Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter III

Home-Coming

Jon Forsyte’s sensations on landing at Newhaven, by the last possible boat, after five and a half years’ absence, had been most peculiar. All the way by car to Wansdon under the Sussex Downs he was in a sort of excited dream. England! What wonderful chalk, what wonderful green! What an air of having been there for ever! The sudden dips into villages, the old bridges, the sheep, the beech clumps! And the cuckoo — not heard for six years! A poet, somewhat dormant of late, stirred within this young man. Delicious old country! Anne would be crazy about this countryside — it was so beautifully finished. When the general strike was over she could come along, and he would show her everything. In the meantime she would be all right with his mother in Paris, and he would be free for any job he could get. He remembered this bit, and Chanctonbury Ring up there, and his walk over from Worthing. He remembered very well. Fleur! His brother-inlaw, Francis Wilmot, had come back from England with much to say about Fleur; she was very modern now, and attractive, and had a boy. How deeply one could be in love; and how completely get over it! Considering what his old feelings down here had been, it was strange but pleasant to be just simply eager to see Holly and ‘old Val.’

Beyond a telegram from Dieppe he had made no announcement of his coming; but they would surely be here because of the horses. He would like to have a look at Val’s racing stable, and get a ride, perhaps, on the Downs before taking on a strike job. If only Anne were with him, and they could have that ride together! And Jon thought of his first ride with Anne in the South Carolinian woods — that ride from which they had neither of them recovered. There it was! The jolly old house! And here at the door — Holly herself! And at sight of his half-sister, slim and dark-haired in a lilac dress, Jon was visited by a stabbing memory of their father as he had looked that dreadful afternoon, lying dead in the old armchair at Robin Hill. Dad — always lovable — and so good to him!

“Jon! How wonderful to see you!”

Her kiss, he remembered, had always lighted on his eyebrow — she hadn’t changed a bit. A half-sister was nicer than a full-sister, after all. With full-sisters you were almost bound to fight a little.

“What a pity you couldn’t bring Anne and your mother! But perhaps it’s just as well, till this is over. You look quite English still, Jon; and your mouth’s as nice and wide as ever. Why do Americans and naval men have such small mouths?”

“Sense of duty, I think. How’s Val?”

“Oh, Val’s all right. You haven’t lost your smile. D’you remember your old room?”

“Rather. And how are you, Holly?”

“So-so. I’ve become a writer, Jon.”

“Splendid!”

“Not at all. Hard labour and no reward.”

“Oh!”

“The first book was born too still for anything. A sort of ‘African Farm,’ without the spiritual frills — if you remember it.”

“Rather! But I always left the frills out.”

“Yes, we get our objection to frills from the Dad, Jon. He said to me once, ‘It’ll end in our calling all matter spirit or all spirit matter — I don’t know which.’”

“It won’t,” said Jon; “people love to divide things up. I say, I remember every stick in this room. How are the horses? Can I have a look at them and a ride tomorrow?”

“We’ll go forth early and see them at exercise. We’ve only got three two-year-olds, but one of them’s most promising.”

“Fine! After that I must go up and get a good, dirty job. I should like to stoke an engine. I’ve always wanted to know how stokers feel.”

“We’ll all go. We can stay with Val’s mother. It is so lovely to see you, Jon. Dinner’s in half an hour.”

Jon lingered five minutes at his window. That orchard in full bloom — not mathematically planted, like his just-sold North Carolinian peach-trees — was as lovely as on that long-ago night when he chased Fleur therein. That was the beauty of England — nothing was planned! How home-sick he had been over there; yes, and his mother, too! He would never go back! How wonderful that sea of apple blossom! Cuckoo again! . . . That alone was worth coming home for. He would find a place and grow fruit, down in the West, Worcestershire or Somerset, or near here — they grew a lot of figs and things at Worthing, he remembered. Turning out his suit-case, he began to dress. Just where he was sitting now, pulling on his American socks, had he sat when Fleur was showing him her Goya dress. Who would have believed then that, six years later, he would want Anne, not Fleur, beside him on this bed! The gong! Dabbing at his hair, bright and stivery, he straightened his tie and ran down.

Val’s views on the strike, Val’s views on everything, shrewd and narrow as his horseman’s face! Those Labour johnnies were up against it this time with a vengeance; they’d have to heel up before it was over. How had Jon liked the Yanks? Had he seen ‘Man of War’? No? Good Lord! The thing best worth seeing in America! Was the grass in Kentucky really blue? Only from the distance? Oh! What were they going to abolish over there next? Wasn’t there a place down South where you were only allowed to cohabit under the eyes of the town watch? Parliament here were going to put a tax on betting; why not introduce the ‘Tote’ and have done with it? Personally he didn’t care, he’d given up betting! And he glanced at Holly. Jon, too, glanced at her lifted brows and slightly parted lips — a charming face — ironical and tolerant! She drove Val with silken reins!

Val went on: Good job Jon had given up America; if he must farm out of England, why not South Africa, under the poor old British flag; though the Dutch weren’t done with yet! A tough lot! They had gone out there, of course, so bright and early that they were real settlers — none of your adventurers, failures-at-home, remittancemen. He didn’t like the beggars, but they were stout fellows, all the same. Going to stay in England? Good! What about coming in with them and breeding racing stock?

After an awkward little silence, Holly said slyly:

“Jon doesn’t think that’s quite a man’s job, Val.”

“Why not?”

“Luxury trade.”

“Blood stock — where would horses be without it?”

“Very tempting,” said Jon. “I’d like an interest in it. But I’d want to grow fruit and things for a main line.”

“All right, my son; you can grow the apples they eat on Sundays.”

“You see, Jon,” said Holly, “nobody believes in growing anything in England. We talk about it more and more, and do it less and less. Do you see any change in Jon, Val?”

The cousins exchanged a stare.

“A bit more solid; nothing American, anyway.”

Holly murmured thoughtfully: “Why can one always tell an American?”

“Why can one always tell an Englishman?” said Jon.

“Something guarded, my dear. But a national look’s the most difficult thing in the world to define. Still, you can’t mistake the American expression.”

“I don’t believe you’ll take Anne for one.”

“Describe her, Jon.”

“No. Wait till you see her.”

When, after dinner, Val was going his last round of the stables, Jon said:

“Do you ever see Fleur, Holly?”

“I haven’t for eighteen months, I should think. I like her husband; he’s an awfully good sort. You were well out of that, Jon. She isn’t your kind — not that she isn’t charming; but she has to be plumb centre of the stage. I suppose you knew that, really.”

Jon looked at her and did not answer. “Of course,” murmured Holly, “when one’s in love, one doesn’t know much.”

Up in his room again, the house began to be haunted. Into it seemed to troop all his memories, of Fleur, of Robin Hill — old trees of his boyhood, his father’s cigars, his mother’s flowers and music; the nursery of his games, Holly’s nursery before him, with its window looking out over the clock tower above the stables, the room where latterly he had struggled with rhyme. In through his open bedroom window came the sweet-scented air — England’s self — from the loom of the Downs in the moon-scattered dusk, this first night of home for more than two thousand nights. With Robin Hill sold, this was the nearest he had to home in England now. But they must make one of their own — he and Anne. Home! On the English liner he had wanted to embrace the stewards and stewardesses just because they spoke an English accent. It was, still, as music to his ears. Anne would pick it up faster now — she was very receptive! He had liked the Americans, but he was glad Val had said there was nothing American about him. An owl hooted. What a shadow that barn cast — how soft and old its angle! He got into bed. Sleep — if he wanted to be up to see the horses exercised! Once before, here, he had got up early — for another purpose! And soon he slept; and a form — was it Anne’s, was it Fleur’s — wandered in the corridors of his dreams.

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