Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 5

Dinny pursued her way towards St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads. On that fine day the poverty of the district she was entering seemed to her country-nurtured eyes intensely cheerless. She was the more surprised by the hilarity of the children playing in the streets. Asking one of them the way to the Vicarage, she was escorted by five. They did not leave her when she rang the bell, and she was forced to conclude that they were actuated by motives not entirely connected with altruism. They attempted, indeed, to go in with her, and only left when she gave them each a penny. She was ushered into a pleasant room which looked as though it would be glad if someone had the time to enter it some day, and was contemplating a reproduction of the Castelfranco Francesca, when a voice said:

“Dinny!” and she saw her Aunt May. Mrs. Hilary Cherrell had her usual air of surmounting the need for being in three places at once; she looked leisurely, detached, and pleased — not unnaturally, for she liked her niece.

“Up for shopping, dear?”

“No, Aunt May, I’ve come to win an introduction off Uncle Hilary.”

“Your Uncle’s in the Police Court.”

A bubble rose to Dinny’s surface.

“Why, what’s he done, Aunt May?”

Mrs. Hilary smiled.

“Nothing at present, but I won’t answer for him if the magistrate isn’t sensible. One of our young women has been charged with accosting.”

“Not Uncle Hilary?”

“No, dear, hardly that. Your uncle is a witness to her character.”

“And is there really a character to witness to, Aunt May?”

“Well, that’s the point. Hilary says so; but I’m not so sure.”

“Men are very trustful. I’ve never been in a Police Court. I should love to go and catch Uncle there.”

“Well, I’m going in that direction. We might go together as far as the Court.”

Five minutes later they issued, and proceeded by way of streets ever more arresting to the eyes of Dinny, accustomed only to the picturesque poverty of the countryside.

“I never quite realised before,” she said, suddenly, “that London was such a bad dream.”

“From which there is no awakening. That’s the chilling part of it. Why on earth, with all this unemployment, don’t they organise a national Slum Clearance Scheme? It would pay for itself within twenty years. Politicians are marvels of energy and principle when they’re out of office, but when they get in, they simply run behind the machine.”

“They’re not women, you see, Auntie.”

“Are you chaffing, Dinny?”

“Oh! no. Women haven’t the sense of difficulty that men have; women’s difficulties are physical and real, men’s difficulties are mental and formal, they always say: ‘It’ll never do!’ Women never say that. They act, and find out whether it will do or not.”

Mrs. Hilary was silent a moment.

“I suppose women ARE more actual; they have a fresher eye, and less sense of responsibility.”

“I wouldn’t be a man for anything.”

“That’s refreshing; but on the whole they get a better time, my dear, even now.”

“They think so, but I doubt it. Men are awfully like ostriches, it seems to me. They can refuse to see what they don’t want to, better than we can; but I don’t think that’s an advantage.”

“If you lived in the Meads, Dinny, you might.”

“If I lived in the Meads, dear, I should die.”

Mrs. Hilary contemplated her niece by marriage. Certainly she looked a little transparent and as if she could be snapped off, but she also had a look of ‘breeding,’ as if her flesh were dominated by her spirit. She might be unexpectedly durable, and impermeable by outside things.

“I’m not so sure, Dinny; yours is a toughened breed. But for that your uncle would have been dead long ago. Well! Here’s the Police Court. I’m sorry I can’t spare time to come in. But everybody will be nice to you. It’s a very human place, if somewhat indelicate. Be a little careful about your next-door neighbours.”

Dinny raised an eyebrow: “Lousy, Aunt May?”

“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say not. Come back to tea, if you can.”

She was gone.

The exchange and mart of human indelicacy was crowded, for with the infallible flair of the Public for anything dramatic, the case in which Hilary was a witness to character had caught on, since it involved the integrity of the Police. Its second remand was in progress when Dinny took the last remaining fifteen square inches of standing room. Her neighbours on the right reminded her of the nursery rhyme: ‘The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.’ Her neighbour on the left was a tall policeman. Many women were among the throng at the back of the Court. The air was close and smelled of clothes. Dinny looked at the magistrate, ascetic and as if pickled, and wondered why he did not have incense fuming on his desk. Her eyes passed on to the figure in the dock, a girl of about her own age and height, neatly dressed, with good features except that her mouth was perhaps more sensuous than was fortunate for one in her position. Dinny estimated that her hair was probably fair. She stood very still, with a slight fixed flush on her pale cheeks, and a frightened restlessness in her eyes. Her name appeared to be Millicent Pole. Dinny gathered that she was alleged by a police constable to have accosted two men in the Euston Road, neither of whom had appeared to give evidence. In the witness-box a young man who resembled a tobacconist was testifying that he had seen the girl pass twice or three times — had noticed her specially as a ‘nice bit’; she had seemed worried, as if looking for something.

For somebody, did he mean?

That or the other, how should he know? No, she wasn’t looking on the pavement; no, she didn’t stop, she passed HIM, anyway, without a look. Had he spoken to her? No fear! Doing? Oh, he was just outside his shop for a breath of air after closing. Did he see her speak to anyone? No, he didn’t, but he wasn’t there long.

“The Reverend Hilary Charwell.”

Dinny saw her uncle rise from a bench and step up under the canopy of the witness box. He looked active and unclerical, and her eyes rested with pleasure on his long firm face, so wrinkled and humorous.

“Your name is Hilary Charwell?”

“Cherrell, if you don’t mind.”

“Quite. And you are the incumbent of St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads?”

Hilary bowed.

“For how long?”

“Thirteen years.”

“You are acquainted with the defendant?”

“Since she was a child.”

“Tell us, please, Mr. Cherrell, what you know of her?”

Dinny saw her uncle turn more definitely to the magistrate.

“Her father and mother, sir, were people for whom I had every respect; they brought up their children well. He was a shoemaker — poor, of course; we’re all poor in my parish. I might almost say they died of poverty five and six years ago, and their two daughters have been more or less under my eye since. They work at Petter and Poplin’s. I’ve never heard anything against Millicent here. So far as I know, she’s a good honest girl.”

“I take it, Mr. Cherrell, your opportunities of judging of her are not very great?”

“Well, I visit the house in which she lodges with her sister. If you saw it, sir, you would agree that it requires some self-respect to deal as well as they do with the conditions there.”

“Is she a member of your congregation?”

A smile came on her uncle’s lips, and was reflected on the magistrate’s.

“Hardly, sir. Their Sundays are too precious to young people nowadays. But Millicent is one of the girls who goes for her holidays to our Rest House near Dorking. They are always very good girls down there. My niece by marriage, Mrs. Michael Mont, who runs the house, has reported well of her. Shall I read what she says?

“‘DEAR UNCLE HILARY,

“‘You ask about Millicent Pole. She has been down three times, and the matron reports that she is a nice girl and not at all flighty. My own impression of her is the same.’”

“Then it comes to this, Mr. Cherrell: in your view a mistake has been made in this case?”

“Yes, sir; I am convinced of it.”

The girl in the dock put her handkerchief to her eyes. And Dinny felt, suddenly, indignant at the extreme wretchedness of her position. To stand there before all those people, even if she had done as they said! And why shouldn’t a girl ask a man for his companionship? He wasn’t obliged to give it.

The tall policeman stirred, looked down at her, as if scenting unorthodoxy, and cleared his throat.

“Thank you, Mr. Cherrell.”

Hilary stepped out of the witness box and in doing so caught sight of his niece and waved a finger. Dinny became aware that the case was over, the magistrate making up his mind. He sat perfectly silent, pressing his finger-tips together and staring at the girl, who had finished mopping her eyes and was staring back at him. Dinny held her breath. On the next minute — a life, perhaps, hung in the balance! The tall policeman changed his feet. Was his sympathy with his fellow in the force, or with that girl? All the little noises in the Court had ceased, the only sound was the scratching of a pen. The magistrate held his finger-tips apart and spoke:

“I am not satisfied that this case has been made out. The defendant will be dismissed. You may go.”

The girl made a little choking sound. To her right the candlestick-maker uttered a hoarse: “‘Ear! ‘ear!”

“‘Ush!” said the tall policeman. Dinny saw her uncle walking out beside the girl; he smiled as he passed.

“Wait for me, Dinny — shan’t be two minutes!”

Slipping out behind the tall policeman, Dinny waited in the lobby. The nature of things around gave her the shuddery feeling one had turning up the light in a kitchen at night; the scent of Condy’s Fluid assailed her nostrils; she moved nearer to the outer door. A police sergeant said:

“Anything I can do for you, Miss?”

“Thank you, I’m waiting for my uncle; he’s just coming.”

“The reverend gentleman?”

Dinny nodded.

“Ah! He’s a good man, is the Vicar. That girl got off?”

“Yes.”

“Well! Mistakes will ‘appen. Here he is, Miss.”

Hilary came up and put his arm through Dinny’s.

“Ah! Sergeant,” he said, “how’s the Missis?”

“Prime, Sir. So you pulled her out of it?”

“Yes,” said Hilary; “and I want a pipe. Come along, Dinny.” And, nodding to the sergeant, he led her into the air.

“What brought YOU into this galley, Dinny?”

“I came after you, Uncle. Aunt May brought me. Did that girl really not do it?”

“Ask me another. But to convict her was the surest way to send her to hell. She’s behind with her rent, and her sister’s ill. Hold on a minute while I light up.” He emitted a cloud of smoke and resumed her arm. “What do you want of me, my dear?”

“An introduction to Lord Saxenden.”

“Snubby Bantham? Why?”

“Because of Hubert.”

“Oh! Going to vamp him?”

“If you’ll bring us together.”

“I was at Harrow with Snubby, he was only a baronet then — I haven’t seen him since.”

“But you’ve got Wilfred Bentworth in your pocket, Uncle, and their estates march.”

“Well, I daresay Bentworth will give me a note to him for you.”

“That’s not what I want. I want to meet him socially.”

“Um! Yes, you can hardly vamp him without. What’s the point, exactly?”

“Hubert’s future. We want to get at the fountain-head before worse befalls.”

“I see. But look here, Dinny, Lawrence is your man. He has Bentworth going to them at Lippinghall on Tuesday next week, for partridge driving. You could go too.”

“I thought of Uncle Lawrence, but I couldn’t miss the chance of seeing you, Uncle.”

“My dear,” said Hilary, “attractive nymphs mustn’t say things like that. They go to the head. Well, here we are! Come in and have tea.”

In the drawing room of the Vicarage Dinny was startled to see again her Uncle Adrian. He was sitting in a corner with his long legs drawn in, surrounded by two young women who looked like teachers. He waved his spoon, and presently came over to her.

“After we parted, Dinny, who should appear but the man of wrath himself, to see my Peruvians.”

“Not Hallorsen?”

Adrian held out a card: ‘Professor Edward Hallorsen,’ and in pencil, ‘Piedmont Hotel.’

“He’s a much more personable bloke than I thought when I met him husky and bearded in the Dolomites; and I should say he’s no bad chap if taken the right way. And what I was going to say to you was: Why not take him the right way?”

“You haven’t read Hubert’s diary, Uncle.”

“I should like to.”

“You probably will. It may be published.”

Adrian whistled faintly.

“Perpend, my dear. Dog-fighting is excellent for all except the dogs.”

“Hallorsen’s had his innings. It’s Hubert’s turn to bat.”

“Well, Dinny — no harm in having a look at the bowling before he goes in. Let me arrange a little dinner. Diana Ferse will have us at her house, and you can stay the night with her for it. So what about Monday?”

Dinny wrinkled her rather tip-tilted nose. If, as she intended, she went to Lippinghall next week, Monday WOULD be handy. It might, after all, be as well to see this American before declaring war on him.

“All right, Uncle, and thank you very much. If you’re going West may I come with you? I want to see Aunt Emily and Uncle Lawrence. Mount Street’s on your way home.”

“Right! When you’ve had your fill, we’ll start.”

“I’m quite full,” said Dinny, and got up.

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