Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 14

Young croom’s second visit to England’s Past at Drury Lane was the first visit of the other three members of Dornford’s little dinner party, and by some fatality, not unconnected with him who took the tickets, they were seated two by two; young Croom with Clare in the middle of the tenth row, Dornford and Dinny in returned stalls at the end of the third . . . .

“Penny for your thoughts, Miss Cherrell?”

“I was thinking how the English face has changed since 1900.”

“It’s the hair. Faces in pictures a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago are much more like ours.”

“Drooping moustaches and chignons do hide expression, but was there the expression?”

“You don’t think the Victorians had as much character?”

“Probably more, but surely they suppressed it; even in their dresses, always more stuff than was needed; frock-coats, high collars, cravats, bustles, button boots.”

“The leg WAS on their nerves, but the neck wasn’t.”

“I give you the woman’s necks. But look at their furniture: tassels, fringes, antimacassars, chandeliers, enormous sideboards. They DID play hide-and-seek with the soul, Mr. Dornford.”

“And every now and then it popped out, like little Edward after unclothing himself under his mother’s dining-table at Windsor.”

“He never did anything quite so perfect again.”

“I don’t know. He was another Restoration in a mild way. Big opening of floodgates under him.” . . .

“He HAS sailed, hasn’t he, Clare?”

“Yes, he’s sailed all right. Look at Dornford! He’s fallen for Dinny completely. I wish she’d take to him.”

“Why shouldn’t she?”

“My dear young man, Dinny’s been in very deep waters. She’s in them even now.”

“I don’t know anyone I’d like better for a sister-inlaw.”

“Don’t you wish you may get her?”

“God! Yes! Don’t I!”

“What do YOU think of Dornford, Tony?”

“Awfully decent, not a bit dry.”

“If he were a doctor he’d have a wonderful bedside manner. He’s a Catholic.”

“Wasn’t that against him in the election?”

“It would have been, but his opponent was an atheist, so they cried quits.”

“Terrible humbug, politics.”

“But rather fun.”

“Still, Dornford won that Bar point-to-point — he must have guts.”

“Lots. I should say he’d face anything in his quiet way. I’m quite fond of him.”

“Oh!”

“No intention to incite you, Tony.”

“This is like being on board ship, sitting side by side, and — stymied. Come out for a cigarette.”

“People are coming back. Prepare yourself to point me the moral of the next act. At present I don’t see any.”

“Wait!” . . .

Dinny drew in her breath.

“That’s terrible. I can just remember the Titanic. Awful, the waste in the world!”

“You’re right.”

“Waste of life, and waste of love.”

“Have YOU come up against much waste?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t care to talk about it?”

“No.”

“I don’t believe that your sister’s going to be wasted. She’s too vivid.”

“Yes, but her head’s in chancery.”

“She’ll duck from under.”

“I can’t bear to think of her life being spoiled. Isn’t there some legal dodge, Mr. Dornford; without publicity, I mean?”

“If he would give cause, there need be very little of that.”

“He won’t. He’s feeling vindictive.”

“I see. Then I’m afraid there’s nothing for it but to wait. These things generally disentangle themselves. Catholics are not supposed to believe in divorce. But if YOU feel this is a case for one —”

“Clare’s only twenty-four. She can’t live alone the rest of her life.”

“Were YOU thinking of doing that?”

“I! That’s different.”

“Yes, you’re very unlike, but to have you wasted would be far worse. Just as much worse as wasting a lovely day in winter is than wasting one in summer.”

“The curtain’s going up.” . . .

“I wonder,” muttered Clare: “It didn’t look to me as if their love would have lasted long. They were eating each other like sugar.”

“My God, if you and I on that boat had been —”

“You’re very young, Tony.”

“Two years older than you.”

“And about ten years younger.”

“Don’t you really believe in love lasting, Clare?”

“Not passion. And after that generally the deluge. Only with those two on the Titanic it came too soon. A COLD sea! Ugh!”

“Let me pull your cloak up.”

“I don’t believe I like this show too frightfully, Tony. It digs into you, and I don’t want to be dug into.”

“I liked it better the first time, certainly.”

“Thank you!”

“It’s being close to you, and not close enough. But the war part of the play’s the best.”

“The whole thing makes me feel I don’t want to be alive.”

“That’s ‘the satire.’”

“One half of him is mocking the other. It gives me the fidgets. Too like oneself.”

“I wish we’d gone to a movie, I could have held your hand.”

“Dornford’s looking at Dinny as if she were the Madonna of the future that he wanted to make a Madonna of the past.”

“So he does, you say.”

“He really has a nice face. I wonder what he’ll think of the war part. ‘Weigh-hey! Up she rises!’” . . .

Dinny sat with closed eyes, acutely feeling the remains of moisture on her cheeks.

“But she never would have done that,” she said, huskily, “not waved a flag and cheered. Never! She might have mixed in the crowd, but never that!”

“No, that’s a stage touch. Pity! But a jolly good act. Really good!”

“Those poor gay raddled singing girls, getting more and more wretched and raddled, and that ‘Tipperary’ whistling! The war must have been AWFUL!”

“One got sort of exalted.”

“Did that feeling last?”

“In a way. Does that seem rather horrible to you?”

“I never can judge what people ought to feel. I’ve heard my brother say something of the kind.”

“It wasn’t the ‘Into Battle’ feeling either — I’m not the fighting man. It’s a cliché to say it was the biggest thing that will ever be in one’s life.”

“You still feel that?”

“It has been up to now. But —! I must tell you while I’ve a chance — I’m in love with you, Dinny. I know nothing about you, you know nothing about me. That doesn’t make any difference. I fell in love with you at once; it’s been getting deeper ever since. I don’t expect you to say anything, but you might think about it now and then . . . .”

Clare shrugged her shoulders.

“Did people really go on like that at the Armistice? Tony! Did people —?”

“What?”

“Really go on like that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where were you?”

“At Wellington, my first term. My father was killed in the war.”

“Oh! I suppose mine might have been, and my brother. But even then! Dinny says my mother cried when the Armistice came.”

“So did mine, I believe.”

“The bit I liked best was that between the son and the girl. But the whole thing makes you feel too much. Take me out, I want a cigarette. No, we’d better not. One always meets people.”

“Damn!”

“Coming here with you was the limit. I’ve promised solemnly not to give offence for a whole year. Oh! cheer up! You’ll see lots of me . . . .”

“‘Greatness, and dignity, and peace,’” murmured Dinny, standing up, “and the greatest of these is ‘dignity.’”

“The hardest to come by, anyway.”

“That girl singing in the night club, and the jazzed sky! Thank you awfully, Mr. Dornford. I shan’t forget this play easily.”

“Nor what I said to you?”

“It was very sweet of you, but the aloe only blooms once in a hundred years.”

“I can wait. It’s been a wonderful evening for me.”

“Those two!”

“We’ll pick them up in the hall.”

“Do you think England ever had greatness and dignity and peace?”

“No.”

“But ‘There’s a green hill far away, without a city wall.’ Thank you — I’ve had this cloak three years.”

“Charming it is!”

“I suppose most of these people will go on to night clubs now.”

“Not five per cent.”

“I should like a sniff of home air to-night, and a long look at the stars . . . .”

Clare turned her head.

“Don’t, Tony!”

“How then?”

“You’ve been with me all the evening.”

“If only I could take you home!”

“You can’t, my dear. Squeeze my little finger, and pull yourself together.”

“Clare!”

“Look! They’re just in front — now vanish! Get a good long drink at the Club and dream of horses. There! Was that close enough? Good-night, dear Tony!”

“God! Good-night!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/over/chapter14.html

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