Indian Summer of a Forsyte, by John Galsworthy

II

Two days of rain, and summer set in bland and sunny. Old Jolyon walked and talked with Holly. At first he felt taller and full of a new vigour; then he felt restless. Almost every afternoon they would enter the coppice, and walk as far as the log. ‘Well, she’s not there!’ he would think, ‘of course not!’ And he would feel a little shorter, and drag his feet walking up the hill home, with his hand clapped to his left side. Now and then the thought would move in him: ‘Did she come — or did I dream it?’ and he would stare at space, while the dog Balthasar stared at him. Of course she would not come again! He opened the letters from Spain with less excitement. They were not returning till July; he felt, oddly, that he could bear it. Every day at dinner he screwed up his eyes and looked at where she had sat. She was not there, so he unscrewed his eyes again.

On the seventh afternoon he thought: ‘I must go up and get some boots.’ He ordered Beacon, and set out. Passing from Putney towards Hyde Park he reflected: ‘I might as well go to Chelsea and see her.’ And he called out: “Just drive me to where you took that lady the other night.” The coachman turned his broad red face, and his juicy lips answered: “The lady in grey, sir?”

“Yes, the lady in grey.” What other ladies were there! Stodgy chap!

The carriage stopped before a small three-storied block of flats, standing a little back from the river. With a practised eye old Jolyon saw that they were cheap. ‘I should think about sixty pound a year,’ he mused; and entering, he looked at the name-board. The name ‘Forsyte’ was not on it, but against ‘First Floor, Flat C’ were the words: ‘Mrs. Irene Heron.’ Ah! She had taken her maiden name again! And somehow this pleased him. He went upstairs slowly, feeling his side a little. He stood a moment, before ringing, to lose the feeling of drag and fluttering there. She would not be in! And then — Boots! The thought was black. What did he want with boots at his age? He could not wear out all those he had.

“Your mistress at home?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Say Mr. Jolyon Forsyte.”

“Yes, sir, will you come this way?”

Old Jolyon followed a very little maid — not more than sixteen one would say — into a very small drawing-room where the sun-blinds were drawn. It held a cottage piano and little else save a vague fragrance and good taste. He stood in the middle, with his top hat in his hand, and thought: ‘I expect she’s very badly off!’ There was a mirror above the fireplace, and he saw himself reflected. An old-looking chap! He heard a rustle, and turned round. She was so close that his moustache almost brushed her forehead, just under her hair.

“I was driving up,” he said. “Thought I’d look in on you, and ask you how you got up the other night.”

And, seeing her smile, he felt suddenly relieved. She was really glad to see him, perhaps.

“Would you like to put on your hat and come for a drive in the Park?”

But while she was gone to put her hat on, he frowned. The Park! James and Emily! Mrs. Nicholas, or some other member of his precious family would be there very likely, prancing up and down. And they would go and wag their tongues about having seen him with her, afterwards. Better not! He did not wish to revive the echoes of the past on Forsyte ‘Change. He removed a white hair from the lapel of his closely-buttoned-up frock coat, and passed his hand over his cheeks, moustache, and square chin. It felt very hollow there under the cheekbones. He had not been eating much lately — he had better get that little whippersnapper who attended Holly to give him a tonic. But she had come back and when they were in the carriage, he said:

“Suppose we go and sit in Kensington Gardens instead?” and added with a twinkle: “No prancing up and down there,” as if she had been in the secret of his thoughts.

Leaving the carriage, they entered those select precincts, and strolled towards the water.

“You’ve gone back to your maiden name, I see,” he said: “I’m not sorry.”

She slipped her hand under his arm: “Has June forgiven me, Uncle Jolyon?”

He answered gently: “Yes — yes; of course, why not?”

“And have you?”

“I? I forgave you as soon as I saw how the land really lay.” And perhaps he had; his instinct had always been to forgive the beautiful.

She drew a deep breath. “I never regretted — I couldn’t. Did you ever love very deeply, Uncle Jolyon?”

At that strange question old Jolyon stared before him. Had he? He did not seem to remember that he ever had. But he did not like to say this to the young woman whose hand was touching his arm, whose life was suspended, as it were, by memory of a tragic love. And he thought: ‘If I had met you when I was young I— I might have made a fool of myself, perhaps.’ And a longing to escape in generalities beset him.

“Love’s a queer thing,” he said, “fatal thing often. It was the Greeks — wasn’t it? — made love into a goddess; they were right, I dare say, but then they lived in the Golden Age.”

“Phil adored them.”

Phil! The word jarred him, for suddenly — with his power to see all round a thing, he perceived why she was putting up with him like this. She wanted to talk about her lover! Well! If it was any pleasure to her! And he said: “Ah! There was a bit of the sculptor in him, I fancy.”

“Yes. He loved balance and symmetry; he loved the whole-hearted way the Greeks gave themselves to art.”

Balance! The chap had no balance at all, if he remembered; as for symmetry — clean-built enough he was, no doubt; but those queer eyes of his, and high cheek-bones — Symmetry?

“You’re of the Golden Age, too, Uncle Jolyon.”

Old Jolyon looked round at her. Was she chaffing him? No, her eyes were soft as velvet. Was she flattering him? But if so, why? There was nothing to be had out of an old chap like him.

“Phil thought so. He used to say: ‘But I can never tell him that I admire him.’”

Ah! There it was again. Her dead lover; her desire to talk of him! And he pressed her arm, half resentful of those memories, half grateful, as if he recognised what a link they were between herself and him.

“He was a very talented young fellow,” he murmured. “It’s hot; I feel the heat nowadays. Let’s sit down.”

They took two chairs beneath a chestnut tree whose broad leaves covered them from the peaceful glory of the afternoon. A pleasure to sit there and watch her, and feel that she liked to be with him. And the wish to increase that liking, if he could, made him go on:

“I expect he showed you a side of him I never saw. He’d be at his best with you. His ideas of art were a little new — to me “— he had stiffed the word ‘fangled.’

“Yes: but he used to say you had a real sense of beauty.” Old Jolyon thought: ‘The devil he did!’ but answered with a twinkle: “Well, I have, or I shouldn’t be sitting here with you.” She was fascinating when she smiled with her eyes, like that!

“He thought you had one of those hearts that never grow old. Phil had real insight.”

He was not taken in by this flattery spoken out of the past, out of a longing to talk of her dead lover — not a bit; and yet it was precious to hear, because she pleased his eyes and heart which — quite true! — had never grown old. Was that because — unlike her and her dead lover, he had never loved to desperation, had always kept his balance, his sense of symmetry. Well! It had left him power, at eighty-four, to admire beauty. And he thought, ‘If I were a painter or a sculptor! But I’m an old chap. Make hay while the sun shines.’

A couple with arms entwined crossed on the grass before them, at the edge of the shadow from their tree. The sunlight fell cruelly on their pale, squashed, unkempt young faces. “We’re an ugly lot!” said old Jolyon suddenly. “It amazes me to see how — love triumphs over that.”

“Love triumphs over everything!”

“The young think so,” he muttered.

“Love has no age, no limit, and no death.”

With that glow in her pale face, her breast heaving, her eyes so large and dark and soft, she looked like Venus come to life! But this extravagance brought instant reaction, and, twinkling, he said: “Well, if it had limits, we shouldn’t be born; for by George! it’s got a lot to put up with.”

Then, removing his top hat, he brushed it round with a cuff. The great clumsy thing heated his forehead; in these days he often got a rush of blood to the head — his circulation was not what it had been.

She still sat gazing straight before her, and suddenly she murmured:

“It’s strange enough that I’m alive.”

Those words of Jo’s ‘Wild and lost’ came back to him.

“Ah!” he said: “my son saw you for a moment — that day.”

“Was it your son? I heard a voice in the hall; I thought for a second it was — Phil.”

Old Jolyon saw her lips tremble. She put her hand over them, took it away again, and went on calmly: “That night I went to the Embankment; a woman caught me by the dress. She told me about herself. When one knows that others suffer, one’s ashamed.”

“One of those?”

She nodded, and horror stirred within old Jolyon, the horror of one who has never known a struggle with desperation. Almost against his will he muttered: “Tell me, won’t you?”

“I didn’t care whether I lived or died. When you’re like that, Fate ceases to want to kill you. She took care of me three days — she never left me. I had no money. That’s why I do what I can for them, now.”

But old Jolyon was thinking: ‘No money!’ What fate could compare with that? Every other was involved in it.

“I wish you had come to me,” he said. “Why didn’t you?” But Irene did not answer.

“Because my name was Forsyte, I suppose? Or was it June who kept you away? How are you getting on now?” His eyes involuntarily swept her body. Perhaps even now she was —! And yet she wasn’t thin — not really!

“Oh! with my fifty pounds a year, I make just enough.” The answer did not reassure him; he had lost confidence. And that fellow Soames! But his sense of justice stifled condemnation. No, she would certainly have died rather than take another penny from him. Soft as she looked, there must be strength in her somewhere — strength and fidelity. But what business had young Bosinney to have got run over and left her stranded like this!

“Well, you must come to me now,” he said, “for anything you want, or I shall be quite cut up.” And putting on his hat, he rose. “Let’s go and get some tea. I told that lazy chap to put the horses up for an hour, and come for me at your place. We’ll take a cab presently; I can’t walk as I used to.”

He enjoyed that stroll to the Kensington end of the gardens — the sound of her voice, the glancing of her eyes, the subtle beauty of a charming form moving beside him. He enjoyed their tea at Ruffel’s in the High Street, and came out thence with a great box of chocolates swung on his little finger. He enjoyed the drive back to Chelsea in a hansom, smoking his cigar. She had promised to come down next Sunday and play to him again, and already in thought he was plucking carnations and early roses for her to carry back to town. It was a pleasure to give her a little pleasure, if it WERE pleasure from an old chap like him! The carriage was already there when they arrived. Just like that fellow, who was always late when he was wanted! Old Jolyon went in for a minute to say good-bye. The little dark hall of the flat was impregnated with a disagreeable odour of patchouli, and on a bench against the wall — its only furniture — he saw a figure sitting. He heard Irene say softly: “Just one minute.” In the little drawing-room when the door was shut, he asked gravely: “One of your protegees?”

“Yes. Now thanks to you, I can do something for her.”

He stood, staring, and stroking that chin whose strength had frightened so many in its time. The idea of her thus actually in contact with this outcast grieved and frightened him. What could she do for them? Nothing. Only soil and make trouble for herself, perhaps. And he said: “Take care, my dear! The world puts the worst construction on everything.”

“I know that.”

He was abashed by her quiet smile. “Well then — Sunday,” he murmured: “Good-bye.”

She put her cheek forward for him to kiss.

“Good-bye,” he said again; “take care of yourself.” And he went out, not looking towards the figure on the bench. He drove home by way of Hammersmith; that he might stop at a place he knew of and tell them to send her in two dozen of their best Burgundy. She must want picking-up sometimes! Only in Richmond Park did he remember that he had gone up to order himself some boots, and was surprised that he could have had so paltry an idea.

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