Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 37

She whose abstinence from interest in herself was interesting so many people, received three letters on Wednesday morning. That which she opened first said:

“DINNY DARLING —

“I tried to pay, but Tony would have none of it, and went off like a rocket; so I’m a wholly unattached female again. If you hear any news of him, let me have it.

“Dornford gets more ‘interesting-looking’ every day. We only talk of you, and he’s raising my salary to three hundred as compensation.

“Love to you and all,

“CLARE.”

That which she opened second said:

“MY DEAR DINNY —

“I’m going to stick it here. The mares arrive on Monday. I had Muskham down yesterday, and he was jolly decent, didn’t say a word about the case. I’m trying to take up birds. There is one thing you could do for me if you would — find out who paid those costs. It’s badly on my mind.

“Ever so many thanks for always being so nice to me.

“Yours ever,

“TONY CROOM.”

That which she read last said:

“DINNY, MY DEAR —

“Nothing doing. He either didn’t, or else played ‘possum,’ but if so it was very good ‘possum.’ All the same, I wouldn’t put it past him that it WAS ‘possum.’ If you really set store by knowing, I think I should ask him point-blank. I don’t believe he would tell YOU a lie, even ‘a little one.’ As you know, I like him. In my avuncular opinion he is still on the gold standard.

“Your ever devoted

“ADRIAN.”

So! She felt a vague irritation. And this feeling, which she had thought momentary, she found to be recurrent. Her state of mind, indeed, like the weather, turned cold again and torpid. She wrote to Clare what Tony Croom had written of himself, and that he had not mentioned her. She wrote to Tony Croom, and neither mentioned Clare nor answered his question about the costs; she concentrated on birds — they seemed safe, and to lead nowhere. She wrote to Adrian: “I’m feeling I ought to be wound-up, only there’d be no dividend for the shareholders. It’s very cold and dull, my consolation is that little ‘Cuffs’ is beginning to ‘sit up and take real notice’ of me.”

And then, as if by arrangement with the clerk of the course at Ascot, the weather changed to ‘set warm’; and, suddenly, she wrote to Dornford. She wrote on pigs, their breeds and sties, the Government and the farmers. She ended with these words:

“We are all very worried by not knowing who had settled the costs in my sister’s case. It is so disquieting to be under an obligation to an unknown person. Could you by any means find out for us?” She debated some time how to sign herself in this her first letter to him, and finally wrote “Yours always, Dinny Charwell.”

His answer came very quickly:

“MY DEAR DINNY —

“I was delighted to get a letter from you. To answer your last question first. I will do my best to get the lawyers to ‘come clean,’ but if they won’t tell YOU, I can’t imagine their telling me. Still, I can try. Though I fancy that if your sister or young Croom insisted they’d have to tell. Now about pigs”— there followed certain information, and a lamentation that agriculture was still not being properly tackled. “If only they would realise that all the needed pigs, poultry, and potatoes, nearly all the vegetables, much of the fruits, and much more than the present dairy produce, can really be produced at home, and by a graduated prohibition of foreign produce encourage, and indeed force, our home growers to supply the home market, we should, within ten years, have a living and profitable native agriculture once more, no rise to speak of in the cost of living, and a huge saving in our imports bill. You see how new I am to politics! Wheat and meat are the red herrings across the trail. Wheat and meat from the Dominions, and the rest (bar hot climate fruits and vegetables) home-grown, is my motto. I hope your father agrees. Clare is becoming restive, and I’m wondering if she wouldn’t be happier in a more active job than this. If I can come across a good one, I shall advise her to take it. Would you ask your mother whether I should be in the way if I came down for the last week-end this month? She was good enough to tell me to let her know any time I was coming to the constituency. I was again at Cavalcade the other night. It wears well, but I missed you. I can’t even begin to tell you how I missed you.

“Your ever faithful

“EUSTACE DORNFORD.”

Missed her! After the faint warmth those wistful words aroused, she thought almost at once of Clare. Restive! Who would be otherwise in her anomalous position? She had not been down at Condaford since the case. And that seemed to Dinny very natural. However one might say it didn’t matter what people thought, it did, especially in a place where one had grown up, and belonged, as it were, to the blood royal of the neighbourhood. And Dinny thought, unhappily: ‘I don’t know what I want for her — and that’s lucky, because one day she’ll see exactly what she wants for herself.’ How nice to see exactly what one wanted for oneself! She read Dornford’s letter again, and suddenly faced her own feelings for the first time. Was she or was she not ever going to marry? If so, she would as soon marry Eustace Dornford as anyone — she liked, admired, could talk to him. But her — past! How funny it sounded! Her ‘past,’ strangled almost from birth, yet the deepest thing she would ever know! “One of these days you’ll have to go down into the battle again.” Unpleasant to be thought a shirker by one’s own mother! But it wasn’t shirking! Spots of colour rose in her cheeks. It was something no one would understand — a horror of being unfaithful to him to whom she had belonged in soul if not in body. Of being unfaithful to that utter surrender, which she knew could never be repeated.

‘I am not in love with Eustace,’ she thought; ‘he knows it, he knows I can’t even pretend it. If he wants me on those terms, what is it fair for me — what is it possible for me to do?’ She went out into the old yew-hedged rose garden, where the first burst of roses had begun, and wandered round, smelling at this and that, followed half-heartedly by the spaniel Foch, who had no feeling for flowers.

‘Whatever I do,’ she thought, ‘I ought to do now. I can’t keep him on tenterhooks.’

She stood by the sundial, where the shadow was an hour behind its time, and looked into the eye of the sun over the fruit trees beyond the yew hedges. If she married him, there would be children — without them it would not be possible. She saw frankly — or thought she did — where she stood in the matter of sex. What she could not see was how it would all turn for herself and for him in the recesses of the spirit. Restless, she wandered from rose-bush to rose-bush, extinguishing the few greenfly between her gloved fingers. And, in a corner, with a sort of despair, the spaniel Foch sat down unnoticed and ate a quantity of coarse grass.

She wrote to Dornford the same evening. Her mother would be delighted if he would come for that week-end. Her father quite agreed with his views on agriculture, but was not sure that anyone else did, except Michael, who, after listening to him carefully one evening in London, had said: “Yes. What’s wanted is a lead, and where’s it coming from?” She hoped that when he came down he would be able to tell her about those costs. It must have been thrilling to see Cavalcade again. Did he know a flower called meconopsis, if that was the way to spell it, a sort of poppy of a most lovely colour? It came from the Himalayas, and so would be suitable for Campden Hill, which she believed had much the same climate. If he could induce Clare to come down it would rejoice the hearts of the aborigines. This time she signed herself ‘always yours,’ a distinction too subtle to explain even to herself.

Telling her mother that he was coming, she added:

“I’ll try and get Clare; and don’t you think, mother, that we ought to ask Michael and Fleur? They were very sweet to put us up so long.”

Lady Charwell sighed.

“One gets into a way of just going on. But do, dear.”

“They’ll talk tennis, and that’ll be so nice and useful.”

Lady Charwell looked at her daughter, in whose voice something recalled the Dinny of two years back.

When Dinny knew that Clare was coming, as well as Michael and Fleur, she debated whether to tell Tony Croom. In the end she decided not to, sorrowfully, for she had for him the fellow feeling of one who had been through the same mill.

The camouflage above her father’s and mother’s feelings touched her. Dornford — high time, of course, he was down in the constituency again! Pity he hadn’t a place of his own — didn’t do to get out of touch with the electors! Presumably he’d come by car, and bring Clare; or Michael and Fleur could call for her! By such remarks they hid their nervousness about Clare and about herself.

She had just put the last flower in the last bedroom when the first car slid up the driveway; and she came down the stairs to see Dornford standing in the hall.

“This place has a soul, Dinny. It may be the fantails on the stone roof, or perhaps the deep way it’s settled in, but you catch it at once.”

She left her hand in his longer than she had meant to.

“It’s being so overgrown. There’s the smell, too — old hay and flowering verbena, and perhaps the mullions being crumbled.”

“You look well, Dinny.”

“I am, thank you. You haven’t had time for Wimbledon, I suppose?”

“No. But Clare’s been going — she’s coming straight from it with the young Monts.”

“What did you mean in your letter by ‘restive’?”

“Well, as I see Clare, she must be in the picture, and just now she isn’t.”

Dinny nodded.

“Has she said anything to you about Tony Croom?”

“Yes. She laughed and said he’d dropped her like a hot potato.”

Dinny took his hat and hung it up.

“About those costs?” she said, without turning.

“Well, I went to see Forsyte specially, but I got nothing out of him.”

“Oh! Would you like a wash, or would you rather go straight up? Dinner’s at quarter-past eight. It’s half-past seven now.”

“Straight up, if I may.”

“You’re in a different room; I’ll show you.”

She preceded him to the foot of the little stairway leading to the priest’s room.

“That’s your bathroom. Up here, now.”

“The priest’s room?”

“Yes. There’s no ghost.” She crossed to the window. “See! He was fed here at night from the roof. Do you like the view? Better in the spring when the blossom’s out, of course.”

“Lovely!” He stood beside her at the window, and she could see his hands clenched so hard on the stone sill that the knuckles showed white. A bitter wind swept through her being. Here she had dreamed of standing with Wilfrid beside her. She leaned against the side of the embrasured window and closed her eyes. When she opened them he was facing her, she could see his lips trembling, his hands clasped behind him, his eyes fixed on her face.” She moved across to the door.

“I’ll have your things brought up and unpacked at once. Would you answer me one question: Did you pay those costs yourself?”

He gave a start and a little laugh, as if he had been suddenly switched from tragedy to comedy.

I? No. Never even thought of it.”

“Oh!” said Dinny again. “You’ve lots of time.” And she went down the little stairway.

Did she believe him? Whether she believed him or not, did it make any difference? The question would be asked and must be answered. ‘One more river — one more river to cross!’ And at the sound of the second car she went hurrying down the stairs.

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