In Chancery, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 7

A Summer Night

Soames left dead silence in the little study. “Thank you for that good lie,” said Jolyon suddenly. “Come out — the air in here is not what it was!”

In front of a long high southerly wall on which were trained peach-trees the two walked up and down in silence. Old Jolyon had planted some cupressus-trees, at intervals, between this grassy terrace and the dipping meadow full of buttercups and ox-eyed daisies; for twelve years they had flourished, till their dark spiral shapes had quite a look of Italy. Birds fluttered softly in the wet shrubbery; the swallows swooped past, with a steel-blue sheen on their swift little bodies; the grass felt springy beneath the feet, its green refreshed; butterflies chased each other. After that painful scene the quiet of Nature was wonderfully poignant. Under the sun-soaked wall ran a narrow strip of garden-bed full of mignonette and pansies, and from the bees came a low hum in which all other sounds were set — the mooing of a cow deprived of her calf, the calling of a cuckoo from an elm-tree at the bottom of the meadow. Who would have thought that behind them, within ten miles, London began — that London of the Forsytes, with its wealth, its misery; its dirt and noise; its jumbled stone isles of beauty, its grey sea of hideous brick and stucco? That London which had seen Irene’s early tragedy, and Jolyon’s own hard days; that web; that princely workhouse of the possessive instinct!

And while they walked Jolyon pondered those words: ‘I hope you’ll treat him as you treated me.’ That would depend on himself. Could he trust himself? Did Nature permit a Forsyte not to make a slave of what he adored? Could beauty be confided to him? Or should she not be just a visitor, coming when she would, possessed for moments which passed, to return only at her own choosing? ‘We are a breed of spoilers!’ thought Jolyon, ‘close and greedy; the bloom of life is not safe with us. Let her come to me as she will, when she will, not at all if she will not. Let me be just her stand-by, her perching-place; never-never her cage!’

She was the chink of beauty in his dream. Was he to pass through the curtains now and reach her? Was the rich stuff of many possessions, the close encircling fabric of the possessive instinct walling in that little black figure of himself, and Soames — was it to be rent so that he could pass through into his vision, find there something not of the senses only? ‘Let me,’ he thought, ‘ah! let me only know how not to grasp and destroy!’

But at dinner there were plans to be made. To-night she would go back to the hotel, but tomorrow he would take her up to London. He must instruct his solicitor — Jack Herring. Not a finger must be raised to hinder the process of the Law. Damages exemplary, judicial strictures, costs, what they liked — let it go through at the first moment, so that her neck might be out of chancery at last! To-morrow he would see Herring — they would go and see him together. And then — abroad, leaving no doubt, no difficulty about evidence, making the lie she had told into the truth. He looked round at her; and it seemed to his adoring eyes that more than a woman was sitting there. The spirit of universal beauty, deep, mysterious, which the old painters, Titian, Giorgione, Botticelli, had known how to capture and transfer to the faces of their women — this flying beauty seemed to him imprinted on her brow, her hair, her lips, and in her eyes.

‘And this is to be mine!’ he thought. ‘It frightens me!’

After dinner they went out on to the terrace to have coffee. They sat there long, the evening was so lovely, watching the summer night come very slowly on. It was still warm and the air smelled of lime blossom — early this summer. Two bats were flighting with the faint mysterious little noise they make. He had placed the chairs in front of the study window, and moths flew past to visit the discreet light in there. There was no wind, and not a whisper in the old oak-tree twenty yards away! The moon rose from behind the copse, nearly full; and the two lights struggled, till moonlight conquered, changing the colour and quality of all the garden, stealing along the flagstones, reaching their feet, climbing up, changing their faces.

“Well,” said Jolyon at last, “you’ll be tired, dear; we’d better start. The maid will show you Holly’s room,” and he rang the study bell. The maid who came handed him a telegram. Watching her take Irene away, he thought: ‘This must have come an hour or more ago, and she didn’t bring it out to us! That shows! Well, we’ll be hung for a sheep soon!’ And, opening the telegram, he read:

“JOLYON FORSYTE, Robin Hill. — Your son passed painlessly away on June 20th. Deep sympathy”— some name unknown to him.

He dropped it, spun round, stood motionless. The moon shone in on him; a moth flew in his face. The first day of all that he had not thought almost ceaselessly of Jolly. He went blindly towards the window, struck against the old armchair — his father’s — and sank down on to the arm of it. He sat there huddled’ forward, staring into the night. Gone out like a candle flame; far from home, from love, all by himself, in the dark! His boy! From a little chap always so good to him — so friendly! Twenty years old, and cut down like grass — to have no life at all! ‘I didn’t really know him,’ he thought, ‘and he didn’t know me; but we loved each other. It’s only love that matters.’

To die out there — lonely — wanting them — wanting home! This seemed to his Forsyte heart more painful, more pitiful than death itself. No shelter, no protection, no love at the last! And all the deeply rooted clanship in him, the family feeling and essential clinging to his own flesh and blood which had been so strong in old Jolyon was so strong in all the Forsytes — felt outraged, cut, and torn by his boy’s lonely passing. Better far if he had died in battle, without time to long for them to come to him, to call out for them, perhaps, in his delirium!

The moon had passed behind the oak-tree now, endowing it with uncanny life, so that it seemed watching him — the oak-tree his boy had been so fond of climbing, out of which he had once fallen and hurt himself, and hadn’t cried!

The door creaked. He saw Irene come in, pick up the telegram and read it. He heard the faint rustle of her dress. She sank on her knees close to him, and he forced himself to smile at her. She stretched up her arms and drew his head down on her shoulder. The perfume and warmth of her encircled him; her presence gained slowly his whole being.

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