Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 4

Adrian Cherrell was one of those confirmed countrymen who live in towns. His job confined him to London, where he presided over a collection of anthropological remains. He was poring over a maxilla from New Guinea, which had been accorded a very fine reception in the Press, and had just said to himself: ‘The thing’s a phlizz. Just a low type of Homo Sapiens,’ when his janitor announced:

“Young lady to see you, sir — Miss Cherrell, I think.”

“Ask her in, James”; and he thought: ‘If that’s Dinny, where did I put my wits?’

“Oh! Dinny! Canrobert says that this maxilla is pre-Trinil. Mokley says Paulo-post-Piltdown; and Eldon P. Burbank says propter Rhodesian. I say Sapiens; observe that molar.”

“I do, Uncle Adrian.”

“Too human altogether. That man had toothache. Toothache was probably the result of artistic development. Altamiran art and Cromagnon cavities are found together. Homo Sapiens, this chap.”

“No toothache without wisdom — how cheery! I’ve come up to see Uncle Hilary and Uncle Lawrence, but I thought if I had lunch with you first, I should feel stronger.”

“We shall,” said Adrian, “therefore go to the Bulgarian café.”

“Why?”

“Because for the moment we shall get good food there. It’s the latest propaganda restaurant, my dear, so we are probably safe at a moderate price. Do you want to powder your nose?”

“Yes.”

“In here, then.”

While she was gone Adrian stood and stroked his goatee and wondered exactly what he could order for eighteen and sixpence; for, being a public servant without private means, he rarely had more than a pound in his pocket.

“What,” said Dinny, when they were seated before an omelette Bulgarienne, “do you know about Professor Hallorsen, Uncle Adrian?”

“The man who set out to discover the sources of civilisation in Bolivia?”

“Yes; and took Hubert with him.”

“Ah! But left him behind, I gather?”

“Did you ever meet him?”

“I did. I met him in 1920, climbing the ‘Little Sinner’ in the Dolomites.”

“Did you like him?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Well, he was so aggressively young, he beat me to the top, and — he reminded me of baseball. Did you ever see baseball played?”

“No.”

“I saw it once in Washington. You insult your opponent so as to shake his nerve. You call him doughboy and attaboy, and President Wilson and Old Man Ribber, and things like that, just when he’s going to hit the ball. It’s ritual. The point is to win at any cost.”

“Don’t you believe in winning at any cost?”

“Nobody says they do, Dinny.”

“And we all try to when it comes to the point?”

“I have known it occur, even with politicians, Dinny.”

“Would you try to win at any cost, Uncle?”

“Probably.”

“You wouldn’t. I should.”

“You are very kind, my dear; but why this local disparagement?”

“Because I feel as bloodthirsty as a mosquito about Hubert’s case. I spent last night reading his diary.”

“Woman,” said Adrian, slowly, “has not yet lost her divine irresponsibility.”

“Do you think we’re in danger of losing it?”

“No, because whatever your sex may say, you never will annihilate man’s innate sense of leading you about.”

“What is the best way to annihilate a man like Hallorsen, Uncle Adrian?”

“Apart from a club, ridicule.”

“His notion about Bolivian civilisation was absurd, I suppose?”

“Wholly. There are, we know, some curious and unexplained stone monsters up there, but his theory, if I understand it, won’t wash at all. Only, my dear, Hubert would appear to be involved in it.”

“Not scientifically; he just went as transport officer.” And Dinny levelled a smile at her Uncle’s eyes. “It wouldn’t do any harm, would it, to hold up a stunt like that to ridicule? You could do it so beautifully, Uncle.”

“Serpent!”

“But isn’t it the duty of serious scientists to ridicule stunts?”

“If Hallorsen were an Englishman — perhaps; but his being an American brings in other considerations.”

“Why? I thought Science paid no regard to frontiers.”

“In theory. In practice we close the other eye. Americans are very touchy. You remember a certain recent attitude towards Evolution; if we had let out our shout of laughter over that, there might almost have been a war.”

“But most Americans laughed at it too.”

“Yes; but they won’t stand for outsiders laughing at their kith and kin. Have some of this soufflé Sofia?”

They ate in silence, each studying sympathetically the other’s face. Dinny was thinking: ‘I love his wrinkles, and it’s a nice little beard for a beard.’ Adrian was thinking: ‘I’m glad her nose turns up a little. I have very engaging nieces and nephews.’ At last she said:

“Well, Uncle Adrian, will you try and think of any way of strafing that man for the scurvy way he’s treated Hubert?”

“Where is he?”

“Hubert says in the States.”

“Have you considered, my dear, that nepotism is undesirable?”

“So is injustice, Uncle; and blood is thicker than water.”

“And this wine,” said Adrian, with a grimace, “is thicker than either. What are you going to see Hilary about?”

“I want to scrounge an introduction to Lord Saxenden.”

“Why?”

“Father says he’s important.”

“So you are out to ‘pull strings,’ as they say?”

Dinny nodded.

“No sensitive and honest person can pull strings successfully, Dinny.”

Her eyebrows twitched and her teeth, very white and even, appeared in a broad smile.

“But I’m neither, dear.”

“We shall see. In the meantime these cigarettes are really tiptop propaganda. Have one?”

Dinny took a cigarette, and, with a long puff, said:

“You saw great-Uncle ‘Cuffs’, didn’t you, Uncle Adrian?”

“Yes. A dignified departure. He died in amber, as you might say. Wasted on the Church; he was the perfect diplomat, was Uncle ‘Cuffs.’”

“I only saw him twice. But do you mean to say that HE couldn’t get what he wanted, without loss of dignity, by pulling strings?”

“It wasn’t exactly pulling strings with him, my dear; it was suavity and power of personality.”

“Manners?”

“Manner — the Grand; it about died with him.”

“Well, Uncle, I must be going; wish me dishonesty and a thick skin.”

“And I,” said Adrian, “will return to the jawbone of the New Guinean with which I hope to smite my learned brethren. If I can help Hubert in any decent way, I will. At all events I’ll think about it. Give him my love, and good-bye, my dear!”

They parted, and Adrian went back to his museum. Regaining his position above the maxilla, he thought of a very different jawbone. Having reached an age when the blood of spare men with moderate habits has an even-tempered flow, his ‘infatuation’ with Diana Ferse, dating back to years before her fatal marriage, had a certain quality of altruism. He desired her happiness before his own. In his almost continual thoughts about her the consideration ‘What’s best for her?’ was ever foremost. He had done without her for so long that importunity (never in his character) was out of the question where she was concerned. But her face, oval and dark-eyed, delicious in lip and nose, and a little sad in repose, constantly blurred the outlines of maxillae, thighbones, and the other interesting phenomena of his job. She and her two children lived in a small Chelsea house on the income of a husband who for four years had been a patient in a private Mental Home, and was never expected to recover his equilibrium. She was nearly forty, and had been through dreadful times before Ferse had definitely toppled over the edge. Of the old school in thought and manner, and trained to a coherent view of human history, Adrian accepted life with half-humorous fatalism. He was not of the reforming type, and the position of his lady love did not inspire him with a desire for the scalp of marriage. He wanted her to be happy, but did not see how in the existing circumstances he could make her so. She had at least peace and the sufficient income of him who had been smitten by Fate. Moreover, Adrian had something of the superstitious regard felt by primitive men for those afflicted with this particular form of misfortune. Ferse had been a decent fellow till the taint began to wear through the coatings of health and education, and his conduct for the two years before his eclipse was only too liberally explained by that eclipse. He was one of God’s afflicted; and his helplessness demanded of one the utmost scrupulosity. Adrian turned from the maxilla and took down a built-up cast of Pithecanthropus, that curious being from Trinil, Java, who for so long has divided opinion as to whether he shall be called man-ape or ape-man. What a distance from him to that modern English skull over the mantelpiece! Ransack the authorities as one might, one never received an answer to the question: Where was the cradle of Homo Sapiens, the nest where he had developed from Trinil, Piltdown, Neanderthal man, or from some other undiscovered collateral of those creatures? If Adrian had a passion, indeed, except for Diana Ferse, it was a burning desire to fix that breeding spot. They were toying now with the idea of descent from Neanderthal man, but he felt it wouldn’t do. When specialisation had reached a stage so definite as that disclosed by those brutish specimens, it did not swerve to type so different. As well expect development of red-deer from elk! He turned to that huge globe whereon were marked all discoveries of moment concerning the origin of modern Man, annotated in his own neat handwriting with notes on geological changes, time and climate. Where — where to look? It was a detective problem, soluble only in the French fashion by instinctive appreciation of the inherently probable locality, ratified by research at the selected spot — the greatest detective problem in the world. The foothills of the Himalayas, the Fayoum, or somewhere now submerged beneath the sea? If, indeed, it were under the sea, then it would never be established to certainty. Academic — the whole thing? Not quite, for with it was conjoined the question of man’s essence, the real primitive nature of the human being, on which social philosophy might and should be founded — a question nicely revived of late: Whether, indeed, man was fundamentally decent and peaceful, as examination into the lives of animals and some so-called savage peoples seemed to suggest, or fundamentally aggressive and restless, as that lugubrious record, History, seemed to assert? Find the breeding nest of Homo Sapiens, and there would emerge perhaps some evidence to decide whether he was devil-angel or angel-devil. To one with Adrian’s instincts there was great attraction in this revived thesis of the inherent gentleness of man, but his habit of mind refused to subscribe easily or wholesale to any kind of thesis. Even gentle beasts and birds lived by the law of self-preservation; so did primitive man; the devilries of sophisticated man began naturally with the extension of his activities and the increase of his competitions — in other words, with the ramifications of self-preservation induced by so-called civilised life. The uncomplicated existence of uncivilised man might well afford less chance to the instinct of self-preservation to be sinister in its manifestations, but you could hardly argue anything from that. Better to accept modern man as he was and try to curb his opportunities for mischief. Nor would it do to bank too much on the natural gentleness of primitive peoples. Only last night he had read of an elephant hunt in Central Africa, wherein the primitive negroes, men and women, who were beating for the white hunters, had fallen upon the carcasses of the slain elephants, torn them limb from limb, flesh from flesh, eaten it all dripping and raw, then vanished into the woods, couple by couple, to complete their orgy. After all, there was something in civilisation! But at this moment his janitor announced:

“A Professor ‘Allorsen to see you, sir. He wants to look at the Peruvian skulls.”

“Hallorsen!” said Adrian, startled. “Are you sure? I thought he was in America, James.”

“‘Allorsen was the name, sir; tall gentleman, speaks like an American. Here’s his card.”

“H’m! I’ll see him, James.” And he thought: ‘Shade of Dinny! What am I going to say?’

The very tall and very good-looking man who entered seemed about thirty-eight years old. His clean-shaven face was full of health, his eyes full of light, his dark hair had a fleck or two of premature grey in it. A breeze seemed to come in with him. He spoke at once:

“Mr. Curator?”

Adrian bowed.

“Why! Surely we’ve met; up a mountain, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Adrian.

“Well, well! My name’s Hallorsen — Bolivian expedition. I’m told your Peruvian skulls are bully. I brought my little Bolivian lot along; thought I’d like to compare them with your Peruvians right here. There’s such a lot of bunk written about skulls by people who haven’t seen the originals.”

“Very true, Professor. I shall be delighted to see your Bolivians. By the way, you never knew my name, I think. This is it.”

Adrian handed him a card. Hallorsen took it.

“Gee! Are you related to the Captain Charwell who’s got his knife into me?”

“His uncle. But I was under the impression that it was your knife that was into him.”

“Well, he let me down.”

“I understand he thinks you let him down.”

“See here, Mr. Charwell —”

“We pronounce the name Cherrell, if you don’t mind.”

“Cherrell — yes, I remember now. But if you hire a man to do a job, Mr. Curator, and that job’s too much for him, and because it’s too much for him you get left, what do you do — pass him a gold medal?”

“You find out, I think, whether the job you hired him to do was humanly possible, before you take out your knife, anyway.”

“That’s up to the man who takes the job. And what was it? Just to keep a tight rein on a few dagoes.”

“I don’t know very much about it, but I understand he had charge of the transport animals as well.”

“He surely did; and let the whole thing slip out of his hand. Well, I don’t expect you to side against your nephew. But can I see your Peruvians?”

“Certainly.”

“That’s nice of you.”

During the mutual inspection which followed Adrian frequently glanced at the magnificent specimen of Homo Sapiens who stood beside him. A man so overflowing with health and life he had seldom seen. Natural enough that any check should gall him. Sheer vitality would prevent him from seeing the other side of things. Like his nation, matters must move his way, because there was no other way that seemed possible to his superabundance.

‘After all,’ he thought, ‘he can’t help being God’s own specimen — Homo transatlanticus superbus’; and he said slyly: “So the sun is going to travel West to East in future, Professor?”

Hallorsen smiled, and his smile had an exuberant sweetness.

“Well, Mr. Curator, we’re agreed, I guess, that civilisation started with agriculture. If we can show that we raised Indian corn on the American continent way back, maybe thousands of years before the old Nile civilisation of barley and wheat, why shouldn’t the stream be the other way?”

“And can you?”

“Why, we have twenty to twenty-five types of Indian corn. Hrwdlicka claims that some twenty thousand years was necessary to differentiate them. That puts us way ahead as the parents of agriculture, anyway.”

“But alas! no type of Indian corn existed in the old world till after the discovery of America.”

“No, sir; nor did any old-world type cereal exist in America till after that. Now, if the old-world culture seeped its way across the Pacific, why didn’t it bring along its cereals?”

“But that doesn’t make America the light-bringer to the rest of the world, does it?”

“Maybe not; but if not, she just developed her own old civilisations out of her own discovery of cereals; and they were the first.”

“Are you an Atlantean, Professor?”

“I sometimes toy with the idea, Mr. Curator.”

“Well, well! May I ask if you are quite happy about your attack on my nephew?”

“Why, I certainly had a sore head when I wrote it. Your nephew and I didn’t click.”

“That, I should think, might make you all the more doubtful as to whether you were just.”

“If I withdrew my criticism, I wouldn’t be saying what I really thought.”

“You are convinced that you had no hand in your failure to reach your objective?”

The frown on the giant’s brow had a puzzled quality, and Adrian thought: ‘An honest man, anyway.’

“I don’t see what you’re getting at,” said Hallorsen, slowly,

“You chose my nephew, I believe?”

“Yes, out of twenty others.”

“Precisely. You chose the wrong man, then?”

“I surely did.”

“Bad judgment?”

Hallorsen laughed.

“That’s very acute, Mr. Curator. But I’m not the man to advertise my own failings.”

“What you wanted,” said Adrian, dryly, “was a man without the bowels of compassion; well, I admit, you didn’t get him.”

Hallorsen flushed.

“We shan’t agree about this, sir. I’ll just take my little lot of skulls away. And I thank you for your courtesy.”

A few minutes later he was gone.

Adrian was left to tangled meditation. The fellow was better than he had remembered. Physically a splendid specimen, mentally not to be despised, spiritually — well, typical of a new world where each immediate objective was the most important thing on earth till it was attained, and attainment more important than the methods of attainment employed. ‘Pity,’ he thought, ‘if there’s going to be a dog-fight. Still, the fellow’s in the wrong; one ought to be more charitable than to attack like that in public print. Too much ego in friend Hallorsen.’ So thinking, he put the maxilla into a drawer.

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