Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 26

She found Clare in. For the first few minutes they avoided each other’s troubles, then Dinny said: “Well?”

“Not at all well. I’ve split with Tony — my nerves are in rags and his in tatters.”

“But do you mean that he —?”

“No. Only I’ve told him I can’t go on seeing him till this is over. We meet meaning not to talk about the thing; then it crops up, and we get all anyhow.”

“He must be awfully unhappy.”

“He is. But it’s only for another three or four weeks.”

“And then?”

Clare laughed — no joyful sound.

“But seriously, Clare?”

“We shan’t win, and then nothing will matter. If Tony wants me I suppose I shall let him. He’ll be ruined, so I shall owe him that.”

“I think,” said Dinny slowly, “that I wouldn’t let the result affect me.”

Clare stared up at her from the sofa.

“That sounds almost too sensible.”

“It wasn’t worth while to plead innocence unless you meant to carry it through, however the case goes. If you win, wait till you can divorce Jerry. If you don’t win, wait till you’re divorced. It won’t do Tony any real harm to wait; and it’ll certainly do you no harm to know for certain how you feel.”

“Jerry is quite clever enough to prevent my ever getting evidence against him, if he sets his mind to it.”

“Then we must hope you’ll lose. Your friends will still believe in you.”

Clare shrugged. “Will they?”

“I’ll see to that,” said Dinny.

“Dornford has advised telling Jack Muskham before the case comes on. What do you say?”

“I should like to see Tony Croom first.”

“Well, if you come round again this evening, you’ll see him. He comes and stares up at me at seven o’clock on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Quaint!”

“No. Very natural. What are you doing this afternoon?”

“Riding with Dornford in Richmond Park. I ride with him in the Row early every morning now. I wish you’d come, Dinny.”

“No things, and no muscles.”

“Darling,” said Clare, springing up, “it really was awful while you were ill. We felt ever so bad. Dornford was quite potty. You look better now than you did before.”

“Yes, I’m more pneumatic.”

“Oh! you’ve read that book?”

Dinny nodded. “I’ll come round this evening. Good-bye; bless you!” . . .

It was almost seven when she slipped out of Mount Street and walked rapidly towards the Mews. A full moon was up with the evening star in a not yet darkened sky. Coming to the west corner of the deserted Mews, she at once saw young Croom standing below No. 2. Waiting till he began to move away, she ran down the Mews and round the far corner to catch him.

“Dinny! How wonderful!”

“I was told I should catch you looking at the Queen.”

“Yes, that’s what the cat has come to.”

“It might be worse.”

“Are you all right again? You must have got a chill in the City that foul day.”

“Let’s walk as far as the Park. I wanted to ask you about Jack Muskham.”

“I funk telling him.”

“Shall I do it for you?”

“But why?”

Dinny took his arm.

“He’s a connection, through Uncle Lawrence. Besides, I’ve had occasion to know him. Mr. Dornford is perfectly right; it will depend very much on when and what he’s told. Let me!”

“I don’t know really — I really don’t know.”

“I want to see him again, anyway.”

Young Croom looked at her.

“Somehow I don’t believe that.”

“Honest Injun.”

“It’s terribly sweet of you; of course you can do it much better than I, but —”

“That’s enough then.”

They had reached the Park, and were walking along the rails towards Mount Street.

“Have you been seeing the lawyers much?”

“Yes, our evidence is all taped out. It’s the cross-examination.”

“I think I might enjoy that, if I were going to tell the truth.”

“They twist and turn what you say so, and their tones of voice —! I went into that court and listened one day. Dornford told Clare he wouldn’t practice in that court for all the gold in France. He’s a sound fellow, Dinny.”

“Yes,” said Dinny, looking round at his ingenuous face.

“I don’t think our lawyers care about the job either. It’s not in their line. ‘Very young’ Roger is a bit of a sportsman. He believes we’re telling the truth, because he realises I’m sorry we are. That’s your turning. I shall go and bat round the Park, or I shan’t sleep. Wonderful moon!”

Dinny pressed his hand.

When she reached her door, he was still standing there, and raised his hat to her — or to the moon, she could not be quite sure which . . .

According to Sir Lawrence, Jack Muskham would be up in Town over the week-end; he now had rooms in Ryder Street. She had not thought twice about going all the way to Royston to see him concerning Wilfrid; but he might well think twice about her going to see him in Ryder Street concerning young Croom. She telephoned, therefore, to Burton’s Club at lunch-time the next day.

His voice brought back the shock of the last time she had heard it, close to the York Column.

“Dinny Cherrell. Could I see you some time today?”

The answer came slowly.

“Er — of course. When?”

“Any time that suits you.”

“Are you at Mount Street?”

“Yes, but I would rather come to you.”

“Well — er — would —? How about tea at my rooms in Ryder Street? You know the number?”

“Yes, thank you. Five o’clock?”

Approaching those rooms she needed all her pluck. She had last seen him reeling in the thick of that fight with Wilfrid. Besides, he symbolised to her the rock on which her love for Wilfrid had gone aground. She only did not hate him, because she could not help remembering that his bitterness towards Wilfrid had been due to his queer appreciation of herself. Only by fast walking, and slow thinking, did she arrive.

The door was opened to her by one who obviously bettered his declining days by letting rooms to such as he had valeted in the past. He took her up to the second floor.

“Miss — er — Cherwell, sir.”

Tall, lean, languid, neatly dressed as ever, Jack Muskham was standing by the open window of a not unpleasant room. “Tea, please, Rodney.” He came towards her, holding out his hand.

‘Like a slow-motion picture,’ thought Dinny. However surprised at her wanting to see him, he was showing no sign of it.

“Been racing at all since I saw you at Blenheim’s Derby?”

“No.”

“You backed him, I remember. Clearest case of beginner’s luck I ever knew.” His smile brought out all the wrinkles on his brown face, and Dinny perceived that there were plenty of them.

“Do sit down. Here’s tea. Will you make it?”

She gave him his cup, took her own and said:

“Are the Arab mares over yet, Mr. Muskham?”

“I expect them the end of next month.”

“You have young Tony Croom to look after them.”

“Oh! Do you know him?”

“Through my sister.”

“Nice boy.”

“He is,” said Dinny. “It’s about him I’ve come.”

“Oh!”

The thought ‘He owes me too much,’ darted through her. He could not refuse her this! Leaning back and crossing her knees, she looked him full in the face.

“I wanted to tell you, in confidence, that Jerry Corven is bringing a divorce suit against my sister, and Tony Croom is cited as the co-respondent.”

Jack Muskham moved the hand that held his cup.

“He IS in love with her, and they HAVE been going about together, but there is no truth in the charges.”

“I see,” said Muskham.

“The case is coming on quite soon. I persuaded Tony Croom to let me tell you of it; it would be so awkward for him to talk about himself.”

Muskham was looking at her with unmoved face.

“But,” he said, “I know Jerry Corven. I didn’t realise your sister had left him.”

“We keep it to ourselves.”

“Was her leaving him young Croom’s doing?”

“No. They only met on the boat coming over. Clare left Jerry for quite another reason. She and Tony Croom have been indiscreet, of course; they’ve been watched and seen together in what are known, I believe, as ‘compromising circumstances.’”

“How do you mean exactly?”

“Driving back from Oxford late one evening their lights failed and they spent the rest of the night in the car together.”

Jack Muskham raised his shoulders slightly. Dinny leaned forward with her eyes on his.

“I told you there was no truth in the charges; there is NONE.”

“But, my dear Miss Cherrell, a man never admits —”

“That is why I came to you instead of Tony. My sister would not tell me a lie.”

Again Muskham made the slight movement of his shoulders.

“I don’t quite see —” he began.

“What it has to do with you? This: I don’t suppose they’ll be believed.”

“You mean if I just read the case it would put me off young Croom?”

“Yes, I think you would feel he had not ‘played the game.’” She could not quite keep irony out of her voice.

“Well,” he said, “has he?”

“I think so. He’s deeply in love with my sister, and yet he’s kept himself in hand. One can’t help falling in love, you know.” With those words all the feelings of the past rose up within her, and she looked down so as not to see that impassive face and the provocative set of its lips. Suddenly, by a sort of inspiration, she said:

“My brother-inlaw has asked for damages.”

“Oh!” said Jack Muskham, “I didn’t know that was done now.”

“Two thousand, and Tony Croom has nothing. He professes not to care, but if they lose, of course, it’s ruin.”

After that there was silence. Jack Muskham went back to the window. He sat on the sill and said:

“Well, I don’t know what I can do?”

“You needn’t take his job from him — that’s all.”

“The man was in Ceylon and his wife here. It’s not —”

Dinny rose, took two steps towards him and stood very still.

“Has it ever struck you, Mr. Muskham, that you owe me anything? Do you ever remember that you took my lover from me? Do you know that he is dead out there, where he went because of you?”

“Of me?”

“You and what you stand for made him give me up. I ask you now, however this case goes, not to sack Tony Croom! Goodbye!” And before he could answer she was gone.

She almost ran towards the Green Park. How far from what she had intended! How fatal — perhaps! But her feelings had been too strong — the old revolt against the dead wall of form and those impalpable inexorable forces of tradition which had wrecked her love life! It could not have been otherwise. The sight of his long, dandified figure, the sound of his voice, had brought it all back too strongly. Ah, well! It was a relief; an escape of old bitterness pent within her spirit! The next morning she received this note:

“Ryder Street.

“Sunday.

“DEAR MISS CHARWELL —

“You may rely on me in that matter. With sincere regard,

“Yours very faithfully,

“JOHN MUSKHAM.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/over/chapter26.html

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