Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 31

Day by day the Courts of Law are stony and unchanged. The same gestures are made, the same seats taken; the same effluvium prevails, not too strong, but just strong enough.

Clare was in black on this second day, with a slim green feather in a close-fitting black hat. Pale, her lips barely touched with salve, she sat so still that one could not speak to her. The words “Society Divorce Suit,” and the ‘perfect’ headline, “Night in a Car,” had produced their effect; there was hardly standing room. Dinny noticed young Croom seated just behind his counsel. She noticed, too, that the birdlike jurywoman’s cold was better, and the foreman’s parroty eyes fixed on Clare. The Judge seemed to be sitting lower than ever. He raised himself slightly at the sound of Instone’s voice.

“If it please your Lordship, and members of the jury — the answer to the allegation of misconduct between the respondent and co-respondent will be a simple and complete denial. I call the respondent.”

With a sensation of seeing her sister for the first time, Dinny looked up. Clare, as Dornford had recommended, stood rather far back in the box, and the shade from the canopy gave her a withdrawn and mysterious air. Her voice, however, was clear, and perhaps only Dinny could have told that it was more clipped than usual.

“Is it true, Lady Corven, that you have been unfaithful to your husband?”

“It is not.”

“You swear that?”

“I do.”

“There have been no love passages between you and Mr. Croom?”

“None.”

“You swear that?”

“I do.”

“Now it is said —”

To question on question on question Dinny sat listening, her eyes not moving from her sister, marvelling at the even distinctness of her speech and the motionless calm of her face and figure. Instone’s voice today was so different that she hardly recognised it.

“Now, Lady Corven, I have one more question to ask, and, before you answer it, I beg you to consider that very much depends on that answer. Why did you leave your husband?”

Dinny saw her sister’s head tilt slightly backwards.

“I left because I did not feel I could remain and keep my self-respect.”

“Quite! But can you not tell us why that was? You had done nothing that you were ashamed of?”

“No.”

“Your husband has admitted that he had, and that he had apologised?”

“Yes.”

“What had he done?”

“Forgive me. It’s instinct with me not to talk about my married life.”

Dinny caught her father’s whisper: “By Gad! she’s right!” She saw the Judge’s neck poked forward, his face turned towards the box, his lips open.

“I understood you to say you felt you could not remain with your husband and keep your self-respect?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Did you feel you could leave him like that and keep your self-respect?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Dinny saw the Judge’s body raise itself slightly, and his face moving from side to side, as if carefully avoiding any recipient of his words: “Well, there it is, Mr. Instone. I don’t think you can usefully pursue the point. The respondent has evidently made up her mind on it.” His eyes under drooped lids continued to survey what was unseen.

“If your Lordship pleases. Once more, Lady Corven, there is no truth in these allegations of misconduct with Mr. Croom?”

“No truth whatever.”

“Thank you.”

Dinny drew a long breath and braced herself against the pause and the slow rich voice to the right behind her.

“You, a married woman, would not call inviting a young man to your cabin, entertaining him alone in your room at half-past eleven at night, spending a night with him in a car, and going about with him continually in the absence of your husband, misconduct?”

“Not in itself.”

“Very well. You have said that until you saw him on the ship you had never seen the co-respondent. Could you explain how it was that from, I think, the second day at sea you were so thick with him?”

“I was not thick with him at first.”

“Oh, come! Always together, weren’t you?”

“Often, not always.”

“Often, not always — from the second day?”

“Yes, a ship is a ship.”

“Quite true, Lady Corven. And you had never seen him before?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Ceylon is not a large place, is it, from a society point of view?”

“It is not.”

“Lots of polo matches, cricket matches, other functions where you are constantly meeting the same people.”

“Yes.”

“And yet you never met Mr. Croom? Odd, wasn’t it?”

“Not at all. Mr. Croom was on a plantation.”

“But he played polo, I think?”

“Yes.”

“And you are a horsewoman, very interested in all that sort of thing?”

“Yes.”

“And yet you never met Mr. Croom?”

“I have said I never did. If you ask me till tomorrow I shall say the same.”

Dinny drew in her breath. Before her sprang up a mental snapshot of Clare as a little girl being questioned about Oliver Cromwell.

The slow rich voice went on:

“You never missed a polo match at Kandy, did you?”

“Never, if I could help it.”

“And on one occasion you entertained the players?”

Dinny could see a frown on her sister’s brow.

“Yes.”

“When was that?”

“I believe it was last June.”

“Mr. Croom was one of the players, wasn’t he?”

“If he was, I didn’t see him.”

“You entertained him but you did not see him?”

“I did not.”

“Is that usual with hostesses in Kandy?”

“There were quite a lot of people, if I remember.”

“Come now, Lady Corven, here is the programme of the match — just take a look at it to refresh your memory.”

“I remember the match perfectly.”

“But you don’t remember Mr. Croom, either on the ground, or afterwards at your house?”

“I don’t. I was interested in the play of the Kandy team, and afterwards there were too many people. If I remembered him I should say so at once.”

It seemed to Dinny an immense time before the next question came.

“I am suggesting, you know, that you did not meet as strangers on the boat?”

“You may suggest what you like, but we did.”

“So you say.”

Catching her father’s muttered: “Damn the fellow!” Dinny touched his arm with her own.

“You heard the stewardess give her evidence? Was that the only time the co-respondent came to your state-room?”

“The only time he came for more than a minute.”

“Oh! He did come at other times?”

“Once or twice to borrow or return a book.”

“On the occasion when he came and spent — what was it? — half an hour there —”

“Twenty minutes, I should say.”

“Twenty minutes — what were you doing?”

“Showing him photographs.”

“Oh! Why not on deck?”

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t it occur to you that it was indiscreet?”

“I didn’t think about it. There were a lot of photos — snapshots and photos of my family.”

“But nothing that you couldn’t have shown him perfectly in the saloon or on deck?”

“I suppose not.”

“I take it you imagined he wouldn’t be seen?”

“I tell you I didn’t think about it.”

“Who proposed that he should come?”

I did.”

“You knew you were in a very dubious position?”

“Yes, but other people didn’t.”

“You could have shown him those photographs anywhere? Looking back on it, don’t you think it was singular of you to do such a compromising thing for no reason at all?”

“It was less trouble to show them to him in the cabin; besides, they were private photos.”

“Now, Lady Corven, do you mean to say that nothing whatever took place between you during those twenty minutes?”

“He kissed my hand before he went out.”

“That is something, but not quite an answer to my question.”

“Nothing else that could give you satisfaction.”

“How were you dressed?”

“I regret to have to inform you that I was fully dressed.”

“My Lord, may I ask to be protected from these sarcasms?”

Dinny admired the stilly way in which the Judge said:

“Answer the questions simply, please.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Clare had moved out from under the shadow of the canopy and was standing with her hands on the rail of the box; spots of red had come into her cheeks.

“I suggest that you were lovers before you left the ship?”

“We were not, and we never have been.”

“When did you first see the co-respondent again after you left him on the dock?”

“I think about a week later.”

“Where?”

“Down near my people’s at Condaford.”

“What were you doing?”

“I was in a car.”

“Alone?”

“Yes, I had been canvassing and was going home to tea.”

“And the co-respondent?”

“He was in a car, too.”

“Sprang up in it, I suppose, quite naturally?”

“My Lord, I ask to be protected from these sarcasms.”

Dinny heard a tittering, and heard the Judge’s voice addressing nobody:

“What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Mr. Brough.”

The tittering deepened. Dinny could not resist stealing a glance. The handsome face was inimitably wine-coloured. Beside her, ‘very young’ Roger wore an expression of enjoyment tinctured by anxiety.

“How came the co-respondent to be on this country road fifty miles from London?”

“He had come to see me.”

“You admit that?”

“He said so.”

“Perhaps you could tell us the exact words he used.”

“I could not, but I remember that he asked if he might kiss me.”

“And you let him?”

“Yes. I put my cheek out of the car, and he kissed it, and went back to his car and drove away.”

“And yet you say you were not lovers before you left the ship?”

“Not in your sense. I did not say that he was not in love with me. He was; at least he told me so.”

“Do you suggest that you were not in love with him?”

“I’m afraid I do.”

“But you let him kiss you?”

“I was sorry for him.”

“You think that is proper conduct for a married woman?”

“Perhaps not. But after I left my husband I did not regard myself as a married woman.”

“Oh!”

Dinny had a feeling as if the whole Court had said that word. ‘Very young’ Roger’s hand emerged from his side pocket; he looked at what it contained intently, and put it back. A rueful frown had come on the pleasant broad face of the jurywoman who resembled a housekeeper.

“And what did you do after you had been kissed?”

“Went home to tea.”

“Feeling none the worse?”

“No; better if anything.”

Again the titter rose. The Judge’s face went round towards the box.

“Are you speaking seriously?”

“Yes, my Lord. I wish to be absolutely truthful. Even when they are not in love, women are grateful for being loved.”

The Judge’s face came round again to gaze at the unseen above Dinny’s head.

“Go on, Mr. Brough.”

“When was the next occasion on which you saw the co-respondent?”

“At my aunt’s house in London where I was staying.”

“Did he come to see your aunt?”

“No, to see my uncle.”

“Did he kiss you on that occasion?”

“No. I told him that if we were to meet, it must be platonically.”

“A very convenient word.”

“What other should I have used?”

“You are not standing there to ask me questions, madam. What did he say to that?”

“That he would do anything I wished.”

“Did he see your uncle?”

“No.”

“Was that the occasion on which your husband said he saw him leaving the house?”

“I imagine so.”

“Your husband came directly he had gone?”

“Yes.”

“He saw you, and asked who that young man was?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell him?”

“Yes.”

“I think you called the co-respondent Tony?”

“Yes.”

“Was that his name?”

“No.”

“It was your pet name for him?”

“Not at all. Everybody calls him that.”

“And he called you Clare, or darling, I suppose?”

“One or the other.”

Dinny saw the Judge’s eyes lifted to the unseen.

“Young people nowadays call each other darling on very little provocation, Mr. Brough.”

“I am aware of that, my Lord. . . . Did you call HIM darling?”

“I may have, but I don’t think so.”

“You saw your husband alone on that occasion?”

“Yes.”

“How did you receive him?”

“Coldly.”

“Having just parted from the co-respondent?”

“That had nothing to do with it.”

“Did your husband ask you to go back to him?”

“Yes.”

“And you refused?”

“Yes.”

“And that had nothing to do with the co-respondent?”

“No.”

“Do you seriously tell the jury, Lady Corven, that your relations with the co-respondent, or if you like it better, your feelings for the co-respondent, played no part in your refusal to go back to your husband?”

“None.”

“I’ll put it at your own valuation: You had spent three weeks in the close company of this young man. You had allowed him to kiss you, and felt better for it. You had just parted from him. You knew of his feelings for you. And you tell the jury that he counted for nothing in the equation?”

Clare bowed her head.

“Answer, please.”

“I don’t think he did.”

“Not very human, was it?”

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“I mean, Lady Corven, that it’s going to be a little difficult for the jury to believe you.”

“I can’t help what they believe, I can only speak the truth.”

“Very well! When did you next see the co-respondent?”

“On the following evening, and the evening after that he came to the unfurnished rooms I was going into and helped me to distemper the walls.”

“Oh! A little unusual, wasn’t it?”

“Perhaps. I had no money to spare, and he had done his own bungalow in Ceylon.”

“I see. Just a friendly office on his part. And during the hours he spent with you there no passages took place between you?”

“No passages have ever taken place between us.”

“At what time did he leave?”

“We left together both evenings about nine o’clock and went and had some food.”

“And after that?”

“I went back to my aunt’s house.”

“Nowhere in between?”

“Nowhere.”

“Very well! You saw your husband again before he was compelled to go back to Ceylon?”

“Yes, twice.”

“Where was the first time?”

“At my rooms. I had got into them by then.”

“Did you tell him that the co-respondent had helped you distemper the walls?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I? I told my husband nothing, except that I wasn’t going back to him. I regarded my life with him as finished.”

“Did he on that occasion again ask you to go back to him?”

“Yes.”

“And you refused?”

“Yes.”

“With contumely?”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Insultingly?”

“No. Simply.”

“Had your husband given you any reason to suppose that he wished to divorce you?”

“No. But I don’t know what was in his mind.”

“And, apparently, you gave him no chance to know what was in yours?”

“As little as possible.”

“A stormy meeting?”

Dinny held her breath. The flush had died out of Clare’s cheeks; her face looked pale and peaked.

“No; disturbed and unhappy. I did not want to see him.”

“You heard your counsel say that from the time of your leaving him in Ceylon, your husband in his wounded pride had conceived the idea of divorcing you the moment he got the chance? Was that your impression?”

“I had and have no impression. It is possible. I don’t pretend to know the workings of his mind.”

“Though you lived with him for nearly eighteen months?”

“Yes.”

“But, anyway, you again refused definitely to go back to him?”

“I have said so.”

“Did you believe he meant it when he asked you to go back?”

“At the moment, yes.”

“Did you see him again before he went?”

“Yes, for a minute or two, but not alone.”

“Who was present?”

“My father.”

“Did he ask you again to go back to him on that occasion?”

“Yes.”

“And you refused?”

“Yes.”

“And after that you had a message from your husband before he left London, asking you once more to change your mind and accompany him?”

“Yes.”

“And you did not?”

“No.”

“Now let me take you to the date of January the — er — third”— Dinny breathed again —“that is the day which you spent, from five in the afternoon till nearly midnight, with the co-respondent. You admit doing that?”

“Yes.”

“No passages between you?”

“Only one. He hadn’t seen me for nearly three weeks, and he kissed my cheek when he first came in to have tea.”

“Oh! the cheek again? Only the cheek?”

“Yes. I am sorry.”

“So I am sure was he.”

“Possibly.”

“You first spent half an hour alone, after this separation, having — tea?”

“Yes.”

“Your rooms, I think, are in an old mews — a room below, a staircase, a room above — where you sleep?”

“Yes.”

“And a bathroom? Besides the tea I suppose you had a chat?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“In the ground-floor room.”

“And then did you walk together, chatting, to the Temple, and afterwards to a film and to dinner at a restaurant, during which you chatted, I suppose, and then took a cab back to your rooms, chatting?”

“Quite correct.”

“And then you thought that having been with him nearly six hours, you had still a good deal to say and it was necessary that he should come in, and he came?”

“Yes.”

“That would be past eleven, wouldn’t it?”

“Just past, I think.”

“How long did he stay on that occasion?”

“About half an hour.”

“No passages?”

“None.”

“Just a drink and a cigarette or two, and a little more chat?”

“Precisely.”

“What had you to talk about for so many hours with this young man who was privileged to kiss your cheek?”

“What has anyone to talk about at any time?”

“I am asking you that question.”

“We talked about everything and nothing.”

“A little more explicit, please.”

“Horses, films, my people, his people, theatres — I really don’t remember.”

“Carefully barring the subject of love?”

“Yes.”

“Strictly platonic from beginning to end?”

“I should say so.”

“Come, Lady Corven, do you mean to tell us that this young man, who on your own admission was in love with you, and who hadn’t seen you for nearly three weeks, never once during all those hours yielded to his feelings?”

“I think he told me he loved me once or twice; but he always stuck splendidly to his promise.”

“What promise?”

“Not to make love to me. To love a person is not a crime, it is only a misfortune.”

“You speak feelingly — from your own experience?”

Clare did not answer.

“Do you seriously tell us that you have not been and are not in love with this young man?”

“I am very fond of him, but not in your sense.”

In Dinny flamed up compassion for young Croom listening to all this. Her cheeks went hot, and she fixed her blue eyes on the Judge. He had just finished taking down Clare’s answer; and suddenly she saw him yawn. It was an old man’s yawn, and lasted so long that it seemed never going to end. It changed her mood, and filled her with a sort of pity. He, too, had to listen day after day to long-drawn-out attempts to hurt people, and make them stultify themselves.

“You have heard the enquiry agent’s evidence that there was a light in the upstairs room after you returned with the co-respondent from the restaurant. What do you say to that?”

“There would be. We sat there.”

“Why there, and not downstairs?”

“Because it’s much warmer and more comfortable.”

“That is your bedroom?”

“No, it’s a sitting-room. I have no bedroom. I just sleep on the sofa.”

“I see. And there you spent the time from soon after eleven to nearly midnight with the co-respondent?”

“Yes.”

“And you think there was no harm in that?”

“No harm, but I think it was extremely foolish.”

“You mean that you would not have done so if you had known you were being watched?”

“We certainly shouldn’t.”

“What made you take these particular rooms?”

“Their cheapness.”

“Very inconvenient, wasn’t it, having no bedroom, and nowhere for a servant, and no porter?”

“Those are luxuries for which one has to pay.”

“Do you say that you did not take these particular rooms because there was no one of any kind on the premises?”

“I do. I have only just enough money to live on.”

“No thought of the co-respondent, when you took them?”

“None.”

“Not even just a sidelong thought of him?”

“My Lord, I have answered.”

“I think she has, Mr. Brough.”

“After this you saw the co-respondent constantly?”

“No. Occasionally. He was living in the country.”

“I see, and came up to see you?”

“He always saw me when he did come up, perhaps twice a week.”

“And when you saw him what did you do?”

“Went to a picture gallery or a film; once to a theatre, I think. We used to dine together.”

“Did you know you were being watched?”

“No.”

“Did he come to your rooms?”

“Not again till February the third.”

“Yes, that is the day I am coming to.”

“I thought so.”

“You thought so. It is a day and night indelibly fixed in your mind?”

“I remember it very well.”

“My friend has taken you at length through the events of that day, and except for the hours at Oxford, it seems to have been spent almost entirely in the car. Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“And this car was a two-seater, with what, my Lord, is called a ‘dicky.’”

The Judge stirred.

“I have never been in a ‘dicky,’ Mr. Brough, but I know what they are.”

“Was it a roomy, comfortable little car?”

“Quite.”

“Closed, I think?”

“Yes. It didn’t open.”

“Mr. Croom drove and you were seated beside him?”

“Yes.”

“Now when you were driving back from Oxford you have said that this car’s lights went out about half-past ten, four miles or so short of Henley, in a wood?”

“Yes.”

“Was that an accident?”

“Of course.”

“Did you examine the battery?”

“No.”

“Did you know when or how it was last charged?”

“No.”

“Did you see it when it was recharged?”

“No.”

“Then why — of course?”

“If you are suggesting that Mr. Croom tampered with the battery —”

“Just answer my question, please.”

“I AM answering. Mr. Croom is incapable of any such dirty trick.”

“It was a dark night?”

“Very.”

“And a large wood?”

“Yes.”

“Just the spot one would choose on the whole of that journey from Oxford to London?”

“Choose?”

“If one had designed to spend the night in the car.”

“Yes, but the suggestion is monstrous.”

“Never mind that, Lady Corven. You regarded it as a pure coincidence?”

“Of course.”

“Just tell us what Mr. Croom said when the lights went out.”

“I think he said: ‘Hallo! My lights are gone!’ And he got out and examined the battery.”

“Had he a torch?”

“No.”

“And it was pitch dark. I wonder how he did it. Didn’t you wonder too?”

“No. He used a match.”

“And what WAS wrong?”

“I think he said a wire must have gone.”

“Then — you have told us that he tried to drive on, and twice got off the road. It must have been VERY dark?”

“It was, fearfully.”

“I think you said it was YOUR suggestion that you should spend the night in the car?”

“I did.”

“After Mr. Croom had proposed one or two alternatives?”

“Yes; he proposed that we should walk into Henley, and that he should come back to the car with a torch.”

“Did he seem keen on that?”

“Keen? Not particularly.”

“Didn’t press it?”

“N— no.”

“Do you think he ever meant it?”

“Of course I do.”

“In fact, you have the utmost confidence in Mr. Croom?”

“The utmost.”

“Quite! You have heard of the expression ‘palming the cards’?”

“Yes.”

“You know what it means?”

“It means forcing a person to take a card that you wish him to take.”

“Precisely.”

“If you are suggesting that Mr. Croom was trying to force me to propose that we should spend the night in the car, you are wholly wrong; and it’s a base suggestion.”

“What made you think I was going to make that suggestion, Lady Corven? Had the idea been present to your mind?”

“No. When I suggested that we should spend the night in the car, Mr. Croom was taken aback.”

“Oh! How did he show that?”

“He asked me if I could trust him. I had to tell him not to be old-fashioned. Of course, I could trust him.”

“Trust him to act exactly as you wished?”

“Trust him not to make love to me. I was trusting him every time I saw him.”

“You had not spent a night with him before?”

“Of course I had not.”

“You use the expression ‘of course’ rather freely, and it seems to me with very little reason. You had plenty of opportunities of passing a night with him, hadn’t you — on the ship, and in your rooms where there was nobody but yourself?”

“Plenty, and I did not avail myself of them.”

“So you say; and if you did not, doesn’t it seem to you rather singular that you suggested it on this occasion?”

“No. I thought it would be rather fun.”

“Rather fun? Yet you knew this young man was passionately in love with you?”

“I regretted it afterwards. It wasn’t fair to him.”

“Really, Lady Corven, do you ask us to believe that you, a married woman of experience, didn’t realise the ordeal by fire through which you were putting him?”

“I did afterwards, and I was extremely sorry.”

“Oh, afterwards! I am speaking of before.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t before.”

“You are on your oath. Do you persist in swearing that nothing took place between you in or out of the car on the night of February the third in that dark wood?”

“I do.”

“You heard the enquiry agent’s evidence that, when about two in the morning he stole up to the car and looked into it, he saw by the light of his torch that you were both asleep and that your head was on the co-respondent’s shoulder?”

“Yes, I heard that.”

“Is it true?”

“If I was asleep how can I say, but I think it’s quite likely. I had put my head there early on.”

“Oh! You admit that?”

“Certainly. It was more comfortable. I had asked him if he minded.”

“And, of course, he didn’t?”

“I thought you didn’t like the expression ‘of course,’ but anyway he said he didn’t.”

“He had marvellous control, hadn’t he, this young man, who was in love with you?”

“Yes, I’ve thought since that he had.”

“You knew then that he must have, if your story is true. But is it true, Lady Corven; isn’t it entirely fantastic?”

Dinny saw her sister’s hands clenching on the rail, and a flood of crimson coming up into her cheeks and ebbing again before she answered:

“It may be fantastic, but it’s entirely true. Everything I’ve said in this box is true.”

“And then in the morning you woke up as if nothing had happened, and said: ‘Now we can go home and have breakfast!’ And you went? To your rooms?”

“Yes.”

“How long did he stay on that occasion?”

“About half an hour or a little more.”

“The same perfect innocence in your relations?”

“The same.”

“And the day after that you were served with this petition?”

“Yes.”

“Did it surprise you?”

“Yes.”

“Conscious of perfect innocence, you were quite hurt in your feelings?”

“Not when I thought about things.”

“Oh, not when you thought about things? What exactly do you mean by that?”

“I remembered that my husband had said I must look out for myself; and I realised how silly I was not to know that I was being watched.”

“Tell me, Lady Corven, why did you defend this action?”

“Because I knew that, however appearances were against us, we had done nothing.”

Dinny saw the Judge look towards Clare, take down her answer, hold up his pen, and speak.

“On that night in the car you were on a main road. What was to prevent your stopping another car and asking them to give you a lead into Henley?”

“I don’t think we thought of it, my Lord; I did ask Mr. Croom to try and follow one, but they went by too quickly.”

“In any case, what was there to prevent your walking into Henley and leaving the car in the wood?”

“I suppose nothing really, only it would have been midnight before we got to Henley; and I thought it would be more awkward than just staying in the car; and I always had wanted to try sleeping in a car.”

“And do you still want to?”

“No, my Lord, it’s overrated.”

“Mr. Brough, I’ll break for luncheon.”

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