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Authors: D. E. Stevenson

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“Then why not let the divorce go through?” I asked her, bewildered by the whole thing. “If you like Mr. Hamilton, and your life with Garth is unbearable.”

“Good God!” she cried. “You must be mad to suggest such a thing, Charlotte. Do you think I should let Garth drag me through the mud? Do you think I should let him do what he likes without raising a finger to defend myself? And as for George, he would bore me in a month. He bores me already.”

“There's Clementina, of course,” I said, thinking perhaps I had found the solution of Kitty's attitude in her love for her child.

“Oh, Clem!” said Kitty, listless after her outburst. “Clem is a funny sort of creature—a dull, plain child. I don't know how on earth I could ever have had a child like Clem. George says the same. She's frightfully unattractive.”

I could make no sense of it, no sense at all.

Garth had returned from Wales and was staying at his flat in town. I met him one day in the park and he raised his hat to me with a grave smile and passed on. I thought he looked worn and unhappy. I thought he had aged. His new book had just come out and was causing quite a stir among a certain set of critical people. Garth's books were not for everybody: his first had been the account of a hunting expedition in Africa; his second, a novel. They were alike in being well and carefully written, thoughtful, cynical and amusing. I did not care for the novel, the characters were unpleasing—there was not a pleasant character in the book—but I could see that it was clever, I could see that it had something vital in it, something that promised better things to come.

One day, Kitty took me to see Mr. Corrieston. I had heard so much about Mr. Corrieston by this time that I was sick of the man already, before I had seen him. I went to his office feeling sure that I should dislike him intensely and I found my foreboding correct. Mr. Corrieston was short and thick-set with sandy hair. I thought him like a fox—like a fat fox, if you can imagine such a loathsome animal. I had hoped that Mr. Corrieston would clear my mind for me, would make the whole thing plain and understandable, but he did no such thing. He talked a lot, and he answered my questions, but he never made anything clear. I see now, looking back, that he did not intend me to understand. He could have enlightened me if he had wanted, but he preferred to bewilder me with legal terms and vague contradictory allusions. He and Kitty understood each other perfectly. His manner to her was offensively familiar. He patted her arm with his pudgy hand and called her “my dear little lady.” He was the pawing type of man, a type I have always detested. Kitty seemed to like it; she smiled at him and laughed at his jokes which were not always in good taste.

“Oh, by the by,” he said, stretching out his hand for a file of papers, clipped together with a stud, “I've asked Frame to put his best man on to Mr. Wisdon—I told you I intended to have him shadowed, didn't I ?”

Kitty nodded.

“You are having Garth shadowed?” I exclaimed incredulously.

“Quite a usual procedure, my dear lady,” Mr. Corrieston assured me. “Quite a usual procedure under the circumstances. If we could find the woman—there must be a woman, of course.”

“But why?” I inquired.

“There always is,” Mr. Corrieston replied airily. “The sudden determination of Mr. Wisdon to launch a petition for divorce points to a woman.”

It appeared hazily, through the fog which was clouding my brain, that if this woman could be found and produced, the proceedings would fall through. I could not see why this should be the case, but it was no use asking Mr. Corrieston to explain. The more he explained things the more muddled I became. I thought at the time that he was a stupid man, a man incapable of putting things clearly; I learned afterward that he was diabolically clever.

“There is nothing to worry about,” Mr. Corrieston said to me, smiling his fat foxy smile. “We shall have to call you, of course, but it is a mere formality.”

“Call me? Do you mean as a witness?” I asked, appalled at the idea.

“Yes, as a witness.”

“But why me? What do I know?”

Mr. Corrieston laughed. “It is merely a formality, Miss Dean. You remember the night that Mrs. Wisdon spent with you? We shall want your evidence that she spent it in your flat. You remember the occasion.”

“Of course I remember the occasion. She slept in my bed,” I said stupidly.

“That's all we want,” said Mr. Corrieston, smiling more foxily than ever.

“It all hangs on you, Char,” Kitty put in eagerly.

“Not at all,” Mr. Corrieston interrupted her. “Very little hangs on Miss Dean. We must not make Miss Dean nervous by telling her that she is an important witness when she is nothing of the kind. Her evidence will be very simple, a mere formality.”

“Yes, of course,” Kitty agreed.

“Couldn't you leave me out, if my evidence isn't important?” I asked, grasping at any straw that could save me from an ordeal that I dreaded.

Mr. Corrieston appeared to consider. “I think not,” he said. “I think your evidence might strengthen our case. You remember the date of the night in question?”

“No,” I said, “but I shall have it in my diary.”

Mr. Corrieston rubbed his hands. “Admirable!” he exclaimed. “How truly admirable to keep a diary! Let me congratulate you upon your perseverance, Miss Dean. How often have I started upon January first with the best intentions, only to fall away in a lamentable manner before the end of the month was reached!”

“I don't know how you can be bothered,” Kitty said.

“It's just a habit,” I told them.

It was an easy matter, when I went home that night, to turn back the pages of my diary and find that the night Kitty had spent with me was the night of the eighteenth of March.

“Admirable, my dear lady,” said Mr. Corrieston, and even Kitty agreed quite pleasantly that diaries had their uses.

The time of waiting passed unbearably slowly. The Wisdon case was a defended one and therefore had to wait until the undefended petitions had been heard. I realized very clearly during those weeks that Kitty was a woman who lived entirely for herself. Nobody else mattered; nothing mattered except that she should have what she wanted, that she should be comforted when she needed comfort and sympathized with when she needed sympathy. After twelve years, during which I had scarcely seen her for more than a few minutes at a time, she returned to me almost as a stranger; but, unlike a stranger, she leaned upon me to the point of exhaustion. She brought every mood to me, every transitory mood of anger or fear. She had no reticences—except those imposed upon her by her solicitor—she discussed the most intimate details of her life with a frankness that I found embarrassing; she burdened me with her troubles and perplexities and purposely misled me as to the essential facts of the case.

Kitty had become an undisciplined woman. She had been an undisciplined child, for her charm had carried her through trouble and saved her again and again from just punishment for her childish faults; but an undisciplined child can be lovable, can easily be forgiven, whereas an undisciplined woman is a weariness of the flesh. I realized, too, that Kitty had coarsened, not physically—for her body had been cared for with unremitting skill and attention—but coarsened mentally, or perhaps spiritually would be nearer the truth. This new Kitty was so different from the child I had loved that I could scarcely recognize her, and this feeling of strangeness made it all the more difficult for me to give her the sympathy she demanded so urgently. The coarsening of her mental fibers dismayed me. It was more grief to realize her degeneration, than to contemplate the mess she had made of her life, for the one was an inner and the fundamental thing and the other merely fortuitous.

So Kitty came back to me—a stranger in the deepest sense of the word—and leaned upon me with all her weight, and, because she was my sister and had been dear to me in days gone by, I did what I could for her and gave her what strength I had. I bore her no grudge for her long years of neglect, but I could not help feeling that I should have been more help to her in her hour of need if she had not shut me out of her life so completely for twelve years.

Chapter Three
Fog in Court

The strain of waiting for the case to be heard was so great that I was almost glad when the day came. By tomorrow or next day at the latest—for Mr. Corrieston had warned us that it might take two days—the whole thing would be over for good or ill and I would be free to settle down again in my old rut. I was so tired by this time that all I wanted was to be left alone, and I knew that, once the case was over, Kitty would leave me alone; she would have no further use for me. I did not feel the least bitter about this, I simply accepted it as a foregone conclusion, and was glad to think that I should be free. Once her fate was decided she would not require me to lean upon and she would drift out of my life again.

I awoke in the morning with a dull pain in my head, and a strange lassitude in every limb. It was raining hard and the air felt thick and difficult to breathe. I had got a holiday from Wentworth's for the occasion so I rose a little later than my usual hour. This made the day seem like Sunday and my brain was so dazed and befuddled that I found myself thinking what a strange thing it was that the Divorce Courts should be open on a Sunday. I only tell you this, Clare, so that you may understand what a queer state I was in. I tried to remember all the things that Mr. Corrieston had told me to say, but I could remember nothing except the milk—I was to be sure and say that the milk I had left for Kitty's morning tea had been finished and that half my loaf of bread had gone. It was true, of course, I remembered about the milk distinctly, because I had been a little surprised at the time; Kitty always used to take her morning cup of tea with lemon in it (she was never very fond of milk) but twelve years is a long time and Kitty had changed so much in other ways that it was ridiculous to expect her tastes to remain unaltered. Except for the milk, which I remembered perfectly, there were queer gaps in my brain—and the more I struggled to fill them the more bewildered I became—and there are queer gaps in my memory of what happened on that day. When I look back now the whole day is like a nightmare, fantastic and illusive. I can see myself having breakfast in the flat, and washing up the dishes, and putting on my hat in front of the tiny mirror in my bedroom, and the next thing I remember is sitting next to Kitty in court listening to Garth's counsel's opening speech.

(I suppose I was really ill, worn out with the strain of preceding weeks—an emotional strain and a physical strain combined. The whole affair had upset me terribly and I had no leisure to recover from the blow. Not only had I Kitty to soothe and sustain but I had my work at Wentworth's to carry out as usual—work which demanded its usual quota of time and energy. When Kitty usurped my usual reading hours I had to read far into the night to keep abreast of the new books which came out almost daily—it was no wonder that I was near breaking-point with the strain. In addition to all this I had contracted a germ and was sickening for 'flu. I did not realize this at the time; I only felt that I was wrapped in a kind of fog through which I had to grope my way. Faces appeared and disappeared confusedly, voices were startlingly loud at one moment, and, at the next, so faint and far away that I had to strain my ears to hear them.)

I looked about me in a dazed way; the court was crowded with all sorts and conditions of people—it was strange that so many people should be interested in Garth's and Kitty's unfortunate affairs. The courtroom was high and slightly Gothic in appearance, red curtains hung behind the Judge's chair. I looked at the Judge with interest. I thought he had a fine face, strong and kind, but he looked weary and disillusioned. It must be a tiring and disillusioning job to listen every day to tales of unhappy marriages and shipwrecked hopes. The jury, on the other hand, looked fresh and eager, this was an event in their lives, not an everyday duty, and I could see that they were feeling pleased and important, all except one man who sat at the end of the front row leaning his head on his hand in an attitude of intense dejection. There were three women in the jury; one of them was quite old with untidy white hair straggling from beneath a black felt hat, the other two were younger, somewhat about my own age I thought.

Garth's counsel was a tall, aristocratic-looking man with a slow, resonant voice and an air of dignity enhanced by his wig and gown. I tried to follow what he was saying, but there was an intermittent booming in my ears which prevented me from hearing his words distinctly. I heard a phrase here and there.

“… on the eighteenth of March the respondent went to her sister's flat in France Street…She telephoned to the petitioner saying she intended to stay the night with her sister…the petitioner's suspicions were aroused…”

I lost the next part, wondering why. Why should the petitioner's suspicions have been aroused? The petitioner was Garth of course. Garth was suspicious because Kitty was spending the night with me—strange! And yet after all was it so strange? Kitty had never done such a thing before, never shown any desire to do such a thing before. I had thought it queer myself. My brain could not reason any further nor follow out the implications or possible implications of Garth's suspicions, the thoughts slipped through it like water out of a sieve.

“…and so, my lord, I propose to show that the respondent did not spend the night with her sister…” But that was nonsense of course. Kitty had slept in my bed and I had slept on the couch in the sitting room. What on earth did the man mean by saying she “had not spent the night with her sister?” I looked at Kitty and saw that she was leaning forward watching the speaker with breathless interest, her face looked pinched and drawn, and there was a patch of red in the middle of her cheek. I looked up at the witness-box and saw that Garth had appeared there, he was standing up very straight and his face was in shadow, his eyes were like black holes in the pallor of his face. When he spoke in answer to counsel's questions his voice seemed very loud—much too loud to be clear—he did not seem able to modulate his voice to the acoustics of the court. Garth was nervous; he was hating it all, hating the publicity of the whole thing, hating the questions which were probing into his life and laying it bare for all the world to see. Oh, Garth, why did you do it; why did you take this dreadful step?

The jury was hanging on Garth's words. One of the younger women had her mouth open—but she was rather a nice-looking woman in spite of her unbecoming expression—I wondered if she were married, and, if so, whether it was very inconvenient for her to leave her home for a whole day. Perhaps she was happily married—she had a happy face—and thought the whole affair unnecessary and rather disgusting; or perhaps she was unhappily married—but I did not think so—and her sympathies were roused by the matrimonial troubles of Garth and Kitty.

Garth's counsel was finished. He folded himself in his black gown like a huge black bird closing its wings, and sat down. Kitty's counsel rose with a rustle of silk and papers to cross-examine Garth. I had heard a great deal about this man from Kitty and I looked at him with interest. Mr. Corrieston had told us that he was very clever and that we were lucky to get him. I wondered if we were. He had a flat pale face and prominent teeth, even his wig could not dignify him. Mr. Amber seemed to me a very mediocre sort of person—an entirely different and inferior class of person from Garth's counsel.

Garth was leaning forward now; he looked stern and somewhat defiant. Question and answer followed each other rapidly.

“You were suspicious when you heard that the respondent intended to stay the night with her sister?”

“I was.”

“Why?”

“Because, for one thing, she rarely troubled to inform me of her intentions.”


For
one
thing
—what other reason gave you cause for suspicion?”

“She had never stayed with her sister before.”

“Why had she never done so before?”

“How do I know?”

“Was the respondent on good terms with her sister?”

“That is irrelevant.”

Mr. Amber made a gesture of impatience and turned to the Judge: “My lord, the witness refuses to answer my questions.”

The Judge bent forward. “You must answer counsel's questions,” he said quietly. His voice was calm and clear.

“Even if they are irrelevant, my lord?” asked Garth.

“Even if you consider them irrelevant. Your counsel will protect you from irrelevancy if he considers it necessary.”

Garth bowed and the questions continued.

The court grew unbearably hot and stuffy; there was a dull pain at the back of my neck and behind my eyes. The legal phraseology wrapped everything in fog; the petitioner, the respondent, the co-respondent—these terms obscured the identity of Garth and Kitty and Mr. Hamilton. I had to make an effort to remember which was which and who was who, and the effort exhausted me.

Various witnesses appeared in the witness-box and were examined and cross-examined by Garth's counsel and Mr. Amber. There was a third counsel who sprang up like a jack-in-the-box and cross-examined some of the witnesses—a strange little man with a thin, sallow face and a wig perched crookedly over one eye—I couldn't, think who he was nor imagine what he had to do with it, and then I suddenly realized that he must be Mr. Hamilton's counsel, and
that
must be Mr. Hamilton sitting near him. I looked at Mr. Hamilton with interest, and saw a smooth, boyish face, the face of a schoolboy, with round cheeks and round eyes and smooth brown hair parted at the side. He looked bewildered and distressed, as if he were surprised to find himself in such a strange and embarrassing predicament.

I forced myself to listen to the evidence—there was now a small rat-faced man in the box who called himself a Private Inquiry Agent. He was obviously used to giving evidence in court and he gave it well, consulting a well-thumbed notebook from time to time in a professional manner.

“On the night of eighteenth of March I followed the respondent to a house in France Street…She disappeared up the stairs. I waited and saw the respondent at the window of the top-floor flat.”

“What did she do?”

“Pulled aside the blind and looked out. I waited a long time…I was just thinking it was no good when the co-respondent's car drove up to a house the other end of the street. I engaged a taxi in Well Street and returned to France Street. The respondent came out of the house and entered the co-respondent's car. They drove off rapidly. I followed in the taxi. They went to The Fellsborough Arms, at Maidenhead. It was half past one by that time. I took a room in the hotel. The next morning I saw the respondent and the co-respondent having breakfast in the dining room. I turned up the visitors' book and saw that their names had been entered as Mr. and Mrs. Warner…”

I heard it all with amazement—the night of the eighteenth of March was the night Kitty had spent with me. I grasped Kitty's arm and she turned to me with a white face and blazing eyes. “All lies,” she whispered. “Bribed by Garth.”

I relapsed onto the hard bench—
bribed
by
Garth
. Was it possible? No, it wasn't possible. Even my fuzzy brain rejected that explanation. They must have made a mistake; it must have been some other woman that had come out of the house in France Street and driven to Maidenhead—some other woman, not Kitty.

More witnesses appeared; the proprietor of the Fellsborough Arms who had been aroused from his bed to admit “Mr. and Mrs. Warner” at one thirty-five a.m. on the nineteenth of March; the chambermaid who had taken them their morning tea; the boots who had cleaned the two pairs of shoes which he found outside the door. They appeared in the box, were examined, cross-examined, turned inside out and held up to ridicule, made to look incredibly foolish, and dismissed. My heart sank lower. Soon it would be my turn; I should stand up there with every eye fixed upon me. They would wrangle over me as they had wrangled over Garth. “My lord, I object…” “My lord I submit that my friend has no right to put that question…” Would I be able to answer at all when they spoke to me? My voice would never come at the right moment—I felt sure of that—I should stand there dumb, quite unable to explain that it was all a mistake, that Kitty had slept in my bed and the rat-faced man had followed the wrong woman to Maidenhead. I should be struck dumb with sheer terror before the virulence of cross-examination. I had never imagined that it would be so virulent, so searching. When Mr. Amber jumped up to cross-examine he seemed to start with the conviction that his victim was a congenital liar. He wove nets for the witnesses and they fell into the nets and were entangled in their own words. I realized, of course, that, when my turn came, Mr. Amber would be on my side, and Garth's counsel—that quiet aristocrat with the slow resonant voice—would be against me. Would he browbeat me as these witnesses were being browbeaten? Would he turn me inside out and dismiss me with a tired smile and a wave of his hand as if I were unworthy of his time and trouble?

“Oh God,” I prayed, “make something happen before my turn comes.”

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