To Let, by John Galsworthy

VIII

Idyll on Grass

When those two young Forsytes emerged from the chine lane, and set their faces East towards the sun, there was not a cloud in heaven, and the Downs were dewy. They had come at a good bat up the slope and were a little out of breath; if they had anything to say they did not say it, but marched in the early awkwardness of unbreakfasted morning under the songs of the larks. The stealing out had been fun, but with the freedom of the tops the sense of conspiracy ceased, and gave place to dumbness.

“We’ve made one blooming error,” said Fleur, when they had gone half a mile. “I’m hungry.”

Jon produced a stick of chocolate. They shared it and their tongues were loosened. They discussed the nature of their homes and previous existences, which had a kind of fascinating unreality up on that lonely height. There remained but one thing solid in Jon’s past — his mother; but one thing solid in Fleur’s — her father; and of these figures, as though seen in the distance with disapproving faces, they spoke little.

The Down dipped and rose again towards Chanctonbury Ring; a sparkle of far sea came into view, a sparrowhawk hovered in the sun’s eye so that the blood-nourished brown of his wings gleamed nearly red. Jon had a passion for birds, and an aptitude for sitting very still to watch them; keen-sighted, and with a memory for what interested him, on birds he was almost worth listening to. But in Chanctonbury Ring there were none — its great beech temple was empty of life, and almost chilly at this early hour; they came out willingly again into the sun on the far side. It was Fleur’s turn now. She spoke of dogs, and the way people treated them. It was wicked to keep them on chains! She would like to flog people who did that. Jon was astonished to find her so humanitarian. She knew a dog, it seemed, which some farmer near her home kept chained up at the end of his chicken run, in all weathers till it had almost lost its voice from barking!

“And the misery is,” she said vehemently, “that if the poor thing didn’t bark at every one who passes it wouldn’t be kept there. I do think men are cunning brutes. I’ve let it go twice, on the sly; it’s nearly bitten me both times, and then it goes simply mad with joy; but it always runs back home at last, and they chain it up again. If I had my way, I’d chain that man up.”

Jon saw her teeth and her eyes gleam. “I’d brand him on his forehead with the word ‘Brute’; that would teach him!”

Jon agreed that it would be a good remedy. “It’s their sense of property,” he said, “which makes people chain things. The last generation thought of nothing but property; and that’s why there was the war.”

“Oh!” said Fleur, “I never thought of that. Your people and mine quarrelled about property. And anyway we’ve all got it — at least, I suppose your people have.”

“Oh! yes, luckily; I don’t suppose I shall be any good at making money.”

“If you were, I don’t believe I should like you.”

Jon slipped his hand tremulously under her arm.

Fleur looked straight before her, and chanted:

“Jon, Jon, the farmer’s son,
Stole a pig, and away he run!”

Jon’s arm crept round her waist.

“This is rather sudden,” said Fleur calmly; “do you often do it?”

Jon dropped his arm. But when she laughed, his arm stole back again; and Fleur began to sing:

“O who will o’er the downs so free,
O who will with me ride?
O who will up and follow me —”

“Sing, Jon!”

Jon sang. The larks joined in, sheep-bells, and an early morning church far away over in Steyning. They went on from tune to tune, till Fleur said:

“My God! I am hungry now!”

“Oh! I AM sorry!”

She looked round into his face.

“Jon, you’re rather a darling.”

And she pressed his hand against her waist. Jon almost reeled with happiness. A yellow-and-white dog coursing a hare startled them apart. They watched the two vanish down the slope, till Fleur said with a sigh: “He’ll never catch it, thank goodness! What’s the time? Mine’s stopped. I never wound it.”

Jon looked at his watch. “By Jove!” he said, “mine’s stopped, too.”

They walked on again, but only hand in hand.

“If the grass is dry,” said Fleur, “let’s sit down for half a minute.”

Jon took off his coat, and they shared it.

“Smell! Actually wild thyme!”

With his arm round her waist again, they sat some minutes in silence.

“We are goats!” cried Fleur, jumping up; “we shall be most fearfully late, and look so silly, and put them on their guard. Look here, Jon! We only came out to get an appetite for breakfast, and lost our way. See?”

“Yes,” said Jon.

“It’s serious; there’ll be a stopper put on us. Are you a good liar?”

“I believe not very; but I can try.” Fleur frowned.

“You know,” she said, “I realise that they don’t mean us to be friends.”

“Why not?”

“I told you why.”

“But that’s silly.”

“Yes; but you don’t know my father!”

“I suppose he’s fearfully fond of you.”

“You see, I’m an only child. And so are you — of your mother. Isn’t it a bore? There’s so much expected of one. By the time they’ve done expecting, one’s as good as dead.”

“Yes,” muttered Jon, “life’s beastly short. One wants to live for ever, and know everything.”

“And love everybody?”

“No,” cried Jon; “I only want to love once — you.”

“Indeed! You’re coming on! Oh! Look! There’s the chalk-pit; we can’t be very far now. Let’s run.”

Jon followed, wondering fearfully if he had offended her.

The chalk-pit was full of sunshine and the murmuration of bees. Fleur flung back her hair.

“Well,” she said, “in case of accidents, you may give me one kiss, Jon,” and she pushed her cheek forward. With ecstasy he kissed that hot soft cheek.

“Now, remember! We lost our way; and leave it to me as much as you can. I’m going to be rather beastly to you; it’s safer; try and be beastly to me!”

Jon shook his head. “That’s impossible.”

“Just to please me; till five o’clock, at all events.”

“Anybody will be able to see through it,” said Jon gloomily.

“Well, do your best. Look! There they are! Wave your hat! Oh! you haven’t got one. Well, I’ll cooee! Get a little away from me, and look sulky.”

Five minutes later, entering the house and, doing his utmost to look sulky, Jon heard her clear voice in the dining-room:

“Oh! I’m simply RAVENOUS! He’s going to be a farmer — and he loses his way! The boy’s an idiot!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/tolet/chapter8.html

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