No! She had got an inspiration, and she could not think why she had not had it before! She ran downstairs to the telephone and rang up Fleur’s house.

“Yes?” came Fleur’s voice.

“I want Michael, Fleur; is he in?”

“Yes. Michael — Dinny.”

“Michael? Could you by any chance come round at once? It’s about Hubert’s diary. I’ve had a ‘hunch,’ but I’d rather not discuss it on the ‘phone. Or could I come to you? — You CAN come? Good! Fleur too, if she likes; or, if not, bring her wits.”

Ten minutes later Michael arrived alone. Something in the quality of Dinny’s voice seemed to have infected him, for he wore an air of businesslike excitement. She took him into the alcove and sat down with him on a sofa under the parakeet’s cage.

“Michael dear, it came to me suddenly: if we could get Hubert’s diary — about 15,000 words — printed at once, ready for publication, with a good title like ‘Betrayed’— or something —”

“‘Deserted,’” said Michael.

“Yes, ‘Deserted,’ and it could be shown to the Home Secretary as about to come out with a fighting preface, it might stop him from issuing a warrant. With that title and preface and a shove from the Press, it would make a real sensation, and be very nasty for him. We could get the Preface to pitch it strong about desertion of one’s kith and kin, and pusillanimity and truckling to the foreigner and all that. The Press would surely take it up on those lines.”

Michael ruffled his hair.

“It IS a hunch, Dinny; but there are several points: first, how to do it without making it blackmailish. If we can’t avoid that, then it’s no go. If Walter sniffs blackmail, he can’t possibly rise.”

“But the whole point is to make him feel that if he issues the warrant he’s going to regret it.”

“My child,” said Michael, blowing smoke at the parakeet, “it’s got to be much more subtle than that. You don’t know public men. The thing is to make them do of their own accord out of high motives what is for their own good. We must get Walter to do this from a low motive, and feel it to be a high one. That’s indispensable.”

“Won’t it do if he says it’s a high one? I mean need he feel it?”

“He must, at least by daylight. What he feels at three in the morning doesn’t matter. He’s no fool, you know. I believe,” and Michael rumpled his hair again, “that the only man who can work it after all is Bobbie Ferrar. He knows Walter upside down.”

“Is he a nice man? Would he?”

“Bobbie’s a sphinx, but he’s a perfectly good sphinx. And he’s in the know all round. He’s a sort of receiving station, hears everything naturally, so that we shouldn’t have to appear directly in any way.”

“Isn’t the first thing, Michael, to get the diary printed, so that it looks ready to come out on the nail?”

“Yes, but the Preface is the hub.”

“How?”

“What we want is that Walter should read the printed diary, and come to the conclusion from it that to issue the warrant will be damned hard luck on Hubert — as, of course, it will. In other words, we want to sop his private mind. After that, what I see Walter saying to himself is this: ‘Yes, hard luck on young Cherrell, hard luck, but the magistrate committed him, and the Bolivians are pressing, and he belongs to the classes; one must be careful not to give an impression of favouring privilege —’”

“I think that’s so unfair,” interrupted Dinny, hotly. “Why should it be made harder for people just because they happen not to be Tom, Dick and Harry? I call it cowardly.”

“Ah! Dinny, but we are cowardly in that sort of way. But as Walter was saying when you broke out: ‘One must not lightly stretch points. The little Countries look to us to treat them with special consideration.’”

“But why?” began Dinny again: “That seems —”

Michael held up his hand.

“I know, Dinny, I know. And this seems to me the psychological moment when Bobbie, out of the blue as it were, might say: ‘By the way, there’s to be a preface. Someone showed it me. It takes the line that England is always being generous and just at the expense of her own subjects. It’s pretty hot stuff, Sir. The Press will love it. That lay: We can’t stand by our own people, is always popular. And you know’— Bobbie would continue —‘it has often seemed to me, Sir, that a strong man, like you, ought perhaps to do something about this impression that we can’t stand by our own people. It oughtn’t to be true, perhaps it isn’t true, but it exists and very strongly; and you, Sir, perhaps better than anyone, could redress the balance there. This particular case wouldn’t afford a bad chance at all of restoring confidence on that point. In itself it would be right, I think’— Bobbie would say —‘not to issue a warrant, because that scar, you know, was genuine, the shooting really WAS an act of self-defence; and it would certainly do the country good to feel that it could rely again on the authorities not to let our own people down.’ And there he would leave it. And Walter would feel, not that he was avoiding attack, but that he was boldly going to do what was good for the Country — indispensable, that, Dinny, in the case of public men.” And Michael rolled his eyes. “You see,” he went on, “Walter is quite up to realising, without admitting it, that the preface won’t appear if he doesn’t issue the warrant. And I daresay he’ll be frank with himself in the middle of the night; but if in his 6 p.m. mind he feels he’s doing the courageous thing in not issuing the warrant, then what he feels in his 3 a.m. mind won’t matter. See?”

“You put it marvellously, Michael. But won’t he have to read the preface?”

“I hope not, but I think it ought to be in Bobbie’s pocket, in case he has to fortify his line of approach. There are no flies on Bobbie, you know.”

“But will Mr. Ferrar care enough to do all this?”

“Yes,” said Michael, “on the whole, yes. My Dad once did him a good turn, and old Shropshire’s his uncle.”

“And who could write that preface?”

“I believe I could get old Blythe. They’re still afraid of him in our party, and when he likes he can make livers creep all right.”

Dinny clasped her hands.

“Do you think he will like?”

“It depends on the diary.”

“Then I think he will.”

“May I read it before I turn it over to the printers?”

“Of course! Only, Michael, Hubert doesn’t want the diary to come out.”

“Well, that’s O.K. If it works with Walter and he doesn’t issue the warrant, it won’t be necessary; and if it doesn’t work, it won’t be necessary either, because the ‘fat will be in the fire,’ as old Forsyte used to say.”

“Will the cost of printing be much?”

“A few pounds — say twenty.”

“I can manage that,” said Dinny; and her mind flew to the two gentlemen, for she was habitually hard up.

“Oh! that’ll be all right, don’t worry!”

“It’s my hunch, Michael, and I should like to pay for it. You’ve no idea how horrible it is to sit and do nothing, with Hubert in this danger! I have the feeling that if he’s once given up, he won’t have a dog’s chance.”

“It’s ill prophesying,” said Michael, “where public men are concerned. People underrate them. They’re a lot more complicated than they’re supposed to be, and perhaps better principled; they’re certainly a lot shrewder. All the same, I believe this will click, if we can work old Blythe and Bobbie Ferrar properly. I’ll go for Blythe, and set Bart on to Bobbie. In the meantime this shall be printed,” and he took up the diary. “Good-bye, Dinny dear, and don’t worry more than you can help.”

Dinny kissed him, and he went.

That evening about ten he rang her up.

“I’ve read it, Dinny. Walter must be pretty hard-boiled if it doesn’t fetch him. He won’t go to sleep over it, anyway, like the other bloke; he’s a conscientious card, whatever else he is. After all this is a sort of reprieve case, and he’s bound to recognise its seriousness. Once in his hands, he’s got to go through with this diary, and it’s moving stuff, apart from the light on the incident itself. So buck up!”

Dinny said: “Bless you!” fervently, and went to bed lighter at heart than she had been for two days.

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