To Let, by John Galsworthy

IX

Under the Oak-Tree

When their visitor had disappeared Jon and his mother stood without speaking, till he said suddenly: “I ought to have seen him out.” But Soames was already walking down the drive, and Jon went up-stairs to his father’s studio, not trusting himself to go back. The expression on his mother’s face confronting the man she had once been married to, had sealed a resolution growing within him ever since she left him the night before. It had put the finishing touch of reality. To marry Fleur would be to hit his mother in the face; to betray his dead father! It was no good! Jon had the least resentful of natures. He bore his parents no grudge in this hour of his distress. For one so young there was a rather strange power in him of seeing things in some sort of proportion. It was worse for Fleur, worse for his mother even, than it was for him. Harder than to give up was to be given up, or to be the cause of some one you loved giving up for you. He must not, would not behave grudgingly! While he stood watching the tardy sunlight, he had again that sudden vision of the world which had come to him the night before. Sea on sea, country on country, millions on millions of people, all with their own lives, energies, joys, griefs, and suffering — all with things they had to give up, and separate struggles for existence. Even though he might be willing to give up all else for the one thing he couldn’t have, he would be a fool to think his feelings mattered much in so vast a world, and to behave like a cry-baby or a cad. He pictured the people who had nothing — the millions who had given up life in the war, the millions whom the war had left with life and little else; the hungry children he had read of, the shattered men; people in prison, every kind of unfortunate. And — they did not help him much. If one had to miss a meal, what comfort in the knowledge that many others had to miss it too? There was more distraction in the thought of getting away out into this vast world of which he knew nothing yet. He could not go on staying here, walled in and sheltered, with everything so slick and comfortable, and nothing to do but brood and think what might have been. He could not go back to Wansdon, and the memories of Fleur. If he saw her again he could not trust himself; and if he stayed here or went back there, he would surely see her. While they were within reach of each other that must happen. To go far away and quickly, was the only thing to do. But, however much he loved his mother, he did not want to go away with her. Then feeling that was brutal, he made up his mind desperately to propose that they should go to Italy. For two hours in that melancholy room he tried to master himself; then dressed solemnly for dinner.

His mother had done the same. They ate little, at some length, and talked of his father’s catalogue. The Show was arranged for October, and beyond clerical detail there was nothing more to do.

After dinner she put on a cloak and they went out; walked a little, talked a little, till they were standing silent at last beneath the oak-tree. Ruled by the thought: ‘If I show anything, I show all,’ Jon put his arm through hers and said quite casually:

“Mother, let’s go to Italy.”

Irene pressed his arm, and said as casually:

“It would be very nice; but I’ve been thinking you ought to see and do more than you would if I were with you.”

“But then you’d be alone.”

“I was once alone for more than twelve years. Besides, I should like to be here for the opening of Father’s show.”

Jon’s grip tightened round her arm; he was not deceived.

“You couldn’t stay here all by yourself; it’s too big.”

“Not here, perhaps. In London, and I might go to Paris, after the show opens. You ought to have a year at least, Jon, and see the world.”

“Yes, I’d like to see the world and rough it. But I don’t want to leave you all alone.”

“My dear, I owe you that at least. If it’s for your good, it’ll be for mine. Why not start tomorrow? You’ve got your passport.”

“Yes; if I’m going it had better be at once. Only — Mother — if — if I wanted to stay out somewhere — America or anywhere, would you mind coming presently?”

“Wherever and whenever you send for me. But don’t send until you really want me.”

Jon drew a deep breath.

“I feel England’s choky.”

They stood a few minutes longer under the oak-tree — looking out to where the grand stand at Epsom was veiled in evening. The branches kept the moonlight from them, so that it only fell everywhere else — over the fields and far away, and on the windows of the creepered house behind, which soon would be to let.

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