Maid in Waiting, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 3

Hubert Cherrell, followed by a spaniel dog and carrying a gun, was crossing the old grey flagstones of the terrace. Rather over middle height, lean and erect, with a head not very large and a face weathered and seamed for so young a man, he wore a little darkish moustache cut just to the edge of his lips, which were thin and sensitive, and hair with already a touch of grey at the sides. His browned cheeks were thin too, but with rather high cheek-bones, and his eyes hazel, quick and glancing, set rather wide apart over a straight thin nose under gabled eyebrows. He was, in fact, a younger edition of his father. A man of action, forced into a state of thought, is unhappy until he can get out of it; and, ever since his late leader had launched that attack on his conduct, he had chafed, conscious of having acted rightly, or rather, in accordance with necessity. And he chafed the more because his training and his disposition forbade him giving tongue. A soldier by choice, not accident, he saw his soldiering imperilled, his name as an officer, and even as a gentleman, aspersed, and no way of hitting back at those who had aspersed it. His head seemed to him to be in Chancery for anyone to punch, most galling of experiences to anyone of high spirit. He came in through the French window, leaving dog and gun outside, aware that he was being talked about. He was now constantly interrupting discussions on his position, for in this family the troubles of one were the troubles of all. Having taken a cup of tea from his mother, he remarked that birds were getting wild already, covert was so sparse, and there was silence.

“Well, I’m going to look at my letters,” said the General, and went out followed by his wife.

Left alone with her brother, Dinny hardened her heart, and said:

“Something must be done, Hubert.”

“Don’t worry, old girl; it’s rotten, but there’s nothing one can do.”

“Why don’t you write your own account of what happened, from your diary? I could type it, and Michael will find you a publisher, he knows all those sort of people. We simply can’t sit down under this.”

“I loathe the idea of trotting my private feelings into the open; and it means that or nothing.”

Dinny wrinkled her brows.

“I loathe letting that Yank put his failure on to you. You owe it to the British Army, Hubert.”

“Bad as that? I went as a civilian.”

“Why not publish your diary as it is?”

“That’d be worse. You haven’t seen it.”

“We could expurgate, and embroider, and all that. You see, the Dad feels this.”

“Perhaps you’d better read the thing. It’s full of ‘miserable Starkey.’ When one’s alone like that, one lets oneself go.”

“You can cut out what you like.”

“It’s no end good of you, Dinny.”

Dinny stroked his sleeve.

“What sort of man is this Hallorsen?”

“To be just, he has lots of qualities: hard as nails, plenty of pluck, and no nerves; but it’s Hallorsen first with him all the time. It’s not in him to fail, and when he does, someone else has to stand the racket. According to him, he failed for want of transport: and I was his transport officer. But if he’d left the Angel Gabriel as he left me, he’d have done no better. He just miscalculated, and won’t admit it. You’ll find it all in my diary.”

“Have you seen this?” She held up a newspaper cutting, and read:

“‘We understand that action will be taken by Captain Charwell, D.S.O., to vindicate his honour in face of the statements made in Professor Hallorsen’s book on his Bolivian Expedition, the failure of which he attributed to Captain Charwell’s failure to support him at the critical moment.’ Someone’s trying to get a dog-fight out of it, you see.”

“Where was that?”

“In the Evening Sun.”

“Steps!” said Hubert bitterly; “what steps? I’ve nothing but my word, he took care of that when he left me alone with all those dagoes.”

“It’s the diary then, or nothing.”

“I’ll get you the damned thing . . . .”

That night Dinny sat at her window reading ‘the damned thing.’ A full moon rode between the elm trees and there was silence as of the grave. Just one sheep-bell tinkled from a fold on the rise; just one magnolia flower bloomed close to her window. All seemed unearthly, and now and then she stopped reading to gaze at the unreality. So had some ten thousand full moons ridden since her forebears received this patch of ground; the changeless security of so old a home heightened the lonely discomfort, the tribulation in the pages she was reading. Stark notes about stark things — one white man among a crew of half-caste savages, one animal-lover among half-starved animals and such men as knew not compassion. And with that cold and settled loveliness out there to look upon, she read and grew hot and miserable.

“That lousy brute Castro has been digging his infernal knife into the mules again. The poor brutes are thin as rails, and haven’t half their strength. Warned him for the last time. If he does it again, he’ll get the lash. . . . Had fever.”

“Castro got it good and strong this morning — a dozen; we’ll see if that will stop him. Can’t get on with these brutes; they don’t seem human. Oh! for a day on a horse at Condaford and forget these swamps and poor ghastly skeletons of mules . . .”

“Had to flog another of these brutes — their treatment of the mules is simply devilish, blast them! . . . Fever again . . .”

“Hell and Tommy to pay — had mutiny this morning. They laid for me. Luckily Manuel had warned me — he’s a good boy. As it was, Castro nearly had his knife through my gizzard. Got my left arm badly. Shot him with my own hand. Now perhaps they’ll toe the mark. Nothing from Hallorsen. How much longer does he expect me to hold on in this dump of hell? My arm is giving me proper gee-up . . . .”

“The lid is on at last, those devils stampeded the mules in the dark while I was asleep, and cleared out. Manuel and two other boys are all that’s left. We trailed them a long way — came on the carcases of two mules, that’s all; the beggars have dispersed and you might as well look for a star in the Milky Way. Got back to camp dead beat. . . . Whether we shall ever get out of this alive, goodness knows. My arm very painful, hope it doesn’t mean blood-poisoning . . .”

“Meant to trek today as best we could. Set up a pile of stones and left despatch for Hallorsen, telling him the whole story in case he ever does send back for me; then changed my mind. I shall stick it out here till he comes or till we’re dead, which is on the whole more likely . . .”

And so on through a tale of struggle to the end. Dinny laid down the dim and yellowed record and leaned her elbow on the sill. The silence and the coldness of the light out there had chilled her spirit. She no longer felt in fighting mood. Hubert was right. Why show one’s naked soul, one’s sore finger, to the public? No! Better anything than that. Private strings — yes, they should be pulled; and she would pull them for all she was worth.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54