And three weeks passed, during which Clare saw young Croom but four times in all. She was packing for the evening train to Condaford, when the sheep bell summoned her down the spiral stairway.
Outside was a shortish man in horn spectacles, who gave her a vague impression of being connected with learning. He raised his hat.
“Pardon me, I have this for you.” Producing from his blue overcoat a longish document, he put it into her hand.
Clare read the words:
“In the High Court of Justice
Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division.
The Twenty-sixth day of February, 1932.
In the Matter of the Petition of Sir Gerald Corven.”
A weak feeling ran down the back of her legs, and she raised her eyes to the level of those behind the horn-rimmed spectacles.
“Oh!” she said.
The shortish man made her a little bow. She had a feeling that he was sorry for her, and promptly closed the door in his face. She went up the spiral stairs, sat down on the sofa, and lit a cigarette. Then she spread the document on her lap. Her first thought was: ‘But it’s monstrous — I’ve done nothing!’ Her second: ‘I suppose I must read the foul thing!’
She had not read more than: ‘The humble petition of Gerald Corven, K.C.B.,’ when she had her fourth thought: ‘But this is exactly what I want. I shall be free!’
More calmly she read on till she came to the words: ‘That your Petitioner claims from the said James Bernard Croom as damages in respect of his said adultery so committed the sum of two thousand pounds.’
Tony! If he had two thousand shillings, it was all! Beast! Revengeful brute! This sudden reduction of the issue to terms of hard cash not only rasped her feelings but brought her a sort of panic. Tony must not, should not be ruined through her! She must see him! Had they — but of course they had served it on him too.
She finished reading the petition, took a long draw at her cigarette and got up.
She went to the telephone, asked for a trunk call and gave the number of his inn.
“Can I speak to Mr. Croom? — Gone up to London? — In his car? — When?”
An hour ago! That could only mean that he was coming to see her!
A little soothed, she made a rapid calculation. She could not now catch the train to Condaford; and she got another trunk call through to the Grange.
“Dinny? This is Clare. I can’t possibly get down to-night — tomorrow morning instead. . . . No! I’m all right; a little worried. Good-bye!”
A little worried! She sat down again, and once more read the ‘foul thing’ through. They seemed to know everything, except the truth. And neither she nor Tony had ever seen a sign that they were being watched. That man with the horn ‘specs,’ for instance, evidently knew her, but she’d never seen him before! She went into the bathroom and washed her face in cold water. Miller of Dee! The part had become extremely difficult.
‘He’ll have had nothing to eat,’ she thought.
She set the table downstairs with what she had, made some coffee, and sat down to smoke and wait. Condaford and the faces of her people came before her; the face too, of Aunt Em; and of Jack Muskham; above all the face of her husband, with its faint, hard-bitten, cat-like smile. Was she to take this lying down? Apart from the damages, was she to let him triumph without a fight? She wished now she had taken her father’s and Sir Lawrence’s advice and ‘clapped a detective on to him.’ Too late now — he would be taking no risks till the case was over.
She was still brooding by the electric fire when she heard a car stop outside, and the bell rang.
Young Croom looked chilled and pale. He stood as if so doubtful of his welcome that she seized both his hands.
“Well, Tony, this is a pleasure!”
“You look frozen. Have some brandy!”
While he was drinking, she said:
“Don’t let’s talk of what we ought to have done; only of what we’re going to do.”
“They must have thought us terribly green. I never dreamed —”
“Nor I. But why shouldn’t we have done exactly what we have done? There’s no law against innocence.”
He sat down and leaned his forehead on his hands. “God knows this is just what I want; to get you free of him; but I had no business to let you run the risk. It would be all different if you felt for me what I feel for you.”
Clare looked down at him with a little smile.
“Now, Tony, be grown-up! It’s no good talking about our feelings. And I won’t have any nonsense about its being your fault. The point is we’re innocent. What are we going to do about it?”
“Of course I shall do whatever you want.”
“I have a feeling,” said Clare, slowly, “that I shall have to do what my people want me to.”
“God!” said young Croom, getting up: “To think that if we defend and win, you’ll still be tied to him!”
“And to think,” murmured Clare, “that if we don’t defend and win, you’ll be ruined.”
“Oh! Damn that — they can only make me bankrupt.”
“And your job?”
“I don’t see — I don’t know why —”
“I saw Jack Muskham the other day. He looks to me as if he wouldn’t like a co-respondent who hadn’t given notice of his intentions to the petitioner. You see I’ve got the jargon.”
“If we HAD been lovers, I would have, at once.”
“Even if I’d said ‘Don’t’?”
“You wouldn’t have.”
“I don’t know that.”
“Well, anyway, it doesn’t arise.”
“Except that if we don’t defend, you’ll feel a cad.”
“God! What a coil!”
“Sit down and let’s eat. There’s only this ham, but there’s nothing like ham when you feel sick.”
They sat down and made motions with their forks.
“Your people don’t know, Clare?”
“I only knew myself an hour ago. Did they bring you this same lovely document?”
They ate in silence for a minute or two. Then young Croom got up.
“I really can’t eat any more.”
“All right. Smoke!”
She took a cigarette from him, and said:
“Listen. I’m going down to Condaford tomorrow, and I think you’d better come over. They must see you, because whatever’s done must be done with open eyes. Have you a solicitor?”
“Nor I. I suppose we shall have to have one.”
“I’ll see to all that. If only I had money!”
“I apologise for a husband capable of asking for damages.”
Young Croom seized her hand. “Darling, I was only thinking of solicitors.”
“Do you remember my answering you on the boat: ‘Often more damnable, things beginning.’”
“I’ll never admit that.”
“I was thinking of my marriage, not of you.”
“Clare, wouldn’t it be far better, really, not to defend — just let it go? Then you’d be free. And after — if you wanted me, I’d be there, and if you didn’t, I wouldn’t.”
“Sweet of you, Tony; but I must tell my people. Besides — oh! a lot of things.”
He began walking up and down.
“D’you suppose they’ll believe us if we do defend? I don’t.”
“We shall be telling the exact truth.”
“People never believe the exact truth. What train are you going down by?”
“Shall I come too, or in the afternoon from Bablock Hythe?”
“That’s best. I’ll have broken it to them.”
“Will they mind frightfully?”
“They won’t like it.”
“Is your sister there?”
“My people are not exactly old-fashioned, Tony, but they’re not modern. Very few people are when they’re personally involved. The lawyers and the judge and jury won’t be, anyway. You’d better go now; and promise me not to drive like Jehu.”
“May I kiss you?”
“It’ll mean one more piece of exact truth, and there’ve been three already. Kiss my hand — that doesn’t count.”
He kissed it, muttered: “God bless you!” and, grabbing his hat, went out.
Clare turned a chair to the unwinking warmth of the electric fire, and sat brooding. The dry heat burned her eyes till they felt as if they had no lids and no capacity for moisture; slowly and definitely she grew angrier. All the feelings she had experienced, before she made up her mind that morning in Ceylon to cut adrift, came back to her with redoubled fury. How dared he treat her as if she had been a ‘light of love’? — worse than if she had been one — a light of love would never have stood it. How dared he touch her with that whip? And now how dared he have her watched, and bring this case? She would not lie down under this!
She began methodically to wash up and put the things away. She opened the door wide and let the wind come in. A nasty night, little whirlwinds travelling up and down the narrow Mews!
‘Inside me, too,’ she thought. Slamming-to the door, she took out her little mirror. Her face seemed so natural and undefended that it gave her a shock. She powdered it and touched her lips with salve. Then, drawing deep breaths, she shrugged her shoulders, lit a cigarette, and went upstairs. A hot bath!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08