Bobbie Ferrar had one of those faces which look on tempests and are never shaken; in other words, he was an ideal permanent official — so permanent that one could not conceive of the Foreign Office functioning without him. Secretaries of State might come, might go, Bobbie Ferrar remained, bland, inscrutable, and with lovely teeth. Nobody knew whether there was anything in him except an incalculable number of secrets. Of an age which refused to declare itself, short and square, with a deep soft voice, he had an appearance of complete detachment. In a dark suit with a little light line, and wearing a flower, he existed in a large ante-room wherein was almost nothing except those who came to see the Foreign Minister and instead saw Bobbie Ferrar. In fact the perfect buffer. His weakness was criminology. No murder trial of importance ever took place without the appearance, if only for half-an-hour, of Bobbie Ferrar in a seat more or less kept for him. And he preserved the records of all those trials in a specially bound edition. Perhaps the greatest testimony to his character, whatever that might be, lay in the fact that no one ever threw his acquaintanceship with nearly everybody up against him. People came to Bobbie Ferrar, not he to them. Yet why? What had he ever done that he should be ‘Bobbie’ Ferrar to all and sundry? Not even ‘the honourable,’ merely the son of a courtesy lord, affable, unfathomable, always about, he was unquestionably a last word. Without him, his flower, and his faint grin, Whitehall would have been shorn of something that made it almost human. He had been there since before the war, from which he had been retrieved just in time, some said, to prevent the whole place from losing its character, just in time, too, to stand, as it were, between England and herself. She could not become the shrill edgy hurried harridan the war had tried to make her while his square, leisurely, beflowered, inscrutable figure passed daily up and down between those pale considerable buildings.
He was turning over a Bulb Catalogue, on the morning of Hubert’s wedding day, when the card of Sir Lawrence Mont was brought to him, followed by its owner, who said at once:
“You know what I’ve come about, Bobbie?”
“Completely,” said Bobbie Ferrar, his eyes round, his head thrown back, his voice deep.
“Has the Marquess seen you?”
“I had breakfast with him yesterday. Isn’t he amazing?”
“Our finest old boy,” said Sir Lawrence. “What are you going to do about it? Old Sir Conway Cherrell was the best Ambassador to Spain you ever turned out of the shop, and this is his grandson.”
“Has he really got a scar?” asked Bobbie Ferrar, through a faint grin.
“Of course he has.”
“Did he really get it over that?”
“Sceptical image! Of course he did.”
Bobbie Ferrar showed his teeth. “Who can prove it?”
“Hallorsen is getting evidence.”
“It’s not in our department, you know.”
“No? But you can get at the Home Secretary.”
“Um!” said Bobbie Ferrar, deeply.
“You can see the Bolivians about it, anyway.”
“Um!” said Bobbie Ferrar still more deeply, and handed him the catalogue. “Do you know this new tulip? Complete, isn’t it?”
“Now, look you, Bobbie,” said Sir Lawrence, “this is my nephew; emphatically a ‘good egg,’ as you say, and it won’t do! See!”
“The age is democratic,” said Bobbie Ferrar cryptically; “it came up in the House, didn’t it — flogging?”
“We can pull out the national stop if there’s any more fuss there. Hallorsen has taken back his criticism. Well, I’ll leave it to you; you won’t commit yourself if I stay here all the morning. But you’ll do your best because it really is a scandalous charge.”
“Completely,” said Bobbie Ferrar. “Would you like to see the Croydon murder trial? It’s amazing. I’ve got two seats; I offered one to my Uncle. But he won’t go to any trial until they bring in electrocution.”
“Did the fellow do it?”
Bobbie Ferrar nodded.
“The evidence is very shaky,” he added.
“Well, good-bye, Bobbie; I rely on you.”
Bobbie Ferrar grinned faintly, and held out his hand.
“Good-bye,” he said, through his teeth.
Sir Lawrence went westward to the Coffee House where the porter handed him a telegram: “Am marrying Jean Tasburgh two o’clock today St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads delighted to see you and Aunt Em Hubert.”
Passing into the coffee-room, Sir Lawrence said to the Chief Steward: “Butts, I am about to see a nephew turned off. Fortify me quickly.”
Twenty minutes later he was on his way to St. Augustine’s, in a cab. He arrived a few minutes before two o’clock and met Dinny going up the steps.
“You look pale and interesting, Dinny.”
“I AM pale and interesting, Uncle Lawrence.”
“This proceeding appears to be somewhat sudden.”
“That’s Jean. I’m feeling terribly responsible. I found her for him, you see.”
They entered the church and moved up to the front pews. Apart from the General, Lady Cherrell, Mrs. Hilary and Hubert there was no one except two sightseers and a verger. Someone’s fingers were wandering on the organ. Sir Lawrence and Dinny took a pew to themselves.
“I’m not sorry Em isn’t here,” he whispered; “she still gives way. When you marry, Dinny, have ‘No tears by request’ on your invitation cards. What is it produces moisture at weddings? Even bailiffs weep.”
“It’s the veil,” said Dinny; “nobody will cry today because there is none. Look! Fleur and Michael!”
Sir Lawrence turned his monocle on them as they came up the aisle.
“Eight years since we saw them married. Take it all round, they haven’t done so badly.”
“No,” whispered Dinny; “Fleur told me yesterday that Michael was pure gold.”
“Did she? That’s good. There have been times, Dinny, when I’ve had my doubts.”
“Not about Michael.”
“No, no; he’s a first-rate fellow. But Fleur has fluttered their dovecote once or twice; since her father’s death, however, she’s been exemplary. Here they come!”
The organ had broken into annunciation. Alan Tasburgh with Jean on his arm was coming up the aisle. Dinny admired his square and steady look. As for Jean, she seemed the very image of colour and vitality. Hubert, standing, hands behind him, as if at ease, turned as she came up, and Dinny saw his face, lined and dark, brighten as if the sun had shone on it. A choky feeling gripped her throat. Then she saw that Hilary in his surplice had come quietly and was standing on the step.
‘I do like Uncle Hilary,’ she thought.
Hilary had begun to speak.
Contrary to her habit in church, Dinny listened. She waited for the word ‘obey’— it did not come; she waited for the sexual allusions — they were omitted. Now Hilary was asking for the ring. Now it was on. Now he was praying. Now it was the Lord’s Prayer, and they were going to the vestry. How strangely short!
She rose from her knees.
“Amazingly complete,” whispered Sir Lawrence, “as Bobbie Ferrar would say. Where are they going after?”
“To the theatre. Jean wants to stay in Town. She’s found a workman’s flat.”
“Calm before the storm. I wish that affair of Hubert’s were over, Dinny.”
They were coming back from the vestry now, and the organ had begun to play the Mendelssohn march. Looking at those two passing down the aisle Dinny had feelings of elation and of loss, of jealousy and of satisfaction. Then, seeing that Alan looked as if he, too, had feelings, she moved out of her pew to join Fleur and Michael; but, catching sight of Adrian near the entrance, went to him instead.
“What news, Dinny?”
“All right so far, Uncle. I am going straight back now.”
With the popular instinct for experiencing emotion at secondhand a little crowd of Hilary’s parishioners had gathered outside, and a squeaky cheer rose from them as Jean and Hubert got into the brown roadster, and drove away.
“Come in this cab with me, Uncle,” said Dinny.
“Does Ferse seem to mind your being there?” asked Adrian, in the cab.
“He’s quite polite, just silent; his eyes are always on Diana. I’m terribly sorry for him.”
Adrian nodded. “And she?”
“Wonderful; as if nothing were out of the ordinary. He won’t go out, though; just stays in the dining-room — watches from there all the time.”
“The world must seem to him a conspiracy. If he remains sane long enough he’ll lose that feeling.”
“Need he ever become insane again? Surely there are cases of complete recovery?”
“So far as I can gather, my dear, his case is not likely to be one of them. Heredity is against him, and temperament.”
“I could have liked him, it’s such a daring face; but his eyes ARE frightening.”
“Have you seen him with the children?”
“Not yet; but they speak quite nicely and naturally about him; so he hasn’t scared them, you see.”
“At the Home they talked jargon to me about complexes, obsessions, repressions, dissociation — all that sort of thing, but I gathered that his case is one where fits of great gloom alternate with fits of great excitement. Lately, both have grown so much milder that he has become practically normal. What has to be watched for is the recrudescence of one or of the other. He always had a streak of revolt in him; he was up against the leadership in the war, up against democracy after the war. He’ll almost certainly get up against something now he’s back. If he does it will ungear him again in no time. If there’s any weapon in the house, Dinny, it ought to be removed.”
“I’ll tell Diana.”
The cab turned into the King’s Road.
“I suppose I’d better not come to the house,” said Adrian, sadly.
Dinny got out, too. She stood a moment watching him, tall and rather stooping, walk away, then turned down Oakley Street, and let herself in. Ferse was in the dining-room doorway.
“Come in here,” he said; “I want a talk.”
In that panelled room, painted a greenish-gold, lunch had been cleared away, and on the narrow refectory table were a newspaper, a tobacco jar, and several books. Ferse drew up a chair for her and stood with his back to a fire which simulated flames. He was not looking at her, so she was able to study him as she had not yet had the chance of doing. His handsome face was uncomfortable to look on. The high cheek-bones, stiff jaw, and crisp grizzled hair set off those thirsty burning steel-blue eyes. Even his attitude, square and a-kimbo, with head thrust forward, set off those eyes. Dinny leaned back, scared and faintly smiling. He turned to her and said:
“What are people saying about me?”
“I’ve not heard anything; I’ve only been to my brother’s wedding.”
“Your brother Hubert? Whom has he married?”
“A girl called Jean Tasburgh. You saw her the day before yesterday.”
“Oh! Ah! I locked her in.”
“She looked dangerous to me. I consented to go into that place, you know. I wasn’t put there.”
“Oh! I know; I knew you were there of your own accord.”
“It wasn’t such a bad place, but — well! How do I look?”
Dinny said softly: “You see, I never saw you before, except at a distance, but I think you look very well.”
“I am well. I kept my muscles up. The fellow that looked after me saw to that.”
“Did you read much?”
“Lately — yes. What do they think about me?”
At the repetition of this question Dinny looked up into his face.
“How can they think about you without having seen you?”
“You mean I ought to see people?”
“I don’t know anything about it, Captain Ferse. But I don’t see why not. You’re seeing me.”
“I like YOU.”
Dinny put out her hand.
“Don’t say you’re sorry for me,” Ferse said, quickly.
“Why should I? You’re perfectly all right, I’m sure.”
He covered his eyes with his hand.
“I am, but how long shall I be?”
“Why not always?”
Ferse turned to the fire.
Dinny said, timidly: “If you don’t worry, nothing will happen again.”
Ferse spun round to her. “Have you seen much of my children?”
“Not very much.”
“Any likeness to me in them?”
“No; they take after Diana.”
“Thank God for that! What does Diana think about me?” This time his eyes searched hers, and Dinny realised that on her answer everything might depend.
“Diana is just glad.”
He shook his head violently. “Not possible.”
“The truth is often not possible.”
“She doesn’t hate me?”
“Why should she?”
“Your Uncle Adrian — what’s between them? Don’t just say: Nothing.”
“My uncle worships her,” said Dinny, quietly, “that’s why they are just friends.”
“That’s all you know, I suppose.”
“I know for certain.”
Ferse sighed, “You’re a good sort. What would you do if you were me?”
Again Dinny felt her ruthless responsibility.
“I think I should do what Diana wanted.”
“What is that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think she does yet.”
Ferse strode to the window and back.
“I’ve got to do something for poor devils like myself.”
“Oh!” said Dinny, dismayed.
“I’ve had luck. Most people like me would have been certified, and stuck away against their will. If I’d been poor we couldn’t have afforded that place. To be there was bad enough, but it was miles better than the usual run of places. I used to make my man talk. He’d seen two or three of them.”
He stood silent, and Dinny thought of her uncle’s words: “He’ll get up against something, and that will ungear him again in no time.”
Ferse went on suddenly: “If you had any other kind of job possible, would YOU take on the care of the insane? Not you, nor anyone with nerves or sensibility. A saint might, here and there, but there aren’t saints enough to go round by a long chalk. No! To look after us you’ve got to shed the bowels of compassion, you must be made of iron, you must have a hide like leather; and no nerves. With nerves you’d be worse than the thick-skinned because you’d be jumpy, and that falls on us. It’s an impasse. My God! Haven’t I thought about it? And — money. No one with money ought to be sent to one of those places. Never, never! Give him his prison at home somehow — somewhere. If I hadn’t known that I could come away at any time — if I hadn’t hung on to that knowledge even at my worst, I wouldn’t be here now — I’d be raving. God! I’d be raving! Money! And how many have money? Perhaps five in a hundred! And the other ninety-five poor devils are stuck away, willy-nilly, stuck away! I don’t care how scientific, how good those places may be, as asylums go — they mean death in life. They must. People outside think we’re as good as dead already — so who cares? Behind all the pretence of scientific treatment that’s what they really feel. We’re obscene — no longer human — the old idea of madness clings, Miss Cherrell; we’re a disgrace, we’ve failed. Hide us away, put us underground. Do it humanely — twentieth century! Humanely! Try! You can’t! Cover it all up with varnish then — varnish — that’s all it is. What else can it be? Take my word for that. Take my man’s word for it. He knew.”
Dinny was listening, without movement. Suddenly Ferse laughed. “But we’re not dead; that’s the misfortune, we’re not dead. If only we were! All those poor brutes — not dead — as capable of suffering in their own way as anyone else — more capable. Don’t I know? And what’s the remedy?” He put his hands to his head.
“To find a remedy,” said Dinny, softly, “wouldn’t it be wonderful?”
He stared at her.
“Thicken the varnish — that’s all we do, all we shall do.”
“Then why worry yourself?” sprang to Dinny’s lips, but she held the words back.
“Perhaps,” she said, “you will find the remedy, only that will need patience and calm.”
“You must be bored to death.” And he turned away to the window.
Dinny slipped quietly out.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54