Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter IX

Rencounter

With the canteen accounts in her hand, Fleur stepped out between her tubbed bay-trees. A quarter to nine by Big Ben! Twenty odd minutes to walk across the Green Park! She had drunk her coffee in bed, to elude questions — and there, of course, was Dad with his nose glued to the dining-room window. She waved the accounts, and he withdrew his face as if they had flicked him. He was ever so good, but he shouldn’t always be dusting her — she wasn’t a piece of china!

She walked briskly. She had no honeysuckle sensations this morning, but felt hard and bright. If Jon had come back to England to stay, she must get him over. The sooner the better, without fuss! Passing the geraniums in front of Buckingham Palace, just out and highly scarlet, she felt her blood heating. Not walk so fast or she would arrive damp! The trees were far advanced; the Green Park, under breeze and sun, smelled of grass and leaves. Spring had not smelled so good for years. A longing for the country seized on Fleur. Grass and trees and water — her hours with Jon had been passed among them — one hour in this very Park, before he took her down to Robin Hill! Robin Hill had been sold to some peer or other, and she wished him joy of it — she knew its history as of some unlucky ship! That house had ‘done in’ her father, and Jon’s father, yes — and his grandfather, she believed, to say nothing of herself. One would not be ‘done in’ again so easily! And, passing into Piccadilly, Fleur smiled at her green youth. In the early windows of the Club nicknamed by George Forsyte the ‘Iseeum,’ no one of his compeers sat as yet, above the moving humours of the street, sipping from glass or cup, and puffing his conclusions out in smoke. Fleur could just remember him, her old Cousin George Forsyte, who used to sit there, fleshy and sardonic behind the curving panes; Cousin George, who had owned the ‘White Monkey’ up in Michael’s study. Uncle Montague Dartie, too, whom she remembered because the only time she had seen him he had pinched her in a curving place, saying: “What are little girls made of?” so that she had clapped her hands when she heard that he had broken his neck, soon after; a horrid man, with fat cheeks and a dark moustache, smelling of scent and cigars. Rounding the last corner, she felt breathless. Geraniums were in her Aunt’s window boxes — but not the fuchsias yet. Was THEIR room the one she herself used to have? And, taking her hand from her heart, she rang the bell.

“Ah! Smither, anybody down?”

“Only Mr. Jon’s down yet, Miss Fleur.”

Why did hearts wobble? Sickening — when one was perfectly cool!

“He’ll do for the moment, Smither. Where is he?”

“Having breakfast, Miss Fleur.”

“All right; show me in. I don’t mind having another cup myself.”

Under her breath, she declined the creaking noun who was preceding her to the dining-room: “Smither: O Smither: Of a Smither: To a Smither: A Smither.” Silly!

“Mrs. Michael Mont, Mr. Jon. Shall I get you some fresh coffee, Miss Fleur?”

“No, thank you, Smither.” Stays creaked, the door was shut. Jon was standing up.

“Fleur!”

“Well, Jon?”

She could hold his hand and keep her pallor, though the blood was in HIS cheeks, no longer smudged.

“Did I feed you nicely?”

“Splendidly. How are you, Fleur? Not tired after all that?”

“Not a bit. How did you like stoking?”

“Fine! My engine-driver was a real brick. Anne will be so disappointed; she’s having a lie-off.”

“She was quite a help. Nearly six years, Jon; you haven’t changed much.”

“Nor you.”

“Oh! I have. Out of knowledge.”

“Well, I don’t see it. Have you had breakfast?”

“Yes. Sit down and go on with yours. I came round to see Holly about some accounts. Is she in bed, too?”

“I expect so.”

“Well, I’ll go up directly. How does England feel, Jon?”

“Topping. Can’t leave it again. Anne says she doesn’t mind.”

“Where are you going to settle?”

“Somewhere near Val and Holly, if we can get a place, to grow things.”

“Still on growing things?”

“More than ever.”

“How’s the poetry?”

“Pretty dud.”

Fleur quoted:

“‘Voice in the night crying, down in the old sleeping Spanish city darkened under her white stars.’”

“Good Lord! Do you remember that?”

“Yes.”

His eyes were as straight, his lashes as dark as ever.

“Would you like to meet Michael, Jon, and see my infant?”

“Rather!”

“When do you go down to Wansdon?”

“To-morrow or the day after.”

“Then, won’t you both come and lunch tomorrow?”

“We’d love to.”

“Half-past one. Holly and Aunt Winifred, too. Is your mother still in Paris?”

“Yes. She thinks of settling there.”

“Well, Jon — things fall on their feet, don’t they?”

“They do.”

“Shall I give you some more coffee? Aunt Winifred prides herself on her coffee.”

“Fleur, you do look splendid.”

“Thank you! Have you been down to see Robin Hill?”

“Not yet. Some potentate’s got it now.”

“Does your — does Anne find things amusing here?”

“She’s terribly impressed — says we’re a nation of gentlemen. Did you ever think that?”

“Positively — no; comparatively — perhaps.”

“It all smells so good here.”

“The poet’s nose. D’you remember our walk at Wansdon?”

“I remember everything, Fleur.”

“That’s honest. So do I. It took me some time to remember that I’d forgotten. How long did it take you?”

“Still longer, I expect.”

“Well, Michael’s the best male I know.”

“Anne’s the best female.”

“How fortunate — isn’t it? How old is she?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Just right for you. Even if we hadn’t been star-crossed, I was always too old for you. God! Weren’t we young fools?”

“I don’t see that. It was natural — it was beautiful.”

“Still got ideals? Marmalade? It’s Oxford.”

“Yes. They can’t make marmalade out of Oxford.”

“Jon, your hair grows exactly as it used to. Have you noticed mine?”

“I’ve been trying to.”

“Don’t you like it?”

“Not so much, quite; and yet —”

“You mean I shouldn’t look well out of the fashion. Very acute! You don’t mind HER being shingled, apparently.”

“It suits Anne.”

“Did her brother tell you much about me?”

“He said you had a lovely house; and nursed him like an angel.”

“Not like an angel; like a young woman of fashion. There’s still a difference.”

“Anne was awfully grateful for that. She’s told you?”

“Yes. But I’m afraid, between us, we sent Francis home rather cynical. Cynicism grows here; d’you notice it in me?”

“I think you put it on.”

“My dear! I take it off when I talk to you. You were always an innocent. Don’t smile — you were! That’s why you were well rid of me. Well, I never thought I should see you again.”

“Nor I. I’m sorry Anne’s not down.”

“You’ve never told her about me.”

“How did you know that?”

“By the way she looks at me.”

“Why should I tell her?”

“No reason in the world. Let the dead past — It’s fun to see you again, though. Shake hands. I’m going up to Holly now.”

Their hands joined over the marmalade on his plate.

“We’re not children now, Jon. Till tomorrow, then! You’ll like my house. A revederci!”

Going up the stairs she thought with resolution about nothing.

“Can I come in, Holly?”

“Fleur! My dear!”

That thin, rather sallow face, so charmingly intelligent, was propped against a pillow. Fleur had the feeling that, of all people, it was most difficult to keep one’s thoughts from Holly.

“These accounts,” she said. “I’m to see that official ass at ten. Did you order all these sides of bacon?”

The thin sallow hand took the accounts, and between the large grey eyes came a furrow.

“Nine? No — yes; that’s right. Have you seen Jon?”

“Yes; he’s the only early bird. Will you all come to lunch with us tomorrow?”

“If you think it’ll be wise, Fleur.”

“I think it’ll be pleasant.”

She met the search of the grey eyes steadily, and with secret anger. No one should see into her — no one should interfere!

“All right then, we’ll expect you all four at one-thirty. I must run now.”

She did run; but since she really had no appointment with any “official ass,” she went back into the Green Park and sat down.

So that was Jon — now! Terribly like Jon — then! His eyes deeper, his chin more obstinate — that perhaps was all the difference. He still had his sunny look; he still believed in things. He still — admired her. Ye-es! A little wind talked above her in a tree. The day was surprisingly fine — the first really fine day since Easter! What should she give them for lunch? How should she deal with Dad? He must not be there! To have perfect command of oneself was all very well; to have perfect command of one’s father was not so easy. A pattern of leaves covered her short skirt, the sun warmed her knees; she crossed them and leaned back. Eve’s first costume — a pattern of leaves. . . . “Wise?” Holly had said, Who knew? Shrimp cocktails? No! English food. Pancakes — certainly! . . . To get rid of Dad, she must propose herself with Kit at Mapledurham for the day after; then he would go, to prepare for them. Her mother was still in France. The others would be gone to Wansdon. Nothing to wait for in town. A nice warm sun on her neck. A scent of grass — of honeysuckle! Oh! dear!

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