Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter IX

But — Jon

But Jon, who had over five miles to walk, started with the words of the old English song beating a silent tattoo within him:

“How happy could I be with either,
Were t’other dear charmer away!”

To such confusion had he come, contrary to intention, but in accordance with the impulses of a loyal disposition. Fleur had been his first love, Anne his second. But Anne was his wife, and Fleur the wife of another. A man could not be in love with two women at once, so he was tempted to conclude that he was not in love with either. Why, then, the queer sensations of his circulatory system? Was popular belief in error? A French, or Old-English way of looking at his situation, did not occur to him. He had married Anne, he loved Anne — she was a darling! There it ended! Why, then, walking along a grassy strip beside the road, did he think almost exclusively of Fleur? However cynical, or casual, or just friendly she might seem, she no more deceived him than she at heart wished to. He knew she had her old feeling for him, just as he knew he had it, or some of it, for her. But then he had feeling for another, too. Jon was not more of a fool than other men, nor was he more self-deceiving. Like other men before him, he intended to face what was, and to do what he believed to be right; or, rather, not to do what he believed to be wrong. Nor had he any doubt as to what was wrong. His trouble was more simple. It consisted of not having a control of his thoughts and feelings greater than that with which any man has hitherto been endowed. After all, it had not been his fault that he had once been wholly in love with Fleur, nor that she had been wholly in love with him; not his fault that he had met her again, nor that she was still in love with him. Nor again was it his fault that he was in love with his native land and tired of being out of it.

It was not his fault that he had fallen in love a second time or married the object of his affections. Nor, so far as he could see, was it his fault that the sight and the sound and the scent and the touch of Fleur had revived some of his former feelings. He was none the less disgusted at his double-heartedness; and he walked now fast, now slow, while the sun shifted over and struck on a neck always sensitive since his touch of the sun in Granada. Presently, he stopped and leaned over a gate. He had not been long enough back in England to have got over its beauty on a fine day. He was always stopping and leaning over gates, or in other ways, as Val called it, mooning!

Though it was already the first day of the Eton and Harrow Match, which his father had been wont to attend so religiously, hay harvest was barely over, and the scent of stacked hay still in the air. The Downs lay before him to the south, lighted along their northern slopes. Red Sussex cattle were standing under some trees close to the gate, dribbling and slowly swishing their tails. And away over there he could see others lingering along the hill-side. Peace lay thick on the land. The corn in that next field had an unearthly tinge, neither green nor gold, under the slanting sunlight. And in the restful beauty of the evening Jon could well perceive the destructiveness of love — an emotion so sweet, restless, and thrilling, that it drained Nature of its colour and peace, made those who suffered from it bores to their fellows and useless to the life of everyday. To work — and behold Nature in her moods! Why couldn’t he get away to that, away from women? Why — like Holly’s story of the holiday slum girl, whose family came to see her off by train — why couldn’t he just get away and say: “Thank Gawd! I’m shut o’ that lot!”

The midges were biting, and he walked on. Should he tell Anne that he had come down with Fleur? Not to tell her was to stress the importance of the incident; but to tell her was somehow disagreeable to him. And then he came on Anne herself, without a hat, sitting on a gate, her hands in the pockets of her jumper. Very lissome and straight she looked.

“Lift me down, Jon!”

He lifted her down in a prolonged manner. And, almost instantly, said:

“Whom do you think I travelled with? Fleur Mont. We ran up against each other at Victoria. She’s taking her boy to Loring next week, to convalesce him.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m in love with you, Jon.” She tilted her chin, so that her straight and shapely nose looked a little more sudden.

“I don’t see —” began Jon.

“You see she’s another. I saw that at Ascot. I reckon I’m old-fashioned, Jon.”

“That’s all right, so am I.”

She turned her eyes on him, eyes not quite civilised, nor quite American, and put her arm round his waist.

“Rondavel’s off his feed. Greenwater’s very upset about it.”

“‘Very,’ Anne.”

“Well, you can’t pronounce ‘very’ as I pronounce it, any more than I can as you do.”

“Sorry. But you told me to remind you. It’s silly, though: why shouldn’t you speak your own lingo?”

“Because I want to speak like you.”

“Want, then, not waunt.”

“Damn!”

“All right, darling. But isn’t your lingo just as good?”

Anne disengaged her arm.

“No, you don’t think that. You’re awfully glad to be through with the American accent — you ARE, Jon.”

“It’s natural to like one’s own country’s best.”

“Well, I do want — there! — to speak English. I’m English by law, now, and by descent, all but one French great-grandmother. If we have children, they’ll be English, and we’re going to live in England. Shall you take Greenhill Farm?”

“Yes. And I’m not going to play at things any more. I’ve played twice, and this time I’m going all out.”

“You weren’t playing in North Carolina.”

“Not exactly. But this is different. It didn’t matter there. — What are peaches, anyway? It does here — it matters a lot. I mean to make it pay.”

“Bully!” said Anne: “I mean — er — splendid. But I never believed you’d say that.”

“Paying the only proof. I’m going in for tomatoes, onions, asparagus, and figs; and I mean to work the arable for all it’s worth; and if I can get any more land, I will.”

“Jon! What energy!” And she caught hold of his chin.

“All right!” said Jon, grimly. “You watch out, and see if I don’t mean it.”

“And you’ll leave the house to me? I’ll make it just too lovely!”

“That’s a bargain.”

“Kiss me, then.”

With her lips parted and her eyes looking into his, with just that suspicion of a squint which made them so enticing, Jon thought: ‘It’s quite simple. The other thing’s absurd. Why, of course!’ He kissed her forehead and lips, but, even while he did so, he seemed to see Fleur trembling up at him, and to hear her words: “Au revoir! It WAS a jolly accident!”

“Let’s go and have a look at Rondavel,” he said.

In his box, when those two went in, the grey colt stood by the far wall, idly contemplating a carrot in the hand of Greenwater.

“Clean off!” said the latter over his shoulder: “It’s goodbye to Goodwood! The colt’s sick.”

What had Fleur said: “Au revoir at Goodwood, if not before!”

“Perhaps it’s just a megrim, Greenwater,” said Anne.

“No, Ma’am; the horse has got a temperature. Well, we’ll win the Middle Park Plate with him yet!”

Jon passed his hand over the colt’s quarter: “Poor old son! Funny! You can tell he’s not fit by the feel of his coat!”

“You can that,” replied Greenwater: “But where’s he got it from? There isn’t a sick horse that I know of anywhere about. If there’s anything in the world more perverse than horses! — We didn’t train him for Ascot, and he goes and wins. We meant him for Goodwood, and he’s gone amiss. Mr. Dartie wants me to give him some South African stuff I never heard of.”

“They have a lot of horse sickness out there,” said Jon.

“See,” said the trainer, stretching his hand up to the colt’s ears; “no kick in him at all! Looks like blackberry sickness out of season. I’d give a good deal to know how he picked it up.”

The two young people left him standing by the colt’s dejected head, his dark, hawk-like face thrust forward, as if trying to read the sensations within his favourite.

That night, Jon went up, bemused by Val’s opinions on Communism, the Labour Party, the qualities inherent in the off-spring of “Sleeping Dove,” with a dissertation on a horse-sickness in South Africa. He entered a dim bedroom. A white figure was standing at the window. It turned when he came near and flung its arms round him.

“Jon, you mustn’t stop loving me.”

“Why should I?”

“Because men do. Besides, it’s not the fashion to be faithful.”

“Bosh!” said Jon, gently; “it’s just as much the fashion as it ever was.”

“I’m glad we shan’t be going to Goodwood. I’m afraid of her. She’s so clever.”

“Fleur?”

“You WERE in love with her, Jon; I feel it in my bones. I wish you’d told me.”

Jon leaned beside her in the window.

“Why?” he said, dully.

She did not answer. They stood side by side in the breathless warmth, moths passed their faces, a night-jar churred in the silence, and now and then, from the stables, came the stamp of a sleepless horse. Suddenly Anne stretched out her hand:

“Over there — somewhere — she’s awake, and wanting you. I’m not happy, Jon.”

“Don’t be morbid, darling!”

“But I’m NOT happy, Jon.”

Like a great child — slim within his arm, her cheek pressed to his, her dark earlock tickling his neck! And suddenly her lips came round to his, vehement.

“Love me!”

But when she was asleep, Jon lay wakeful. Moonlight had crept in and there was a ghost in the room — a ghost in a Goya dress, twirling, holding out its skirts, beckoning with its eyes, and with its lips seeming to whisper: “Me, too! Me, too!”

And, raising himself on his elbow, he looked resolutely at the dark head beside him. No! There was — there should be nothing but that in the room! Reality — reality!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/swan/chapter22.html

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