Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 28

If Art is long, Law is longer. The words Corven v. Corven and Croom rewarded no eye scanning the Cause List in The Times newspaper. Undefended suits in vast numbers occupied the attention of Mr. Justice Covell. At Dornford’s invitation Dinny and Clare came to the entrance of his court, and stood for five minutes just inside, as members of a cricket team will go and inspect a pitch before playing in a match. The judge sat so low that little but his face could be seen; but Dinny noticed that above Clare’s head in the witness-box would be a sort of canopy, or protection from rain.

“If,” said Dornford, as they came out, “you stand well back, Clare, your face will be hardly visible. But your voice you should pitch so that it always carries to the judge. He gets grumpy if he can’t hear.”

It was on the day after this that Dinny received a note delivered by hand at South Square.

“Burton’s Club: 13.iv.32.

“DEAR DINNY—

“I should be very glad if I could see you for a few minutes. Name your own time and place and I will be there. Needless to say it concerns Clare.

“Sincerely yours,

“GERALD CORVEN.”

Michael was out, but she consulted Fleur.

“I should certainly see him, Dinny. It may be a death-bed repentance. Let him come here when you know Clare will be out.”

“I don’t think I’ll risk his seeing her. I’d rather meet him somewhere in the open.”

“Well, there’s the Achilles, or the Rima.”

“The Rima,” said Dinny. “We can walk away from it.”

She appointed the following afternoon at three o’clock, and continued to wonder what he wanted.

The day was an oasis of warmth in that bleak April. Arriving at the Rima, she saw him at once, leaning against the railing with his back to that work of art. He was smoking a cigarette through a short well-coloured holder in meerschaum, and looked so exactly as when she had seen him last that, for no reason, she received a sort of shock.

He did not offer to take her hand.

“Very good of you to come, Dinny. Shall we stroll and talk as we go?”

They walked towards the Serpentine.

“About this case,” said Corven, suddenly, “I don’t want to bring it a bit, you know.”

She stole a look at him.

“Why DO you, then? The charges are not true.”

“I’m advised that they are.”

“The premises may be; the conclusions, no.”

“If I withdraw the thing, will Clare come back to me, on her own terms?”

“I can ask her, but I don’t think so. I shouldn’t myself.”

“What an implacable family!”

Dinny did not answer.

“Is she in love with this young Croom?”

“I can’t discuss their feelings, if they have any.”

“Can’t we speak frankly, Dinny? There’s no one to hear us except those ducks.”

“Claiming damages has not improved our feelings towards you.”

“Oh! that! I’m willing to withdraw everything, and risk her having kicked over, if she’ll come back.”

“In other words,” said Dinny, gazing straight before her, “the case you have framed — I believe that is the word — is a sort of blackmailing device.”

He looked at her through narrowed eyes.

“Ingenious notion. It didn’t occur to me. No, the fact is, knowing Clare better than my solicitors and the enquiry agents, I’m not too convinced that the evidence means what it seems to.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes, but I told you before, or Clare anyway, that I can’t and won’t go on with nothing settled, one way or the other. If she’ll come back I’ll wipe the whole thing out. If she won’t, it must take its chance. That’s not wholly unreasonable, and it’s not blackmail.”

“And suppose she wins, will you be any further on?”

“No.”

“You could free yourself and her at any time, if you liked.”

“At a price I don’t choose to pay. Besides, that sounds extremely like collusion — another awkward word, Dinny.”

Dinny stood still.

“Well, I know what you want, and I’ll ask Clare. And now I’ll say good-bye. I don’t see that talking further will do any good.”

He stood looking at her, and she was moved by the expression on his face. Pain and puzzlement were peering through its hardwood browned mask.

“I’m sorry things are as they are,” she said, impulsively.

“One’s nature is a hell of a thing, Dinny, and one’s never free from it. Well, good-bye and good luck!”

She put out her hand. He gave it a squeeze, turned and walked off.

Dinny stood for some unhappy moments beside a little birch tree whose budding leaves seemed to tremble up towards the sunshine. Queer! To be sorry for him, for Clare, for young Croom, and be able to do nothing to help!

She walked back to South Square as fast as she could.

Fleur met her with: “Well?”

“I’m afraid I can only talk to Clare about it.”

“I suppose it’s an offer to drop it if Clare will go back. If she’s wise she will.”

Dinny closed her lips resolutely.

She waited till bed-time, and then went to Clare’s room. Her sister had just got into bed, on the foot of which Dinny sat down, and began at once:

“Jerry asked me to see him. We met in Hyde Park. He says he’ll drop the case if you’ll go back — on your own terms.”

Clare raised her knees and clasped them with her hands.

“Oh! And what did you say?”

“That I’d ask you.”

“Did you gather why?”

“Partly, I think he really wants you; partly, he doesn’t much believe in the evidence.”

“Ah!” said Clare, drily: “Nor do I. But I’m not going back.”

“I told him I didn’t think you would. He said we were ‘implacable.’”

Clare uttered a little laugh.

“No, Dinny. I’ve been through all the horrors of this case. I feel quite stony, don’t care whether we lose or win. In fact, I believe I’d rather we lost.”

Dinny grasped one of her sister’s feet through the bedclothes. She was in two minds whether to speak of the feeling Corven’s face had roused in her.

Clare said uncannily:

“I’m always amused when people think they know how husbands and wives ought to behave towards each other. Fleur was telling me about her father and his first wife; she seemed to think the woman made a great fuss for nothing much. All I can say is that to think you can judge anybody else’s case is just self-righteous idiocy. There’s never any evidence to judge from, and until cine-cameras are installed in bedrooms,” she added, “there never will be. You might let him know, Dinny, that there’s nothing doing.”

Dinny got up.

“I will. If only the thing were over!”

“Yes,” said Clare, tossing back her hair, “if only —! But whether we shall be any further on, when it is, I don’t know. God bless the Courts of Law.”

That bitter invocation went up daily from Dinny, too, during the next fortnight, while the undefended causes, of which her sister’s might have been one, were softly and almost silently vanishing away. Her note to Corven said simply that her sister had answered: ‘No.’ No reply came to it.

At Dornford’s request she went with Clare to see his new house on Campden Hill. To know that he had taken it with the view of having a home for her, if she would consent to share it, kept her expressionless, except to say that it was all very nice, and to recommend a bird shelter in the garden. It was roomy, secluded, airy, and the garden sloped towards the south. Distressed at being so colourless, she was glad to come away; but the dashed and baffled look on his face when she said: ‘Good-bye’ hurt her. In their bus, going home, Clare said:

“The more I see of Dornford, Dinny, the more I believe you could put up with him. He’s got very light hands; he lets your mouth alone. He really is a bit of an angel.”

“I’m sure he is.” And through Dinny’s mind, in the jaunting bus, passed and passed four lines of verse:

‘The bank is steep and wide the river flows —
Are there fair pastures on the farther shore?
And shall the halting kine adventure those
Or wander barren pastures evermore?’

But on her face was that withdrawn expression which Clare knew better than to try and penetrate.

Waiting for an event, even when it primarily concerns others, is a process little desirable. For Dinny it had the advantage of taking her thoughts off her own existence and concentrating them on her people’s. The family name, for the first time in her experience, was confronted with a really besmirching publicity, and she the chief recipient of her clan’s reaction. She felt thankful that Hubert was not in England. He would have been so impatient and upset. In the publicity attendant on his own trouble, four years ago, there had been much more danger of disaster, but much less danger of disgrace. For however one might say that divorce was nothing in these days, a traditional stigma still clung to it in a country far from being as modern as it supposed itself to be. The Charwells of Condaford, at all events, had their pride and their prejudices, above all they loathed publicity.

When Dinny, for instance, went to lunch at St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads, she found a very peculiar atmosphere. It was as if her Uncle and Aunt had said to each other: ‘This thing has to be, we suppose, but we can’t pretend either to understand or to approve of it.’ With no bluff matter-of-fact condemnation, nor anything churchy or shocked about their attitude, they conveyed to Dinny the thought that Clare might have been better occupied than in getting into such a position.

Walking away with Hilary to see a party of youths off to Canada from Euston Station, Dinny was ill at ease, for she had true affection and regard for her overworked unparsonical Uncle. Of all the members of her duty-bound family, he most embodied the principle of uncomplaining service, and however she might doubt whether the people he worked for were not happier than he was himself, she instinctively believed that he lived a real life in a world where not very much was ‘real.’ Alone with her he voiced his feelings more precisely.

“What I don’t like, Dinny, about this business of Clare’s is the way it will reduce her in the public eye to the level of the idle young woman who has nothing better to do than to get into matrimonial scrapes. Honestly, I’d prefer her passionately in love and flinging her cap over the windmill.”

“Cheer up, Uncle,” murmured Dinny, “and give her time. That may yet come.”

Hilary smiled.

“Well! Well! But you see what I mean. The public eye is a mean, cold, parroty thing; it loves to see the worst of everything. Where there’s real love I can accept most things; but I don’t like messing about with sex. It’s unpleasant.”

“I don’t think you’re being just to Clare,” said Dinny with a sigh; “she cut loose for real reasons; and YOU ought to know, Uncle, that attractive young women can’t remain entirely unfollowed.”

“Well,” said Hilary shrewdly, “I perceive that you’re sitting on a tale you could unfold. Here we are. If you knew the bother I’ve had to get these youths to consent to go, and the authorities to consent to take them, you’d realise why I wish I were a mushroom, springing up over-night and being eaten fresh for breakfast.”

Whereon, they entered the station, and proceeded towards the Liverpool train. A little party of seven youths in cloth caps, half in and half out of a third-class carriage, were keeping up their spirits in truly English fashion, by passing remarks on each other’s appearance and saying at intervals: “Are we daown-‘earted? Naoo!”

They greeted Hilary with the words:

“‘Ello, Padre! . . . Zero hour! Over the top! . . . ‘Ave a fag, sir?”

Hilary took the ‘fag.’ And Dinny, who stood a little apart, admired the way in which he became at once an integral part of the group.

“Wish you was comin’ too, sir!”

“Wish I were, Jack.”

“Leavin’ old England for ever!”

“Good old England!”

“Sir?”

“Yes, Tommy?”

She lost the next remarks, slightly embarrassed by the obvious interest she was arousing.

“Dinny!”

She moved up to the carriage.

“Shake hands with these young men. My niece.”

In the midst of a queer hush she shook the seven hands of the seven capless youths, and seven times said: “Good luck!”

There was a rush to get into the carriage, a burst of noise from uncouth mouths, a ragged cheer, and the train moved. She stood by Hilary’s side, with a slight choke in her throat, waving her hand to the caps and faces stretched through the window.

“They’ll all be seasick to-night,” muttered Hilary, “that’s one comfort. Nothing like it to prevent you from thinking of the future or the past.”

She went into Adrian’s after leaving him, and was rather disconcerted to find her Uncle Lionel there. They stopped dead in their discussion. Then the Judge said:

“Perhaps you can tell us, Dinny: Is there any chance at all of mediating between those two before this unpleasant business comes on?”

“None, Uncle.”

“Oh! Then seeing as I do rather much of the law, I should suggest Clare’s not appearing and letting the thing go undefended. If there’s no chance of their coming together again, what is the use of prolonging a state of stalemate?”

“That’s what I think, Uncle Lionel; but, of course, you know the charges aren’t true.”

The Judge grimaced.

“I’m speaking as a man, Dinny. The publicity will be lamentable for Clare, win or lose; whereas, if she and this young man didn’t defend, there’d be very little. Adrian says she would refuse any support from Corven, so that element doesn’t come in. What IS all the trouble about? You know, of course.”

“Very vaguely, and in confidence.”

“Great pity!” said the Judge: “If they knew as much as I do, people would never fight these things.”

“There IS that claim for damages.”

“Yes, Adrian was telling me — pretty medieval, that.”

“Is revenge medieval, Uncle Lionel?”

“Not altogether,” said the Judge, with his wry smile; “but I shouldn’t have thought a man in Corven’s position could afford such luxuries. To put his wife into the scales! Thoroughly unpleasant.”

Adrian put his arm round Dinny’s shoulders.

“Nobody feels that more than Dinny.”

“I suppose,” murmured the Judge, “Corven will at least have them settled on her.”

“Clare wouldn’t take them. But, why shouldn’t they win? I thought the law existed to administer justice, Uncle Lionel.”

“I don’t like juries,” said the Judge abruptly.

Dinny looked at him with curiosity — surprisingly frank! He added:

“Tell Clare to keep her voice up and her answers short. And don’t let her try to be clever. Any laughter in court should be raised by the judge.”

So saying, he again smiled wryly, shook her hand, and took himself away.

“Is Uncle Lionel a good judge?”

“Impartial and polite, they say. I’ve never seen him in court, but from what I know of him as a brother, he’d be conscientious and thorough; a bit sarcastic at times. He’s quite right about this case, Dinny.”

“I’ve felt that all along. It’s Father, and that claim for damages.”

“I expect they regret that claim now. His lawyers must be bunglers. Angling for position!”

“Isn’t that what lawyers are for?”

Adrian laughed.

“Here’s tea! Let’s drown our sorrows, and go and see a film. There’s a German thing they say is really magnanimous. REAL magnanimity on the screen, Dinny, think of it!”

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