Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 22

When young Croom had withdrawn into the sleet and wind of that discomforting day, he left behind him a marked gloom. Clare went to her room saying her head was bad and she was going to lie down. The other three sat among the tea-things, speaking only to the dogs, sure sign of mental disturbance.

At last Dinny got up: “Well, my dears, gloom doesn’t help. Let’s look on the bright side. They might have been scarlet instead of white as snow.”

The General said, more to himself than in reply:

“They must defend. That fellow can’t have it all his own way.”

“But, Dad, to have Clare free, with a perfectly clear conscience, would be nice and ironic, and ever so much less fuss!”

“Lie down under an accusation of that sort?”

“Her name will go even if she wins. No one can spend a night in a car with a young man with impunity. Can they, Mother?”

Lady Charwell smiled faintly.

“I agree with your father, Dinny. It seems to me revolting that Clare should be divorced when she’s done nothing except been a little foolish. Besides, it would be cheating the law, wouldn’t it?”

“I shouldn’t think the law would care, dear. However —!” And Dinny was silent, scrutinising their rueful faces, aware that they set some mysterious store by marriage and divorce which she did not, and that nothing she could say would alter it.

“The young man,” said the General, “seemed a decent fellow, I thought. He’ll have to come up and see the lawyers when we do.”

“I’d better go up with Clare tomorrow evening, Dad, and get Uncle Lawrence to arrange you a meeting with the lawyers for after lunch on Monday. I’ll telephone you and Tony Croom from Mount Street in the morning.”

The General nodded and got up. “Beast of a day!” he said, and put his hand on his wife’s shoulder: “Don’t let this worry you, Liz. They can but tell the truth. I’ll go to the study and have another shot at that new pigsty. You might look in later, Dinny . . .”

At all critical times Dinny felt more at home in Mount Street than she did at Condaford. Sir Lawrence’s mind was so much more lively than her father’s; Aunt Em’s inconsequence at once more bracing and more soothing than her mother’s quiet and sensible sympathy. When a crisis was over, or if it had not begun, Condaford was perfect, but it was too quiet for nerve storms or crucial action. As country houses went, it was, indeed, old-fashioned, inhabited by the only county family who had been in the district for more than three or four generations. The Grange had an almost institutional repute. “Condaford Grange” and “the Cherrells of Condaford” were spoken of as curiosities. The week-ending or purely sporting existence of the big ‘places’ was felt to be alien to them. The many families in the smaller ‘places’ round seemed to make country life into a sort of cult, organising tennis and bridge parties, village entertainments, and the looking of each other up; getting their day’s shooting here and there, supporting the nearest golf course, attending meets, hunting a bit, and so forth. The Charwells, with their much deeper roots, yet seemed to be less in evidence than almost anyone. They would have been curiously missed, but, except to the villagers, they hardly seemed real.

In spite of her always active life at Condaford Dinny often felt there, as one does waking in the still hours of the night, nervous from the very quietude; and in such troubles as Hubert’s, three years before, her own crisis of two years ago, or this of Clare’s, she craved at once to be more in the swim of life.

Having dropped Clare at her Mews, she went on in the taxi, and arrived at Mount Street before dinner.

Michael and Fleur were there, and the conversation turned and turned from literature to politics. Michael was of opinion that the papers were beginning to pat the country’s back too soon, and that the Government might go to sleep. Sir Lawrence was glad to hear that they were still awake.

Lady Mont said suddenly: “The baby, Dinny?”

“Frightfully well, thank you, Aunt Em. He walks.”

“I was countin’ up the pedigree, and he makes the twenty-fourth Cherrell of Condaford; and before that they were French. Is Jean havin’ any more?”

“You bet,” said Fleur. “I never saw a young woman more like it.”

“There’ll be nothin’ for them.”

“Oh, she’ll wangle their futures all right.”

“Such a singular word,” said Lady Mont.

“Dinny, how’s Clare?”

“All right.”

“Any developments?” And Fleur’s clear eyes seemed to slide into her brain.

“Yes, but —”

Michael’s voice broke the silence.

“Dornford has a very neat idea, Dad; he thinks —”

The neat idea of Dornford was lost on Dinny, wondering whether or not to take Fleur into her confidence. She knew no one of quicker brain, or of a judgment on social matters more cynically sound. Further, she could keep a secret. But it was Clare’s secret, and she decided to speak to Sir Lawrence first.

Late that night she did so. He received the news with his eyebrows.

“All night in a car, Dinny? That’s a bit steep. I’ll get on to the lawyers at ten o’clock tomorrow. ‘Very young’ Roger Forsyte, Fleur’s cousin, is there now; I’ll get hold of him, he’s likely to have more credulity than the hoarier members. You and I will go along too, to prove our faith.”

“I’ve never been in the City.”

“Curious place; built upon the ends of the earth. Romance and the bank rate. Prepare for a mild shock.”

“Do you think they ought to defend?”

Sir Lawrence’s lively eyes came to rest on her face.

“If you ask me whether I think they’ll be believed — no. But at least we can divide opinion on the question.”

“You DO believe them yourself, don’t you?”

“I plank on you there, Dinny. Clare wouldn’t try to take YOU in.”

Thinking back to her sister’s face, and to young Croom’s, Dinny had a revulsion of feeling. “They ARE telling the truth, and they look like it. It would be wicked not to believe them.”

“No end to that sort of wickedness in this wicked world. You look tired, my dear; better go to bed.”

In that bedroom, where she had spent so many nights at the time of her own trouble, Dinny had again that half-waking nightmare, the sense of being close to Wilfrid and unable to reach him, and the refrain: ‘One more river, one more river to cross,’ kept running in her tired head . . . .

In that quiet and yellow backwater, the Old Jewry, the offices of Kingson Cuthcott and Forsyte were tribally invaded at four o’clock next day.

“What’s become of old Gradman, Mr. Forsyte?” Dinny heard her uncle say. “Still here?”

‘Very young’ Roger Forsyte, who was forty-two, answered, in a voice which seemed to contradict his jaw: “I believe he’s still living at Pinner, or Highgate, or wherever it was.”

“I should be glad to think so,” murmured Sir Lawrence. “Old For — er, your cousin thought a lot of him. A regular Victorian piece.”

‘Very young’ Roger smiled. “Won’t you all sit down?”

Dinny, who had never yet been in a lawyer’s office, looked at the law books along the walls, the bundles of papers, the yellowish blind, the repellent black fireplace with its little coal fire that seemed to warm nothing, the map of an estate hanging unrolled behind the door, the low wicker basket on the table, the pens and sealing-wax, and ‘very young’ Roger, and thought of an album of seaweed, compiled by her first governess. She saw her father rise and place a document in the solicitor’s hands.

“We’ve come about this.”

‘Very young’ Roger glanced at the heading of the paper and over it at Clare.

‘How does he know which of us it is?’ thought Dinny.

“There’s no truth in the allegations,” said the General.

‘Very young’ Roger caressed his jaw and began reading.

Dinny, from the side, could see that a sharp and rather bird-like look had come on his face.

Noticing that Dinny could see him, he lowered the paper and said: “They seem in a hurry. The petitioner signed the affidavit in Egypt, I see. He must have come over there to save time. Mr. Croom?”

“Yes.”

“You wish us to represent you as well?”

“Yes.”

“Then Lady Corven and you. Later, perhaps, Sir Conway, you’d come in again.”

“Do you mind if my sister stays?” said Clare.

Dinny met the solicitor’s eyes. “Not at all.” She did not know if he meant it.

The General and Sir Lawrence went out, and there was silence. ‘Very young’ Roger leaned against the fireplace, and most unexpectedly took a pinch of snuff. Dinny saw that he was lean and rather tall, and that his jaw jutted. There was a faintly sandy tinge in his hair, and in the ruddiness of his hollowed cheeks.

“Your father, Lady Corven, said there was no truth in these — er — allegations.”

“The facts are as stated, the inferences are wrong. There’s been nothing between Mr. Croom and myself, except three kisses on my cheek.”

“I see. About this night in the car, now?”

“Nothing,” said Clare: “Not even one of those kisses.”

“Nothing,” repeated young Croom; “absolutely nothing.”

‘Very young’ Roger passed his tongue over his lips.

“If you don’t mind, I think I should like to understand your feelings for each other — if any.”

“We are speaking,” said Clare, in a clear voice, “the absolute truth, as we’ve told it to my people; that’s why I asked my sister to stay. Tony?”

‘Very young’ Roger’s mouth twitched. To Dinny he did not seem to be taking it quite as a lawyer should; something in his dress, indeed, was a little unexpected — his waistcoat was it, or his tie? That snuff, too — as if a dash of the artist had been suppressed in him. He said:

“Yes, Mr. Croom?”

Young Croom, who had gone very red, looked at Clare almost angrily.

“I’m in love with her.”

“Quite!” said ‘very young’ Roger, reopening the snuff-box. “And you, Lady Corven, regard him as a friend?”

Clare nodded — a faint surprise on her face.

Dinny felt a sudden gratitude towards the questioner, who was applying a bandana to his nose.

“The car was an accident,” added Clare quickly; “it was pitch dark in the wood, our lights had failed, and we didn’t want to run any risk of people seeing us together so late at night.”

“Exactly! Excuse my asking, but you’re both prepared to go into Court and swear there was absolutely nothing that night or on the other occasions, except — did you say — three kisses?”

“On my cheek,” said Clare; “one out of doors, when I was in a car and he wasn’t, and the others — when were the others, Tony?”

Young Croom said between his clenched teeth: “In your rooms when I hadn’t seen you for over a fortnight.”

“You neither of you knew you were being — er — shadowed?”

“I knew my husband had threatened it, but we’d neither of us noticed anything.”

“About leaving your husband, Lady Corven; any reason you’d care to give me?”

Clare shook her head.

“I’m not going into my life with him, either here or anywhere. And I’m not going back to him.”

“Incompatibility, or worse?”

“I think worse.”

“But no definite charge. You realise the importance?”

“Yes. But I’m not going into it, even privately.”

Young Croom burst out: “He was a brute to her, of course.”

“You knew him, Mr. Croom?”

“Never seen him in my life.”

“Then —”

“He just thinks it because I left Jerry suddenly. He knows nothing.”

Dinny saw ‘very young’ Roger’s eyes rest on herself. “But you do,” they seemed to say; and she thought: ‘He’s no fool!’

He had returned from the fireplace, walking with a slight limp; sitting down again, he took up the document, narrowed his eyes, and said:

“This isn’t the sort of evidence the Court likes; in fact I’m not sure it’s evidence at all. All the same it’s not a very bright prospect. If you could show strong cause for leaving your husband, and we could get over that night in the car —” He looked, bird-like, first at Clare and then at young Croom. “Still, you can’t let damages and costs like that go by default, when — er — you’ve done nothing.” His eyes fell; and Dinny thought:

‘Not conspicuous — his credulity!’

‘Very young’ Roger lifted a paper-knife.

“We might possibly get the damages agreed at a comparatively nominal sum, if you put in a defence and then didn’t appear. May I ask your monetary position, Mr. Croom?”

“I haven’t a bean, but that doesn’t matter.”

“What exactly will ‘defending’ mean?” asked Clare.

“You’d both go into the box and deny the charges. You’d be cross-examined, and we should cross-examine the petitioner and the enquiry agents. Candidly, unless you can give good reason for having left your husband, you’re almost bound to have the judge against you. And,” he added, in a somewhat human manner, “a night is a night, especially to the divorce court, even in a car; though, as I say, it’s not the sort of evidence generally required.”

“My Uncle thinks,” said Dinny quietly, “that some of the jury, at all events, might believe them, and that the damages, in any case, would be reduced.”

‘Very young’ Roger nodded.

“We’ll see what Mr. Kingson says. I should like to see your father and Sir Lawrence again.”

Dinny went to the door and held it open for her sister and young Croom. Glancing back she saw ‘very young’ Roger’s face. It was as if someone had asked him not to be a realist. He caught her eye, gave a funny little cock of his head, and took out his snuff-box. She shut the door and went up to him.

“You’ll make a mistake if you don’t believe them. They’re speaking the absolute truth.”

“Why did she leave her husband, Miss Cherrell?”

“If she won’t tell you, I can’t. But I’m sure she was right.”

He considered her for a moment with that sharp glance.

“Somehow,” he said suddenly, “I wish it were you.” And, taking snuff, he turned to the General and Sir Lawrence.

“Well?” said the General.

‘Very young’ Roger looked suddenly more sandy.

“If she had good reason for leaving her husband —”

“She had.”

“Father!”

“It appears she isn’t prepared to speak of it.”

“Nor should I be,” said Dinny quietly.

‘Very young’ Roger murmured: “It might make all the difference, though.”

“Serious thing for young Croom, Mr. Forsyte,” put in Sir Lawrence.

“Serious, whether they defend or not, Sir Lawrence. I’d better see them both separately. Then I’ll get Mr. Kingson’s view, and let you know tomorrow. Will that do, General?”

“It revolts me,” said the General, “to think of that fellow Corven!”

“Quite!” said ‘very young’ Roger, and Dinny thought she had never heard a more doubtful sound.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/over/chapter22.html

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