Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 13

One who gazes at the Temple’s smooth green turf, fine trees, stone-silled buildings, and pouter pigeons, feels dithyrambic, till on him intrudes the vision of countless bundles of papers tied round with pink tape, unending clerks in little outer chambers sucking thumbs and waiting for solicitors, calf-bound tomes stored with reports of innumerable cases so closely argued that the light-minded sigh at sight of them and think of the Café Royal. Who shall deny that the Temple harbours the human mind in excelsis, the human body in chairs; who shall gainsay that the human spirit is taken off at its entrances and left outside like the shoes of those who enter a mosque? Not even to its Grand Nights is the human spirit admitted, for the legal mind must not ‘slop over,’ and warning is given by the word ‘Decorations’ on the invitation cards. On those few autumn mornings when the sun shines, the inhabitant of the Temple who faces East may possibly feel in his midriff as a man feels on a hilltop, or after hearing a Brahms symphony, or even when seeing first daffodils in spring; if so, he will hastily remember where he is, and turn to: Collister v. Daverday: Popdick intervening.

And yet, strangely, Eustace Dornford, verging on middle age, was continually being visited, whether the sun shone or not, by the feeling of one who sits on a low wall in the first spring warmth, seeing life as a Botticellian figure advancing towards him through an orchard of orange trees and spring flowers. At less expenditure of words, he was ‘in love’ with Dinny. Each morning when he saw Clare he was visited by a longing not to dictate on parliamentary subjects, but rather to lead her to talk about her sister. Self-controlled, however, and with a sense of humour, he bowed to his professional inhibitions, merely asking Clare whether she and her sister would dine with him, “on Saturday — here, or at the Café Royal?”

“Here would be more original.”

“Would you care to ask a man to make a fourth?”

“But won’t you, Mr. Dornford?”

“You might like someone special.”

“Well, there’s young Tony Croom, who was on the boat with me. He’s a nice boy.”

“Good! Saturday, then. And you’ll ask your sister?”

Clare did not say: “She’s probably on the doorstep,” for, as a fact, she was. Every evening that week she was coming at half-past six to accompany Clare back to Melton Mews. There were still chances, and the sisters were not taking them.

On hearing of the invitation Dinny said: “When I left you late that night I ran into Tony Croom, and we walked back to Mount Street together.”

“You didn’t tell him about Jerry’s visit to me?”

“Of course not!”

“It’s hard on him, as it is. He really is a nice boy, Dinny.”

“So I saw. And I wish he weren’t in London.”

Clare smiled. “Well, he won’t be for long; he’s to take charge of some Arab mares for Mr. Muskham down at Bablock Hythe.”

“Jack Muskham lives at Royston.”

“The mares are to have a separate establishment in a milder climate.”

Dinny roused herself from memories with an effort.

“Well, darling, shall we strap-hang on the Tube, or go a bust in a taxi?”

“I want air. Are you up to walking?”

“Rather! We’ll go by the Embankment and the Parks.”

They walked quickly, for it was cold. Lamplit and star-covered, that broad free segment of the Town had a memorable dark beauty; even on the buildings, their daylight features abolished, was stamped a certain grandeur.

Dinny murmured: “London at night IS beautiful.”

“Yes, you go to bed with a beauty and wake up with a barmaid. And, what’s it all for? A clotted mass of energy like an ant-heap.”

“‘So fatiguin’,’ as Aunt Em would say.”

“But what IS it all for, Dinny?”

“A workshop trying to turn out perfect specimens; a million failures to each success.”

“Is that worth while?”

“Why not?”

“Well, what is there to BELIEVE in?”

“Character.”

“How do you mean?”

“Character’s our way of showing the desire for perfection. Nursing the best that’s in one.”

“Hum!” said Clare. “Who’s to decide what’s best within one?”

“You have me, my dear.”

“Well, I’m too young for it, anyway.”

Dinny hooked her arm within her sister’s.

“You’re older than I am, Clare.”

“No, I’ve had more experience perhaps, but I haven’t communed with my own spirit and been still. I feel in my bones that Jerry’s hanging round the Mews.”

“Come into Mount Street, and we’ll go to a film.”

In the hall Blore handed Dinny a note.

“Sir Gerald Corven called, Miss, and left this for you.”

Dinny opened it.

“DEAR DINNY —

“I’m leaving England tomorrow instead of Saturday. If Clare will change her mind I shall be very happy to take her. If not, she must not expect me to be long-suffering. I have left a note to this effect at her lodgings, but as I do not know where she is, I wrote to you also, so as to be sure that she knows. She or a message from her will find me at the Bristol up to three o’clock tomorrow, Thursday. After that ‘à la guerre comme à la guerre.’

“With many regrets that things are so criss-cross and good wishes to yourself,

“I am,

“Very sincerely yours,

“GERALD CORVEN.”

Dinny bit her lip.

“Read this!”

Clare read the note.

“I shan’t go, and he can do what he likes.”

While they were titivating themselves in Dinny’s room, Lady Mont came in.

“Ah!” she said: “Now I can say my piece. Your Uncle has seen Jerry Corven again. What are you goin’ to do about him, Clare?”

As Clare swivelled round from the mirror, the light fell full on cheeks and lips whose toilet she had not quite completed.

“I’m never going back to him, Aunt Em.”

“May I sit on your bed, Dinny? ‘Never’ is a long time, and — er — that Mr. Craven. I’m sure you have principles, Clare, but you’re too pretty.”

Clare put down her lipstick.

“Sweet of you, Aunt Em; but really I know what I’m about.”

“So comfortin’! When I say that myself, I’m sure to make a gaffe.”

“If Clare promises, she’ll perform, Auntie.”

Lady Mont sighed. “I promised my father not to marry for a year. Seven months — and then your uncle. It’s always somebody.”

Clare raised her hands to the little curls on her neck.

“I’ll promise not to ‘kick over’ for a year. I ought to know my own mind by then; if I don’t, I can’t have got one.”

Lady Mont smoothed the eiderdown.

“Cross your heart.”

“I don’t think you should,” said Dinny quickly.

Clare crossed her fingers on her breast.

“I’ll cross where it ought to be.”

Lady Mont rose.

“She ought to stay here to-night, don’t you think, Dinny?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll tell them, then. Sea-green IS your colour, Dinny. Lawrence says I haven’t one.”

“Black and white, dear.”

“Magpies and the Duke of Portland. I haven’t been to Ascot since Michael went to Winchester — savin’ our pennies. Hilary and May are comin’ to dinner. They won’t be dressed.”

“Oh!” said Clare suddenly: “Does Uncle Hilary know about me?”

“Broad-minded,” murmured Lady Mont. “I can’t help bein’ sorry, you know.”

Clare stood up.

“Believe me, Aunt Em, Jerry’s not the sort of man who’ll let it hurt him long.”

“Stand back to back, you two; I thought so — Dinny by an inch.”

“I’m five foot five,” said Clare, “without shoes.”

“Very well. When you’re tidy, come down.”

So saying, Lady Mont swayed to the door, said to herself: “Solomon’s seal — remind Boswell,” and went out.

Dinny returned to the fire, and resumed her stare at the flames.

Clare’s voice, close behind her, said: “I feel inclined to sing, Dinny. A whole year’s holiday from everything. I’m glad Aunt Em made me promise. But isn’t she a scream?”

“Emphatically not. She’s the wisest member of our family. Take life seriously and you’re nowhere. She doesn’t. She may want to, but she can’t.”

“But she hasn’t any real worries.”

“Only a husband, three children, several grandchildren, two households, three dogs, some congenital gardeners, not enough money, and two passions — one for getting other people married, and one for French tapestry; besides trying hard not to get fat on it all.”

“Oh! she’s a duck all right. What d’you advise about these ‘tendrils,’ Dinny? They’re an awful plague. Shall I shingle again?”

“Let them grow at present, we don’t know what’s coming; it might be ringlets.”

“Do you believe that women get themselves up to please men?”

“Certainly not.”

“To excite and annoy each other, then?”

“Fashion mostly; women are sheep about appearance.”

“And morals?”

“Have we any? Man-made, anyway. By nature we’ve only got feelings.”

“I’ve none now.”

“Sure?”

Clare laughed. “Oh! well, in hand, anyhow.” She put on her dress, and Dinny took her place at the mirror . . . .

The slum parson does not dine out to observe human nature. He eats. Hilary Charwell, having spent the best part of his day, including meal-times, listening to the difficulties of parishioners who had laid up no store for the morrow because they had never had store enough for today, absorbed the good food set before him with perceptible enjoyment. If he was aware that the young woman whom he had married to Jerry Corven had burst her bonds, he gave no sign of it. Though seated next to her, he never once alluded to her domestic existence, conversing freely on the election, French art, the timber wolves at Whipsnade Zoo, and a new system of building schools with roofs that could be used or not as the weather dictated. Over his face, long, wrinkled, purposeful, and shrewdly kind, flitted an occasional smile, as if he were summing something up; but he gave no indication of what that something was, except that he looked across at Dinny, as though saying: “You and I are going to have a talk presently.”

No such talk occurred, for he was summoned by telephone to a death-bed before he had finished his glass of port. Mrs. Hilary went with him.

The two sisters settled down to bridge with their Uncle and Aunt, and at eleven o’clock went up to bed.

“Armistice day,” said Clare, turning into her bedroom. “Did you realise?”

“Yes.”

“I was in a bus at eleven o’clock. I noticed two or three people looking funny. How can one be expected to feel anything? I was only ten when the war stopped.”

“I remember the Armistice,” said Dinny, “because Mother cried. Uncle Hilary was with us at Condaford. He preached on: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’”

“Who serves except for what he can get from it?”

“Lots of people do hard jobs all their lives for mighty little return.”

“Well, yes.”

“Why do they?”

“Dinny, I sometimes feel as if you might end up religious. Unless you marry, you will.”

“‘Get thee to a nunnery, go!’”

“Seriously, ducky, I wish I could see more of ‘the old Eve’ in you. In my opinion you ought to be a mother.”

“When doctors find a way without preliminaries.”

“You’re wasting yourself, my dear. At any moment that you liked to crook your little finger, old man Dornford would fall on his knees to you. Don’t you like him?”

“As nice a man as I’ve seen for a long time.”

“‘Murmured she coldly, turning towards the door.’ Give me a kiss.”

“Darling,” said Dinny, “I do hope things are going to be all right. I shan’t pray for you, in spite of my look of decline; but I’ll dream that your ship comes home.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/over/chapter13.html

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