Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 7

After young Croom had gone Clare stood for a moment in the hall recollecting the last time she had gone out of that front door, in a fawn-coloured suit and a little brown hat, between rows of people saying: “Good luck!” and “Good-bye, darling!” and “Give my love to Paris!” Eighteen months ago, and so much in between! Her lip curled, and she went into her Uncle’s study.

“Oh! Uncle Lawrence, you ARE in! Tony Croom’s been here to see you.”

“That rather pleasant young man without occupation?”

“Yes. He wanted to thank you.”

“For nothing, I’m afraid.” And Sir Lawrence’s quick dark eyes, like a snipe’s or woodcock’s, roved sceptically over his pretty niece. She was not, like Dinny, a special favourite, but she was undoubtedly attractive. It was early days to have messed up her marriage; Em had told him and said that it wasn’t to be mentioned. Well, Jerry Corven! People had always shrugged and hinted. Too bad! But no real business of his.

A subdued voice from the door said:

“Sir Gerald Corven has called, Sir Lawrence.”

Involuntarily Sir Lawrence put his finger to his lips. The butler subdued his voice still further.

“I put him in the little room and said I would see if Lady Corven was in.”

Sir Lawrence noted Clare’s hands hard pressed down on the back of the chair behind which she was standing.

“ARE you in, Clare?”

She did not answer, but her face was hard and pale as stone.

“A minute, Blore. Come back when I ring.”

The butler withdrew.

“Now, my dear?”

“He must have taken the next boat. Uncle, I don’t want to see him.”

“If we only say you’re out, he’ll probably come again.”

Clare threw back her head. “Well, I’ll see him!”

Sir Lawrence felt a little thrill.

“If you’d tell me what to say, I’d see him for you.”

“Thank you, Uncle, but I don’t see why you should do my dirty work.”

Sir Lawrence thought: ‘Thank God!’

“I’ll be handy in case you want me. Good luck, my dear!” And he went out.

Clare moved over to the fire; she wanted the bell within reach. She had the feeling, well known to her, of settling herself in the saddle for a formidable jump. ‘He shan’t touch me, anyway,’ she thought. She heard Blore’s voice say:

“Sir Gerald Corven, my lady.” Quaint! Announcing a husband to his wife! But staff knew everything!

Without looking she saw perfectly well where he was standing. A surge of shamed anger stained her cheeks. He had fascinated her; he had used her as every kind of plaything. He had —!

His voice, cuttingly controlled, said:

“Well, my dear, you were very sudden.” Neat and trim, as ever, and like a cat, with that thin-lipped smile and those daring despoiling eyes!

“What do you want?”

“Only yourself.”

“You can’t have me.”

“Absurd!”

He made the quickest kind of movement and seized her in his arms. Clare bent her head back and put her finger on the bell.

“Move back, or I ring!” and she put her other hand between his face and hers. “Stand over there and I’ll talk to you, otherwise you must go.”

“Very well! But it’s ridiculous.”

“Oh! Do you think I should have gone if I hadn’t been in earnest?”

“I thought you were just riled, and I don’t wonder. I’m sorry.”

“It’s no good discussing what happened. I know you, and I’m not coming back to you.”

“My dear, you have my apology, and I give you my word against anything of the sort again.”

“How good of you!”

“It was only an experiment. Some women adore it, if not at the time.”

“You are a beast.”

“And beauty married me. Come, Clare, don’t be silly, and make us a laughing-stock! You can fix your own conditions.”

“And trust you to keep them! Besides, that’s not my idea of a life. I’m only twenty-four.”

The smile left his lips.

“I see. I noticed a young man come out of this house. Name and estate?”

“Tony Croom. Well?”

He walked over to the window, and after a moment’s contemplation of the street, turned and said:

“You have the misfortune to be my wife.”

“So I was thinking.”

“Quite seriously, Clare, come back to me.”

“Quite seriously, no.”

“I have an official position, and I can’t play about with it. Look at me!” He came closer. “I may be all you think me, but I’m neither a humbug nor old-fashioned. I don’t trade on my position, or on the sanctity of marriage, or any of that stuff. But they still pay attention to that sort of thing in the Service, and I can’t afford to let you divorce me.”

“I didn’t expect it.”

“What then?”

“I know nothing except that I’m not coming back.”

“Just because of —?”

“And a great deal else.” The cat-like smile had come back and prevented her from reading what he was thinking.

“Do you want me to divorce you?”

Clare shrugged. “You have no reason.”

“So you would naturally say.”

“And mean.”

“Now look here, Clare, this is all absurd, and quite unworthy of anyone with your sense and knowledge of things. You can’t be a perpetual grass widow. You didn’t dislike the life out there.”

“There are some things that can’t be done to me, and you have done them.”

“I’ve said that they shan’t be done again.”

“And I’ve said that I can’t trust you.”

“This is going round the mulberry bush. Are you going to live on your people?”

“No. I’ve got a job.”

“Oh! What?”

“Secretary to our new Member.”

“You’ll be sick of that in no time.”

“I don’t think so.”

He stood staring at her without his smile. For a moment she could read his thoughts, for his face had the expression which preludes sex. Suddenly he said: “I won’t stand for another man having you.”

It was a comfort to have seen for once the bottom of his mind. She did not answer.

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“I meant it.”

“I could see that.”

“You’re a stony little devil.”

“I wish I had been.”

He took a turn up and down the room, and came to a stand dead in front of her.

“Look at me! I’m not going back without you. I’m staying at the Bristol. Be sensible, there’s a darling, and come to me there. We’ll start again. I’ll be ever so nice to you.”

Her control gave way, and she cried out: “Oh, for God’s sake, understand! You killed all the feeling I had for you.”

His eyes dilated and then narrowed, his lips became a line. He looked like a horse-breaker.

“And understand ME,” he said, very low, “you either come back to me or I divorce you. I won’t leave you here, to kick your heels.”

“I’m sure you’ll have the approval of every judicious husband.”

The smile reappeared on his lips.

“For that,” he said, “I’m going to have a kiss.” And before she could stop him he had fastened his lips on hers. She tore herself away and pressed the bell. He went quickly to the door.

“Au revoir!” he said, and went out.

Clare wiped her lips. She felt bewildered and exhausted, and quite ignorant whether to him or to her the day had gone.

She stood leaning her forehead on her hands over the fire, and became aware that Sir Lawrence had come back and was considerately saying nothing.

“Awfully sorry, Uncle; I shall be in my digs next week.”

“Have a cigarette, my dear.”

Clare took the cigarette, and inhaled its comfort. Her uncle had seated himself and she was conscious of the quizzical expression of his eyebrows.

“Conference had its usual success?”

Clare nodded.

“The elusive formula. The fact is, human beings are never satisfied with what they don’t want, however cleverly it’s put. Is it to be continued in our next?”

“Not so far as I’m concerned.”

“Pity there are always two parties to a conference.”

“Uncle Lawrence,” she said suddenly, “what is the law of divorce now?”

The baronet uncrossed his long thin legs.

“I’ve never had any particular truck with it. I believe it’s less old-fashioned than it was, but see Whitaker.” He reached for the red-backed volume. “Page 258 — here you are, my dear.”

Clare read in silence, while he gazed at her ruefully. She looked up and said.

“Then, if I want him to divorce me, I’ve got to commit adultery.”

“That is, I believe, the elegant way they put it. In the best circles, however, the man does the dirty work.”

“Yes, but he won’t. He wants me back. Besides, he’s got his position to consider.”

“There is that, of course,” said Sir Lawrence, thoughtfully; “a career in this country is a tender plant.”

Clare closed the Whitaker.

“If it weren’t for my people,” she said, “I’d give him cause tomorrow and have done with it.”

“You don’t think a better way would be to give partnership another trial?”

Clare shook her head.

“I simply couldn’t.”

“That’s that, then,” said Sir Lawrence, “and it’s an awkward ‘that.’ What does Dinny say?”

“I haven’t discussed it with her. She doesn’t know he’s here.”

“At present, then, you’ve no one to advise you?”

“No. Dinny knows why I left, that’s all.”

“I should doubt if Jerry Corven is a very patient man.”

Clare laughed.

“We’re neither of us long-suffering.”

“Do you know where he is staying?”

“At the Bristol.”

“It might,” said Sir Lawrence slowly, “be worth while to keep an eye on him.”

Clare shivered. “It’s rather degrading; besides, Uncle, I don’t want to hurt his career. He’s very able, you know.”

Sir Lawrence shrugged. “To me,” he said, “and to all your kin, his career is nothing to your good name. How long has he got over here?”

“Not long, I should think.”

“Would you like me to see him, and try to arrange that you go your own ways?”

Clare was silent, and Sir Lawrence, watching her, thought: ‘Attractive, but a lot of naughty temper. Any amount of spirit, and no patience at all.’ Then she said:

“It was all my fault, nobody wanted me to marry him. I hate to bother you. Besides, he wouldn’t consent.”

“You never know,” murmured Sir Lawrence. “If I get a natural chance, shall I?”

“It would be lovely of you, only —”

“All right, then. In the meantime young men without jobs — are they wise?”

Clare laughed. “Oh, I’ve ‘larned’ him. Well, thank you frightfully, Uncle Lawrence. You’re a great comfort. I was an awful fool; but Jerry has a sort of power, you know; and I’ve always liked taking risks. I don’t see how I can be my mother’s daughter, she hates them; and Dinny only takes them on principle.” She sighed. “I won’t bore you any more now.” And, blowing a kiss, she went out.

Sir Lawrence stayed in his armchair thinking: ‘Putting my oar in! A nasty mess, and going to be nastier! Still, at her age something’s got to be done. I must talk to Dinny.’

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