Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 12

In spite of Sir Gerald Corven’s assurance, the course before a husband wishing to resume the society of his wife is not noticeably simple, especially if he has but a week wherein to encompass his desire. The experience of that evening had made Clare wary. On leaving the Temple at lunch-time the day after, a Saturday, she took train for Condaford, where she carefully refrained from saying that she had sought asylum. On Sunday morning she lay long in bed, with the windows wide open, watching the sky beyond the tall denuded elms. The sun shone in upon her, the air was mild and alive with sounds surprised into life, the twittering once more of birds, the lowing of a cow, the occasional caw of a rook, the continual cooing of the fantails. There was but little poetry in Clare, but for a moment to her easeful stretched-out being came a certain perception of the symphony which is this world. The lacing of the naked boughs and those few leaves against the soft, gold-bright, moving sky; that rook balancing there; the green and fallow upland, the far line of trees; and all those sounds, and the pure unscented air on her face; the twittering quietude and perfect freedom of each separate thing, and yet the long composure of design — all this for a moment drew her out of herself into a glimpse of the universal.

The vision passed; she thought instead of Thursday night, and Tony Croom, and the dirty little boy outside the restaurant in Soho, who had said in such endearing tones: “Remember the poor old guy, lady; remember the poor old guy.” If Tony had seen her the next night! How irrelevant was event to feeling, how ignorant were even the closest of each other! She uttered a little discomfited laugh. Where ignorance was bliss, indeed!

The village church bell began ringing now. Marvellous how her father and mother continued to go every Sunday, hoping — she supposed — for the best; or was it because if they didn’t the village wouldn’t, and the church would fall into disuse, or at least behind the chapel? It was nice to lie here in one’s own old room, feel safe, and warm, and idle, with a dog on one’s feet! Till next Saturday she was at bay, like a chased vixen taking advantage of every cover; and Clare drew taut her lips, as a vixen does at sight of hounds. Go back he must — he had said — with her or without. Well, it would be without!

Her sense of asylum was rudely shaken about four o’clock, when, returning from a walk with the dogs, she saw a car outside and was met by her mother in the hall.

“Jerry’s with your father.”

“Oh!”

“Come up to my room, dear.”

In that first-floor room adjoining her bedroom Lady Charwell’s personality had always more scope than in the rest of the old, tortuous, worn-down house, so full of relics and the past tense. This room’s verbena-scented, powder-blue scheme had a distinct if faded elegance. It had been designed; the rest of the house had grown, emerging here and there into small oases of modernity, but for the most part a wilderness strewn with the débris of Time.

Clare turned and turned a china figure, in front of the wood fire. She had not foreseen this visit. Now were conjoined the forces of creed, convention, and comfort, and against them was only a defence that it was hateful to lay bare. She waited for her mother to speak.

“You see, darling, you haven’t told us anything.”

But how tell one who looked and spoke like that? She flushed, went pale, and said: “I can only say there’s a beast in him. I know it doesn’t show; but there is, Mother, there is!”

Lady Charwell, too, had flushed. It did not suit her, being over fifty.

“Your father and I will help you all we can, dear; only, of course, it is so important to take a right decision now.”

“And I, having made a wrong one already, can only be trusted to make another? You’ve got to take my word, Mother; I simply can’t talk about it, and I simply won’t go back with him.”

Lady Charwell had sat down, a furrow between her grey-blue eyes which seemed fixed on nothing. She turned them on her daughter, and said, hesitating:

“You’re sure it’s not just the beast that is in nearly all men?”

Clare laughed.

“Oh! no. I’m not easily upset.”

Lady Charwell sighed.

“Don’t worry, Mother dear; it’ll be all right once we’ve got this over. Nothing really matters nowadays.”

“So they say, but one has the bad habit still of believing that it does.”

At this near approach to irony Clare said quickly: “It matters that one should keep one’s self-respect. Really, with him I couldn’t.”

“We’ll say no more then. Your father will want to see you. You’d better take your things off.”

Clare kissed her and went out. There was no sound from below, and she went on up to her room. She felt her will-power stiffening. The days when men disposed of their women folk were long over, and — whatever Jerry and her father were concocting — she would not budge! When the summons came, she went to the encounter, blade-sharp, and hard as stone.

They were standing in the General’s office-like study, and she felt at once that they were in agreement. Nodding to her husband, she went over to her father.

“Well?”

But Corven spoke first.

“I leave it to you, sir.”

The General’s lined face looked mournful and irritated. He braced himself. “We’ve been going into this, Clare. Jerry admits that you’ve got much on your side, but he’s given me his word that he won’t offend you again. I want to appeal to you to try and see his point of view. He says, I think rightly, that it’s more to your interest even than to his. The old ideas about marriage may have gone, but, after all, you both took certain vows — but leaving that aside —”

“Yes,” said Clare.

The General twirled his little moustache, and thrust the other hand deep into his pocket.

“Well, what on earth is going to happen to you both? You can’t have a divorce — there’s your name, and his position, and — after only eighteen months. What are you going to do? Live apart? That’s not fair to you, or to him.”

“Fairer to both of us than living together will be.”

The General glanced at her hardened face. “So you say now; but we’ve both of us had more experience than you.”

“That was bound to be said sooner or later. You want me to go back with him?”

The General looked acutely unhappy.

“You know, my dear, that I only want what’s best for you.”

“And Jerry has convinced you that IS the best. Well, it’s the worst. I’m not going, Dad, and there’s an end of it.”

The General looked at her face, looked at the face of his son-inlaw, shrugged his shoulders, and began filling his pipe.

Jerry Corven’s eyes, which had been passing from face to face, narrowed and came to rest on Clare’s. That look lasted a long time, and neither flinched.

“Very well,” he said, at last, “I will make other arrangements. Good-bye, sir; good-bye, Clare!” And turning on his heel, he went out.

In the silence that followed, the sound of his car crunching away on the drive could be heard distinctly. The General, smoking glumly, kept his glance averted; Clare went to the window. It was growing dark outside, and now that the crisis was over she felt unstrung.

“I wish to God,” said her father’s voice, “that I could understand this business.”

Clare did not move from the window: “Did he tell you he’d used my riding whip on me?”

“What!” said the General.

Clare turned round.

“Yes.”

“On YOU?”

“Yes. That was not my real reason, but it put the finishing touch. Sorry to hurt you, Dad!”

“By God!”

Clare had a moment of illumination. Concrete facts! Give a man a fact!

“The ruffian!” said the General: “The ruffian! He told me he spent the evening with you the other day; is that true?”

A slow flush had burned up in her cheeks.

“He practically forced himself in.”

“The ruffian!” said the General once more.

When she was alone again, she meditated wryly on the sudden difference that little fact about the whip had made in her father’s feelings. He had taken it as a personal affront, an insult to his own flesh and blood. She felt that he could have stood it with equanimity of someone else’s daughter; she remembered that he had even sympathised with her brother’s flogging of the muleteer, which had brought such a peck of trouble on them all. How little detached, how delightfully personal, people were! Feeling and criticising in terms of their own prejudices! Well! She was over the worst now, for her people were on her side, and she would make certain of not seeing Jerry alone again. She thought of the long look he had given her. He was a good loser, because for him the game was never at an end. Life itself — not each item of life — absorbed him. He rode Life, took a toss, got up, rode on; met an obstacle, rode over it, rode through it, took the scratches as all in the day’s work. He had fascinated her, ridden through and over her; the fascination was gone, and she wondered that it had ever been. What was he going to do now? Well! One thing was certain: somehow, he would cut his losses!

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