Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 8

That essential private irregularity, room by room, which differentiates the old English from every other variety of country house, was patent at Lippinghall Manor. People went into rooms as if they meant to stay there, and while there inhaled an atmosphere and fitted into garniture different from those in any of the other rooms; nor did they feel that they must leave the room as they found it, if indeed they knew how that was. Fine old furniture stood in careless partnership with fill-up stuff acquired for the purposes of use or ease. Portraits of ancestors, dark or yellow, confronted Dutch or French landscapes still more yellow or dark, with here and there delightful old prints, and miniatures not without charm. In two rooms at least were beautiful old fireplaces, defiled by the comfort of a fender which could be sat on. Staircases appeared unexpectedly in the dark. The position of a bedroom was learned with difficulty and soon forgotten. In it would be, perhaps, a priceless old chestnut wood wardrobe and a four-poster bed of an excellent period; a window-seat with cushions, and some French prints. To it would be conjoined a small room with narrow bed; and bathroom that might or might not need a stroll, but would have salts in it. One of the Monts had been an Admiral; queer old charts, therefore, with dragons lashing the seas, lurked in odd corners of the corridors; one of the Monts, Sir Lawrence’s grandfather, seventh baronet, had been a racing man, and the anatomy of the thoroughbred horse, and jockey of his period (1860-1883) could be studied on the walls. The sixth baronet, who, being in politics, had lived longer than the rest, had left imprints of the earlier Victorian period, his wife and daughters in crinolines, himself in whiskers. The outside of the house was Carolean, tempered here and there by Georgian, and even Victorian fragments where the sixth baronet had given way to his feeling for improvement. The only thing definitely modern was the plumbing.

When Dinny came down to breakfast on the Wednesday morning — the shoot being timed to start at ten — three of the ladies and all the men except Hallorsen were already sitting or wandering to the side-tables. She slipped into a chair next to Lord Saxenden, who rose slightly with the word:

“Morning!”

“Dinny,” called Michael from a sideboard, “coffee, cocoatina or ginger beer?”

“Coffee and a kipper, Michael.”

“There are no kippers.”

Lord Saxenden looked up: “No kippers?” he muttered, and resumed his sausage.

“Haddock?” said Michael.

“No, thank you.”

“Anything for you, Aunt Wilmet?”

“Kedgeree.”

“There is no kedgeree. Kidneys, bacon, scrambled eggs, haddock, ham, cold partridge pie.”

Lord Saxenden rose. “Ah! Ham!” and went over to the side table.

“Well, Dinny?”

“Just some jam, please, Michael.”

“Goose-gog, strawberry, black currant, marmalade.”

“Gooseberry.”

Lord Saxenden resumed his seat with a plate of ham, and began reading a letter as he ate. She did not quite know what to make of his face, because she could not see his eyes, and his mouth was so full. But she seemed to gather why he had been nicknamed ‘Snubby.’ He was red, had a light moustache and hair, both going grey, and a square seat at table. Suddenly he turned to her and said:

“Excuse my reading this. It’s from my wife. She’s on her back, you know.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Horrible business! Poor thing!”

He put the letter in his pocket, filled his mouth with ham, and looked at Dinny. She saw that his eyes were blue, and that his eyebrows, darker than his hair, looked like clumps of fish-hooks. His eyes goggled a little, as though he were saying: “I’m a lad — I’m a lad.” But at this moment she noticed Hallorsen coming in. He stood uncertain, then, seeing her, came to the empty seat on her other side.

“Miss Cherrell,” he said, with a bow, “can I sit right here?”

“Of course: the food is all over there, if you’re thinking of any.”

“Who’s that fellow?” said Lord Saxenden, as Hallorsen went foraging: “He’s an American.”

“Professor Hallorsen.”

“Oh! Ah! Wrote a book on Bolivia? What!”

“Yes.”

“Good-looking chap.”

“A he-man.”

He looked round at her with surprise.

“Try this ham. I used to know an uncle of yours at Harrow, I think.”

“Uncle Hilary!” said Dinny. “He told me.”

“I once laid him three strawberry mashes to two on myself in a race down the Hill steps to the Gym.”

“Did you win, Lord Saxenden?”

“No; and I never paid your uncle.”

“Why not?”

“He sprained his ankle and I put my knee out. He hopped to the Gym door; but I couldn’t move. We were both laid up till the end of term, and then I left.” Lord Saxenden chuckled. “So I still owe him three strawberry mashes.”

“I thought we had ‘some’ breakfast in America, but it’s nil to this,” said Hallorsen, sitting down.

“Do you know Lord Saxenden?”

“Lord Saxenden,” repeated Hallorsen with a bow.

“How de do? You haven’t got our partridge in America, have you?”

“Why, no, I believe not. I am looking forward to hunting that bird. This is mighty fine coffee, Miss Cherrell.”

“Yes,” said Dinny. “Aunt Em prides herself on her coffee.”

Lord Saxenden squared his seat. “Try this ham. I haven’t read your book.”

“Let me send it you; I’ll be proud to have you read it.”

Lord Saxenden ate on.

“Yes, you ought to read it, Lord Saxenden,” said Dinny; “and I’ll send you another book that bears on the same subject.”

Lord Saxenden glared.

“Charming of you both,” he said. “Is that strawberry jam?” and he reached for it.

“Miss Cherrell,” said Hallorsen, in a low voice, “I’d like to have you go through my book and mark the passages you think are prejudicial to your brother. I wrote that book when I had a pretty sore head.”

“I’m afraid that I don’t see what good that would do now.”

“So I could get them cut out, if you wish, for the second edition.”

“That’s very good of you,” said Dinny, icily, “but the harm is done, Professor.”

Hallorsen said, still lower: “I’m just terribly sorry to have hurt you.”

A sensation, perhaps only to be summed up in the words: ‘You are — are you!’ flushed Dinny from top to toe with anger, triumph, calculation, humour.

“It’s my brother you’ve hurt.”

“Maybe that could be mended if we could get together about it.”

“I wonder.” And Dinny rose.

Hallorsen stood up too, and bowed as she passed.

‘Terribly polite,’ she thought.

She spent her morning with the diary in a part of the garden so sunk within yew hedges that it formed a perfect refuge. The sun was warm there, and the humming of the bees over zinnias, pentstemons, hollyhocks, asters, Michaelmas daisies, was very soothing. In that so sheltered garden the dislike of casting Hubert’s intimate feelings to the world’s opinion came on her again. Not that the diary whined; but it revealed the hurts of mind and body with the sharpness of a record meant for no eye but the recorder’s. The sound of shots kept floating to her; and presently, leaning her elbows on the top of the yew hedge, she looked out over the fields towards where they were shooting.

A voice said:

“There you are!”

Her aunt, in a straw hat so broad that it covered her to the very edges of her shoulders, was standing below with two gardeners behind her.

“I’m coming round to you, Dinny; Boswell, you and Johnson can go now. We’ll look at the Portulaca this afternoon.” And she gazed up from under the tilted and enormous halo of her hat. “It’s Majorcan,” she said, “so shelterin’.”

“Boswell and Johnson, Auntie!”

“We had Boswell, and your uncle would look till we found Johnson. He makes them go about together. Do you believe in Doctor Johnson, Dinny?”

“I think he used the word ‘Sir’ too much.”

“Fleur’s got my gardenin’ scissors. What’s that, Dinny?”

“Hubert’s diary.”

“Depressin’?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve been lookin’ at Professor Hallorsen — he wants takin’ in.”

“Begin with his cheek, Aunt Em.”

“I hope they’ll shoot some hares,” said Lady Mont; “hare soup is such a stand-by. Wilmet and Henrietta Bentworth have agreed to differ already.”

“What about?”

“Well, I couldn’t be bothered, but I think it was about the P.M., or was it Portulaca? — they differ about everything. Hen’s always been about Court, you know.”

“Is that fatal?”

“She’s a nice woman. I’m fond of Hen, but she does cluck. What are you doin’ with that diary?”

“I’m going to show it to Michael and ask his advice.”

“Don’t take it,” said Lady Mont; “he’s a dear boy, but don’t take it; he knows a lot of funny people — publishers and that.”

“That’s why I’m asking him.”

“Ask Fleur, she has a head. Have you got this zinnia at Condaford? D’you know, Dinny, I think Adrian’s goin’ potty.”

“Aunt Em!”

“He moons so; and I don’t believe there’s anywhere you could stick a pin into him. Of course I mustn’t say it to you, but I think he ought to have her.”

“So do I, Auntie.”

“Well, he won’t.”

“Or she won’t.”

“They neither of them will; so how it’s to be managed I don’t know. She’s forty.”

“How old is Uncle Adrian?”

“He’s the baby, all but Lionel. I’m fifty-nine,” said Lady Mont decisively. “I know I’m fifty-nine, and your father is sixty; your grandmother must have been in a great tear at that time, she kept on havin’ us. What do YOU think about this question of havin’ children?”

Dinny swallowed a bubble and said:

“Well, for married people, perhaps, in moderation.”

“Fleur’s going to have another in March; it’s a bad month — careless! When are you goin’ to get married, Dinny?”

“When my young affections are engaged, not before.”

“That’s very prudent. But not an American.”

Dinny flushed, smiled dangerously and said:

“Why on earth should I marry an American?”

“You never know,” said Lady Mont, twisting off a faded aster; “it depends on what there is about. When I married Lawrence, he was so about!”

“And still is, Aunt Em; wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Don’t be sharp!”

And Lady Mont seemed to go into a dream, so that her hat looked more enormous than ever.

“Talking of marriage, Aunt Em, I wish I knew of a girl for Hubert. He does so want distracting.”

“Your uncle,” said Lady Mont, “would say distract him with a dancer.”

“Perhaps Uncle Hilary knows one that he could highly recommend.”

“You’re naughty, Dinny. I always thought you were naughty. But let me think: there WAS a girl; no, she married.”

“Perhaps she’s divorced by now.”

“No. I think she’s divorcin’ him, but it takes time. Charmin’ little creature.”

“I’m sure. Do think again, Auntie.”

“These bees,” replied her aunt, “belong to Boswell. They’re Italian. Lawrence says they’re Fascists.”

“Black shirts and no after-thoughts. They certainly seem very active bees.”

“Yes; they fly a lot and sting you at once if you annoy them. Bees are nice to me.”

“You’ve got one on your hat, dear. Shall I take it off?”

“Stop!” said Lady Mont, tilting her hat back, with her mouth slightly open: “I’ve thought of one.”

“One what?”

“Jean Tasburgh, the daughter of our Rector here — very good family. No money, of course.”

“None at all?”

Lady Mont shook her head, and the hat wobbled. “No Jean never has money. She’s pretty. Rather like a leopardess.”

“Could I look her over, Auntie? I know fairly well what Hubert wouldn’t like.”

“I’ll ask her to dinner. They feed badly. We married a Tasburgh once. I think it was under James, so she’ll be a cousin, but terribly removed. There’s a son, too; in the Navy, all there, you know, and no moustache. I believe he’s stayin’ at the Rectory on furlong.”

“Furlough, Aunt Em.”

“I knew that word was wrong. Take that bee off my hat, there’s a dear.”

Dinny took the small bee off the large hat with her handkerchief, and put it to her ear.

“I still like to hear them buzz,” she said.

“I’ll ask him too,” answered her aunt; “his name’s Alan, a nice fellow.” And she looked at Dinny’s hair. “Medlar-coloured, I call it. I think he’s got prospects, but I don’t know what they are. Blown up in the war.”

“He came down again whole, I hope, Auntie?”

“Yes; they gave him something or other for it. He says it’s very stuffy in the Navy now. All angles, you know, and wheels, and smells. You must ask him.”

“About the girl, Aunt Em, how do you mean, a leopardess?”

“Well, she looks at you, and you expect to see a cub comin’ round the corner. Her mother’s dead. She runs the parish.”

“Would she run Hubert?”

“No; she’d run anybody who tried to run him.”

“That might do. Can I take a note for you to the Rectory?”

“I’ll send Boswell and Johnson,” Lady Mont looked at her wrist. “No, they’ll have gone to dinner. I always set my watch by them. We’ll go ourselves, Dinny; it’s only quarter of a mile. Does my hat matter?”

“On the contrary, dear.”

“Very well, then; we can get out this way,” and moving to the far end of the yew-treed garden, they descended some steps into a long grassy avenue, and, passing through a wicket gate, had soon arrived at the Rectory. Dinny stood in its creepered porch, behind her aunt’s hat. The door stood open, and a dim panelled hallway with a scent of pot-pourri and old wood, conveyed a kind of invitation. A female voice from within called:

“A— lan!”

A male voice answered: “Hal — lo!”

“D’you mind cold lunch?”

“There’s no bell,” said Lady Mont; “we’d better clap.” They clapped in unison.

“What the deuce?” A young man in grey flannels had appeared in a doorway. He had a broad brown face, dark hair, and grey eyes, deep and direct.

“Oh!” he said. “Lady Mont . . . Hi! Jean!” Then, meeting Dinny’s eyes round the edge of the hat, he smiled as they do in the Navy.

“Alan, can you and Jean dine to-night? Dinny, this is Alan Tasburgh. D’you like my hat?”

“It’s a topper, Lady Mont.”

A girl, made all of a piece and moving as if on steel springs, was coming towards them. She wore a fawn-coloured sleeveless jumper and skirt, and her arms and cheeks were fully as brown. Dinny saw what her aunt meant. The face, broad across the cheek-bones, tapered to the chin, the eyes were greenish grey and sunk right in under long black lashes; they looked straight out with a light in them; the nose was fine, the brow low and broad, the shingled hair dark brown. ‘I wonder!’ thought Dinny. Then, as the girl smiled, a little thrill went through her.

“This is Jean,” said her aunt: “my niece, Dinny Cherrell.”

A slim brown hand clasped Dinny’s firmly.

“Where’s your father?” continued Lady Mont.

“Dad’s away at some parsonical Conference. I wanted him to take me, but he wouldn’t.”

“Then I expect he’s in London really, doin’ theatres.”

Dinny saw the girl flash a look at her aunt, decide that it was Lady Mont, and smiled. The young man laughed.

“So you’ll both come to dinner? Eight-fifteen. Dinny, we must go back to lunch. Swallows!” added Lady Mont round the brim of her hat, and passed out through the porch.

“There’s a house-party,” said Dinny to the young man’s elevated eyebrows. “She means tails and white tie.”

“Oh! Ah! Best bib and tucker, Jean.”

The two stood in the porchway arm in arm. ‘Very attractive!’ Dinny thought.

“Well?” said her aunt, in the grass avenue again.

“Yes, I quite saw the cub. She’s beautiful, I think. But I should keep her on a lead.”

“There’s Boswell and Johnson!” exclaimed Lady Mont, as if they were in the singular. “Gracious! It must be past two, then!”

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