Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 39

Adrian sat writing to his wife.

“Condaford: August 10.


“I promised to give you a true and particular account of how Dinny went off. Look in The Lantern for their conception of ‘the bride and bridegroom leaving the church.’ Fortunately, the lens of that enquiring organ caught them just before they pushed off — except in movies the camera simply cannot record movement; it always gets the sole of one foot cocked towards the eye, flannelises the knee of the other leg, and upsets the set of the trousers. Dornford looked quite good value — in this style, fourteen-and-six; and Dinny — bless her! — without the ‘bride’s smile,’ almost as if she saw the joke. Ever since the engagement, I’ve wondered what she’s really feeling. Love such as she gave Desert it certainly is not, but I don’t believe there’s any physical reluctance. When, yesterday, I said to her: ‘In good heart?’ her answer was: ‘No half heart, anyway.’ We both of us have reason to know that she can go all out in what she does for other people. But she’s really doing this for herself. She’ll be carrying on — she’ll have children — and she’ll count. That’s as it should be, and so I believe she feels. If she hasn’t what hopeful youth calls ‘a crush on’ Dornford, she admires and respects him, and I think quite rightly. Besides, he knows from me, if not from her, what she’s capable of, and won’t expect more until he gets it. The weather held up all right, and the church — wherein, by the way, your special correspondent was baptized — in the word of Verdant Green never looked ‘berrer.’ The congregation was perhaps a trifle Early English, though it seemed to me you could have got most of the faces at Woolworth’s.

“At the top of the nave, in the more holy positions, came our own gang, County and would-be County. The more I looked at County the more I thought how merciful that the states of life into which it has pleased God to call us have prevented the Charwells of our generation from looking County. Even Con and Liz, who have to stick down here all the time, haven’t got quite the hang of it. Remarkable, if you think, that there is such a thing as ‘County’ left; but I suppose it’ll last while there’s ‘huntin’ and shootin’. I remember, as a boy, out hunting (when I could screw a mount out of our stables or somebody else’s), I used to lurk out of reach of people for fear of having to talk to them, their words and music were so trying. Better to be human than County or even would-be County. I must say that Clare, after all her jollification in the courts, carried it off amazingly, and so far as I could see, nobody had the nerve to show any of the feelings which, as a fact, at this time of day, they probably hadn’t got. Then, a little less holy, came the village in force — Dinny’s a great favourite with them — quite a show of oldest inhabitants. Some real faces; an old chap called Downer, in a Bath chair, all ‘Whitechapel’ whiskers and beard, and shrewd remaining brown spaces. He perfectly remembered Hilary and me falling off a hay-cart we oughtn’t to have been on. And old Mrs. Tibwhite — a sweet old witch of a thing, who always let me eat her raspberries. The schoolchildren had a special holiday. Liz tells me not one in twenty of them has ever seen London, or indeed been ten miles out of the village, even now. But there’s a real difference in the young men and maidens. The girls have most excellent legs and stockings and quite tasteful dresses; and the youths good flannel suits and collars and ties — all done by the motor bike and the film. Lots of flowers in the church, and a good deal of bell-ringing and blowy organ-playing. Hilary did the swearing-in with his usual rapidity, and the old rector, who held the sponge, looked blue at the pace he went and the things he left out. Well, you want, of course, to hear about those dresses. The general effect, as they stood in the aisle, was what you might call delphinian. Dinny, even in white, has that look, and, consciously or not, the bridesmaids were togged up according; and what with Monica and Joan and two young Dornford nieces being slim and tall, they really looked like a planting of blue delphiniums, preceded by four blue tots, sweet, but none as pretty as Sheila. Really, that chickenpox was very perverse; you and your two were terribly missed, and Ronald as a page would just have topped everything up. I walked back to the Grange with Lawrence and Em, an imposing steel-grey presence slightly marred where ‘tears had got mixed with her powder sometimes.’ In fact, I had to stop her under a stricken tree and do some good work with one of those silk handkerchiefs you gave me. Lawrence was in feather — thought the whole show the least gimcrack thing he had seen for a long time, and had now more hope of the pound going still lower. Em had been to see the house on Campden Hill; she predicted that Dinny would be in love with Dornford within a year, which started another tear, so I called her attention to the tree which had in fact been struck by lightning while she and I and Hilary were standing under it. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you were squits — so providential; and the butler made a penholder out of the wood; it wouldn’t hold nibs, so I gave it to Con for school, and he cursed me. Lawrence, I’m old.’ Whereon Lawrence took her hand, and they walked hand in hand the rest of the way.

“The reception was held on the terrace and lawn; everybody came, schoolchildren and all, a quaint mix-up, but jolly, it seemed to me. I didn’t know I was so fond of the old place. However much one may believe in levelling-up chances, there’s something about old places. They can’t be re-created if they’re once let slip, and they focus landscape in a queer kind of way. Some villages and landscapes seem to have no core — you can’t explain why, but they feel hollow, and shallow and flat. A real old place puts heart into a neighbourhood. If the people who live in it are not just selfish pigs, it means a lot in a quiet way to people who have no actual ownership in it. The Grange is a sort of anchor to this neighbourhood. I doubt if you’d find a single villager, however poor, who grudged its existence, or wouldn’t feel the worse for its ruination. Generations of love and trouble, and goodness knows not too much money, have been spent on it, and the result is something very hand-made and special. Everything’s changing, and has got to change, no doubt, and how to save the old that’s worth saving, whether in landscape, houses, manners, institutions, or human types, is one of our greatest problems, and the one that we bother least about. We save our works of art, our old furniture, we have our cult — and a strong one — of ‘antiques,’ and not even the most go-ahead modern thought objects to that. Why not the same throughout our social life? ‘The old order changeth’— yes, but we ought to be able to preserve beauty and dignity, and the sense of service, and manners — things that have come very slowly, and can be made to vanish very fast if we aren’t set on preserving them somehow. Human nature being what it is, nothing seems to me more futile than to level to the ground and start again. The old order had many excrescences, and was by no means ‘all werry capital,’ but, now that the housebreakers are in, one does see that you can smash in an hour what has taken centuries to produce; and that, unless you can see your way pretty clearly to replace what admittedly wasn’t perfect with something more perfect, you’re throwing human life back instead of advancing it. The thing is to pick on what’s worth preserving, though I don’t say there’s very much that is. Well, that’s all very portentous! To come back to Dinny — they’re going to spend their honeymoon in Shropshire, round about where Dornford comes from. Then they come back here for a bit, then settle in on Campden Hill. I hope this weather will last for them. Honeymooning in wet weather, especially when one is keener on the other than the other is on the one, should be very trying. Dinny’s ‘going away’ frock, you may like to know, was blue, and suited her not quite down to the ground. We had a minute together. I gave her your love, and she sent you hers, and said: ‘Well, I’m very nearly over, Uncle dear. Wish me luck!’ I felt like piping my eye. Over what? Well, anyway, if wishes for luck will help, she goes wreathed with them; but all that kissing business is hard to get through. Con and Liz took theirs down at the car. I felt rather a brute, looking at their faces when she’d gone. They went away in Dornford’s car, with himself driving. After that I confess that I slunk off. They’re all right, I know, but it didn’t feel like it. There’s such cursed finality about a wedding, however easy divorce is or may become; besides, Dinny is not the sort who would take someone who loved her and then let him down; it’s the old-fashioned ‘for better for worse’ there, but I think it’ll be ‘for better’— in the long run, anyway. I sneaked out of sight into the orchard and then up through the fields to the woods. I hope it was as gorgeous a day with you as it was here. These beech-woods on the slopes are more beautiful than the careful beech-clumps they plant on downs, though even those have a sort of temple-like effect, in spite of being meant as landmarks or to give shade to sheep. I can assure you that wood about half-past five was enchanted. I went up the slope and sat down and just enjoyed it. Great shifting shafts of sunlight coming in below and splashing the trunks; and ever-so-green cool spaces between — only one word for it, holy. The trees, many of them, go up branchless for a long way, and some of the trunks looked almost white. Not much undergrowth and very little ‘life’ except jays and a brown squirrel. When you’re in a wood as lovely as that, and think of death duties and timber, your heart turns over and over as if you’d supped entirely off Spanish onions. Two hundred years in His sight may be as yesterday, but in mine I confess they’re like eternity. These woods are no longer ‘shot,’ and anybody can come into them. I suppose the young folk do — what a place to wander about in, lovering! I lay down in a patch of sunlight and thought of you; and two small grey wood-doves perched about fifty yards off and talked cosily to each other, so that I could have done with my field-glasses. Willow-herb and tansy were out where trees have come down and been cleared away — foxgloves don’t seem to flourish round here. It was very restful, except that one ached a bit because it was green and beautiful. Queer, that ‘beauty’ ache! Lurking consciousness of mortality, perhaps knowledge that all things must slip away from one in time, and the greater their beauty the greater the loss in store! Mistake in our make-up, that. We ought to feel: The greater the earth’s beauty, the more marvellous the screen of light and wind and foliage, the lovelier nature, in fact — the deeper and sweeter our rest in her will be. All very puzzling! I know the sight of a dead rabbit out in a wood like that affects me more than it does in a poulterer’s shop. I passed one as I was going back — killed by a weasel; its soft limpness seemed saying: ‘Pity I’m dead!’ Death may be a good thing, but life’s a better. A dead shape that’s still a shape moves one horribly. Shape IS life, and when life’s gone one can’t see why shape should remain even for the little time it does. I’d have liked to stay and see the moon come up and peer about in there, and slowly fill it all up with ghostly glistening; then I might have caught the feeling that shape lives on in rarefied form, and all of us, even the dead rabbits and birds and moths, still move and have their being — which may be the truth, for all I know or ever shall. But dinner was at eight, so I had to come away with the light still green and golden — there flows alliteration again like a twopenny brook! Outside, on the terrace, I met Dinny’s spaniel, Foch. Knowing his history, it was like meeting a banshee — not that he was howling; but it reminded me sharply of what Dinny has been through. He was sitting on his haunches and looking down at nothing, as dogs — especially spaniels — will when things are beyond them, and the one and only scent is no more, for the time being. He’ll go with them, of course, to Campden Hill when they come back. I went up and had a bath, and dressed, and stood at my window, listening to the drone of a tractor still cutting corn, and getting a little drunk on whiffs from the honeysuckle that climbs and flowers round my window. I see now what Dinny meant by: ‘Over.’ Over the river that she used to dream she couldn’t cross. Well, all life is crossing rivers, or getting drowned on the way. I hope — I believe — she’s touching shore. Dinner was just like dinner always is — we didn’t talk of her, or mention our feelings in any way. I played Clare a game of billiards — she struck me as softer and more attractive than I’ve ever seen her. And then I sat up till past midnight with Con, in order, apparently, that we might say nothing. They’ll miss her a lot, I’m afraid.

“The silence in my room, when I got up here at last, was stunning, and the moonlight almost yellow. The moon’s hiding, now, behind one of the elms, and the evening star shining above a dead branch. A few other stars are out, but very dim. It’s a night far from our time, far even from our world. Not an owl hooting, but the honeysuckle still sweet. And so, my most dear, here endeth the tale! Good night!

“Your ever loving


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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54