Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 32

Dinny refused all solicitations to lunch, and, taking her sister’s arm, walked her out into Carey Street. They circled Lincoln’s Inn Fields in silence.

“Nearly over, darling,” she said at last. “You’ve done wonderfully. He hasn’t really shaken you at all, and I believe the Judge feels that. I like the Judge much better than the jury.”

“Oh! Dinny, I’m so tired. That perpetual suggestion that one’s lying screws me up till I could scream.”

“That’s what he does it for. Don’t gratify him!”

“And poor Tony. I do feel a beast.”

“What about a ‘nice hot’ cup of tea? We’ve just time.”

They walked down Chancery Lane into the Strand.

“Nothing with it, dearest. I couldn’t eat.”

Neither of them could eat. They stirred the pot, drank their tea as strong as they could get it, and made their way silently back to the Court. Clare, not acknowledging even her father’s anxious glance, resumed her old position on the front bench, her hands in her lap and her eyes cast down.

Dinny was conscious of Jerry Corven sitting deep in confabulation with his solicitor and counsel. ‘Very young’ Roger, passing to his seat, said:

“They’re going to recall Corven.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

As if walking in his sleep, the Judge came in, bowed slightly to the Court’s presence, and sat down. ‘Lower than ever,’ thought Dinny.

“My Lord, before resuming my cross-examination of the respondent, I should be glad, with your permission, to recall the petitioner in connection with the point of which my friend made so much. Your Lordship will recollect that in his cross-examination of the petitioner he imputed to him the intention of securing a divorce from the moment of his wife’s departure. The petitioner has some additional evidence to give in regard to that point, and it will be more convenient for me to recall him now. I shall be very short, my Lord.”

Dinny saw Clare’s face raised suddenly to the Judge, and the expression on it made her heart beat furiously.

“Very well, Mr. Brough.”

“Sir Gerald Corven.”

Watching that contained figure step again into the box, Dinny saw that Clare too was watching, almost as if she wished to catch his eye.

“You have told us, Sir Gerald, that on the last occasion but one on which you saw your wife before you returned to Ceylon — the first of November, that is — you saw her at her rooms in Melton Mews?”

“Yes.”

Dinny gasped. It had come!

“Now on that occasion, besides any conversation that took place between you, what else occurred?”

“We were husband and wife.”

“You mean that the marital relationship between you was re-established?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Thank you, Sir Gerald; I think that disposes finally of my friend’s point; and it is all I wanted to ask.”

Instone was speaking.

“Why did you not say that when you were first examined?”

“I did not see its relevance until after your cross-examination.”

“Do you swear that you have not invented it?”

“Most certainly I do.”

And still Dinny sat braced against the woodwork with her eyes shut, thinking of the young man three rows behind her. Atrocious! But who would see it, here? People’s innermost nerves were torn out of them, examined coldly, almost with enjoyment, and put back lacerated.

“Now, Lady Corven, will you go back to the box?”

When Dinny opened her eyes Clare was standing close up to the rail with her head held high and her gaze fixed on her questioner.

“Now, Lady Corven,” said the slow rich voice, “you heard that piece of evidence.”

“Yes.”

“Is it true?”

“I do not wish to answer.”

“Why?”

Dinny saw that she had turned to the Judge.

“My Lord, when my counsel asked me about my married life, I refused to go into it, and I do not wish to go into it now.”

For a moment the Judge’s eyes were turned towards the box; then strayed from it to stare at the unseen.

“This question arises out of evidence given in rebuttal of a suggestion made by your own counsel. You must answer it.”

No answer came.

“Ask the question again, Mr. Brough.”

“Is it true that on the occasion of which your husband spoke the marital relationship was re-established between you?”

“No. It is not true.”

Dinny, who knew that it was, looked up. The Judge’s eyes were still fixed above her head, but she saw the slight pouting of his lips. He did not believe the answer.

The slow rich voice was speaking, and she caught in it a peculiar veiled triumph.

“You swear that?”

“Yes.”

“So your husband has gone out of his way to commit perjury in making that statement?”

“It is his word against mine.”

“And I think I know which will be taken. Is it not true that you have made the answer you have in order to save the feelings of the co-respondent?”

“It is not.”

“From first to last, can we attach any more importance to the truth in any of your answers than to the truth in that last?”

“I don’t think that is a fair question, Mr. Brough. The witness does not know what importance we attach.”

“Very good, my Lord. I’ll put it another way. THROUGHOUT have you told the truth, Lady Corven, and nothing but the truth?”

“I have.”

“VERY well. I have no more to ask you.”

During the few questions put to her sister, in a re-examination which carefully avoided the last point, Dinny could think only of young Croom. At heart she felt the case was lost, and longed to take Clare and creep away. If only that man behind with the hooked nose had not tried to blacken Corven and prove too much, this last mine would not have been sprung! And yet — to blacken the other side — what was it but the essence of procedure!

When Clare was back in her seat, white and exhausted, she whispered:

“Would you like to come away, darling?”

Clare shook her head.

“James Bernard Croom.”

For the first time since the case began Dinny had a full view, and hardly knew him. His tanned face was parched and drawn; he looked excessively thin. His grey eyes seemed hiding under their brows, and his lips were bitter and compressed. He looked at least five years older, and she knew at once that Clare’s denial had not deceived him.

“Your name is James Bernard Croom, you live at Bablock Hythe, and are in charge of a horse-breeding establishment there? Have you any private means?”

“None whatever.”

It was not Instone who was examining, but a younger man with a sharper nose, seated just behind him.

“Up to September last year you were superintending a tea plantation in Ceylon? Did you ever meet the respondent in Ceylon?”

“Never.”

“You were never at her house?’

“No.”

“You have heard of a certain polo match in which you played, and after which she entertained the players?”

“Yes, but I didn’t go. I had to get back.”

“Was it on the boat, then, that you first met her?”

“Yes.”

“You make no secret of the fact that you fell in love with her?”

“None.”

“In spite of that, is there any truth in these allegations of misconduct between you?”

“None whatever.”

And as the evidence he gave to the Court went on and on, Dinny’s eyes never left his face, as if fascinated by its constrained but bitter unhappiness.

“Now, Mr. Croom, this is my last question: You are aware that if these allegations of misconduct were true, you would be in the position of a man who has seduced a wife in her husband’s absence. What have you to say to that?”

“I have to say that if Lady Corven had felt for me what I feel for her, I should have written to her husband at once to tell him the state of things.”

“You mean that you would have given him warning before anything took place between you?”

“I don’t say that, but as soon as possible.”

“But she did NOT feel for you what you felt for her?”

“I am sorry to say, no.”

“So that in fact no occasion to inform the husband ever arose?”

“No.”

“Thank you.”

A slight stiffening of young Croom’s figure heralded Brough’s rich slow voice, saying with peculiar deliberation:

“In your experience, sir, are the feelings of lovers towards each other ever the same?”

“I have no experience.”

“No experience? You know the French proverb as to there being always one who kisses and the other who offers the cheek to the kiss?”

“I’ve heard it.”

“Don’t you think it’s true?”

“About as true as any proverb.”

“According to the stories you both tell, you were pursuing in her husband’s absence a married woman who didn’t want you to pursue her? Not a very honourable position — yours — was it? Not exactly what is called ‘playing the game’?”

“I suppose not.”

“But I suggest, Mr. Croom, that your position was not as dishonourable as all that, and that in spite of the French proverb she DID want you to pursue her?”

“She did not.”

“You say that in face of the cabin incident; in face of her getting you in to distemper her walls; in face of the invitation to tea and to spend over half an hour with her at nearly midnight in those convenient rooms of hers; in face of the suggestion that you should spend the night with her in a car, and come to breakfast the morning after? Come, Mr. Croom, isn’t that carrying your chivalry rather far? What you say has to convince men and women of the world, you know.”

“I can only say that, if her feelings for me had been what mine were for her, we should have gone away together at once. The blame is entirely mine, and she has only treated me kindly because she was sorry for me.”

“If what you both say is true, she gave you hell — I beg your pardon, my Lord — in the car, didn’t she? Was that kind?”

“When a person is not in love I don’t think they realise the feelings of one who is.”

“Are you a cold-blooded person?”

“No.”

“But she is?”

“How is the witness to know that, Mr. Brough?”

“My Lord, I should have put it: But you think she is?”

“I do not think so.”

“And yet you would have us think that she was kind in letting you pass the night with her head on your shoulder? Well, well! You say if her feelings had been yours, you would have gone away at once. What would you have gone away on? Had you any money?”

“Two hundred pounds.”

“And she?”

“Two hundred a year, apart from her job.”

“Flown away and lived on air, eh?”

“I should have got some job.”

“Not your present one?”

“Probably not.”

“I suggest that both of you felt it would be mad to fling your caps over the windmill like that?”

“I never felt so.”

“What made you defend this action?”

“I wish we hadn’t.”

“Then why did you?”

“She thought, and her people thought, that as we had done nothing, we ought to defend.”

“But YOU didn’t think so?”

“I didn’t think we should be believed, and I wanted her free.”

“Her honour didn’t occur to you?”

“Of course it did; but I thought for her to stay tied was too heavy a price to pay for it.”

“You say you didn’t think you’d be believed? Altogether too improbable a story?”

“No; but the more one speaks the truth, the less one expects to be believed.”

Dinny saw the Judge turn and look at him.

“Are you speaking generally?”

“No, my Lord, I meant here.”

The Judge’s face came round again and his eyes studied the unseen above Dinny’s head.

“I am considering, you know, whether I should commit you for contempt of Court.”

“I am sorry, my Lord; what I meant was that anything one says is turned against one.”

“You speak out of inexperience. I will let it pass this time, but you mustn’t say things of that sort again. Go on, Mr. Brough.”

“The question of damages, of course, didn’t affect you in making up your mind to defend this action?”

“No.”

“You have said that you have no private means. Is that true?”

“Certainly.”

“Then how do you mean that it didn’t affect you?”

“I was thinking so much of other things that bankruptcy didn’t seem to matter.”

“Now, you have said in examination that you were not aware of Lady Corven’s existence until you were on this ship coming home. Do you know a place in Ceylon called Neuralya?”

“No.”

“What?”

Dinny saw a faint smile creep out among the Judge’s folds and wrinkles.

“Put the question another way, Mr. Brough; we generally call it Neuralya.”

“I know Neuralya, my Lord.”

“Were you there in June last?”

“Yes.”

“Was Lady Corven there?”

“She may have been.”

“Wasn’t she in the same hotel as you?”

“No. I wasn’t in an hotel. I was staying with a friend.”

“And you did not meet her playing golf or tennis, or out riding?”

“I did not.”

“Or anywhere?”

“No.”

“Not a large place, is it?”

“Not very.”

“And she’s a conspicuous person, isn’t she?”

I think so.”

“So you never met her till you were both on this ship?”

“No.”

“When did you first become conscious that you were in love with her?”

“About the second or third day out.”

“Love almost at first sight, in fact?”

“Yes.”

“And it didn’t occur to you, knowing that she was a married woman, to avoid her?”

“I knew I ought to, but I wasn’t able.”

“You would have been able to if she had discouraged you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did she in fact discourage you?”

“N-no. I don’t think she was aware of my feelings for some time.”

“Women are very quick in such matters, Mr. Croom. Do you seriously suggest that she was unaware?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you trouble to conceal your feelings?”

“If you mean did I make love to her on the ship — I did not.”

“When did you first make love to her?”

“I told her my feelings just before we left the ship.”

“Was there any real reason why you should have gone to her state-room to see those photographs?”

“I suppose not.”

“Did you look at any photographs at all?”

“Certainly.”

“What else did you do?”

“I think we talked.”

“Don’t you know? This was an occasion for you, wasn’t it? Or was it only one of several occasions of which we have not been told?”

“It was the only time I was inside her state-room.”

“In that case surely you remember?”

“We just sat and talked.”

“Beginning to remember, eh? Where did you sit?”

“In the chair.”

“And where did she sit?”

“On her bed. It was a small cabin — there was no other chair.”

“An outside cabin?”

“Yes.”

“No chance of being overlooked?”

“No, but there was nothing to overlook.”

“So you both say. I suppose it gave you something of a thrill, didn’t it?”

Dinny saw the Judge’s face poked forward.

“I don’t want to interrupt you, Mr. Brough, but the witness has made no secret of his feelings.”

“Very well, my Lord. I will put it to him bluntly. I suggest, sir, that on that occasion there was misconduct between you?”

“There was none.”

“H’m! Tell the jury why it was that when Sir Gerald Corven came to London you did not go to him and frankly avow your relations with his wife.”

“What relations?”

“Come, sir! The fact, on your own showing, that you were seeing all you could of his wife; the fact that you were in love with her, and wanted her to go away with you.”

“She did not want to go away with me. I would willingly have gone to her husband, but I had no right to without her permission.”

“Did you ask for that permission?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because she had told me we could only meet as friends.”

“I suggest she told you nothing of the sort?”

“My Lord, that is asking me if I am a liar.”

“Answer the question.”

“I am not a liar.”

“That is the answer, I think, Mr. Brough.”

“Tell me, sir: you heard the respondent’s evidence, did it strike you as entirely truthful?”

Dinny saw, and hoped that no one else saw, the quivering of his face.

“Yes, so far as I could judge.”

“It was perhaps not quite a fair question. But I may put it this way: If the respondent were to say that she had done, or not done, this or that, you would feel bound in honour to corroborate her statement, where you could, and to believe it where you could not?”

“I am not sure that is quite fair, Mr. Brough.”

“My Lord, I submit that it is vital to my case to establish to the jury what the state of the co-respondent’s mind has been throughout this business.”

“Well, I won’t stop the question, but there is a limit, you know, to these generalities.”

Dinny saw the first flicker of a smile on young Croom’s face.

“My Lord, I don’t at all mind answering the question. I do not know what I should feel bound in honour to do, generally speaking.”

“Well, let us come to the particular. Lady Corven has said that she could trust you not to make love to her. Would you say that was true?”

Dinny saw his face darken.

“Not quite true. But she knew I did my best not to.”

“But now and then you couldn’t help it?”

“I don’t know what you mean by the expression ‘making love’; but now and then I know I showed my feelings.”

“Now and then? Mr. Croom, didn’t you always show your feelings?”

“If you mean did I always show that I was in love with her — of course I did, you can’t hide a thing like that.”

“That is a fair admission. I don’t want to catch you. I mean more than just showing by your face and eyes that you were in love. I mean downright physical expression.”

“Then, no, except —”

“Yes?”

“Kissing her cheek three times altogether, and holding her hand sometimes.”

“So much she has admitted, and it is all you are prepared to swear to?”

“I will swear there was no more.”

“Tell me, did you sleep at all during that night in the car, when her head was on your shoulder?”

“Yes.”

“Considering the state of your feelings, wasn’t that singular?”

“Yes. But I was up at five that morning and I’d driven a hundred and fifty miles.”

“You seriously expect us to believe that after nearly five months of longing you took no advantage of that marvellous opportunity, but just went to sleep?”

“I took no advantage. But I have told you that I do not expect to be believed.”

“I don’t wonder.”

For a long time the slow rich voice went on asking questions, and for a long time Dinny’s eyes remained fixed on that bitterly unhappy face, till a sort of numbness came over her. She was roused by:

“I suggest to you, sir, that from beginning to end of your evidence you have been actuated by the feeling that you must do everything you can for this lady without regard to your own consciousness of what is true? That your attitude, in fact, has been one of distorted chivalry?”

“No.”

“Very well. That is all.”

Then came the re-examination, and the Judge’s releasing remark.

Dinny and Clare arose and, followed by their father, walked out into the corridor, and, as quickly as might be, to open air.

The General said:

“Instone’s made a mess of it with that quite unnecessary point of his.”

Clare did not answer.

“I am glad,” said Dinny. “You’ll get your divorce.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/over/chapter32.html

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