Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 5

On that cold and misty evening, which all the newspapers had agreed was to ‘make history,’ the Charwells sat in the drawing-room at Condaford round the portable wireless, a present from Fleur. Would the voice breathe o’er Eden, or would it be the striking of Fate’s clock? Not one of those five but was solemnly convinced that the future of Great Britain hung in the balance; convinced, too, that their conviction was detached from class or party. Patriotism divorced from thought of vested interest governed, as they supposed, their mood. And if they made a mistake in so thinking, quite a number of other Britons were making it too. Across Dinny’s mind, indeed, did flit the thought: ‘Does anyone know what will save the country and what won’t?’ But, even by her, time and tide, incalculably rolling, swaying and moulding the lives of nations, was ungauged. Newspapers and politicians had done their work and stamped the moment for her as a turning point. In a sea-green dress, she sat, close to the ‘present from Fleur,’ waiting to turn it on at ten o’clock, and regulate its stridency. Aunt Em was working at a new piece of French tapestry, her slight aquilinity emphasised by tortoise-shell spectacles. The General nervously turned and re-turned The Times and kept taking out his watch. Lady Charwell sat still and a little forward, like a child in Sunday School before she has become convinced that she is going to be bored. And Clare lay on the sofa, with the dog Foch on her feet.

“Time, Dinny,” said the General; “turn the thing on.”

Dinny fingered a screw, and ‘the thing’ burst into music. “‘Rings on our fingers and bells on our toes,’” she murmured, “‘We have got music wherever we goes.’”

The music stopped, and the voice spoke:

“This is the first election result: Hornsey . . . Conservative, no change.”

The General added: “H’m!” and the music began again.

Aunt Em, looking at the portable, said: “Coax it, Dinny. That burrin’!”

“It always has that, Auntie.”

“Blore does something to ours with a penny. Where is Hornsey — Isle of Wight?”

“Middlesex, darling.”

“Oh! yes! I was thinkin’ of Southsea. There he goes again.”

“These are some more election results. . . . Conservative, gain from Labour. . . . Conservative, no change . . . . Conservative, gain from Labour.”

The General added: “Ha!” and the music began again.

“What nice large majorities!” said Lady Mont: “Gratifyin’!”

Clare got off the sofa and squatted on a footstool against her mother’s knees. The General had dropped The Times. The ‘voice’ spoke again:

“ . . . Liberal National, gain from Labour. . . . Conservative, no change. . . . Conservative, gain from Labour.”

Again and again the music spurted up and died away; and the voice spoke.

Clare’s face grew more and more vivid, and above her Lady Charwell’s pale and gentle face wore one long smile. From time to time the General said: “By George!” and “This is something like!”

And Dinny thought: ‘Poor Labour!’

On and on and on the voice breathed o’er Eden.

“Crushin’,” said Lady Mont: “I’m gettin’ sleepy.”

“Go to bed, Auntie. I’ll put a slip under your door when I come up.”

Lady Charwell, too, got up. When they were gone, Clare went back to the sofa and seemed to fall asleep. The General sat on, hypnotised by the chant of victory. Dinny, with knees crossed and eyes closed, was thinking: ‘Will it really make a difference; and, if it does, shall I care? Where is HE? Listening as we are? Where? Where?’ Not so often now, but quite often enough, that sense of groping for Wilfrid returned to her. In all these sixteen months since he left her she had found no means of hearing of him. For all she knew he might be dead. Once — only once — she had broken her resolve never to speak of her disaster, and had asked Michael. Compson Grice, his publisher, had, it seemed received a letter from him written in Bangkok, which said he was well and had begun to write. That was nine months ago. The veil, so little lifted, had dropped again. Heartache — well, she was used to it.

“Dad, it’s two o’clock. It’ll be like this all the time now. Clare’s asleep.”

“I’m not,” said Clare.

“You ought to be. I’ll let Foch out for his run, and we’ll all go up.”

The General rose.

“Enough’s as good as a feast. I suppose we’d better.”

Dinny opened the French window and watched the dog Foch trotting out in semblance of enthusiasm. It was cold, with a ground mist, and she shut the window. If she didn’t he would neglect his ritual and with more than the semblance of enthusiasm trot in again. Having kissed her father and Clare, she turned out the lights and waited in the hall. The wood fire had almost died. She stood with her foot on the stone hearth, thinking. Clare had spoken of trying to get a secretaryship to some new Member of Parliament. Judging by the returns that were coming in, there would be plenty of them. Why not to their own new member? He had dined with them, and she had sat next him. A nice man, well read, not bigoted. He even sympathised with Labour, but did not think they knew their way about as yet. In fact he was rather notably what the drunken youth in the play called: ‘A Tory Socialist.’ He had opened out to her and been very frank and pleasant. An attractive man, with his crisp dark hair, brown complexion, little dark moustache and rather high soft voice; a good sort, energetic and upright-looking. But probably he already had a secretary. However, if Clare was in earnest, one could ask. She crossed the hall to the garden door. There was a seat in the porch outside, and under it Foch would be crouched, waiting to be let in. Sure enough, he emerged, fluttering his tail, and padded towards the dogs’ communal water-bowl. How cold and silent! Nothing on the road; even the owls quiet; the garden and the fields frozen, moonlit, still, away up to that long line of covert! England silvered and indifferent to her fate, disbelieving in the Voice o’er Eden; old and permanent and beautiful, even though the pound had gone off gold. Dinny gazed at the unfeverish night. Men and their policies — how little they mattered, how soon they passed, a dissolving dew on the crystal immensity of God’s toy! How queer — the passionate intensity of one’s heart, and the incalculable cold callousness of Time and Space! To join, to reconcile? . . .

She shivered and shut the door.

At breakfast the next morning she said to Clare:

“Shall we strike while the iron’s hot, and go and see Mr. Dornford?”

“Why?”

“In case he wants a secretary, now he’s in.”

“Oh! Is he in?”

“Very much so.”

Dinny read the figures. The usual rather formidable Liberal opposition had been replaced by a mere five thousand Labour votes.

“The word ‘national’ is winning this election,” said Clare. “Where I went canvassing in the town they were all Liberals. I just used the word ‘national,’ and they fell.”

Hearing that the new Member would be at his headquarters all the morning, the sisters started about eleven o’clock. There was so much coming and going round the doors that they did not like to enter.

“I do hate asking for things,” said Clare.

Dinny, who hated it quite as much, answered:

“Wait here and I’ll just go in and congratulate him. I might have a chance of putting in a word. He’s seen you, of course.”

“Oh! yes, he’s seen me all right.”

Eustace Dornford, K.C., new member elect, was sitting in a room that seemed all open doors, running his eye over the lists his agent was putting on the table before him. From one of those doors Dinny could see his riding boots under the table, and his bowler hat, gloves and riding whip upon it. Now that she was nearly in the presence it seemed impossible to intrude at such a moment, and she was just slipping away when he looked up.

“Excuse me a moment, Minns. Miss Cherrell!”

She stopped and turned. He was smiling and looking pleased.

“Anything I can do for you?”

She put out her hand.

“I’m awfully glad you’ve won. My sister and I just wanted to congratulate you.”

He squeezed her hand, and Dinny thought: ‘Oh! dear! this is the last moment to ask him,’ but she said:

“It’s perfectly splendid, there’s never been such a majority here.”

“And never will be again. That’s my luck. Where’s your sister?”

“In the car.”

“I’d like to thank her for canvassing.”

“Oh!” said Dinny, “she enjoyed it;” and, suddenly feeling that it was now or never, added: “She’s at a loose end, you know, badly wants something to do. Mr. Dornford, you don’t think — this is too bad — but I suppose she wouldn’t be of any use to you as a secretary, would she? There, it’s out! She does know the county pretty well; she can type, and speak French, and German a little, if that’s any use.” It had come with a rush, and she stood looking at him ruefully. But his eager expression had not changed.

“Let’s go and see her,” he said.

Dinny thought: ‘Gracious! I hope he hasn’t fallen in love with her!’ and she glanced at him sidelong. Still smiling, his face looked shrewd now. Clare was standing beside the car. ‘I wish,’ thought Dinny, ‘I had her coolness.’ Then she stood still and watched. All this triumphal business, these people coming and going, those two talking so readily and quickly; the clear and sparkling morning! He came back to her.

“Thank you most awfully, Miss Cherrell. It’ll do admirably. I did want someone, and your sister is very modest.”

“I thought you’d never forgive me for asking at such a moment.”

“Always delighted for you to ask anything at any moment. I must go back now, but I’ll hope to see you again very soon.”

Gazing after him as he re-entered the building, she thought: ‘He has very nicely cut riding breeches!’ And she got into the car.

“Dinny,” said Clare, with a laugh, “he’s in love with you.”

“What!”

“I asked for two hundred, and he made it two hundred and fifty at once. How did you do it in one evening?”

“I didn’t. It’s you he’s in love with, I’m afraid.”

“No, no, my dear. I have eyes, and I know it’s you; just as you knew that Tony Croom was in love with me.”

“I could see that.”

“And I could see this.”

Dinny said quietly: “That’s absurd. When do you begin?”

“He’s going back to Town today. He lives in the Temple — Harcourt Buildings. I shall go up this afternoon and start in the day after tomorrow.”

“Where shall you live?”

“I think I shall take an unfurnished room or a small studio, and decorate and furnish it gradually myself. It’ll be fun.”

“Aunt Em is going back this afternoon. She would put you up till you find it.”

“Well,” said Clare, pondering; “perhaps.”

Just before they reached home Dinny said:

“What about Ceylon, Clare? Have you thought any more?”

“What’s the good of thinking? I suppose he’ll do something, but I don’t know what, and I don’t care.”

“Haven’t you had a letter?”

“No.”

“Well, darling, be careful.”

Clare shrugged: “Oh! I’ll be careful.”

“Could he get leave if he wanted?”

“I expect so.”

“You’ll keep in touch with me, won’t you?”

Clare leaned sideways from the wheel and gave her cheek a kiss.

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