To Let, by John Galsworthy

II

Fathers and Daughters

Deprived of his wife and son by the Spanish adventure, Jolyon found the solitude at Robin Hill intolerable. A philosopher when he has all that he wants is different from a philosopher when he has not. Accustomed, however, to the idea, if not to the reality of resignation, he would perhaps have faced it out but for his daughter June. He was a “lame duck” now, and on her conscience. Having achieved — momentarily — the rescue of an etcher in low circumstances, which she happened to have in hand, she appeared at Robin Hill a fortnight after Irene and Jon had gone. The little lady was living now in a tiny house with a big studio at Chiswick. A Forsyte of the best period, so far as the lack of responsibility was concerned, she had overcome the difficulty of a reduced income in a manner satisfactory to herself and her father. The rent of the Gallery off Cork Street which he had bought for her, and her increased income tax happening to balance, it had been quite simple — she no longer paid him the rent. The Gallery might be expected now at any time, after eighteen years of barren usufruct, to pay its way, so that she was sure her father would not feel it. Through this device she still had twelve hundred a year, and by reducing what she ate, and, in place of two Belgians in a poor way, employing one Austrian in a poorer, practically the same surplus for the relief of genius. After three days at Robin Hill she carried her father back with her to Town. In those three days she had stumbled on the secret he had kept for two years, and had instantly decided to cure him. She knew, in fact, the very man. He had done wonders with Paul Post — that painter a little in advance of Futurism; and she was impatient with her father because his eyebrows would go up, and because he had heard of neither. Of course, if he hadn’t “faith” he would never get well! It was absurd not to have faith in the man who had healed Paul Post so that he had only just relapsed, from having overworked, or overlived, himself again. The great thing about this healer was that he relied on Nature. He had made a special study of the symptoms of Nature — when his patient failed in any natural symptom he supplied the poison which caused it — and there you were! She was extremely hopeful. Her father had clearly not been living a natural life at Robin Hill, and she intended to provide the symptoms. He was — she felt — out of touch with the times, which was not natural; his heart wanted stimulating. In the little Chiswick house she and the Austrian — a grateful soul, so devoted to June for rescuing her that she was in danger of decease from overwork — stimulated Jolyon in all sorts of ways, preparing him for his cure. But they could not keep his eyebrows down; as — for example — when the Austrian woke him at eight o’clock just as he was going to sleep or June took The Times away from him, because it was unnatural to read “that stuff” when he ought to be taking an interest in “life.” He never failed, indeed, to be astonished at her resource, especially in the evenings. For his benefit, as she declared, though he suspected that she also got something out of it, she assembled the Age so far as it was satellite to genius; and with some solemnity it would move up and down the studio before him in the Fox-trot, and that more mental form of dancing — the One-step — which so pulled against the music, that Jolyon’s eyebrows would be almost lost in his hair from wonder at the strain it must impose on the dancers’ will-power. Aware that, hung on the line in the Water Colour Society, he was a back number to those with any pretension to be called artists, he would sit in the darkest corner he could find, and wonder about rhythm, on which so long ago he had been raised. And when June brought some girl or young man up to him, he would rise humbly to their level so far as that was possible, and think: ‘Dear me! This is very dull for them!’ Having his father’s perennial sympathy with Youth, he used to get very tired from entering into their points of view. But it was all stimulating, and he never failed in admiration of his daughter’s indomitable spirit. Even genius itself attended these gatherings now and then, with its nose on one side; and June always introduced it to her father. This, she felt, was exceptionally good for him, for genius was a natural symptom he had never had — fond as she was of him.

Certain as a man can be that she was his own daughter, he often wondered whence she got herself — her red-gold hair, now greyed into a special colour; her direct, spirited face, so different from his own rather folded and subtilised countenance, her little light figure, when he and most of the Forsytes were tall. And he would dwell on the origin of species, and debate whether she might be Danish or Celtic. Celtic, he thought, from her pugnacity, and her taste in fillets and djibbahs. It was not too much to say that he preferred her to the Age with which she was surrounded, youthful though, for the greater part, it was. She took, however, too much interest in his teeth, for he still had some of those natural symptoms. Her dentist at once found “staphylococcus aureus present in pure culture” (which might cause boils, of course) and wanted to take out all the teeth he had and supply him with two complete sets of unnatural symptoms. Jolyon’s native tenacity was roused, and in the studio that evening he developed his objections. He had never had any boils, and his own teeth would last his time. Of course — June admitted — they would last his time if he didn’t have them out! But if he had more teeth he would have a better heart and his time would be longer. His recalcitrance — she said — was a symptom of his whole attitude; he was taking it lying down. He ought to be fighting. When was he going to see the man who had cured Paul Post? Jolyon was very sorry, but the fact was he was not going to see him. June chafed. Pondridge — she said — the healer, was such a fine man, and he had such difficulty in making two ends meet and getting his theories recognised. It was just such indifference and prejudice as her father manifested which was keeping him back. It would be so splendid for both of them!

“I perceive,” said Jolyon, “that you are trying to kill two birds with one stone.”

“To cure, you mean!” cried June.

“My dear, it’s the same thing.”

June protested. It was unfair to say that without a trial.

Jolyon thought he might not have the chance of saying it after.

“Dad!” cried June, “you’re hopeless.”

“That,” said Jolyon, “is a fact, but I wish to remain hopeless as long as possible. I shall let sleeping dogs lie, my child. They are quiet at present.”

“That’s not giving science a chance,” cried June. “You’ve no idea how devoted Pondridge is. He puts his science before everything.”

“Just,” replied Jolyon, puffing the mild cigarette to which he was reduced, “as Mr. Paul Post puts his art, eh? Art for Art’s sake — Science for the sake of Science. I know those enthusiastic egomaniac gentry. They vivisect you without blinking. I’m enough of a Forsyte to give them the go-by, June.”

“Dad,” said June, “if you only knew how old-fashioned that sounds! Nobody can afford to be half-hearted nowadays.”

“I’m afraid,” murmured Jolyon, with his smile, “that’s the only natural symptom with which Mr. Pondridge need not supply me. We are born to be extreme or to be moderate, my dear; though if you’ll forgive my saying so, half the people nowadays who believe they’re extreme are really very moderate. I’m getting on as well as I can expect, and I must leave it at that.”

June was silent, having experienced in her time the inexorable character of her father’s amiable obstinacy so far as his own freedom of action was concerned.

How he came to let her know why Irene had taken Jon to Spain puzzled Jolyon, for he had little confidence in her discretion. After she had brooded on the news, it brought a rather sharp discussion, during which he perceived to the full the fundamental opposition between her active temperament and his wife’s passivity. He even gathered that a little soreness still remained from that generation-old struggle between them over the body of Philip Bosinney, in which the passive had so signally triumphed over the active principle.

According to June, it was foolish and even cowardly to hide the past from Jon. Sheer opportunism, she called it.

“Which,” Jolyon put in mildly, “is the working principle of real life, my dear.”

“Oh!” cried June, “YOU don’t really defend her for not telling Jon, Dad. If it were left to you, you would.”

“I might, but simply because I know he must find out, which will be worse than if we told him.”

“Then why DON’T you tell him? It’s just sleeping dogs again.”

“My dear,” said Jolyon, “I wouldn’t for the world go against Irene’s instinct. He’s her boy.”

“Yours too,” cried June.

“What is a man’s instinct compared with a mother’s?”

“Well, I think it’s very weak of you.”

“I dare say,” said Jolyon, “I dare say.”

And that was all she got from him; but the matter rankled in her brain. She could not bear sleeping dogs. And there stirred in her a tortuous impulse to push the matter towards decision. Jon ought to be told, so that either his feeling might be nipped in the bud, or, flowering in spite of the past, come to fruition. And she determined to see Fleur, and judge for herself. When June determined on anything, delicacy became a somewhat minor consideration. After all, she was Soames’ cousin, and they were both interested in pictures. She would go and tell him that he ought to buy a Paul Post, or perhaps a piece of sculpture by Boris Strumolowski, and of course she would say nothing to her father. She went on the following Sunday, looking so determined that she had some difficulty in getting a cab at Reading station. The river country was lovely in those days of her own month, and June ached at its loveliness. She who had passed through this life without knowing what union was had a love of natural beauty which was almost madness. And when she came to that choice spot where Soames had pitched his tent, she dismissed her cab, because, business over, she wanted to revel in the bright water and the woods. She appeared at his front door, therefore, as a mere pedestrian, and sent in her card. It was in June’s character to know that when her nerves were fluttering she was doing something worth while. If one’s nerves did not flutter, she was taking the line of least resistance, and knew that nobleness was not obliging her. She was conducted to a drawing-room, which, though not in her style, showed every mark of fastidious elegance. Thinking: ‘Too much taste — too many knick-knacks,’ she saw in an old lacquer-framed mirror the figure of a girl coming in from the verandah. Clothed in white, and holding some white roses in her hand, she had, reflected in that silvery-grey pool of glass, a vision-like appearance, as if a pretty ghost had come out of the green garden.

“How do you do?” said June, turning round. “I’m a cousin of your father’s.”

“Oh, yes; I saw you in that confectioner’s.”

“With my young stepbrother. Is your father in?”

“He will be directly. He’s only gone for a little walk.”

June slightly narrowed her blue eyes, and lifted her decided chin.

“Your name’s Fleur, isn’t it? I’ve heard of you from Holly. What do you think of Jon?”

The girl lifted the roses in her hand, looked at them, and answered calmly:

“He’s quite a nice boy.”

“Not a bit like Holly or me, is he?”

“Not a bit.”

‘She’s cool,’ thought June.

And suddenly the girl said: “I wish you’d tell me why our families don’t get on?”

Confronted with the question she had advised her father to answer, June was silent; either because this girl was trying to get something out of her, or simply because what one would do theoretically is not always what one will do when it comes to the point.

“You know,” said the girl, “the surest way to make people find out the worst is to keep them ignorant. My father’s told me it was a quarrel about property. But I don’t believe it; we’ve both got heaps. They wouldn’t have been so bourgeois as all that.”

June flushed. The word applied to her grandfather and father offended her.

“My grandfather,” she said, “was very generous, and my father is, too; neither of them was in the least bourgeois.”

“Well, what was it then?” repeated the girl. Conscious that this young Forsyte meant having what she wanted, June at once determined to prevent her, and to get something for herself instead.

“Why do you want to know?”

The girl smelled at her roses. “I only want to know because they won’t tell me.”

“Well, it WAS about property, but there’s more than one kind.”

“That makes it worse. Now I really MUST know.”

June’s small and resolute face quivered. She was wearing a round cap, and her hair had fluffed out under it. She looked quite young at that moment, rejuvenated by encounter.

“You know,” she said, “I saw you drop your handkerchief. Is there anything between you and Jon? Because, if so, you’d better drop that too.”

The girl grew paler, but she smiled.

“If there were, that isn’t the way to make me.”

At the gallantry of that reply June held out her hand.

“I like you; but I don’t like your father; I never have. We may as well be frank.”

“Did you come down to tell him that?”

June laughed. “No; I came down to see YOU.”

“How delightful of you!”

This girl could fence.

“I’m two-and-a-half times your age,” said June, “but I quite sympathise. It’s horrid not to have one’s own way.”

The girl smiled again. “I really think you MIGHT tell me.”

How the child stuck to her point!

“It’s not my secret. But I’ll see what I can do, because I think both you and Jon OUGHT to be told. And now I’ll say good-bye.”

“Won’t you wait and see Father?”

June shook her head. “How can I get over to the other side?”

“I’ll row you across.”

“Look!” said June impulsively, “next time you’re in London, come and see me. This is where I live. I generally have young people in the evening. But I shouldn’t tell your father that you’re coming.”

The girl nodded.

Watching her scull the skiff across, June thought: ‘She’s awfully pretty and well made. I never thought Soames would have a daughter as pretty as this. She and Jon would make a lovely couple.’

The instinct to couple, starved within herself, was always at work in June. She stood watching Fleur row back; the girl took her hand off a scull to wave farewell; and June walked languidly on between the meadows and the river, with an ache in her heart. Youth to youth, like the dragon-flies chasing each other, and love like the sun warming them through and through. Her youth! So long ago — when Phil and she —! And since? Nothing — no one had been quite what she had wanted. And so she had missed it all. But what a coil was round those two young things, if they really were in love, as Holly would have it — as her father, and Irene, and Soames himself seemed to dread. What a coil, and what a barrier! And the itch for the future, the contempt, as it were, for what was overpast, which forms the active principle, moved in the heart of one who ever believed that what one wanted was more important than what other people did not want. From the bank, awhile, in the warm summer stillness, she watched the water-lily plants and willow leaves, the fishes rising; sniffed the scent of grass and meadow-sweet, wondering how she could force everybody to be happy. Jon and Fleur! Two little lame ducks — charming callow yellow little ducks! A great pity! Surely something could be done! One must not take such situations lying down. She walked on, and reached a station, hot and cross.

That evening, faithful to the impulse towards direct action, which made many people avoid her, she said to her father:

“Dad, I’ve been down to see young Fleur. I think she’s very attractive. It’s no good hiding our heads under our wings, is it?”

The startled Jolyon set down his barley water, and began crumbling his bread.

“It’s what you appear to be doing,” he said: “Do you realise whose daughter she is?”

“Can’t the dead past bury its dead?”

Jolyon rose.

“Certain things can never be buried.”

“I disagree,” said June. “It’s that which stands in the way of all happiness and progress. You don’t understand the Age, Dad. It’s got no use for outgrown things. Why do you think it matters so terribly that Jon should know about his mother? Who pays any attention to that sort of thing now? The marriage laws are just as they were when Soames and Irene couldn’t get a divorce, and you had to come in. We’ve moved, and they haven’t. So nobody cares. Marriage without a decent chance of relief is only a sort of slave-owning; people oughtn’t to own each other. Everybody sees that now. If Irene broke such laws, what does it matter?”

“It’s not for me to disagree there,” said Jolyon; “but that’s all quite beside the mark. This is a matter of human feeling.”

“Of course, it is,” cried June, “the human feeling of those two young things.”

“My dear,” said Jolyon with gentle exasperation, “you’re talking nonsense.”

“I’m not. If they prove to be really fond of each other, why should they be made unhappy because of the past?”

“YOU haven’t lived that past. I have — through the feelings of my wife; through my own nerves and my imagination, as only one who is devoted can.”

June, too, rose, and began to wander restlessly.

“If,” she said suddenly, “she were the daughter of Phil Bosinney, I could understand you better. Irene loved him, she never loved Soames.”

Jolyon uttered a deep sound — the sort of noise an Italian peasant woman utters to her mule. His heart had begun beating furiously, but he paid no attention to it, quite carried away by his feelings.

“That shows how little you understand. Neither I nor Jon, if I know him, would mind a love-past. It’s the brutality of a union without love. This girl is the daughter of the man who once owned Jon’s mother as a negro-slave was owned. You can’t lay that ghost; don’t try to, June! It’s asking us to see Jon joined to the flesh and blood of the man who possessed Jon’s mother against her will. It’s no good mincing words; I want it clear once for all. And now I mustn’t talk any more, or I shall have to sit up with this all night.” And, putting his hand over his heart, Jolyon turned his back on his daughter and stood looking at the river Thames.

June, who by nature never saw a hornets’ nest until she had put her head into it, was seriously alarmed. She came and slipped her arm through his. Not convinced that he was right, and she herself wrong, because that was not natural to her, she was yet profoundly impressed by the obvious fact that the subject was very bad for him. She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, and said nothing.

After taking her elderly cousin across, Fleur did not land at once, but pulled in among the reeds, into the sunshine. The peaceful beauty of the afternoon seduced for a little one not much given to the vague and poetic. In the field beyond the bank where her skiff lay up, a machine drawn by a grey horse was turning an early field of hay. She watched the grass cascading over and behind the light wheels with fascination — it looked so green and fresh. The click and swish blended with the rustle of the willows and the poplars, and the cooing of a wood-pigeon, in a true river song. Alongside, in the grey-green water, weeds like yellow snakes were writhing and nosing with the current; pied cattle on the farther side stood in the shade lazily swishing their tails. It was an afternoon to dream. And she took out Jon’s letters — not flowery effusions, but haunted in their recital of things seen and done by a longing very agreeable to her, and all ending “Your devoted J.” Fleur was not sentimental, her desires were ever concrete and concentrated, but what poetry there was in the daughter of Soames and Annette had certainly in those weeks of waiting gathered round her memories of Jon. They all belonged to grass and blossom, flowers and running water. She enjoyed him in the scents absorbed by her crinkling nose. The stars could persuade her that she was standing beside him in the centre of the map of Spain; and of an early morning the dewy cobwebs, the hazy sparkle and promise of the day down in the garden, were Jon personified to her.

Two white swans came majestically by, while she was reading his letters, followed by their brood of six young swans in a line, with just so much space between each tail and head, a flotilla of grey destroyers. Fleur thrust her letters back, got out her sculls, and pulled up to the landing-stage. Crossing the lawn, she wondered whether she should tell her father of June’s visit. If he learned of it from the butler, he might think it odd if she did not. It gave her, too, another chance to startle out of him the reason of the feud. She went, therefore, up the road to meet him.

Soames had gone to look at a patch of ground on which the Local Authorities were proposing to erect a Sanatorium for people with weak lungs. Faithful to his native individualism, he took no part in local affairs, content to pay the rates which were always going up. He could not, however, remain indifferent to this new and dangerous scheme. The site was not half a mile from his own house. He was quite of opinion that the country should stamp out tuberculosis; but this was not the place. It should be done farther away. He took, indeed, an attitude common to all true Forsytes, that disability of any sort in other people was not his affair, and the State should do its business without prejudicing in any way the natural advantages which he had acquired or inherited. Francie, the most free-spirited Forsyte of his generation (except perhaps that fellow Jolyon) had once asked him in her malicious way: “Did you ever see the name Forsyte in a subscription list, Soames?” That was as it might be, but a Sanatorium would depreciate the neighbourhood, and he should certainly sign the petition which was being got up against it. Returning with this decision fresh within him, he saw Fleur coming.

She was showing him more affection of late, and the quiet time down here with her in this summer weather had been making him feel quite young; Annette was always running up to Town for one thing or another, so that he had Fleur to himself almost as much as he could wish. To be sure, young Mont had formed a habit of appearing on his motor-cycle almost every other day. Thank goodness, the young fellow had shaved off his half-toothbrushes, and no longer looked like a mountebank! With a girl friend of Fleur’s who was staying in the house, and a neighbouring youth or so, they made two couples after dinner, in the hall, to the music of the electric pianola which performed Fox-trots unassisted, with a surprised shine on its expressive surface. Annette, even, now and then passed gracefully up and down in the arms of one or other of the young men. And Soames, coming to the drawing-room door, would lift his nose a little sideways, and watch them, waiting to catch a smile from Fleur; then move back to his chair by the drawing-room hearth, to peruse The Times or some other collector’s price — list. To his ever-anxious eyes Fleur showed no sign of remembering that caprice of hers.

When she reached him on the dusty road, he slipped his hand within her arm.

“Who, do you think, has been to see you, Dad? She couldn’t wait! Guess!”

“I never guess,” said Soames uneasily. “Who?”

“Your cousin, June Forsyte.”

Quite unconsciously Soames gripped her arm. “What did SHE want?”

“I don’t know. But it was rather breaking through the feud, wasn’t it?”

“Feud? What feud?”

“The one that exists in your imagination, dear.”

Soames dropped her arm. Was she mocking, or trying to draw him on?

“I suppose she wanted me to buy a picture,” he said at last.

“I don’t think so. Perhaps it was just family affection.”

“She’s only a first cousin once removed,” muttered Soames.

“And the daughter of your enemy.”

“What d’you mean by that?”

“I beg your pardon, dear; I thought he was.”

“Enemy!” repeated Soames. “It’s ancient history. I don’t know where you get your notions.”

“From June Forsyte.”

It had come to her as an inspiration that if he thought she knew, or were on the edge of knowledge, he would tell her.

Soames was startled, but she had underrated his caution and tenacity.

“If you know,” he said coldly, “why do you plague me?”

Fleur saw that she had overreached herself.

“I don’t want to plague you, darling. As you say, why want to know more? Why want to know anything of that ‘small’ mystery — Je m’en fiche, as Profond says.”

“That chap!” said Soames profoundly.

That chap, indeed, played a considerable, if invisible, part this summer — for he had not turned up again. Ever since the Sunday when Fleur had drawn attention to him prowling on the lawn, Soames had thought of him a good deal, and always in connection with Annette, for no reason, except that she was looking handsomer than for some time past. His possessive instinct, subtler, less formal, more elastic since the war, kept all misgiving underground. As one looks on some American river, quiet and pleasant, knowing that an alligator perhaps is lying in the mud with his snout just raised and indistinguishable from a snag of wood — so Soames looked on the river of his own existence, subconscious of Monsieur Profond, refusing to see more than the suspicion of his snout. He had at this epoch in his life practically all he wanted, and was as nearly happy as his nature would permit. His senses were at rest; his affections found all the vent they needed in his daughter; his collection was well known, his money well invested; his health excellent, save for a touch of liver now and again; he had not yet begun to worry seriously about what would happen after death, inclining to think that nothing would happen. He resembled one of his own gilt-edged securities, and to knock the gilt off by seeing anything he could avoid seeing, would be, he felt instinctively, perverse and retrogressive. Those two crumpled rose-leaves, Fleur’s caprice and Monsieur Profond’s snout, would level away if he lay on them industriously.

That evening Chance, which visits the lives of even the best-invested Forsytes, put a clue into Fleur’s hands. Her father came down to dinner without a handkerchief, and had occasion to blow his nose.

“I’ll get you one, dear,” she had said, and run upstairs. In the sachet where she sought for it — an old sachet of very faded silk — there were two compartments: one held handkerchiefs; the other was buttoned, and contained something flat and hard. By some childish impulse Fleur unbuttoned it. There was a frame and in it a photograph of herself as a little girl. She gazed at it, fascinated, as one is by one’s own presentment. It slipped under her fidgeting thumb, and she saw that another photograph was behind. She pressed her own down further, and perceived a face, which she seemed to know, of a young woman, very good-looking, in a very old style of evening dress. Slipping her own photograph up over it again, she took out a handkerchief and went down. Only on the stairs did she identify that face. Surely — surely Jon’s mother! The conviction came as a shock. And she stood still in a flurry of thought. Why, of course! Jon’s father had married the woman her father had wanted to marry, had cheated him out of her, perhaps. Then, afraid of showing by her manner that she had lighted on his secret, she refused to think further, and, shaking out the silk handkerchief, entered the dining-room.

“I chose the softest, Father.”

“H’m!” said Soames; “I only use those after a cold. Never mind!”

That evening passed for Fleur in putting two and two together; recalling the look on her father’s face in the confectioner’s shop — a look strange, and coldly intimate, a queer look. He must have loved that woman very much to have kept her photograph all this time, in spite of having lost her. Unsparing and matter-of-fact, her mind darted to his relations with her own mother. Had he ever really loved HER? She thought not. Jon was the son of the woman he had really loved. Surely, then, he ought not to mind his daughter loving him; it only wanted getting used to. And a sigh of sheer relief was caught in the folds of her nightgown slipping over her head.

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