With that promise to her credit she went back to Condaford the following day and gave herself to mitigation of the atmosphere she found there. Her father and mother, living their ordinary lives, were obviously haunted and harassed. Her mother, sensitive and secluded, was just shrinking from publicity discreditable to Clare. Her father seemed to feel that, however the case went, most people would think his daughter a light women and a liar; young Croom would be excused more or less, but a woman who allowed circumstance to take such turns would find no one to excuse her. He was clearly feeling, too, a vindictive anger against Jerry Corven, and a determination that the fellow should not be successful if he could help it. Faintly amused at an attitude so male, Dinny felt a sort of admiration at the painful integrity with which he was grasping the shadow and letting the substance go. To her father’s generation divorce still seemed the outward and visible sign of inner and spiritual disgrace. To herself love was love and, when it became aversion, ceased to justify sexual relationship. She had, in fact, been more shocked by Clare’s yielding to Jerry Corven in her rooms than by her leaving him in Ceylon. The divorce suits she had occasionally followed in the papers had done nothing to help her believe that marriages were made in heaven. But she recognised the feelings of those brought up in an older atmosphere, and avoided adding to the confusion and trouble in her people’s minds. The line she took was more practical: The thing would soon be over one way or the other, and probably the other! People paid very little attention to other people’s affairs nowadays!
“What!” said the General sardonically. “‘Night in a car’— it’s the perfect headline. Sets everybody thinking at once how they themselves would have behaved.”
She had no answer, but: “They’ll make a symposium of it, darling: The Home Secretary, the Dean of St. Paul’s, the Princess Elizabeth.”
She was disturbed when told that Dornford had been asked to Condaford for Easter.
“I hope you don’t mind, Dinny; we didn’t know whether you’d be here or not.”
“I can’t use the expression ‘I’m agreeable’ even to you, Mother.”
“Well, darling, one of these days you must go down into the battle again.”
Dinny bit her lip and did not answer. It was true, and the more disquieting. Coming from her gentle and unmanaging mother, the words stung.
Battle! Life, then, was like the war. It struck you down into hospital, turned you out therefrom into the ranks again. Her mother and father would hate ‘to lose her,’ but they clearly wanted her ‘to go.’ And this with Clare’s failure written on the wall!
Easter came with a wind ‘fresh to strong.’ Clare arrived by train on the Saturday morning, Dornford by car in the afternoon. He greeted Dinny as if doubtful of his welcome.
He had found himself a house. It was on Campden Hill. He had been terribly anxious to know Clare’s opinion of it, and she had spent a Sunday afternoon going over it with him.
“‘Eminently desirable,’ Dinny. ‘South aspect; garage and stabling for two horses; good garden; all the usual offices, centrally heated,’ and otherwise well-bred. He thinks of going in towards the end of May. It has an old tiled roof, so I put him on to French grey for shutters. Really, it’s rather nice, and roomy.”
“It sounds ‘marvellous.’ I suppose you’ll be going there instead of to the Temple?”
“Yes, he’s moving into Pump Court, or Brick Buildings — I can’t remember. When you think of it, Dinny, why shouldn’t he have been made co-respondent instead of Tony? I see much more of him.”
Otherwise allusion to ‘the case’ was foregone. It would be one of the first after the undefended suits were disposed of, and calm before the storm was reigning.
Dornford, indeed, referred to it after lunch on Sunday.
“Shall you be in court during your sister’s case, Dinny?”
“I’m afraid it may make you very wild. They’ve briefed Brough, and he’s particularly exasperating when he likes with a simple denial like this; that’s what they’ll rely on. Clare must try and keep cool.”
Dinny remembered ‘very young’ Roger’s wishing it had been herself and not Clare.
“I hope you’ll tell her that.”
“I’ll take her through her evidence, and cross-examine her on it. But one can’t tell the line Brough will take.”
“Shall you be in court yourself?”
“If I can, but the odds are I shan’t be free.”
“How long will it last?”
“More than a day, I’m afraid.”
“Poor Dad! Has Clare got a good man?”
“Yes — Instone, very much hampered by her refusal to talk about Ceylon.”
“That’s definite, you know. She won’t.”
“I like her for it, but I’m afraid it’s fatal.”
“So be it!” said Dinny: “I want her free. The person most to be pitied is Tony Croom.”
“He’s the only one of the three in love.”
“I see,” said Dornford, and was silent. Dinny felt sorry.
“Would you care for a walk?”
“Simply love it!”
“We’ll go up through the woods, and I’ll show you where the Cherrell killed the boar and won the de Campfort — our heraldic myth. Had you any family legend in Shropshire?”
“Yes, but the place has gone — sold when my father died; six of us and no money.”
“Oh!” said Dinny, “horrible when families are uprooted.”
“Live donkeys are better than dead lions.”
While they were going up through the coverts he talked about his new house, subtly ‘pumping’ her for expressions of her taste.
They came out into a sunken roadway leading on to a thorn-bush-covered down.
“Here’s the place. Virgin forest then, no doubt. We used to picnic here as children.”
Dornford took a deep breath. “Real English view — nothing spectacular, but no end good.”
“That’s the word.”
He spread his raincoat on the bank. “Sit down and let’s have a smoke.”
Dinny sat down.
“Come on part of it yourself, the ground’s not too dry.”
While he sat there, with his hands hugging his knees and his pipe fuming gently, she thought: ‘The most self-controlled man I ever came across, and the gentlest, except Uncle Adrian.’
“If only a boar would come along,” he said, “it would be prime!”
“Member of Parliament kills boar on spur of Chilterns,” murmured Dinny, but did not add: “Wins lady.”
“Wind’s off the gorse. Another three weeks and it’ll be green down there. Pick of the year — this, or the Indian summer, I never know. And yours, Dinny?”
“Um; and harvest. This ought to be glorious then — quite a lot of cornland.”
“It was just ripe when the war broke out. We came up picnicking two days before, and stayed till the moon rose. How much do you think people really fought for England, Mr. Dornford?”
“Practically all — for some nook or other of it; many just for the streets, and buses, and smell of fried fish. I fought mainly, I think, for Shrewsbury and Oxford. But Eustace is my name.”
“I’ll remember. We’d better go down now, or we shall be late for tea.”
And, all the way home, they contended with birds’ songs and the names of plants.
“Thanks for my treat,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed it, too.”
That walk had, indeed, a curiously soothing effect on Dinny. So, she could talk with him without question of love-making.
Bank holiday was sou’-westerly. Dornford spent a quiet hour with Clare over her evidence, and then went riding with her in the rain. Dinny’s morning went in arranging for spring cleaning and the chintzing of the furniture while the family were up in town. Her mother and father were to stay at Mount Street, she and Clare with Fleur. In the afternoon she pottered with the General round the new pigsties, progressing as slowly as a local builder, anxious to keep his men in work, could make them. She was not alone again with Dornford until after tea.
“Well,” he said, “I think your sister will do, if she keeps her temper.”
“Clare can be very cutting.”
“Yes, and there’s an underlying sentiment among lawyers against being cut up by outsiders in each other’s presence; even judges have it.”
“They won’t find her a ‘butterfly on the wheel.’”
“It’s no good getting up against institutions, you know; they carry too many guns.”
“Oh! well,” said Dinny, with a sigh, “it’s on the knees of the gods.”
“Which are deuced slippery. Could I have a photograph of you, preferably as a little girl?”
“I’ll see what we’ve got — I’m afraid only snaps; but I think there’s one where my nose doesn’t turn up too much.”
She went to a cabinet, took a drawer out bodily, and put it on the covered billiard table.
“The family snap-hoard — choose!”
He stood at her side and they turned them over.
“I took most of them, so there aren’t many of me.”
“Is that your brother?”
“Yes, and this — just before he went to the war. This is Clare the week before she was married. Here’s one of me, with some hair. Dad took that when he came home, the spring after the war.”
“When you were thirteen?”
“Fourteen nearly. It’s supposed to be like Joan of Arc being taken in by voices.”
“It’s lovely. I shall get it enlarged.”
He held it to the light. The figure was turned three quarters, and the face lifted to the branches of a fruit tree in blossom. The whole of the little picture was very much alive; the sun having fallen on the blossom and on Dinny’s hair, which hung to her waist.
“Mark the rapt look,” she said; “there must have been a cat up the tree.”
He put it into his pocket and returned to the table.
“And this?” he said: “Could I have this too?”
The snap was one of her a little older, but still with her hair uncut, full face, hands clasped in front, head a little down and eyes looking up.
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was there.” It was the counterpart of one she had sent to Wilfrid.
Dornford nodded; and she realised that in some uncanny way he knew why. Seized with compunction, she said:
“Oh! yes, you can. It doesn’t matter, now.” And she put it into his hand . . . .
After Dornford and Clare had left on Tuesday morning, Dinny studied a map, took the car and set out for Bablock Hythe. She did not care for driving, but she was moved by the thought of Tony Croom deprived of his week-end glimpse of Clare. The twenty-five miles took her well over an hour. At the inn she was told that he would be at his cottage, and, leaving the car, she walked over. He was in shirt-sleeves distempering the walls of the low, timbered sitting-room. From the doorway she could see the pipe wobble in his mouth.
“Anything wrong with Clare?” he said at once.
“Nothing whatever. I just thought I’d like to have a look at your habitat.”
“How terribly nice of you! I’m doing a job of work.”
“Clare likes duck’s-egg green; this is the nearest I can get to it.”
“It goes splendidly with the beams.”
Young Croom said, looking straight before him, “I can’t believe I’ll ever get her here, but I can’t help pretending; otherwise the sand would be clean out of my dolly.”
Dinny put her hand on his sleeve.
“You’re not going to lose your job. I’ve seen Jack Muskham.”
“Already? You’re marvellous. I’ll just wash off and get my coat on, and show you round.”
Dinny waited in the doorway where a streak of sunlight fell. The two cottages, knocked into one, still had their ramblers, wistaria, and thatched roof. It would be very pretty.
“Now,” said young Croom. “The boxes are all finished, and the paddocks have got their water. In fact, we only want the animals; but they’re not to be here till May. Taking no risks. Well, I’d rather have this case over first. You’ve come from Condaford?”
“Yes. Clare went back this morning. She would have sent her love, but she didn’t know I was coming.”
“Why DID you come?” said young Croom bluntly.
He thrust his arm within hers.
“Yes. So sorry! Do you find,” he added suddenly, “that thinking of other people suffering helps?”
“No. Wanting someone is like tooth or ear ache. You can’t get away from it.”
“This time of year, too,” said young Croom, with a laugh. “The difference between being ‘fond of’ and ‘loving’! I’m getting desperate, Dinny. I don’t see how Clare can ever change. If she were ever going to love me, she would by now. If she’s not going to love me, I couldn’t stick it here. I’d have to get away to Kenya or somewhere.”
Looking at his eyes, ingenuously hanging on her answer, her nerve went. It was her own sister; but what did she know of her, when it came to the depths?
“You never know. I wouldn’t give up.”
Young Croom pressed her arm.
“Sorry to be talking of my mania. Only, when one longs day and night —”
“I must buy a goat or two. Horses don’t like donkeys; and as a rule they shy at goats; but I want to make these paddocks feel homy. I’ve got two cats for the boxes. What do you think?”
“I only know about dogs, and — pigs theoretically.”
“Come and have lunch. They’ve got a rather good ham.”
He did not again speak of Clare; and, after partaking together of the rather good ham, he put Dinny into her car and drove her the first five miles of the way home, saying that he wanted a walk.
“I think no end of you for coming,” he said, squeezing her hand hard: “It was most frightfully sporting. Give my love to Clare,” and he went off, waving his hand, as he turned into a field-path.
She was absent-minded during the rest of the drive. The day, though still south-westerly, had gleams of sunlight, and sharp showers of hail. Putting the car away she got the spaniel Foch and went out to the new pigsties. Her father was there, brooding over their construction like the Lieutenant-General he was, very neat, resourceful, faddy. Doubtful whether they would ever contain pigs, Dinny slipped her arm through his.
“How’s the battle of Pigsville?”
“One of the bricklayers was run down yesterday, and that carpenter there has cut his thumb. I’ve been talking to old Bellows, but — dash it! — you can’t blame him for wanting to keep his men in work. I sympathise with a chap who sticks by his own men, and won’t have union labour. He says he’ll be finished by the end of next month, but he won’t.”
“No,” said Dinny, “he’s already said that twice.”
“Where have you been?”
“Over to see Tony Croom.”
“No. I just wanted to tell him that I’ve seen Mr. Muskham, and he won’t lose his job.”
“Glad of that. He’s got grit, that boy. Pity he didn’t go into the army.”
“I’m very sorry for him, Dad; he really is in love.”
“Still a common complaint,” said the General drily: “Did you see they’ve more than balanced the Budget? It’s an hysterical age, with these European crises for breakfast every other morning.”
“That’s the papers. The French papers, where the print is so much smaller, don’t excite one half so much. I couldn’t get the wind up at all when I was reading them.”
“Papers, and wireless; everything known before it happens; and headlines twice the size of the events. You’d think, to judge from the speeches and the ‘leaders,’ that the world had never been in a hole before. The world’s always in a hole, only in old days people didn’t make a song about it.”
“But without the song would they have balanced the Budget, dear?”
“No, it’s the way we do things nowadays. But it’s not English.”
“Do we know what’s English and what isn’t, Dad?”
The General wrinkled up his weathered face, and a smile crept about the wrinkles. He pointed at the pigsties.
“Those are. Done in the end, but not before they must be.”
“Do you like that?”
“No; but I like this hysterical way of trying to cure it even less. You’d think we’d never been short of money before. Why, Edward the Third owed money all over Europe. The Stuarts were always bankrupt. And after Napoleon we had years to which these last years have been nothing, but they didn’t have it for breakfast every morning.”
“When ignorance was bliss!”
“Well, I dislike the mixture of hysteria and bluff we’ve got now.”
“Would you suppress the voice that breathes o’er Eden?”
“Wireless? ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new. And God fulfils himself in many ways,’” quoted the General, “‘lest one good custom should corrupt the world.’ I remember a sermon of old Butler’s at Harrow on that text — one of his best, too. I’m not hidebound, Dinny, at least I hope not. Only I think everything’s talked out too much. It’s talked out so much that it’s not felt.”
“I believe in the Age, Dad. It’s dropped its superfluous clothes. Look at those old pictures in The Times lately. You smelt dogma and flannel petticoat.”
“Not flannel,” said the General, “in my day.”
“You should know, dear.”
“As a matter of fact, Dinny, I believe MINE was the really revolutionary generation. You saw that play about Browning? There you had it; but that was all gone before I went to Sandhurst. We thought as we liked, and we acted as we thought, but we still didn’t talk. Now they talk before they think, and when it comes to action, they act much as we did, if they act at all. In fact, the chief difference between now and fifty years ago is the freedom of expression; it’s so free now, that it takes the salt out of things.”
“That’s profound, Dad.”
“But not new; I’ve read it a dozen times.”
“‘You don’t think the war had any great influence, then, sir?’ They always ask that in interviews.”
“The war? It’s influence is pretty well over by now. Besides, the people of my generation were already too set. The next generation was wiped or knocked out —”
“Not the females.”
“No, they ran riot a bit, but they weren’t really in the thing. As for your generation, the war’s a word.”
“Well, thank you, dear,” said Dinny. “It’s been very instructive, but it’s going to hail. Come along, Foch!”
The General turned up the collar of his coat and crossed over to the carpenter who had cut his thumb. Dinny saw him examining the bandage. She saw the carpenter smile, and her father pat him on the shoulder.
‘His men must have liked him,’ she thought. ‘He may be an old buffer, but he’s a nice one.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08