The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 30

June’s Victory

June had waited for her chance, scanning the duller columns of the journals, morning and evening with an assiduity which at first puzzled old Jolyon; and when her chance came, she took it with all the promptitude and resolute tenacity of her character.

She will always remember best in her life that morning when at last she saw amongst the reliable Cause List of the Times newspaper, under the heading of Court XIII, Mr. Justice Bentham, the case of Forsyte v. Bosinney.

Like a gambler who stakes his last piece of money, she had prepared to hazard her all upon this throw; it was not her nature to contemplate defeat. How, unless with the instinct of a woman in love, she knew that Bosinney’s discomfiture in this action was assured, cannot be told — on this assumption, however, she laid her plans, as upon a certainty.

Half past eleven found her at watch in the gallery of Court XIII., and there she remained till the case of Forsyte v. Bosinney was over. Bosinney’s absence did not disquiet her; she had felt instinctively that he would not defend himself. At the end of the judgment she hastened down, and took a cab to his rooms.

She passed the open street-door and the offices on the three lower floors without attracting notice; not till she reached the top did her difficulties begin.

Her ring was not answered; she had now to make up her mind whether she would go down and ask the caretaker in the basement to let her in to await Mr. Bosinney’s return, or remain patiently outside the door, trusting that no one would, come up. She decided on the latter course.

A quarter of an hour had passed in freezing vigil on the landing, before it occurred to her that Bosinney had been used to leave the key of his rooms under the door-mat. She looked and found it there. For some minutes she could not decide to make use of it; at last she let herself in and left the door open that anyone who came might see she was there on business.

This was not the same June who had paid the trembling visit five months ago; those months of suffering and restraint had made her less sensitive; she had dwelt on this visit so long, with such minuteness, that its terrors were discounted beforehand. She was not there to fail this time, for if she failed no one could help her.

Like some mother beast on the watch over her young, her little quick figure never stood still in that room, but wandered from wall to wall, from window to door, fingering now one thing, now another. There was dust everywhere, the room could not have been cleaned for weeks, and June, quick to catch at anything that should buoy up her hope, saw in it a sign that he had been obliged, for economy’s sake, to give up his servant.

She looked into the bedroom; the bed was roughly made, as though by the hand of man. Listening intently, she darted in, and peered into his cupboards. A few shirts and collars, a pair of muddy boots — the room was bare even of garments.

She stole back to the sitting-room, and now she noticed the absence of all the little things he had set store by. The clock that had been his mother’s, the field-glasses that had hung over the sofa; two really valuable old prints of Harrow, where his father had been at school, and last, not least, the piece of Japanese pottery she herself had given him. All were gone; and in spite of the rage roused within her championing soul at the thought that the world should treat him thus, their disappearance augured happily for the success of her plan.

It was while looking at the spot where the piece of Japanese pottery had stood that she felt a strange certainty of being watched, and, turning, saw Irene in the open doorway.

The two stood gazing at each other for a minute in silence; then June walked forward and held out her hand. Irene did not take it.

When her hand was refused, June put it behind her. Her eyes grew steady with anger; she waited for Irene to speak; and thus waiting, took in, with who-knows-what rage of jealousy, suspicion, and curiosity, every detail of her friend’s face and dress and figure.

Irene was clothed in her long grey fur; the travelling cap on her head left a wave of gold hair visible above her forehead. The soft fullness of the coat made her face as small as a child’s.

Unlike June’s cheeks, her cheeks had no colour in them, but were ivory white and pinched as if with cold. Dark circles lay round her eyes. In one hand she held a bunch of violets.

She looked back at June, no smile on her lips; and with those great dark eyes fastened on her, the girl, for all her startled anger, felt something of the old spell.

She spoke first, after all.

“What have you come for?” But the feeling that she herself was being asked the same question, made her add: “This horrible case. I came to tell him — he has lost it.”

Irene did not speak, her eyes never moved from June’s face, and the girl cried:

“Don’t stand there as if you were made of stone!”

Irene laughed: “I wish to God I were!”

But June turned away: “Stop!” she cried, “don’t tell me! I don’t want to hear! I don’t want to hear what you’ve come for. I don’t want to hear!” And like some uneasy spirit, she began swiftly walking to and fro. Suddenly she broke out:

“I was here first. We can’t both stay here together!”

On Irene’s face a smile wandered up, and died out like a flicker of firelight. She did not move. And then it was that June perceived under the softness and immobility of this figure something desperate and resolved; something not to be turned away, something dangerous. She tore off her hat, and, putting both hands to her brow, pressed back the bronze mass of her hair.

“You have no right here!” she cried defiantly.

Irene answered: “I have no right anywhere!

“What do you mean?”

“I have left Soames. You always wanted me to!”

June put her hands over her ears.

“Don’t! I don’t want to hear anything — I don’t want to know anything. It’s impossible to fight with you! What makes you stand like that? Why don’t you go?”

Irene’s lips moved; she seemed to be saying: “Where should I go?”

June turned to the window. She could see the face of a clock down in the street. It was nearly four. At any moment he might come! She looked back across her shoulder, and her face was distorted with anger.

But Irene had not moved; in her gloved hands she ceaselessly turned and twisted the little bunch of violets.

The tears of rage and disappointment rolled down June’s cheeks.

“How could you come?” she said. “You have been a false friend to me!”

Again Irene laughed. June saw that she had played a wrong card, and broke down.

“Why have you come?” she sobbed. “You’ve ruined my life, and now you want to ruin his!”

Irene’s mouth quivered; her eyes met June’s with a look so mournful that the girl cried out in the midst of her sobbing, “No, no!”

But Irene’s head bent till it touched her breast. She turned, and went quickly out, hiding her lips with the little bunch of violets.

June ran to the door. She heard the footsteps going down and down. She called out: “Come back, Irene! Come back!”

The footsteps died away. . . .

Bewildered and torn, the girl stood at the top of the stairs. Why had Irene gone, leaving her mistress of the field? What did it mean? Had she really given him up to her? Or had she . . .? And she was the prey of a gnawing uncertainty. . . . Bosinney did not come. . . .

About six o’clock that afternoon old Jolyon returned from Wistaria Avenue, where now almost every day he spent some hours, and asked if his grand-daughter were upstairs. On being told that she had just come in, he sent up to her room to request her to come down and speak to him.

He had made up his mind to tell her that he was reconciled with her father. In future bygones must be bygones. He would no longer live alone, or practically alone, in this great house; he was going to give it up, and take one in the country for his son, where they could all go and live together. If June did not like this, she could have an allowance and live by herself. It wouldn’t make much difference to her, for it was a long time since she had shown him any affection.

But when June came down, her face was pinched and piteous; there was a strained, pathetic look in her eyes. She snuggled up in her old attitude on the arm of his chair, and what he said compared but poorly with the clear, authoritative, injured statement he had thought out with much care. His heart felt sore, as the great heart of a mother-bird feels sore when its youngling flies and bruises its wing. His words halted, as though he were apologizing for having at last deviated from the path of virtue, and succumbed, in defiance of sounder principles, to his more natural instincts.

He seemed nervous lest, in thus announcing his intentions, he should be setting his granddaughter a bad example; and now that he came to the point, his way of putting the suggestion that, if she didn’t like it, she could live by herself and lump it, was delicate in the extreme.’

“And if, by any chance, my darling,” he said, “you found you didn’t get on — with them, why, I could make that all right. You could have what you liked. We could find a little flat in London where you could set up, and I could be running to continually. But the children,” he added, “are dear little things!”

Then, in the midst of this grave, rather transparent, explanation of changed policy, his eyes twinkled. “This’ll astonish Timothy’s weak nerves. That precious young thing will have something to say about this, or I’m a Dutchman!”

June had not yet spoken. Perched thus on the arm of his chair, with her head above him, her face was invisible. But presently he felt her warm cheek against his own, and knew that, at all events, there was nothing very alarming in her attitude towards his news. He began to take courage.

“You’ll like your father,” he said —“an amiable chap. Never was much push about him, but easy to get on with. You’ll find him artistic and all that.”

And old Jolyon bethought him of the dozen or so water-colour drawings all carefully locked up in his bedroom; for now that his son was going to become a man of property he did not think them quite such poor things as heretofore.

“As to your — your stepmother,” he said, using the word with some little difficulty, “I call her a refined woman — a bit of a Mrs. Gummidge, I shouldn’t wonder — but very fond of Jo. And the children,” he repeated — indeed, this sentence ran like music through all his solemn self-justification —“are sweet little things!”

If June had known, those words but reincarnated that tender love for little children, for the young and weak, which in the past had made him desert his son for her tiny self, and now, as the cycle rolled, was taking him from her.

But he began to get alarmed at her silence, and asked impatiently: “Well, what do you say?”

June slid down to his knee, and she in her turn began her tale. She thought it would all go splendidly; she did not see any difficulty, and she did not care a bit what people thought.

Old Jolyon wriggled. H’m! then people would think! He had thought that after all these years perhaps they wouldn’t! Well, he couldn’t help it! Nevertheless, he could not approve of his granddaughter’s way of putting it — she ought to mind what people thought!

Yet he said nothing. His feelings were too mixed, too inconsistent for expression.

No — went on June he did not care; what business was it of theirs? There was only one thing — and with her cheek pressing against his knee, old Jolyon knew at once that this something was no trifle: As he was going to buy a house in the country, would he not — to please her — buy that splendid house of Soames’ at Robin Hill? It was finished, it was perfectly beautiful, and no one would live in it now. They would all be so happy there.

Old Jolyon was on the alert at once. Wasn’t the ‘man of property’ going to live in his new house, then? He never alluded to Soames now but under this title.

“No”— June said —“he was not; she knew that he was not!”

How did she know?

She could not tell him, but she knew. She knew nearly for certain! It was most unlikely; circumstances had changed! Irene’s words still rang in her head: “I have left Soames. Where should I go?”

But she kept silence about that.

If her grandfather would only buy it and settle that wretched claim that ought never to have been made on Phil! It would be the very best thing for everybody, and everything — everything might come straight.

And June put her lips to his forehead, and pressed them close.

But old Jolyon freed himself from her caress, his face wore the judicial look which came upon it when he dealt with affairs. He asked: What did she mean? There was something behind all this — had she been seeing Bosinney?

June answered: “No; but I have been to his rooms.”

“Been to his rooms? Who took you there?”

June faced him steadily. “I went alone. He has lost that case. I don’t care whether it was right or wrong. I want to help him; and I will!”

Old Jolyon asked again: “Have you seen him?” His glance seemed to pierce right through the girl’s eyes into her soul.

Again June answered: “No; he was not there. I waited, but he did not come.”

Old Jolyon made a movement of relief. She had risen and looked down at him; so slight, and light, and young, but so fixed, and so determined; and disturbed, vexed, as he was, he could not frown away that fixed look. The feeling of being beaten, of the reins having slipped, of being old and tired, mastered him.

“Ah!” he said at last, “you’ll get yourself into a mess one of these days, I can see. You want your own way in everything.”

Visited by one of his strange bursts of philosophy, he added: “Like that you were born; and like that you’ll stay until you die!”

And he, who in his dealings with men of business, with Boards, with Forsytes of all descriptions, with such as were not Forsytes, had always had his own way, looked at his indomitable grandchild sadly — for he felt in her that quality which above all others he unconsciously admired.

“Do you know what they say is going on?” he said slowly.

June crimsoned.

“Yes — no! I know — and I don’t know — I don’t care!” and she stamped her foot.

“I believe,” said old Jolyon, dropping his eyes, “that you’d have him if he were dead!”

There was a long silence before he spoke again.

“But as to buying this house — you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

June said that she did. She knew that he could get it if he wanted. He would only have to give what it cost.

“What it cost! You know nothing about it. I won’t go to Soames — I’ll have nothing more to do with that young man.”

“But you needn’t; you can go to Uncle James. If you can’t buy the house, will you pay his lawsuit claim? I know he is terribly hard up — I’ve seen it. You can stop it out of my money!”

A twinkle came into old Jolyon’s eyes.

“Stop it out of your money! A pretty way. And what will you do, pray, without your money?”

But secretly, the idea of wresting the house from James and his son had begun to take hold of him. He had heard on Forsyte ‘Change much comment, much rather doubtful praise of this house. It was ‘too artistic,’ but a fine place. To take from the ‘man of property’ that on which he had set his heart, would be a crowning triumph over James, practical proof that he was going to make a man of property of Jo, to put him back in his proper position, and there to keep him secure. Justice once for all on those who had chosen to regard his son as a poor, penniless outcast.

He would see, he would see! It might be out of the question; he was not going to pay a fancy price, but if it could be done, why, perhaps he would do it!

And still more secretly he knew that he could not refuse her.

But he did not commit himself. He would think it over — he said to June.

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