Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 36

The moment Dinny had left, Adrian made the not uncommon discovery that he had promised what would need performance. To get one of His Majesty’s Counsel to commit himself — how? Too pointed to go to him! Impossible to pump a guest! Em, if he prompted her, would ask them both to dinner, especially if made to understand that the matter concerned Dinny; but even then —? He waited to consult Diana, and, after dining, went round to Mount Street. He found them playing piquet.

“Four kings,” said Lady Mont. “So old-fashioned — Lawrence and I and Mussolini. Have you come for something, Adrian?”

“Naturally, Em. I want you to ask Eustace Dornford to dinner, and me to meet him.”

“That’ll be Dinny. I can’t get Lawrence to be chivalrous; when I have four kings he always has four aces. When?”

“The sooner the better.”

“Ring, dear.”

Adrian rang.

“Blore, call up Mr. Dornford and ask him to dinner — black tie.”

“When, my lady?”

“The first evenin’ not in my book. Like dentists,” she added, as Blore withdrew. “Tell me about Dinny. She hasn’t been near us since the case.”

“The case,” repeated Sir Lawrence, “went much as one expected, didn’t you think, Adrian? Any repercussions?”

“Someone has settled the costs, and Dinny suspects Dornford.”

Sir Lawrence laid down his cards. “Bit too like a bid for her, that!”

“Oh, he won’t admit it, but she wants me to find out.”

“If he won’t admit it, why should he do it?”

“Knights,” murmured Lady Mont, “wearin’ a glove, and gettin’ killed, and nobody knowin’ whose glove. Yes, Blore?”

“Mr. Dornford will be happy to dine on Monday, my lady.”

“Put him in my book, then, and Mr. Adrian.”

“Go away with him after dinner, Adrian,” said Sir Lawrence, “and do it then — not so pointed; and, Em, not a hint, not even a sigh or a groan.”

“He’s a nice creature,” said Lady Mont, “so pale-brown . . .”

With the ‘nice creature so pale-brown’ Adrian walked away the following Monday night. Their directions were more or less the same, since Dornford was not yet in his new house. To Adrian’s relief, his companion seemed as glad of the opportunity as himself, for he began at once to talk of Dinny.

“Am I right in thinking something’s happened to Dinny lately — I don’t mean that case — but when she was ill and you went abroad together?”

“Yes. The man I told you of that she was in love with two years ago was drowned out in Siam.”

“Oh!”

Adrian stole a look. What should Dornford’s face express — concern, relief, hope, sympathy? It only wore a little frown.

“There was a question I wanted to ask you, Dornford. Someone had settled the costs granted against young Croom in that case.” The eyebrows were raised now, but the face said nothing. “I thought you might have known who. The lawyers will only say that it wasn’t the other side.”

“I’ve no idea.”

‘So!’ thought Adrian. ‘No nearer, except that, if a liar, he’s a good one!’

“I like young Croom,” said Dornford; “he’s behaved decently, and had hard luck. That’ll save him from bankruptcy.”

“Bit mysterious, though,” murmured Adrian.

“It is.”

‘On the whole,’ Adrian thought, ‘I believe he did. But what a poker face!’ He said, however:

“How do you find Clare since the case?”

“A little more cynical. She expressed her views on my profession rather freely when we were riding this morning.”

“Do you think she’ll marry young Croom?”

Dornford shook his head.

“I doubt it, especially if what you say about those costs is true. She might have out of a sense of obligation, but otherwise I think the case has worked against his chance. She’s no real feeling for him — at least that’s my view.”

“Corven disillusioned her thoroughly.”

“I’ve certainly seldom seen a more disillusioning face than his,” murmured Dornford. “But she seems to me headed for quite an amusing life on her own. She’s got pluck and, like all these young women now, she’s essentially independent.”

“Yes, I can’t see Clare being domestic.”

Dornford was silent. “Would you say that of Dinny, too?” he asked suddenly.

“Well, I can’t see Clare as a mother; Dinny I can. I can’t see Dinny here, there and everywhere; Clare I can. All the same — ‘domestic’ of Dinny! It’s not the word.”

“No!” said Dornford fervently. “I don’t know what is. You believe very much in her, don’t you?”

Adrian nodded.

“Enormously.”

“It’s been tremendous for me,” said Dornford, very low, “to have come across her; but I’m afraid so far it’s been nothing to her.”

“Much to allow for,” suggested Adrian. “‘Patience is a virtue,’ or so it used to be before the world went up in that blue flame and never came down again.”

“But I’m rising forty.”

“Well, Dinny’s rising twenty-nine.”

“What you told me just now makes a difference, or — doesn’t it?”

“About Siam? I think it does — a great difference.”

“Well thank you.”

They parted with a firm clasp, and Adrian branched off northwards. He walked slowly, thinking of the balance-sheet that confronts each lover’s unlimited liability. No waterings of capital nor any insurance could square or guarantee that shifting lifelong document. By love was man flung into the world; with love was he in business nearly all his days, making debts or profit; and when he died was by the results of love, if not by the parish, buried and forgotten. In this swarming London not a creature but was deeply in account with a Force so whimsical, inexorable, and strong, that none, man or woman, in their proper senses would choose to do business with it. ‘Good match,’ ‘happy marriage,’ ‘ideal partnership,’ ‘life-long union,’ ledgered against ‘don’t get on,’ ‘just a flare up,’ ‘tragic state of things,’ ‘misfit’! All his other activities man could insure, modify, foresee, provide against (save the inconvenient activity of death); love he could not. It stepped to him out of the night, into the night returned. It stayed, it fled. On one side or the other of the balance sheet it scored an entry, leaving him to cast up and wait for the next entry. It mocked dictators, parliaments, judges, bishops, police, and even good intentions; it maddened with joy and grief; wantoned, procreated, thieved, and murdered; was devoted, faithful, fickle. It had no shame, and owned no master; built homes and gutted them; passed by on the other side; and now and again made of two hearts one heart till death. To think of London, Manchester, Glasgow without love appeared to Adrian, walking up the Charing Cross Road, to be easy; and yet without love not one of these passing citizens would be sniffing the petrol of this night air, not one grimy brick would have been laid upon brick, not one bus be droning past, no street musician would wail, nor lamp light up the firmament. A somewhat primary concern! And he, whose primary concern was with the bones of ancient men, who but for love would have had no bones to be dug up, classified and kept under glass, thought of Dornford and Dinny, and whether they would ‘click’ . . .

And Dornford, on his way to Harcourt Buildings, thought even more intensively of himself and her. Rising forty! This overmastering wish of his — for its fulfilment it was now or never with him! If he were not to become set in the groove of a ‘getter-on,’ he must marry and have children. Life had become a half-baked thing without Dinny to give it meaning and savour. She had become — what had she not become? And, passing through the narrow portals of Middle Temple Lane, he said to a learned brother, also moving towards his bed:

“What’s going to win the Derby, Stubbs?”

“God knows!” said his learned brother, wondering why he had played that last trump when he did, instead of when he didn’t . . .

And in Mount Street Sir Lawrence, coming into her room to say ‘Good-night,’ found his wife sitting up in bed in the lace cap which always made her look so young, and, on the edge of the bed, in his black silk dressing-gown, sat down.

“Well, Em?”

“Dinny will have two boys and a girl.”

“Deuce she will! That’s counting her chickens rather fast.”

“Somebody must. Give me a nice kiss.”

Sir Lawrence stooped over and complied.

“When she marries,” said Lady Mont, shutting her eyes, “she’ll only be half there for a long time.”

“Better half there at the beginning than not at all at the end. But what makes you think she’ll take him?”

“My bones. We don’t like being left out when it comes to the point, Lawrence.”

“Continuation of the species. H’m!”

“If he’d get into a scrape, or break his leg.”

“Better give him a hint.”

“His liver’s sound.”

“How do you know that?”

“The whites of his eyes are blue. Those browny men often have livers.”

Sir Lawrence stood up.

“My trouble,” he said, “is to see Dinny sufficiently interested in herself again to get married. After all, it IS a personal activity.”

“Harridge’s for beds,” murmured Lady Mont.

Sir Lawrence’s eyebrow rose. Em was inexhaustible!

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