Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter IV

Talk in a Car

For yet one more day Fleur possessed her soul; then, at the morning’s sitting, accidentally left her vanity bag, behind her, in the studio. She called for it the same afternoon. Jon had not gone. Just out of the sitter’s chair, he was stretching himself and yawning.

“Go on, Jon! Every morning I wish I had your mouth. Mr. Blade, I left my bag; it’s got my cheque book in it, and I shall want it down at Dorking to-night: By the way, I shall be half an hour late for my sitting tomorrow, I’m afraid. Did you know I was your fellow victim, Jon? We’ve been playing ‘Box and Cox.’ How are you? I hear Anne’s got a cold. Give her my sympathy. Is the picture going well? Might I have a peep, Mr. Blade, and see how the platitude is coming out? Oh! It’s going to be splendid! I can quite see the line.”

“Can you?” said the Rafaelite: “I can’t.”

“Here’s my wretched bag! If you’ve finished, Jon, I could run you out as far as Dorking; you’d catch an earlier train. Do come and cheer me on my way. Haven’t seen you for such ages!”

Threading over Hammersmith Bridge, Fleur regained the self-possession she had never seemed to lose. She spoke lightly of light matters, letting Jon grow accustomed to proximity.

“I go down every evening about this time, to see to my chores, and drive up in the morning early. So any afternoon you like I can take you as far as Dorking. Why shouldn’t we see a little of each other in a friendly way, Jon?”

“When we do, it doesn’t seem to make for happiness, Fleur.”

“My dear boy, what is happiness? Surely life should be as harmlessly full as it can be?”

“Harmlessly!”

“The Rafaelite says you have a terrible conscience, Jon.”

“The Rafaelite’s a bounder.”

“Yes; but a clever one. You HAVE changed, you usen’t to have that line between your eyes, and your jaw’s getting too strong. Look, Jon dear, be a friend to me — as they say, and we won’t think of anything else. I always like Wimbledon Common — it hasn’t been caught up yet. Have you bought that farm?”

“Not quite.”

“Let’s go by way of Robin Hill, and look at it through the trees? It might inspire you to a poem.”

“I shall never write any more verse. It’s quite gone.”

“Nonsense, Jon. You only want stirring up. Don’t I drive well, considering I’ve only been at it five weeks?”

“You do everything well, Fleur.”

“You say that as if you disapproved. Do you know we’d never danced together before that night at Nettlefold? Shall we ever dance together again?”

“Probably not.”

“Optimistic Jon! That’s right — smile! Look! Is that the church where you were baptized?”

“I wasn’t.”

“Oh! No. That was the period, of course, when people were serious about those things. I believe I was done twice over — R.C. and Anglican. That’s why I’m not so religious as you, Jon.”

“Religious? I’m not religious.”

“I fancy you ARE. You have moral backbone, anyway.”

“Really!”

“Jon, you remind me of American notices outside their properties — ‘Stop — look — take care — keep out!’ I suppose you think me a frightful butterfly.”

“No, Fleur. Far from it. The butterfly has no knowledge of a straight line between two points.”

“Now what do you mean by that?”

“That you set your heart on things.”

“Did you get that from the Rafaelite?”

“No, but he confirmed it.”

“He did — did he? That young man talks too much. Has he expounded to you his theory that a woman must possess the soul of someone else, and that a man is content with bodies?”

“He has.”

“Is it true?”

“I hate to agree with him, but I think it is, in a way.”

“Well, I can tell you there are plenty of women about now who keep their own souls and are content with other people’s bodies.”

“Are you one of them, Fleur?”

“Ask me another! There’s Robin Hill!”

The fount of Forsyte song and story stood grey and imposing among its trees, with the sinking sun aslant on a front where green sunblinds were still down.

Jon sighed. “I had a lovely time there.”

“Till I came and spoiled it.”

“No; that’s blasphemy.”

Fleur touched his arm.

“That’s nice of you, dear Jon. You always were nice, and I shall always love you — in a harmless way. The coppice looks jolly. God had a brain-wave when he invented larches.”

“Yes, Holly says that the coppice was my grandfather’s favourite spot.”

“Old Jolyon — who wouldn’t marry his beloved, because she was consumptive?”

“I never heard that. But he was a great old fellow, my mother and father adored him.”

“I’ve seen his photograph — don’t get a chin like his, Jon! The Forsytes all have such chins. June’s frightens me.”

“June is one of the best people on earth.”

“Oh! Jon, you are horribly loyal.”

“Is that an offence?”

“It makes everything terribly earnest in a world that isn’t worth it. No, don’t quote Longfellow. When you get home, shall you tell Anne you’ve been driving with me?”

“Why not?”

“She’s uneasy about me as it is, isn’t she? You needn’t answer, Jon. But I think it’s unfair of her. I want so little, and you’re so safe.”

“Safe?” It seemed to Fleur that he closed his teeth on the word, and for a moment she was happy.

“Now you’ve got your lion-cub look. Do lion-cubs have consciences? It’s going to be rather interesting for the Rafaelite. I think your conscience might stop before telling Anne, though. It’s a pity to worry her if she has a talent for uneasiness.” Then, by the silence at her side, she knew she had made a mistake.

“This is where I put in my clutch,” she said, “as they say in the ‘bloods!’” And through Epsom and Leatherhead they travelled in silence.

“Do you love England as much as ever, Jon?”

“More.”

“It IS a gorgeous country.”

“The last word I should have used — a great and lovely country.”

“Michael says its soul is grass.”

“Yes, and if I get my farm, I’ll break some up, all right.”

“I can’t see you as a real farmer.”

“You can’t see me as a real anything — I suppose. — Just an amateur.”

“Don’t be horrid! I mean you’re too sensitive to be a farmer.”

“No. I want to get down to the earth, and I will.”

“You must be a throw-back, Jon. The primeval Forsytes were farmers. My father wants to take me down and show me where they lived.”

“Have you jumped at it?”

“I’m not sentimental; haven’t you realised that? I wonder if you’ve realised anything about me?” And drooping forward over her wheel, she murmured: “Oh! it’s a pity we have to talk like this!”

“I said it wouldn’t work!”

“No, you’ve got to let me see you sometimes, Jon. This is harmless enough. I must and will see you now and then. It’s owed to me!”

Tears stood in her eyes, and rolled slowly down. She felt Jon touch her arm.

“Oh! Fleur, don’t!”

“I’ll put you out at North Dorking now, you’ll just catch the five forty-six. That’s my house. Next time I must show you over it. I’m trying to be good, Jon; and you must help me. . . . Well, here we are! Good-bye, dear Jon; and don’t worry Anne about me, I beseech you!”

A hard handgrip, and he was gone. Fleur turned from the station and drove slowly back along the road.

She put away the car, and entered her “Rest House.” It was full, late holiday time still, and seven young women were resting limbs, tired out in the service of “Petter, Poplin,” and their like.

They were at supper, and a cheery buzz assailed Fleur’s ears. These girls had nothing, and she had everything, except — the one thing that she chiefly wanted. For a moment she felt ashamed, listening to their talk and laughter. No! She would not change with them — and yet without that one thing she felt as if she could not live. And, while she went about the house, sifting the flowers, ordering for tomorrow, inspecting the bedrooms, laughter, cheery and uncontrolled, floated up and seemed to mock her.

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