Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 30

In the taxi, on the way back to South Square, Clare was silent, till, opposite Big Ben, she said suddenly:

“Imagine his peering in at us in the car when we were asleep! Or did he just invent that, Dinny?”

“If he’d invented it, he would surely have made it more convincing still.”

“Of course, my head WAS on Tony’s shoulder. And why not? You try sleeping in a two-seater.”

“I wonder the man’s torch didn’t wake you.”

“I daresay it did; I woke a lot of times with cramp. No; the stupidest thing I did, Dinny, was asking Tony in for a drink that night after we went to the film and dined. We were extraordinarily green not to realise we were being shadowed. Were there a frightful lot of people in Court?”

“Yes, and there’ll be more tomorrow.”

“Did you see Tony?”

“Just a glimpse.”

“I wish I’d taken your advice and let it go. If only I were really in love with him!”

Dinny did not answer.

Aunt Em was in Fleur’s ‘parlour.’ She came towards Clare, opened her mouth, seemed to remember that she shouldn’t, scrutinised her niece, and said suddenly:

“Not so good! I do dislike that expression; who taught it me? Tell me about the Judge, Dinny; was his nose long?”

“No; but he sits very low and shoots his neck out.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t ask him, dear.”

Lady Mont turned to Fleur.

“Can Clare have her dinner in bed? Go and have a long bath, my dear, and don’t get up till tomorrow. Then you’ll be fresh for that Judge. Fleur, you go with her, I want to talk to Dinny.” When they had gone, she moved across to where the wood fire burned.

“Dinny, comfort me. Why do we have these things in our family? So unlike — except your great-grandfather; and he was older than Queen Victoria when he was born.”

“You mean he was naturally rakish?”

“Yes, gamblin’, and enjoyin’ himself and others. His wife was long-sufferin’. Scottish. So odd!”

“That, I suppose,” murmured Dinny, “is why we’ve all been so good ever since.”

“What is why?”

“The combination.”

“It’s more the money,” said Lady Mont; “he spent it all.”

“Was there much?”

“Yes. The price of corn.”

“Ill-gotten.”

“His father couldn’t help Napoleon. There were six thousand acres then, and your great-grandfather only left eleven hundred.”

“Mostly woods.”

“That was the woodcock shootin’. Will the case be in the evenin’ papers?”

“Certain to be. Jerry’s a public man.”

“Not her dress, I hope. Did you like the jury?”

Dinny shrugged. “I can’t ever tell what people are really thinking.”

“Like dogs’ noses, when they feel hot and aren’t. What about that young man?”

“He’s the one I’m truly sorry for.”

“Yes,” said Lady Mont. “Every man commits adultery in his heart, but not in cars.”

“It’s not truth but appearances that matter, Aunt Em.”

“Circumstantial, Lawrence says — provin’ they did when they didn’t. More reliable that way, he thinks; otherwise, he says, when they didn’t you could prove they did. Is that right, Dinny?”

“No, dear.”

“Well, I must go home to your mother. She doesn’t eat a thing — sits and reads and looks pale. And Con won’t go near his Club. Fleur wants us and them to go to Monte Carlo in her car when it’s over. She says we shall be in our element, and that Riggs CAN drive on the right-hand side of the road when he remembers.”

Dinny shook her head.

“Nothing like one’s own hole, Auntie.”

“I don’t like creepin’,” said Lady Mont. “Kiss me. And get married soon.”

When she had swayed out of the room, Dinny stood looking out into the Square.

How incorrigible was that prepossession! Aunt Em and Uncle Adrian, her father and her mother, Fleur, yes and even Clare herself — all anxious that she should marry Dornford and be done with it!

And what good would it do any of them? Whence came this instinct for pressing people into each other’s arms? If she had any use in the world, would that increase it? ‘For the procreation of children,’ went the words of the old order. The world had to be carried on! Why had the world to be carried on? Everybody used the word ‘hell’ in connection with it nowadays. Nothing to look forward to but brave new world!

‘Or the Catholic church,’ she thought, ‘and I don’t believe in either.’

She opened the window, and leaned against its frame. A fly buzzed at her; she blew it away, and it instantly came back. Flies! They fulfilled a purpose. What purpose? While they were alive they were alive; when they were dead they were dead. ‘But not half-alive,’ she thought. She blew again, and this time the fly did not come back.

Fleur’s voice behind her said:

“Isn’t it cold enough for you in here, my dear? Did you ever know such a year? I say that every May. Come and have tea. Clare’s in her bath, and very nice she looks, with a cup of tea in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I suppose they’ll get to the end tomorrow?”

“Your cousin says so.”

“He’s coming to dinner. Luckily his wife’s at Droitwich.”

“Why ‘luckily’?”

“Oh! well, she’s a wife. If there’s anything he wants to say to Clare, I shall send him up to her; she’ll be out of her bath by then. But he can say it to you just as well. How do you think Clare will do in the box?”

“Can anyone do well in the box?”

“My father said I did, but he was partial; and the Coroner complimented you, didn’t he, at the Ferse inquest?”

“There was no cross-examination. Clare’s not patient, Fleur.”

“Tell her to count five before she answers, and lift her eyebrows. The thing is to get Brough rattled.”

“His voice would madden me,” said Dinny, “and he has a way of pausing as if he had all day before him.”

“Yes, quite a common trick. The whole thing’s extraordinarily like the Inquisition. What do you think of Clare’s counsel?”

“I should hate him if I were on the other side.”

“Then he’s good. Well, Dinny, what’s the moral of all this?”

“Don’t marry.”

“Bit sweeping, till we can grow babies in bottles. Hasn’t it ever struck you that civilisation’s built on the maternal instinct?”

“I thought it was built on agriculture.”

“By ‘civilisation’ I meant everything that isn’t just force.”

Dinny looked at her cynical and often flippant cousin, who stood so poised and trim and well-manicured before her, and she felt ashamed. Fleur said, unexpectedly:

“You’re rather a darling.”

Dinner, Clare having it in bed and the only guest being ‘very young’ Roger, was decidedly vocal. Starting with an account of how his family felt about taxation, ‘very young’ Roger waxed amusing. His Uncle Thomas Forsyte, it appeared, had gone to live in Jersey, and returned indignantly when Jersey began to talk about taxation of its own. He had then written to The Times under the nom de guerre of ‘Individualist,’ sold all his investments, and reinvested them in tax-free securities, which brought him in slightly less revenue than he had been receiving nett from his taxed securities. He had voted for the Nationalists at the last election, and, since this new budget, was looking out for a party that he could conscientiously vote for at the next election. He was living at Bournemouth.

“Extremely well-preserved,” concluded ‘very young’ Roger. “Do you know anything about bees, Fleur?”

“I once sat on one.”

“Do you, Miss Cherrell?”

“We keep them.”

“If you were me, would you go in for them?”

“Where do you live?”

“A little beyond Hatfield. There are some quite nice clover crops round. Bees appeal to me in theory. They feed on other people’s flowers and clover; and if you find a swarm you can stick to it. What are the drawbacks?”

“Well, if they swarm on other people’s ground, ten to one you lose them; and you have to feed them all the winter. Otherwise it’s only a question of the time, trouble, and stings.”

“I don’t know that I should mind that,” murmured ‘very young’ Roger; “my wife would take them on.” He cocked his eye slightly: “She has rheumatism. Apic acid, they say, is the best cure.”

“Better make sure first,” murmured Dinny, “that they’ll sting her. You can’t get bees to sting people they like.”

“You can always sit on them,” murmured Fleur.

“Seriously,” said ‘very young’ Roger, “half-a-dozen stings would be well worth it, poor thing.”

“What made you take up law, Forsyte?” struck in Michael.

“Well, I got a ‘blighty’ one in the war, and had to get something sedentary. I rather like it, you know, in a way, and in a way I think it’s —”

“Quite!” said Michael: “Hadn’t you an Uncle George?”

“Old George! Rather! Always gave me ten bob at school, and tipped me the name of a horse to put it on.”

“Did it ever win?”

“No.”

“Well, tell us, frankly: What’s going to win tomorrow?”

“Frankly,” said the solicitor, looking at Dinny, “it depends on your sister, Miss Cherrell. Corven’s witnesses have done well. They didn’t claim too much, and they weren’t shaken; but if Lady Corven keeps her head and her temper, we may pull through. If her veracity is whittled away at any point, then —!” he shrugged, and looked — Dinny thought — older. “There are one or two birds on the jury I don’t like the look of. The foreman’s one. The average man, you know, is dead against wives leaving without notice. I’d feel much happier if your sister would open up on her married life. It’s not too late.”

Dinny shook her head.

“Well, then, it’s very much a case of the personal appeal. But there’s a prejudice against mice playing when the cat’s away.”

Dinny went to bed with the sick feeling of one who knows she has again to watch some form of torture.

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