In Chancery, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 3

Visit to Irene

Jolyon found June waiting on the platform at Paddington. She had received his telegram while at breakfast. Her abode — a studio and two bedrooms in a St. John’s Wood garden — had been selected by her for the complete independence which it guaranteed. Unwatched by Mrs. Grundy, unhindered by permanent domestics, she could receive lame ducks at any hour of day or night, and not seldom had a duck without studio of its own made use of June’s. She enjoyed her freedom, and possessed herself with a sort of virginal passion; the warmth which she would have lavished on Bosinney, and of which — given her Forsyte tenacity — he must surely have tired, she now expended in championship of the underdogs and budding ‘geniuses’ of the artistic world. She lived, in fact, to turn ducks into the swans she believed they were. The very fervour of her protection warped her judgments. But she was loyal and liberal; her small eager hand was ever against the oppressions of academic and commercial opinion, and though her income was considerable, her bank balance was often a minus quantity.

She had come to Paddington Station heated in her soul by a visit to Eric Cobbley. A miserable Gallery had refused to let that straight-haired genius have his one-man show after all. Its impudent manager, after visiting his studio, had expressed the opinion that it would only be a ‘one-horse show from the selling point of view.’ This crowning example of commercial cowardice towards her favourite lame duck — and he so hard up, with a wife and two children, that he had caused her account to be overdrawn — was still making the blood glow in her small, resolute face, and her red-gold hair to shine more than ever. She gave her father a hug, and got into a cab with him, having as many fish to fry with him as he with her. It became at once a question which would fry them first.

Jolyon had reached the words: “My dear, I want you to come with me,” when, glancing at her face, he perceived by her blue eyes moving from side to side — like the tail of a preoccupied cat — that she was not attending. “Dad, is it true that I absolutely can’t get at any of my money?”

“Only the income, fortunately, my love.”

“How perfectly beastly! Can’t it be done somehow? There must be a way. I know I could buy a small Gallery for ten thousand pounds.”

“A small Gallery,” murmured Jolyon, “seems a modest desire. But your grandfather foresaw it.”

“I think,” cried June vigorously, “that all this care about money is awful, when there’s so much genius in the world simply crushed out for want of a little. I shall never marry and have children; why shouldn’t I be able to do some good instead of having it all tied up in case of things which will never come off?”

“Our name is Forsyte, my dear,” replied Jolyon in the ironical voice to which his impetuous daughter had never quite grown accustomed; “and Forsytes, you know, are people who so settle their property that their grandchildren, in case they should die before their parents, have to make wills leaving the property that will only come to themselves when their parents die. Do you follow that? Nor do I, but it’s a fact, anyway; we live by the principle that so long as there is a possibility of keeping wealth in the family it must not go out; if you die unmarried, your money goes to Jolly and Holly and their children if they marry. Isn’t it pleasant to know that whatever you do you can none of you be destitute?”

“But can’t I borrow the money?”

Jolyon shook his head. “You could rent a Gallery, no doubt, if you could manage it out of your income.”

June uttered a contemptuous sound.

“Yes; and have no income left to help anybody with.”

“My dear child,” murmured Jolyon, “wouldn’t it come to the same thing?”

“No,” said June shrewdly, “I could buy for ten thousand; that would only be four hundred a year. But I should have to pay a thousand a year rent, and that would only leave me five hundred. If I had the Gallery, Dad, think what I could do. I could make Eric Cobbley’s name in no time, and ever so many others.”

“Names worth making make themselves in time.”

“When they’re dead.”

“Did you ever know anybody living, my dear, improved by having his name made?”

“Yes, you,” said June, pressing his arm.

Jolyon started. ‘I?’ he thought. ‘Oh! Ah! Now she’s going to ask me to do something. We take it out, we Forsytes, each in our different ways.’

June came closer to him in the cab.

“Darling,” she said, “you buy the Gallery, and I’ll pay you four hundred a year for it. Then neither of us will be any the worse off. Besides, it’s a splendid investment.”

Jolyon wriggled. “Don’t you think,” he said, “that for an artist to buy a Gallery is a bit dubious? Besides, ten thousand pounds is a lump, and I’m not a commercial character.”

June looked at him with admiring appraisement.

“Of course you’re not, but you’re awfully businesslike. And I’m sure we could make it pay. It’ll be a perfect way of scoring off those wretched dealers and people.” And again she squeezed her father’s arm.

Jolyon’s face expressed quizzical despair.

“Where is this desirable Gallery? Splendidly situated, I suppose?”

“Just off Cork Street.”

‘Ah!’ thought Jolyon, ‘I knew it was just off somewhere. Now for what I want out of her!’

“Well, I’ll think of it, but not just now. You remember Irene? I want you to come with me and see her. Soames is after her again. She might be safer if we could give her asylum somewhere.”

The word asylum, which he had used by chance, was of all most calculated to rouse June’s interest.

“Irene! I haven’t seen her since! Of course! I’d love to help her.”

It was Jolyon’s turn to squeeze her arm, in warm admiration for this spirited, generous-hearted little creature of his begetting.

“Irene is proud,” he said, with a sidelong glance, in sudden doubt of June’s discretion; “she’s difficult to help. We must tread gently. This is the place. I wired her to expect us. Let’s send up our cards.”

“I can’t bear Soames,” said June as she got out; “he sneers at everything that isn’t successful”

Irene was in what was called the ‘Ladies’ drawing-room’ of the Piedmont Hotel.

Nothing if not morally courageous, June walked straight up to her former friend, kissed her cheek, and the two settled down on a sofa never sat on since the hotel’s foundation. Jolyon could see that Irene was deeply affected by this simple forgiveness.

“So Soames has been worrying you?” he said.

“I had a visit from him last night; he wants me to go back to him.”

“You’re not going, of course?” cried June.

Irene smiled faintly and shook her head. “But his position is horrible,” she murmured.

“It’s his own fault; he ought to have divorced you when he could.”

Jolyon remembered how fervently in the old days June had hoped that no divorce would smirch her dead and faithless lover’s name.

“Let us hear what Irene is going to do,” he said.

Irene’s lips quivered, but she spoke calmly.

“I’d better give him fresh excuse to get rid of me.”

“How horrible!” cried June.

“What else can I do?”

“Out of the question,” said Jolyon very quietly, “sans amour.”

He thought she was going to cry; but, getting up quickly, she half turned her back on them, and stood regaining control of herself.

June said suddenly:

“Well, I shall go to Soames and tell him he must leave you alone. What does he want at his age?”

“A child. It’s not unnatural”

“A child!” cried June scornfully. “Of course! To leave his money to. If he wants one badly enough let him take somebody and have one; then you can divorce him, and he can marry her.”

Jolyon perceived suddenly that he had made a mistake to bring June — her violent partizanship was fighting Soames’ battle.

“It would be best for Irene to come quietly to us at Robin Hill, and see how things shape.”

“Of course,” said June; “only. . . . ”

Irene looked full at Jolyon — in all his many attempts afterwards to analyze that glance he never could succeed.

“No! I should only bring trouble on you all. I will go abroad.”

He knew from her voice that this was final. The irrelevant thought flashed through him: ‘Well, I could see her there.’ But he said:

“Don’t you think you would be more helpless abroad, in case he followed?”

“I don’t know. I can but try.”

June sprang up and paced the room. “It’s all horrible,” she said. “Why should people be tortured and kept miserable and helpless year after year by this disgusting sanctimonious law?” But someone had come into the room, and June came to a standstill. Jolyon went up to Irene:

“Do you want money?”

“No.”

“And would you like me to let your flat?”

“Yes, Jolyon, please.”

“When shall you be going?”

“To-morrow.”

“You won’t go back there in the meantime, will you?” This he said with an anxiety strange to himself.

“No; I’ve got all I want here.”

“You’ll send me your address?”

She put out her hand to him. “I feel you’re a rock.”

“Built on sand,” answered Jolyon, pressing her hand hard; “but it’s a pleasure to do anything, at any time, remember that. And if you change your mind. . . .! Come along, June; say good-bye.”

June came from the window and flung her arms round Irene.

“Don’t think of him,” she said under her breath; “enjoy yourself, and bless you!”

With a memory of tears in Irene’s eyes, and of a smile on her lips, they went away extremely silent, passing the lady who had interrupted the interview and was turning over the papers on the table.

Opposite the National Gallery June exclaimed:

“Of all undignified beasts and horrible laws!”

But Jolyon did not respond. He had something of his father’s balance, and could see things impartially even when his emotions were roused. Irene was right; Soames’ position was as bad or worse than her own. As for the law — it catered for a human nature of which it took a naturally low view. And, feeling that if he stayed in his daughter’s company he would in one way or another commit an indiscretion, he told her he must catch his train back to Oxford; and hailing a cab, left her to Turner’s water-colours, with the promise that he would think over that Gallery.

But he thought over Irene instead. Pity, they said, was akin to love! If so he was certainly in danger of loving her, for he pitied her profoundly. To think of her drifting about Europe so handicapped and lonely! ‘I hope to goodness she’ll keep her head!’ he thought; ‘she might easily grow desperate.’ In fact, now that she had cut loose from her poor threads of occupation, he couldn’t imagine how she would go on — so beautiful a creature, hopeless, and fair game for anyone! In his exasperation was more than a little fear and jealousy. Women did strange things when they were driven into corners. ‘I wonder what Soames will do now!’ he thought. ‘A rotten, idiotic state of things! And I suppose they would say it was her own fault.’ Very preoccupied and sore at heart, he got into his train, mislaid his ticket, and on the platform at Oxford took his hat off to a lady whose face he seemed to remember without being able to put a name to her, not even when he saw her having tea at the Rainbow.

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