Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter X

After Lunch

That the most pregnant function of human life is the meal, will be admitted by all who take part in these recurrent crises. The impossibility of getting down from table renders it the most formidable of human activities among people civilised to the point of swallowing not only their food but their feelings.

Such a conclusion at least was present to Fleur during that lunch. That her room was Spanish, reminded her that it was not with Jon she had spent her honeymoon in Spain. There had been a curious moment, too, before lunch; for, the first words Jon had spoken on seeing Michael, had been:

“Hallo! This is queer! Was Fleur with you that day at Mount Vernon?”

What was this? Had she been kept in the dark?

Then Michael had said:

“You remember, Fleur? The young Englishman I met at Mount Vernon.”

“‘Ships that pass in the night!’” said Fleur.

Mount Vernon! So THEY had met there! And she had not!

“Mount Vernon is lovely. But you ought to see Richmond, Anne. We could go after lunch. You haven’t been to Richmond for ages, I expect, Aunt Winifred. We could take Robin Hill on the way home, Jon.”

“Your old home, Jon? Oh! Do let’s!”

At that moment she hated the girl’s eager face at which Jon was looking.

“There’s the potentate,” he said.

“Oh!” said Fleur, quickly, “He’s at Monte Carlo. I read it yesterday. Could you come, Michael?”

“Afraid I’ve got a Committee. And the car can only manage five.”

“It would be just too lovely!”

Oh! that American enthusiasm! It was comforting to hear her Aunt’s flat voice opining that it would be a nice little run — the chestnuts would be out in the Park.

Had Michael really a Committee? She often knew what Michael really had, she generally knew more or less what he was thinking, but now she did not seem to know. In telling him last night of this invitation to lunch, she had carefully obliterated the impression by an embrace warmer than usual — he must not get any nonsense into his head about Jon! When, too, to her father she had said:

“Couldn’t Kit and I come down to you the day after tomorrow; but you’ll want a day there first, I’m afraid, if Mother’s not there,” how carefully she had listened to the tone of his reply:

“H’m! Ye — es! I’ll go down tomorrow morning.”

Had he scented anything; had Michael scented anything? She turned to Jon.

“Well, Jon, what d’you think of my house?”

“It’s very like you.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“To the house? Of course.”

“Francis didn’t exaggerate then?”

“Not a bit.”

“You haven’t seen Kit yet. We’ll have him down. Coaker, please ask Nurse to bring Kit down, unless he’s asleep . . . . He’ll be three in July; quite a good walker already. It makes one frightfully old!”

The entrance of Kit and his silver dog caused a sort of cooing sound, speedily checked, for three of the women were of Forsyte stock, and the Forsytes did not coo. He stood there, blue and rather Dutch, with a slight frown and his hair bright, staring at the company.

“Come here, my son. This is Jon — your second cousin once removed.”

Kit advanced.

“S’all I bwing my ‘orse in?”

“Horse, Kit. No; shake hands.”

The small hand went up; Jon’s hand came down.

“You got dirty nails.”

She saw Jon flush, heard Anne’s: “Isn’t he just too cunning?” and said:

“Kit, you’re very rude. So would you have, if you’d been stoking an engine.”

“Yes, old man, I’ve been washing them ever since, but I can’t get them clean.”

“Why?”

“It’s got into the skin.”

“Le’ me see.”

“Go and shake hands with your great-aunt, Kit.”

“No.”

“Dear little chap,” said Winifred. “Such a bore, isn’t it, Kit?”

“Very well, then, go out again, and get your manners, and bring them in.”

“All wight.”

His exit, closed in by the silver dog, was followed by a general laugh; Fleur said, softly:

“Little wretch — poor Jon!” And through her lashes she saw Jon give her a grateful look . . . .

In this mid-May fine weather the view from Richmond Hill had all the width and leafy charm which had drawn so many Forsytes in phaetons and barouches, in hansom cabs and motor cars from immemorial time, or at least from the days of George the Fourth. The winding river shone discreetly, far down there; and the trees of the encompassing landscape, though the oaks were still goldened, had just begun to have a brooding look; in July they would be heavy and blueish. Curiously, few houses showed among the trees and fields; very scanty evidence of man, within twelve miles of London! The spirit of an older England seemed to have fended jerry-builders from a prospect sacred to the ejaculations of four generations.

Of those five on the terrace Winifred best expressed that guarding spirit, with her:

“Really, it’s a very pretty view!”

A view — a view! And yet a view was not what it had been when old Jolyon travelled the Alps with that knapsack of brown leather and square shape, still in his grandson Jon’s possession; or Swithin above his greys, rolling his neck with consequence toward the lady by his side, had pointed with his whip down at the river and pouted: “A pooty little view!” Or James, crouched over his long knees in some gondola, had examined the Grand Canal at Venice with doubting eyes, and muttered: “They never told me the water was this colour!” Or Nicholas, taking his constitutional at Matlock, had opined that the gorge was the finest in England. No, a view was not what it had been! George Forsyte and Montague Dartie, with their backs to it, quizzically contemplating the Liberty ladies brought down to be fed, had started that rot; and now the young folk didn’t use the expression, but just ejaculated: “Christ!” or words to that effect.

But there was Anne, of course, like an American, with clasped hands, and:

“Isn’t it too lovely, Jon? It’s sort of romantic!”

And so to the Park, where Winifred chanted automatically at sight of the chestnuts, and every path and patch of fern and fallen tree drew from Holly or Jon some riding recollection.

“Look, Anne, that’s where I threw myself off my pony as a kid when I lost my stirrup and got so bored with being bumped.”

Or: “Look, Jon! Val and I had a race down that avenue. Oh! and there’s the log we used to jump. Still there!”

And Anne was in ecstasies over the deer and the grass, so different from the American varieties.

To Fleur the Park meant nothing.

“Jon,” she said, suddenly, “what are you going to do to get in at Robin Hill?”

“Tell the lodge-keeper that I want to show my wife where I lived as a boy; and give him a couple of good reasons. I don’t want to see the house, all new furniture and that.”

“Couldn’t we go in at the bottom, through the coppice?” and her eyes added: “As we did that day.”

“We might come on someone, and get turned back.”

The couple of good reasons secured their top entrance to the grounds; the ‘family’ was not ‘in residence.’

Bosinney’s masterpiece wore its mellowest aspect. The sun-blinds were down, for the sun was streaming on its front, past the old oak tree, where was now no swing. In Irene’s rose-garden, which had replaced old Jolyon’s fernery, buds were forming, but only one rose was out.

“‘Rose, you Spaniard!’” Something clutched Fleur’s heart. What was Jon thinking — what remembering, with those words and that frown? Just here she had sat between his father and his mother, believing that she and Jon would live here some day; together watch the roses bloom, the old oak drop its leaves; together say to their guests: “Look! There’s the Grand Stand at Epsom — see? Just above those poplars!”

And now she could not even walk beside him, who was playing guide to that girl, his wife! Beside her aunt she walked instead. Winifred was extremely intrigued. She had never yet seen this house, which Soames had built with the brains of young Bosinney; which Irene, with ‘that unfortunate little affair of hers’ had wrecked; this house where Old Uncle Jolyon, and Cousin Jolyon had died; and Irene, so ironically, had lived and had this boy Jon — a nice boy, too; this house of Forsyte song and story. It was very distinguished and belonged to a peer now, which, since it had gone out of the family, seemed suitable. In the walled fruit-garden, she said to Fleur:

“Your grandfather came down here once, to see how it was getting on. I remember his saying: ‘It’ll cost a pretty penny to keep up.’ And I should think it does. But it was a pity to sell it. Irene’s doing, of course! She never cared for the family. Now, if only —” But she stopped short of the words: “you and Jon had made a match of it.”

“What on earth would Jon have done, Auntie, with a great place like this so near London? He’s a poet.”

“Yes,” murmured Winifred — not very quick, because in her youth quickness had not been fashionable. “There’s too much glass, perhaps.” And they went down through the meadow.

The coppice! Still there at the bottom of the field. But Fleur lingered now, stood by the fallen log, waited till she could say:

“Listen! The cuckoo, Jon!”

The cuckoo’s song, and the sight of bluebells under the larch trees! Beside her Jon stood still! Yes, and the Spring stood still. There went the song — over and over!

“It was HERE we came on your mother, Jon, and our stars were crossed. Oh, Jon!”

Could so short a sound mean so much, say so much, be so startling? His face! She jumped on to the log at once.

“No ghosts, my dear!”

And, with a start, Jon looked up at her.

She put her hands on his shoulders and jumped down. And among the bluebells they went on. And the bird sang after them.

“That bird repeats himself,” said Fleur.

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