Jolyon stood at the window in Holly’s old night nursery, converted into a studio, not because it had a north light, but for its view over the prospect away to the Grand Stand at Epsom. He shifted to the side window which overlooked the stableyard, and whistled down to the dog Balthasar who lay for ever under the clock tower. The old dog looked up and wagged his tail. ‘Poor old boy!’ thought Jolyon, shifting back to the other window.
He had been restless all this week, since his attempt to prosecute trusteeship, uneasy in his conscience which was ever acute, disturbed in his sense of compassion which was easily excited, and with a queer sensation as if his feeling for beauty had received some definite embodiment. Autumn was getting hold of the old oak-tree, its leaves were browning. Sunshine had been plentiful and hot this summer. As with trees, so with men’s lives! ‘I ought to live long,’ thought Jolyon; ‘I’m getting mildewed for want of heat. If I can’t work, I shall be off to Paris.’ But memory of Paris gave him no pleasure. Besides, how could he go? He must stay and see what Soames was going to do. ‘I’m her trustee. I can’t leave her unprotected,’ he thought. It had been striking him as curious how very clearly he could still see Irene in her little drawing-room which he had only twice entered. Her beauty must have a sort of poignant harmony! No literal portrait would ever do her justice; the essence of her was — ah I what? . . . The noise of hoofs called him back to the other window. Holly was riding into the yard on her long-tailed ‘palfrey.’ She looked up and he waved to her. She had been rather silent lately; getting old, he supposed, beginning to want her future, as they all did — youngsters!
Time was certainly the devil! And with the feeling that to waste this swift-travelling commodity was unforgivable folly, he took up his brush. But it was no use; he could not concentrate his eye — besides, the light was going. ‘I’ll go up to town,’ he thought. In the hall a servant met him.
“A lady to see you, sir; Mrs. Heron.”
Extraordinary coincidence! Passing into the picture-gallery, as it was still called, he saw Irene standing over by the window.
She came towards him saying:
“I’ve been trespassing; I came up through the coppice and garden. I always used to come that way to see Uncle Jolyon.”
“You couldn’t trespass here,” replied Jolyon; “history makes that impossible. I was just thinking of you.”
Irene smiled. And it was as if something shone through; not mere spirituality — serener, completer, more alluring.
“History!” she answered; “I once told Uncle Jolyon that love was for ever. Well, it isn’t. Only aversion lasts.”
Jolyon stared at her. Had she got over Bosinney at last?
“Yes!” he said, “aversion’s deeper than love or hate because it’s a natural product of the nerves, and we don’t change them.”
“I came to tell you that Soames has been to see me. He said a thing that frightened me. He said: ‘You are still my wife!’”
“What!” ejaculated Jolyon. “You ought not to live alone.” And he continued to stare at her, afflicted by the thought that where Beauty was, nothing ever ran quite straight, which, no doubt, was why so many people looked on it as immoral.
“He asked me to shake hands.
“Yes. When he came in I’m sure he didn’t want to; he changed while he was there.”
“Ah! you certainly ought not to go on living there alone.”
“I know no woman I could ask; and I can’t take a lover to order, Cousin Jolyon.”
“Heaven forbid!” said Jolyon. “What a damnable position! Will you stay to dinner? No? Well, let me see you back to town; I wanted to go up this evening.”
“Truly. I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
On that walk to the station they talked of pictures and music, contrasting the English and French characters and the difference in their attitude to Art. But to Jolyon the colours in the hedges of the long straight lane, the twittering of chaffinches who kept pace with them, the perfume of weeds being already burned, the turn of her neck, the fascination of those dark eyes bent on him now and then, the lure of her whole figure, made a deeper impression than the remarks they exchanged. Unconsciously he held himself straighter, walked with a more elastic step.
In the train he put her through a sort of catechism as to what she did with her days.
Made her dresses, shopped, visited a hospital, played her piano, translated from the French.
She had regular work from a publisher, it seemed, which supplemented her income a little. She seldom went out in the evening. “I’ve been living alone so long, you see, that I don’t mind it a bit. I believe I’m naturally solitary.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Jolyon. “Do you know many people?”
At Waterloo they took a hansom, and he drove with her to the door of her mansions. Squeezing her hand at parting, he said:
“You know, you could always come to us at Robin Hill; you must let me know everything that happens. Good-bye, Irene.”
“Good-bye,” she answered softly.
Jolyon climbed back into his cab, wondering why he had not asked her to dine and go to the theatre with him. Solitary, starved, hung-up life that she had! “Hotch Potch Club,” he said through the trap-door. As his hansom debouched on to the Embankment, a man in top-hat and overcoat passed, walking quickly, so close to the wall that he seemed to be scraping it.
‘By Jove!’ thought Jolyon; ‘Soames himself! What’s he up to now?’ And, stopping the cab round the corner, he got out and retraced his steps to where he could see the entrance to the mansions. Soames had halted in front of them, and was looking up at the light in her windows. ‘If he goes in,’ thought Jolyon, ‘what shall I do? What have I the right to do?’ What the fellow had said was true. She was still his wife, absolutely without protection from annoyance! ‘Well, if he goes in,’ he thought, ‘I follow.’ And he began moving towards the mansions. Again Soames advanced; he was in the very entrance now. But suddenly he stopped, spun round on his heel, and came back towards the river. ‘What now?’ thought Jolyon. ‘In a dozen steps he’ll recognise me.’ And he turned tail. His cousin’s footsteps kept pace with his own. But he reached his cab, and got in before Soames had turned the corner. “Go on!” he said through the trap. Soames’ figure ranged up alongside.
“Hansom!” he said. “Engaged? Hallo!”
“Hallo!” answered Jolyon. “You?”
The quick suspicion on his cousin’s face, white in the lamplight, decided him.
“I can give you a lift,” he said, “if you’re going West.”
“Thanks,” answered Soames, and got in.
“I’ve been seeing Irene,” said Jolyon when the cab had started.
“You went to see her yesterday yourself, I understand.”
“I did,” said Soames; “she’s my wife, you know.”
The tone, the half-lifted sneering lip, roused sudden anger in Jolyon; but he subdued it.
“You ought to know best,” he said, “but if you want a divorce it’s not very wise to go seeing her, is it? One can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds?”
“You’re very good to warn me,” said Soames, “but I have not made up my mind.”
“She has,” said Jolyon, looking straight before him; “you can’t take things up, you know, as they were twelve years ago.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Look here!” said Jolyon, “she’s in a damnable position, and I am the only person with any legal say in her affairs.”
“Except myself,” retorted Soames, “who am also in a damnable position. Hers is what she made for herself; mine what she made for me. I am not at all sure that in her own interests I shan’t require her to return to me.”
“What!” exclaimed Jolyon; and a shiver went through his whole body.
“I don’t know what you may mean by ‘what,’” answered Soames coldly; “your say in her affairs is confined to paying out her income; please bear that in mind. In choosing not to disgrace her by a divorce, I retained my rights, and, as I say, I am not at all sure that I shan’t require to exercise them.”
“My God!” ejaculated Jolyon, and he uttered a short laugh.
“Yes,” said Soames, and there was a deadly quality in his voice. “I’ve not forgotten the nickname your father gave me, ‘The man of property’! I’m not called names for nothing.”
“This is fantastic,” murmured Jolyon. Well, the fellow couldn’t force his wife to live with him. Those days were past, anyway! And he looked around at Soames with the thought: ‘Is he real, this man?’ But Soames looked very real, sitting square yet almost elegant with the clipped moustache on his pale face, and a tooth showing where a lip was lifted in a fixed smile. There was a long silence, while Jolyon thought: ‘Instead of helping her, I’ve made things worse.’ Suddenly Soames said:
“It would be the best thing that could happen to her in many ways.”
At those words such a turmoil began taking place in Jolyon that he could barely sit still in the cab. It was as if he were boxed up with hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, boxed up with that something in the national character which had always been to him revolting, something which he knew to be extremely natural and yet which seemed to him inexplicable — their intense belief in contracts and vested rights, their complacent sense of virtue in the exaction of those rights. Here beside him in the cab was the very embodiment, the corporeal sum as it were, of the possessive instinct — his own kinsman, too! It was uncanny and intolerable! ‘But there’s something more in it than that!’ he thought with a sick feeling. ‘The dog, they say, returns to his vomit! The sight of her has reawakened something. Beauty! The devil’s in it!’
“As I say,” said Soames, “I have not made up my mind. I shall be obliged if you will kindly leave her quite alone.”
Jolyon bit his lips; he who had always hated rows almost welcomed the thought of one now.
“I can give you no such promise,” he said shortly.
“Very well,” said Soames, “then we know where we are. I’ll get down here.” And stopping the cab he got out without word or sign of farewell. Jolyon travelled on to his Club.
The first news of the war was being called in the streets, but he paid no attention. What could he do to help her? If only his father were alive! He could have done so much! But why could he not do all that his father could have done? Was he not old enough? — turned fifty and twice married, with grown-up daughters and a son. ‘Queer,’ he thought. ‘If she were plain I shouldn’t be thinking twice about it. Beauty is the devil, when you’re sensitive to it!’ And into the Club reading-room he went with a disturbed heart. In that very room he and Bosinney had talked one summer afternoon; he well remembered even now the disguised and secret lecture he had given that young man in the interests of June, the diagnosis of the Forsytes he had hazarded; and how he had wondered what sort of woman it was he was warning him against. And now! He was almost in want of a warning himself. ‘It’s deuced funny!’ he thought, ‘really deuced funny!’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50