Time and time again, p.18
Time and Time Again,
'I wonder how the servants like that.'
'The housemaids are in a state. They're scared enough even of DEAD mice in traps. But that's part of his fun. . . . Now tell me what kind of fun you've been having. . . .'
'Nothing nearly so exciting. . . . The Wohlmanns gave a big party when the German cruiser came in . . . Lallieni's ill and Borignano's in charge. . . . That Mrs. Gervase came over from Rio--seems to have more money than ever. . . . There's a nice American you must meet--some job with the railways . . . the kind we like. . . . The De Volvas have had a baby. . . . Carucas did well in the local elections--they talk of him as the coming man--I hope not, because he's a crook. . . . Mary Deakins now takes ballet lessons from a real Russian, if you please. . . . I think that's about all.'
'What about the Greiffenburgs?'
'They're still here.'
'And the Salcinets?'
'They went home. A rather sad thing . . . She went a bit out of her mind.'
'I'm not too surprised. She always hated HIM. I meant to warn you to be careful about her, but I'm sure you were.'
'Were you careful about everybody?'
'Yes--except that man in London who told me how much they thought of you. He said you were bound to get a Legation eventually. Fifty per cent seniority, he reckoned it, thirty per cent luck and ten per cent merit. He was a cynical old devil.'
'It only adds up to ninety. What's the rest?'
'I hoped you'd ask that. ME. The diplomat's wife. That's why I flirted with him. He's in the Government and could be quite useful.' She mentioned his name.
Charles snorted. 'Good God, THAT fellow?'
'Darling, you can't be particular these days. And really, I think I handled him rather well.'
'I'm sure you did--you're a good man-handler. Remember the line in the Henry the Eighth film--Charles Laughton saying "The things I have done for England"?'
'All right, Andy, you can do them for England--I'll do them for you. I don't really know whether you love me or not, but I know you get along with me pretty well, both in and out of bed, and from what I've seen of other people's marriages, that's as good as love-- and rarer too.'
'Perhaps it is love, if you have it long enough.'
'And if you've never had any other kind. . . . But "man-handler"-- I rather like that. It's a compliment.'
* * * * *
Charles was happy. People observed it and said, indulgently: 'He's got his Jane back and now just look at him. And look at her too.' It made them both more popular than ever, so that when a few months later they let it be known there was going to be a baby everyone felt sentimental and wondered if it meant they had tried before without success or had recently for the first time been trying.
Severing said to Charles: 'I suppose you'll go home.'
'Jane will and I know she'd like me to go with her this time.'
'I'm sure Banky will understand. Too bad this isn't Washington-- then you could both stay. I mean, because of the dual citizenship. Nice thing for a kid to start off with. . . .'
* * * * *
The Coppermills had moved out of Burton Bridgwater by the time Jane and Charles arrived in England. Jane thought she would prefer the country to London, so they rented a house near High Wycombe and paid several short visits to Beeching. Havelock greeted them hospitably and seemed excited at the prospect of becoming a grandfather. At seventy-five he was still upright and active, able to walk miles without tiring, and no less vigorous in some of his opinions. Politically he was now so far to the right that one wondered where he would or could emerge, for he had lost favour with most local Tories when he expounded the unfashionable argument that Mussolini had as much right to conquer Ethiopia as England had had to defeat the Boers. He called the League of Nations a hypocrisy and Anthony Eden a pecksniffian Galahad. Normally this sort of extremism would not have mattered much in a country addicted to almost unlimited free speech; but the barometer of English opinion, as of European and world opinion, was rather rapidly moving to stormy. Only for this reason Charles was concerned. His father's political views, whatever they were, seemed far less important than the fact that friendships and the tolerance of neighbours were being put to strain.
One June Friday about two months before the birth was expected Charles and Jane set out from High Wycombe intending to spend a weekend at Beeching. Charles was enjoying himself with a new car, and they stopped for lunch in Oxford and walked a little around the colleges. With every discount as a Cambridge man, he still thought Oxford had been ruined as well as enriched by its automobile industry; always sensitive to noise, he wondered how an undergraduate of Queen's or Magdalen could ever work if his rooms faced that once tranquil curve of the High, along which traffic now passed in roaring procession. Jane said the place had given her a headache, but by the time they were on their way again and approaching the Cotswolds it was clear she was suffering from much more than that. At Beeching she felt worse, and during the night suffered severe pain. By mid-morning Dr. Somerville had diagnosed possible appendicitis and ordered her immediate removal to a hospital. Charles accompanied her in the ambulance, realizing as he watched her (she was already under sedatives) how unimaginable would be any disaster that separated them. Presently he learned that an operation was necessary and that there was some risk of losing the baby. A recommended London surgeon named Blainey was telephoned; he said he could arrive that evening by train.
As the day progressed Charles grew increasingly anxious and was almost glad he did not have to put on an act in front of Jane-- though if even half-conscious she would doubtless have seen through it. Yet he felt she could not possibly know what store he had set on fatherhood. People thought they had planned it, and he did not mind anyone thinking so; actually it had been accidental, not even consciously desired, yet afterwards a source of such encompassing joy that they both wondered why they had ever considered their lives too roving and unsettled for such an event. Somehow the baby, even unborn, had already turned wherever they lived into a home.
Charles met Blainey--MR. Blainey, since he was a very distinguished surgeon and not a physician--at Stow Magna station and drove him to the hospital. Charles was favourably impressed by a first look at him--fiftyish, red-haired, slight in build, curtly polite. They did not talk much on the way and hardly at all about Jane. Charles had the professional man's reluctance to intrude on another professional man's field; he had suffered too often from the naďveté of dinner partners who had discussed international affairs. At the hospital he waited while Somerville took Blainey to see Jane. Blainey was reticent afterwards; he merely confirmed the doctor's tentative diagnosis and said he had arranged for surgery at seven in the morning.
'Yes. Everything ready by then. You think that's terribly early?'
'Oh no--on the contrary. I mean--if it's so urgent--'
What he really meant was that he was already beginning to fret about the overnight delay, but Blainey went on, smiling: 'Don't worry--we surgeons are used to it. We don't keep Civil Service hours, you know.'
Charles was puzzled for a second; then he realized it was not only Blainey's idea of a joke but Blainey's idea of the time for a joke. Oh, well . . . so he smiled back. Even the implication that he could properly be described as a civil servant hadn't its normal power to irritate him. He then had the sudden idea that Blainey should come to Beeching for a meal and a bed--much quieter and more comfortable than the nearest good hotel, and only a mile or two further. He made the suggestion, which the surgeon accepted nonchalantly; then he telephoned Cobb to prepare a room. It was eight o'clock before they were on the road, exchanging few remarks during the journey. But when they reached the lodge and had to slow down past the opened gates, Blainey remarked, peering out: 'Quite a place for your son to inherit.'
'My . . . my SON . . .' echoed Charles, gathering his wits. 'You mean . . .' In exultation over what might be Blainey's oblique way of conveying reassurance he nearly steered the car off the gravel. 'Sure it'll
'Try again if it isn't. Plenty of time.'
Charles warmed further to the remark, though he hadn't much of the ancestral feeling for Beeching that Blainey was taking for granted. But he needed comfort and Blainey had given it. 'Too bad it's dark,' Charles said, ready to meet the wrong but hopeful assumption halfway. 'There's quite a view of the house from here.'
'Any special reason why it's called Beeching? Is there a river where boats used to beach?'
'Oh, it isn't THAT beaching--it's b-double e-c-h. Beech trees, I suppose. My father once talked about changing its name to suit his profession--he said he'd call it Loopholes . . . He being a lawyer.' (I too can joke at a time like this, was in his mind.)
'Ha, ha . . . so if I ever live in one of these places I ought to call it Gallstones, eh?'
They both laughed more than the humour deserved, and Charles felt quite cheerful when, a few minutes later, he led the surgeon into the dining-room and introduced him to Havelock, who had apparently delayed his own evening meal to give the welcome its fullest possible scope. Charles was also a little touched by evidences that during his absence the old man had been busy--a bottle of rather special claret and the table set more elaborately than Cobb would have done it without particular orders. They all drank sherry standing by the mantelpiece, then sat down to the soup. Charles was glad to let his father steer the conversation, which he did fluently and with tact, avoiding strictly medical territory yet touching near enough to bridge the interesting gulf between medicine and the law. It was quite fascinating, an interplay of really first-class minds; yet suddenly, between one sentence and another, Charles ceased to be fascinated and could only itch for the meal to finish so that Blainey could get to bed for a full night's sleep. With shock he realized it was already midnight. From then on what was left of the meal seemed to progress so slowly that Charles thought there might have been some upset in the kitchen till he verified that every minute was crawling like an hour. Finally Cobb entered with coffee.
Blainey shook his head when Havelock passed the decanter of brandy.
'It's good stuff, Blainey--very gentle . . . I wish you'd try it.'
'Oh, all right.' Havelock filled liqueur glasses and had Cobb take them round.
'As I was saying,' Havelock went on, 'the medical aspects of poisoning cases are so technical that the accused is often in danger of being tried by expert witnesses rather than by the court. Take the Marsh test for arsenic, for instance. How can a juryman possibly give the benefit of a doubt when a fellow like Spilsbury comes along and says there isn't any doubt? And yet, as every
toxicologist knows, there ARE doubts--small ones, maybe, but doubts all the same--margins for error and admitted incalculables in every chemical test known to science.'
'That's true, but on the other hand what would happen if Spilsbury were to give these doubts the place they would certainly have if he were lecturing to scientists instead of offering an opinion to a group of laymen? You'd simply never get a conviction--the jury, unused to the philosophic assessment of probabilities, would just acquit one poisoner after another.'
'They might acquit a few more of the innocent.'
'Oh, come now, I can't believe that many innocent victims go to the gallows.'
'Can't you? Let me tell you of a case I had once--before your time-- an insurance agent in Manchester . . .'
Five more minutes of that. Charles did not want to seem either fidgety or ungracious, but he could not help saying, when a suitable pause occurred: 'I expect Mr. Blainey would like to get to bed. . . .'
Havelock nodded. 'Of course, of course. Any time he likes . . . But what about a nightcap, then we'll all turn in? . . . Busy day tomorrow . . . Cobb, we won't adjourn anywhere tonight--just leave the decanters on the table.'
Charles hoped the surgeon would refuse any more drinks, but he did not do so, and his signal, though prompt, was not in time to stay Havelock's generous hand. 'I must lend you a book, Blainey--take it up with you when you go . . . case histories somewhat on the lines of the one we were talking about . . . Charles, fetch Winfield's Problems of Medico-Legal Practice--it's on the top shelf in the window alcove in the library.'
Charles did not move, but forced a smile. 'I really don't think Mr. Blainey will want to read much tonight.'
Blainey smiled also. 'And I know the book quite well, so don't bother.'
'Then you'll remember,' Havelock continued, 'how Winfield attacks the medical evidence in the Seddon trial. There's no doubt that if Seddon hadn't given such a callous impression in court he'd have had a good chance of acquittal.'
'What you mean, then,' answered Blainey, 'is that his counsel should have given him better advice as to how to behave. Blame the lawyers too.'
'Oh, certainly. But I've cross-examined too many doctors not to know that a skilled opposing counsel can usually twist them any way he wants. Why not, after all? It isn't a doctor's job to learn the art of being cross-examined--which in my opinion is a much rarer art than that of cross-examining. That, of course, is where Spilsbury excels--and where he's most dangerous. He's the cleverest cross-examinee in the business.'
'I'm afraid we're arguing in circles. First you say a doctor can be twisted any way a counsel wants--then you attack Spilsbury because he can't be--'
'I said an AVERAGE doctor--'
'But surely the fault lies again with the lawyers. If their aim is to establish truth and not merely to win a case, why do they try to twist a doctor at all--he's generally an honest man who has no axe to grind--'
'--or, in the case of a surgeon, no knife to sharpen, eh?' Havelock's eyes lit with a vivid excitement. 'I suppose the professional difference is even more jealously regarded than that between barrister and solicitor? . . . Try that whisky--it's practically a liqueur--if you're a connoisseur I think you'll like it . . . But to come back to this question of cross-examining the expert witness . . .'
Charles leaned forward across the table. He did not know whether he was pale or flushed, but he knew that something had happened to his face--it was moving in a way he could not control, like a small tic. 'Look,' he muttered, and found his voice so weak that he had to project it as before an audience: 'Look, Mr. Blainey ought to sleep. Let me take him upstairs.'
Blainey made a slightly staying gesture with his hand. 'It's all right--I'm in no great hurry. I had a nap on the train. . . . What were you saying, Sir Havelock?' He sipped the Scotch and soda.
Havelock's face was wholly animated. 'You must forgive my concern with the subject--perhaps it stems from an experience I once had in Wales. In those days the circuit judges . . .'
Another ten minutes. The story ended and before Blainey could comment Havelock began another. Charles could endure it no longer. Stumbling to his feet he made his way round the table and stood above his father. His hands shook, he swayed, he had to press his words through an impairment of breath and lip-movement that made him hardly coherent. 'For God's sake, CAN'T YOU SHUT UP? Let the man go to bed. Don't you know what he's got to do tomorrow morning?' Then he broke off to lean against the table, straining for control and mumbling 'I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon' to nobody in particular.
'My son is distraught,' said Havelock urbanely. 'I'm sure you'll excuse him. But it IS perhaps time to retire. . . . I'll show you up to your room, Blainey--take your drink with you. . . . Goodnight, Charles. Perfectly understandable. Get a good night's sleep yourself.'
Blainey also said 'Goodnight' as he left with Havelock. Charles heard them climbing the stairs, still arguing. He did not want to see his father again if he should come down later, so he crossed the hall to the garden door and went outside. The open air seemed to calm him. He walked to a place where he could watch the windows of Blainey's room. They remained lighted for nearly an hour. Charles waited all this time, patiently, but with determination; then he re-entered the house and went to his own room. He knew he had made a considerable fool of himse
* * * * *
Charles insisted on driving Blainey back to the station at Stow Magna. When they had left the hospital grounds the surgeon said: 'You really shouldn't be doing this--you look very tired. Somerville gave you the news, I daresay. The operation was quite successful and there's no reason why either your wife or child should be any the worse for it. . . . Now take it easy--I'm nervous of other people's driving.'
'I'm sorry,' Charles said, out of a deep dream of happiness. 'And I must also apologize for last night.'
'Last night? What do you mean?'
'Losing my head--or my temper--or something. . . . What a way for a diplomat to behave--God, how Jane would laugh! I don't think I'll ever tell her what happened.'
'Are you sure you REMEMBER what happened?'
'I know, I must have been distraught, as my father said. All those stories of his--they lasted so long . . . He talks very well and I suppose he enjoys himself so much that even at a time like that he could forget--or seem to forget--more easily than I could.'
Blainey said quietly: 'May I ask a very personal question?'
'Yes, of course.'
'Are you protecting him, or are you really in ignorance?'
'I don't quite know what you mean.'