Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 35

In the slow long days, and they seemed many, which followed, Dinny remained at Mount Street, to be in command of any situation that might arise. Her chief difficulty lay in keeping people ignorant of Jean’s machinations. She seemed to succeed with all except Sir Lawrence, who, raising his eyebrow, said cryptically:

“Pour une gaillarde, c’est une gaillarde!”

And, at Dinny’s limpid glance, added: “Quite the Botticellian virgin! Would you like to meet Bobbie Ferrar? We’re lunching together underground at Dumourieux’s in Druary Lane, mainly on mushrooms.”

Dinny had been building so on Bobbie Ferrar that the sight of him gave her a shock, he had so complete an air of caring for none of those things. With his carnation, bass drawl, broad bland face, and slight drop of the underjaw, he did not inspire her.

“Have you a passion for mushrooms, Miss Cherrell?” he said.

“Not French mushrooms.”

“No?”

“Bobbie,” said Sir Lawrence, looking from one to the other, “no one would take you for one of the deepest cards in Europe. You are going to tell us that you won’t guarantee to call Walter a strong man, when you talk about the preface?”

Several of Bobbie Ferrar’s even teeth became visible.

“I have no influence with Walter.”

“Then who has?”

“No one. Except —”

“Yes?”

“Walter.”

Before she could check herself, Dinny said:

“You do understand, Mr. Ferrar, that this is practically death for my brother and frightful for all of us?”

Bobbie Ferrar looked at her flushed face without speaking. He seemed, indeed, to admit or promise nothing all through that lunch, but when they got up and Sir Lawrence was paying his bill, he said to her:

“Miss Cherrell, when I go to see Walter about this, would you like to go with me? I could arrange for you to be in the background.”

“I should like it terribly.”

“Between ourselves, then. I’ll let you know.”

Dinny clasped her hands and smiled at him.

“Rum chap!” said Sir Lawrence, as they walked away: “Lots of heart, really. Simply can’t bear people being hanged. Goes to all the murder trials. Hates prisons like poison. You’d never think it.”

“No,” said Dinny, dreamily.

“Bobbie,” continued Sir Lawrence, “is capable of being Private Secretary to a Cheka, without their ever suspecting that he’s itching to boil them in oil the whole time. He’s unique. The diary’s in print, Dinny, and old Blythe’s writing that preface. Walter will be back on Thursday. Have you seen Hubert yet?”

“No, but I’m to go with Dad tomorrow.”

“I’ve refrained from pumping you, but those young Tasburghs are up to something, aren’t they? I happen to know young Tasburgh isn’t with his ship.”

“Not?”

“Perfect innocence!” murmured Sir Lawrence. “Well, my dear, neither nods nor winks are necessary; but I hope to goodness they won’t strike before peaceful measures have been exhausted.”

“Oh! surely they wouldn’t!”

“They’re the kind of young person who still make one believe in history. Has it ever struck you, Dinny, that history is nothing but the story of how people have taken things into their own hands, and got themselves or others into and out of trouble over it? They can cook at that place, can’t they? I shall take your aunt there some day when she’s thin enough.”

And Dinny perceived that the dangers of cross-examination were over.

Her father called for her and they set out for the prison the following afternoon of a windy day charged with the rough melancholy of November. The sight of the building made her feel like a dog about to howl. The Governor, who was an army man, received them with great courtesy and the special deference of one to another of higher rank in his own profession. He made no secret of his sympathy with them over Hubert’s position, and gave them more than the time limit allowed by the regulations.

Hubert came in smiling. Dinny felt that if she had been alone he might have shown some of his real feelings, but that in front of his father he was determined to treat the whole thing as just a bad joke. The General, who had been grim and silent all the way there, became at once matter-of-fact and as if ironically amused. Dinny could not help thinking how almost absurdly alike, allowing for age, they were in looks and in manner. There was that in both of them which would never quite grow up, or rather which had grown up in early youth and would never again budge. Neither, from beginning to end of that half-hour, touched on feeling. The whole interview was a great strain, and so far as intimate talk was concerned, might never have taken place. According to Hubert, everything in his life there was perfectly all right, and he wasn’t worrying at all; according to the General, it was only a matter of days now, and the coverts were waiting to be shot. He had a good deal to say about India, and the unrest on the frontier. Only when they were shaking hands at the end did their faces change at all, and then only to the simple gravity of a very straight look into each other’s eyes. Dinny followed with a hand-clasp and a kiss behind her father’s back.

“Jean?” asked Hubert, very low.

“Quite all right, sent her dear love. Nothing to worry about, she says.”

The quiver of his lips hardened into a little smile, he squeezed her hand, and turned away.

In the gateway the doorkeeper and two warders saluted them respectfully. They got into their cab, and not one word did they say the whole way home. The thing was a nightmare from which they would awaken some day, perhaps.

Practically the only comfort of those days of waiting was derived by Dinny from Aunt Em, whose inherent incoherence continually diverted thought from logical direction. The antiseptic value, indeed, of incoherence became increasingly apparent as day by day anxiety increased. Her aunt was genuinely worried by Hubert’s position, but her mind was too plural to dwell on it to the point of actual suffering. On the fifth of November she called Dinny to the drawing-room window to look at some boys dragging a guy down a Mount Street desolate in wind and lamplight.

“The rector’s workin’ on that,” she said; “there was a Tasburgh who wasn’t hanged, or beheaded, or whatever they did with them, and he’s tryin’ to prove that he ought to have been; he sold some plate or somethin’ to buy the gunpowder, and his sister married Catesby, or one of the others. Your father and I and Wilmet, Dinny, used to make a guy of our governess; she had very large feet, Robbins. Children are so unfeelin’. Did you?”

“Did I what, Aunt Em?”

“Make guys?”

“No.”

“We used to go out singin’ carols, too, with our faces blacked. Wilmet was the corker. Such a tall child, with legs that went down straight like sticks wide apart from the beginning, you know — angels have them. It’s all rather gone out. I do think there ought to be somethin’ done about it. Gibbets, too. We had one. We hung a kitten from it. We drowned it first — not we — the staff.”

“Horrible, Aunt Em!”

“Yes; but not really. Your father brought us up as Red Indians. It was nice for him, then he could do things to us and we couldn’t cry. Did Hubert?”

“Oh! no. Hubert only brought himself up as a Red Indian.”

“That was your mother; she’s a gentle creature, Dinny. Our mother was a Hungerford. You must have noticed.”

“I don’t remember Grandmother.”

“She died before you were born. That was Spain. The germs there are extra special. So did your grandfather. I was thirty-five. He had very good manners. They did, you know, then. Only sixty. Claret and piquet, and a funny little beard thing. You’ve seen them, Dinny?”

“Imperials?”

“Yes, diplomatic. They wear them now when they write those articles on foreign affairs. I like goats myself, though they butt you rather.”

“Their smell, Aunt Em!”

“Penetratin’. Has Jean written to you lately?”

In Dinny’s bag was a letter just received. “No,” she said. The habit was growing on her.

“This hidin’ away is weak-minded. Still, it WAS her honeymoon.”

Her Aunt had evidently not been made a recipient of Sir Lawrence’s suspicions.

Upstairs she read the letter again before tearing it up.

“Poste restante, Brussels.

“DEAR DINNY,

“All goes on for the best here and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. They say I take to it like a duck to water. There’s nothing much to choose now between Alan and me, except that I have the better hands. Thanks awfully for your letters. Terribly glad of the diary stunt, I think it may quite possibly work the oracle. Still we can’t afford not to be ready for the worst. You don’t say whether Fleur’s having any luck. By the way, could you get me a Turkish conversation book, the pronouncing kind? I expect your Uncle Adrian could tell you where to get it. I can’t lay hands on one here. Alan sends you his love. Same from me. Keep us informed by wire if necessary.

“Your affte

“JEAN.”

A Turkish conversation book! This first indication of how their minds were working set Dinny’s working too. She remembered Hubert having told her that he had saved the life of a Turkish officer at the end of the war, and had kept up with him ever since. So Turkey was to be the asylum if —! But the whole plan was desperate. Surely it would not, must not come to that! But she went down to the Museum the next morning.

Adrian, whom she had not seen since Hubert’s committal, received her with his usual quiet alacrity, and she was sorely tempted to confide in him. Jean must know that to ask his advice about a Turkish conversation book would surely stimulate his curiosity. She restrained herself, however, and said:

“Uncle, you haven’t a Turkish conversation book? Hubert thought he’d like to kill time in prison brushing up his Turkish.”

Adrian regarded her, and closed one eye.

“He hasn’t any Turkish to brush. But here you are —”

And, fishing a small book from a shelf, he added: “Serpent!”

Dinny smiled.

“Deception,” he continued, “is wasted on me, Dinny, I am in whatever know there is.”

“Tell me, Uncle!”

“You see,” said Adrian, “Hallorsen is in it.”

“Oh!”

“And I, whose movements are dependent on Hallorsen’s, have had to put two and two together. They make five, Dinny, and I sincerely trust the addition won’t be needed. But Hallorsen’s a fine chap.”

“I know that,” said Dinny, ruefully. “Uncle, do tell me exactly what’s in the wind.”

Adrian shook his head.

“They obviously can’t tell themselves till they hear how Hubert is to be exported. All I know is that Hallorsen’s Bolivians are going back to Bolivia instead of to the States, and that a very queer padded, well-ventilated case is being made to hold them.”

“You mean his Bolivian bones?”

“Or possibly replicas. They’re being made, too.”

Thrilled, Dinny stood gazing at him.

“And,” added Adrian, “the replicas are being made by a man who believes he is repeating Siberians, and not for Hallorsen, and they’ve been very carefully weighed — one hundred and fifty-two pounds, perilously near the weight of a man. How much is Hubert?”

“About eleven stone.”

“Exactly.”

“Go on, Uncle.”

“Having got so far, Dinny, I’ll give you my theory, for what it’s worth. Hallorsen and his case full of replicas will travel by the ship that Hubert travels by. At any port of call in Spain or Portugal, Hallorsen will get off with his case, containing Hubert. He will contrive to have extracted and dropped the replicas overboard. The real bones will be waiting there for him, and he will fill up when Hubert has been switched off to a plane: that’s where Jean and Alan come in. They’ll fly to, well — Turkey, judging from your request just now. I was wondering where before you came. Hallorsen will pop his genuine bones into the case to satisfy the authorities, and Hubert’s disappearance will be put down to a jump overboard — the splash of the replicas, I shouldn’t wonder — or anyway will remain mysterious. It looks to me pretty forlorn.”

“But suppose there’s no port of call?”

“They’re pretty certain to stop somewhere; but, if not, they’ll have some alternative, which will happen on the way down to the ship. Or possibly they may elect to try the case dodge on the arrival in South America. That would really be safest, I think, though it lets out the flying.”

“But why is Professor Hallorsen going to run such a risk?”

“YOU ask me that, Dinny?”

“It’s too much — I— I don’t want him to.”

“Well, my dear, he also has the feeling, I know, that he got Hubert into this, and must get him out. And you must remember that he belongs to a nation that is nothing if not energetic and believes in taking the law into its own hands. But he’s the last man to trade on a service. Besides, it’s a three-legged race he’s running with young Tasburgh, who’s just as deep in it, so you’re no worse off.”

“But I don’t want to owe anything to either of them. It simply mustn’t come to that. Besides, there’s Hubert — do you think he’ll ever consent?”

Adrian said gravely:

“I think he has consented, Dinny; otherwise he’d have asked for bail. Probably he’ll be in charge of Bolivians and won’t feel he’s breaking English law. I fancy they’ve convinced him between them that they won’t run much risk. No doubt he feels fed up with the whole thing and ready for anything. Don’t forget that he’s really being very unjustly treated, and is just married.”

“Yes,” said Dinny, in a hushed voice. “And you, Uncle? How are things?”

Adrian’s answer was no less quiet:

“Your advice was right; and I’m fixed up to go, subject to this business.”

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