In the last day of May in the early ‘nineties, about six o’clock of the evening, old Jolyon Forsyte sat under the oak tree below the terrace of his house at Robin Hill. He was waiting for the midges to bite him, before abandoning the glory of the afternoon. His thin brown hand, where blue veins stood out, held the end of a cigar in its tapering, long-nailed fingers — a pointed polished nail had survived with him from those earlier Victorian days when to touch nothing, even with the tips of the fingers, had been so distinguished. His domed forehead, great white moustache, lean cheeks, and long lean jaw were covered from the westering sunshine by an old brown Panama hat. His legs were crossed; in all his attitude was serenity and a kind of elegance, as of an old man who every morning put eau de Cologne upon his silk handkerchief. At his feet lay a woolly brown-and-white dog trying to be a Pomeranian — the dog Balthasar between whom and old Jolyon primal aversion had changed into attachment with the years. Close to his chair was a swing, and on the swing was seated one of Holly’s dolls — called ‘Duffer Alice’— with her body fallen over her legs and her doleful nose buried in a black petticoat. She was never out of disgrace, so it did not matter to her how she sat. Below the oak tree the lawn dipped down a bank, stretched to the fernery, and, beyond that refinement, became fields, dropping to the pond, the coppice, and the prospect —‘Fine, remarkable’— at which Swithin Forsyte, from under this very tree, had stared five years ago when he drove down with Irene to look at the house. Old Jolyon had heard of his brother’s exploit — that drive which had become quite celebrated on Forsyte ‘Change. Swithin! And the fellow had gone and died, last November, at the age of only seventy-nine, renewing the doubt whether Forsytes could live for ever, which had first arisen when Aunt Ann passed away. Died! and left only Jolyon and James, Roger and Nicholas and Timothy, Julia, Hester, Susan! And old Jolyon thought: ‘Eighty-five! I don’t feel it — except when I get that pain.’
His memory went searching. He had not felt his age since he had bought his nephew Soames’ ill-starred house and settled into it here at Robin Hill over three years ago. It was as if he had been getting younger every spring, living in the country with his son and his grandchildren — June, and the little ones of the second marriage, Jolly and Holly; living down here out of the racket of London and the cackle of Forsyte ‘Change,’ free of his boards, in a delicious atmosphere of no work and all play, with plenty of occupation in the perfecting and mellowing of the house and its twenty acres, and in ministering to the whims of Holly and Jolly. All the knots and crankiness, which had gathered in his heart during that long and tragic business of June, Soames, Irene his wife, and poor young Bosinney, had been smoothed out. Even June had thrown off her melancholy at last — witness this travel in Spain she was taking now with her father and her stepmother. Curiously perfect peace was left by their departure; blissful, yet blank, because his son was not there. Jo was never anything but a comfort and a pleasure to him nowadays — an amiable chap; but women, somehow — even the best — got a little on one’s nerves, unless of course one admired them.
Far-off a cuckoo called; a wood-pigeon was cooing from the first elm-tree in the field, and how the daisies and buttercups had sprung up after the last mowing! The wind had got into the sou’ west, too — a delicious air, sappy! He pushed his hat back and let the sun fall on his chin and cheek. Somehow, to-day, he wanted company — wanted a pretty face to look at. People treated the old as if they wanted nothing. And with the un-Forsytean philosophy which ever intruded on his soul, he thought: ‘One’s never had enough. With a foot in the grave one’ll want something, I shouldn’t be surprised!’ Down here — away from the exigencies of affairs — his grandchildren, and the flowers, trees, birds of his little domain, to say nothing of sun and moon and stars above them, said, ‘Open, sesame,’ to him day and night. And sesame had opened — how much, perhaps, he did not know. He had always been responsive to what they had begun to call ‘Nature,’ genuinely, almost religiously responsive, though he had never lost his habit of calling a sunset a sunset and a view a view, however deeply they might move him. But nowadays Nature actually made him ache, he appreciated it so. Every one of these calm, bright, lengthening days, with Holly’s hand in his, and the dog Balthasar in front looking studiously for what he never found, he would stroll, watching the roses open, fruit budding on the walls, sunlight brightening the oak leaves and saplings in the coppice, watching the water-lily leaves unfold and glisten, and the silvery young corn of the one wheat field; listening to the starlings and skylarks, and the Alderney cows chewing the cud, flicking slow their tufted tails; and every one of these fine days he ached a little from sheer love of it all, feeling perhaps, deep down, that he had not very much longer to enjoy it. The thought that some day — perhaps not ten years hence, perhaps not five — all this world would be taken away from him, before he had exhausted his powers of loving it, seemed to him in the nature of an injustice brooding over his horizon. If anything came after this life, it wouldn’t be what he wanted; not Robin Hill, and flowers and birds and pretty faces — too few, even now, of those about him! With the years his dislike of humbug had increased; the orthodoxy he had worn in the ‘sixties, as he had worn side-whiskers out of sheer exuberance, had long dropped off, leaving him reverent before three things alone — beauty, upright conduct, and the sense of property; and the greatest of these now was beauty. He had always had wide interests, and, indeed could still read The Times, but he was liable at any moment to put it down if he heard a blackbird sing. Upright conduct, property — somehow, they were tiring; the blackbirds and the sunsets never tired him, only gave him an uneasy feeling that he could not get enough of them. Staring into the stilly radiance of the early evening and at the little gold and white flowers on the lawn, a thought came to him: This weather was like the music of ‘Orfeo,’ which he had recently heard at Covent Garden. A beautiful opera, not like Meyerbeer, nor even quite Mozart, but, in its way, perhaps even more lovely; something classical and of the Golden Age about it, chaste and mellow, and the Ravogli ‘almost worthy of the old days’— highest praise he could bestow. The yearning of Orpheus for the beauty he was losing, for his love going down to Hades, as in life love and beauty did go — the yearning which sang and throbbed through the golden music, stirred also in the lingering beauty of the world that evening. And with the tip of his cork-soled, elastic-sided boot he involuntarily stirred the ribs of the dog Balthasar, causing the animal to wake and attack his fleas; for though he was supposed to have none, nothing could persuade him of the fact. When he had finished he rubbed the place he had been scratching against his master’s calf, and settled down again with his chin over the instep of the disturbing boot. And into old Jolyon’s mind came a sudden recollection — a face he had seen at that opera three weeks ago — Irene, the wife of his precious nephew Soames, that man of property! Though he had not met her since the day of the ‘At Home’ in his old house at Stanhope Gate, which celebrated his granddaughter June’s ill-starred engagement to young Bosinney, he had remembered her at once, for he had always admired her — a very pretty creature. After the death of young Bosinney, whose mistress she had so reprehensibly become, he had heard that she had left Soames at once. Goodness only knew what she had been doing since. That sight of her face — a side view — in the row in front, had been literally the only reminder these three years that she was still alive. No one ever spoke of her. And yet Jo had told him something once — something which had upset him completely. The boy had got it from George Forsyte, he believed, who had seen Bosinney in the fog the day he was run over — something which explained the young fellow’s distress — an act of Soames towards his wife — a shocking act. Jo had seen her, too, that afternoon, after the news was out, seen her for a moment, and his description had always lingered in old Jolyon’s mind —‘wild and lost’ he had called her. And next day June had gone there — bottled up her feelings and gone there, and the maid had cried and told her how her mistress had slipped out in the night and vanished. A tragic business altogether! One thing was certain — Soames had never been able to lay hands on her again. And he was living at Brighton, and journeying up and down — a fitting fate, the man of property! For when he once took a dislike to anyone — as he had to his nephew — old Jolyon never got over it. He remembered still the sense of relief with which he had heard the news of Irene’s disappearance. It had been shocking to think of her a prisoner in that house to which she must have wandered back, when Jo saw her, wandered back for a moment — like a wounded animal to its hole after seeing that news, ‘Tragic death of an Architect,’ in the street. Her face had struck him very much the other night — more beautiful than he had remembered, but like a mask, with something going on beneath it. A young woman still — twenty-eight perhaps. Ah, well! Very likely she had another lover by now. But at this subversive thought — for married women should never love: once, even, had been too much — his instep rose, and with it the dog Balthasar’s head. The sagacious animal stood up and looked into old Jolyon’s face. ‘Walk?’ he seemed to say; and old Jolyon answered: “Come on, old chap!”
Slowly, as was their wont, they crossed among the constellations of buttercups and daisies, and entered the fernery. This feature, where very little grew as yet, had been judiciously dropped below the level of the lawn so that it might come up again on the level of the other lawn and give the impression of irregularity, so important in horticulture. Its rocks and earth were beloved of the dog Balthasar, who sometimes found a mole there. Old Jolyon made a point of passing through it because, though it was not beautiful, he intended that it should be, some day, and he would think: ‘I must get Varr to come down and look at it; he’s better than Beech.’ For plants, like houses and human complaints, required the best expert consideration. It was inhabited by snails, and if accompanied by his grandchildren, he would point to one and tell them the story of the little boy who said: ‘Have plummers got leggers, Mother? ‘No, sonny.’ ‘Then darned if I haven’t been and swallowed a snileybob.’ And when they skipped and clutched his hand, thinking of the snileybob going down the little boy’s ‘red lane,’ his eyes would twinkle. Emerging from the fernery, he opened the wicket gate, which just there led into the first field, a large and park-like area, out of which, within brick walls, the vegetable garden had been carved. Old Jolyon avoided this, which did not suit his mood, and made down the hill towards the pond. Balthasar, who knew a water-rat or two, gambolled in front, at the gait which marks an oldish dog who takes the same walk every day. Arrived at the edge, old Jolyon stood, noting another water-lily opened since yesterday; he would show it to Holly to-morrow, when ‘his little sweet’ had got over the upset which had followed on her eating a tomato at lunch — her little arrangements were very delicate. Now that Jolly had gone to school — his first term — Holly was with him nearly all day long, and he missed her badly. He felt that pain too, which often bothered him now, a little dragging at his left side. He looked back up the hill. Really, poor young Bosinney had made an uncommonly good job of the house; he would have done very well for himself if he had lived! And where was he now? Perhaps, still haunting this, the site of his last work, of his tragic love affair. Or was Philip Bosinney’s spirit diffused in the general? Who could say? That dog was getting his legs muddy! And he moved towards the coppice. There had been the most delightful lot of bluebells, and he knew where some still lingered like little patches of sky fallen in between the trees, away out of the sun. He passed the cow-houses and the hen-houses there installed, and pursued a path into the thick of the saplings, making for one of the bluebell plots. Balthasar, preceding him once more, uttered a low growl. Old Jolyon stirred him with his foot, but the dog remained motionless, just where there was no room to pass, and the hair rose slowly along the centre of his woolly back. Whether from the growl and the look of the dog’s stivered hair, or from the sensation which a man feels in a wood, old Jolyon also felt something move along his spine. And then the path turned, and there was an old mossy log, and on it a woman sitting. Her face was turned away, and he had just time to think: ‘She’s trespassing — I must have a board put up!’ before she turned. Powers above! The face he had seen at the opera — the very woman he had just been thinking of! In that confused moment he saw things blurred, as if a spirit — queer effect — the slant of sunlight perhaps on her violet-grey frock! And then she rose and stood smiling, her head a little to one side. Old Jolyon thought: ‘How pretty she is!’ She did not speak, neither did he; and he realized why with a certain admiration. She was here no doubt because of some memory, and did not mean to try and get out of it by vulgar explanation.
“Don’t let that dog touch your frock,” he said; “he’s got wet feet. Come here, you!”
But the dog Balthasar went on towards the visitor, who put her hand down and stroked his head. Old Jolyon said quickly:
“I saw you at the opera the other night; you didn’t notice me.”
“Oh, yes! I did.”
He felt a subtle flattery in that, as though she had added: ‘Do you think one could miss seeing you?’
“They’re all in Spain,” he remarked abruptly. “I’m alone; I drove up for the opera. The Ravogli’s good. Have you seen the cow-houses?”
In a situation so charged with mystery and something very like emotion he moved instinctively towards that bit of property, and she moved beside him. Her figure swayed faintly, like the best kind of French figures; her dress, too, was a sort of French grey. He noticed two or three silver threads in her amber-coloured hair, strange hair with those dark eyes of hers, and that creamy-pale face. A sudden sidelong look from the velvety brown eyes disturbed him. It seemed to come from deep and far, from another world almost, or at all events from some one not living very much in this. And he said mechanically:
“Where are you living now?”
“I have a little flat in Chelsea.”
He did not want to hear what she was doing, did not want to hear anything; but the perverse word came out:
She nodded. It was a relief to know that. And it came into his mind that, but for a twist of fate, she would have been mistress of this coppice, showing these cow-houses to him, a visitor.
“All Alderneys,” he muttered; “they give the best milk. This one’s a pretty creature. Woa, Myrtle!”
The fawn-coloured cow, with eyes as soft and brown as Irene’s own, was standing absolutely still, not having long been milked. She looked round at them out of the corner of those lustrous, mild, cynical eyes, and from her grey lips a little dribble of saliva threaded its way towards the straw. The scent of hay and vanilla and ammonia rose in the dim light of the cool cow-house; and old Jolyon said:
“You must come up and have some dinner with me. I’ll send you home in the carriage.”
He perceived a struggle going on within her; natural, no doubt, with her memories. But he wanted her company; a pretty face, a charming figure, beauty! He had been alone all the afternoon. Perhaps his eyes were wistful, for she answered: “Thank you, Uncle Jolyon. I should like to.”
He rubbed his hands, and said:
“Capital! Let’s go up, then!” And, preceded by the dog Balthasar, they ascended through the field. The sun was almost level in their faces now, and he could see, not only those silver threads, but little lines, just deep enough to stamp her beauty with a coin-like fineness — the special look of life unshared with others. “I’ll take her in by the terrace,” he thought: “I won’t make a common visitor of her.”
“What do you do all day?” he said.
“Teach music; I have another interest, too.”
“Work!” said old Jolyon, picking up the doll from off the swing, and smoothing its black petticoat. “Nothing like it, is there? I don’t do any now. I’m getting on. What interest is that?”
“Trying to help women who’ve come to grief.” Old Jolyon did not quite understand. “To grief?” he repeated; then realised with a shock that she meant exactly what he would have meant himself if he had used that expression. Assisting the Magdalenes of London! What a weird and terrifying interest! And, curiosity overcoming his natural shrinking, he asked:
“Why? What do you do for them?”
“Not much. I’ve no money to spare. I can only give sympathy and food sometimes.”
Involuntarily old Jolyon’s hand sought his purse. He said hastily: “How d’you get hold of them?”
“I go to a hospital.”
“A hospital! Phew!”
“What hurts me most is that once they nearly all had some sort of beauty.”
Old Jolyon straightened the doll. “Beauty!” he ejaculated: “Ha! Yes! A sad business!” and he moved towards the house. Through a French window, under sun-blinds not yet drawn up, he preceded her into the room where he was wont to study The Times and the sheets of an agricultural magazine, with huge illustrations of mangold wurzels, and the like, which provided Holly with material for her paint brush.
“Dinner’s in half an hour. You’d like to wash your hands! I’ll take you to June’s room.”
He saw her looking round eagerly; what changes since she had last visited this house with her husband, or her lover, or both perhaps — he did not know, could not say! All that was dark, and he wished to leave it so. But what changes! And in the hall he said:
“My boy Jo’s a painter, you know. He’s got a lot of taste. It isn’t mine, of course, but I’ve let him have his way.”
She was standing very still, her eyes roaming through the hall and music room, as it now was — all thrown into one, under the great skylight. Old Jolyon had an odd impression of her. Was she trying to conjure somebody from the shades of that space where the colouring was all pearl-grey and silver? He would have had gold himself; more lively and solid. But Jo had French tastes, and it had come out shadowy like that, with an effect as of the fume of cigarettes the chap was always smoking, broken here and there by a little blaze of blue or crimson colour. It was not his dream! Mentally he had hung this space with those gold-framed masterpieces of still and stiller life which he had bought in days when quantity was precious. And now where were they? Sold for a song! That something which made him, alone among Forsytes, move with the times had warned him against the struggle to retain them. But in his study he still had ‘Dutch Fishing Boats at Sunset.’
He began to mount the stairs with her, slowly, for he felt his side.
“These are the bathrooms,” he said, “and other arrangements. I’ve had them tiled. The nurseries are along there. And this is Jo’s and his wife’s. They all communicate. But you remember, I expect.”
Irene nodded. They passed on, up the gallery and entered a large room with a small bed, and several windows.
“This is mine,” he said. The walls were covered with the photographs of children and watercolour sketches, and he added doubtfully:
“These are Jo’s. The view’s first-rate. You can see the Grand Stand at Epsom in clear weather.”
The sun was down now, behind the house, and over the ‘prospect’ a luminous haze had settled, emanation of the long and prosperous day. Few houses showed, but fields and trees faintly glistened, away to a loom of downs.
“The country’s changing,” he said abruptly, “but there it’ll be when we’re all gone. Look at those thrushes — the birds are sweet here in the mornings. I’m glad to have washed my hands of London.”
Her face was close to the window pane, and he was struck by its mournful look. ‘Wish I could make her look happy!’ he thought. ‘A pretty face, but sad!’ And taking up his can of hot water he went out into the gallery.
“This is June’s room,” he said, opening the next door and putting the can down; “I think you’ll find everything.” And closing the door behind her he went back to his own room. Brushing his hair with his great ebony brushes, and dabbing his forehead with eau de Cologne, he mused. She had come so strangely — a sort of visitation; mysterious, even romantic, as if his desire for company, for beauty, had been fulfilled by whatever it was which fulfilled that sort of thing. And before the mirror he straightened his still upright figure, passed the brushes over his great white moustache, touched up his eyebrows with eau de Cologne, and rang the bell.
“I forgot to let them know that I have a lady to dinner with me. Let cook do something extra, and tell Beacon to have the landau and pair at half-past ten to drive her back to Town to-night. Is Miss Holly asleep?”
The maid thought not. And old Jolyon, passing down the gallery, stole on tiptoe towards the nursery, and opened the door whose hinges he kept specially oiled that he might slip in and out in the evenings without being heard.
But Holly was asleep, and lay like a miniature Madonna, of that type which the old painters could not tell from Venus, when they had completed her. Her long dark lashes clung to her cheeks; on her face was perfect peace — her little arrangements were evidently all right again. And old Jolyon, in the twilight of the room, stood adoring her! It was so charming, solemn, and loving — that little face. He had more than his share of the blessed capacity of living again in the young. They were to him his future life — all of a future life that his fundamental pagan sanity perhaps admitted. There she was with everything before her, and his blood — some of it — in her tiny veins. There she was, his little companion, to be made as happy as ever he could make her, so that she knew nothing but love. His heart swelled, and he went out, stilling the sound of his patent-leather boots. In the corridor an eccentric notion attacked him: To think that children should come to that which Irene had told him she was helping! Women who were all, once, little things like this one sleeping there! ‘I must give her a cheque!’ he mused; ‘Can’t bear to think of them!’ They had never borne reflecting on, those poor outcasts; wounding too deeply the core of true refinement hidden under layers of conformity to the sense of property — wounding too grievously the deepest thing in him — a love of beauty which could give him, even now, a flutter of the heart, thinking of his evening in the society of a pretty woman. And he went downstairs, through the swinging doors, to the back regions. There, in the wine-cellar, was a hock worth at least two pounds a bottle, a Steinberg Cabinet, better than any Johannisberg that ever went down throat; a wine of perfect bouquet, sweet as a nectarine — nectar indeed! He got a bottle out, handling it like a baby, and holding it level to the light, to look. Enshrined in its coat of dust, that mellow coloured, slender-necked bottle gave him deep pleasure. Three years to settle down again since the move from Town — ought to be in prime condition! Thirty-five years ago he had bought it — thank God he had kept his palate, and earned the right to drink it. She would appreciate this; not a spice of acidity in a dozen. He wiped the bottle, drew the cork with his own hands, put his nose down, inhaled its perfume, and went back to the music room.
Irene was standing by the piano; she had taken off her hat and a lace scarf she had been wearing, so that her gold-coloured hair was visible, and the pallor of her neck. In her grey frock she made a pretty picture for old Jolyon, against the rosewood of the piano.
He gave her his arm, and solemnly they went. The room, which had been designed to enable twenty-four people to dine in comfort, held now but a little round table. In his present solitude the big dining-table oppressed old Jolyon; he had caused it to be removed till his son came back. Here in the company of two really good copies of Raphael Madonnas he was wont to dine alone. It was the only disconsolate hour of his day, this summer weather. He had never been a large eater, like that great chap Swithin, or Sylvanus Heythorp, or Anthony Thornworthy, those cronies of past times; and to dine alone, overlooked by the Madonnas, was to him but a sorrowful occupation, which he got through quickly, that he might come to the more spiritual enjoyment of his coffee and cigar. But this evening was a different matter! His eyes twinkled at her across the little table and he spoke of Italy and Switzerland, telling her stories of his travels there, and other experiences which he could no longer recount to his son and grand-daughter because they knew them. This fresh audience was precious to him; he had never become one of those old men who ramble round and round the fields of reminiscence. Himself quickly fatigued by the insensitive, he instinctively avoided fatiguing others, and his natural flirtatiousness towards beauty guarded him specially in his relations with a woman. He would have liked to draw her out, but though she murmured and smiled and seemed to be enjoying what he told her, he remained conscious of that mysterious remoteness which constituted half her fascination. He could not bear women who threw their shoulders and eyes at you, and chattered away; or hard-mouthed women who laid down the law and knew more than you did. There was only one quality in a woman that appealed to him — charm; and the quieter it was, the more he liked it. And this one had charm, shadowy as afternoon sunlight on those Italian hills and valleys he had loved. The feeling, too, that she was, as it were, apart, cloistered, made her seem nearer to himself, a strangely desirable companion. When a man is very old and quite out of the running, he loves to feel secure from the rivalries of youth, for he would still be first in the heart of beauty. And he drank his hock, and watched her lips, and felt nearly young. But the dog Balthasar lay watching her lips too, and despising in his heart the interruptions of their talk, and the tilting of those greenish glasses full of a golden fluid which was distasteful to him.
The light was just failing when they went back into the music-room. And, cigar in mouth, old Jolyon said:
“Play me some Chopin.”
By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men’s souls. Old Jolyon could not bear a strong cigar or Wagner’s music. He loved Beethoven and Mozart, Handel and Gluck, and Schumann, and, for some occult reason, the operas of Meyerbeer; but of late years he had been seduced by Chopin, just as in painting he had succumbed to Botticelli. In yielding to these tastes he had been conscious of divergence from the standard of the Golden Age. Their poetry was not that of Milton and Byron and Tennyson; of Raphael and Titian; Mozart and Beethoven. It was, as it were, behind a veil; their poetry hit no one in the face, but slipped its fingers under the ribs and turned and twisted, and melted up the heart. And, never certain that this was healthy, he did not care a rap so long as he could see the pictures of the one or hear the music of the other.
Irene sat down at the piano under the electric lamp festooned with pearl-grey, and old Jolyon, in an armchair, whence he could see her, crossed his legs and drew slowly at his cigar. She sat a few moments with her hands on the keys, evidently searching her mind for what to give him. Then she began and within old Jolyon there arose a sorrowful pleasure, not quite like anything else in the world. He fell slowly into a trance, interrupted only by the movements of taking the cigar out of his mouth at long intervals, and replacing it. She was there, and the hock within him, and the scent of tobacco; but there, too, was a world of sunshine lingering into moonlight, and pools with storks upon them, and bluish trees above, glowing with blurs of wine-red roses, and fields of lavender where milk-white cows were grazing, and a woman all shadowy, with dark eyes and a white neck, smiled, holding out her arms; and through air which was like music a star dropped and was caught on a cow’s horn. He opened his eyes. Beautiful piece; she played well — the touch of an angel! And he closed them again. He felt miraculously sad and happy, as one does, standing under a lime-tree in full honey flower. Not live one’s own life again, but just stand there and bask in the smile of a woman’s eyes, and enjoy the bouquet! And he jerked his hand; the dog Balthasar had reached up and licked it.
“Beautiful!” He said: “Go on — more Chopin!”
She began to play again. This time the resemblance between her and ‘Chopin’ struck him. The swaying he had noticed in her walk was in her playing too, and the Nocturne she had chosen and the soft darkness of her eyes, the light on her hair, as of moonlight from a golden moon. Seductive, yes; but nothing of Delilah in her or in that music. A long blue spiral from his cigar ascended and dispersed. ‘So we go out!’ he thought. ‘No more beauty! Nothing?’
Again Irene stopped.
“Would you like some Gluck? He used to write his music in a sunlit garden, with a bottle of Rhine wine beside him.”
“Ah! yes. Let’s have ‘Orfeo.’” Round about him now were fields of gold and silver flowers, white forms swaying in the sunlight, bright birds flying to and fro. All was summer. Lingering waves of sweetness and regret flooded his soul. Some cigar ash dropped, and taking out a silk handkerchief to brush it off, he inhaled a mingled scent as of snuff and eau de Cologne. ‘Ah!’ he thought, ‘Indian summer — that’s all!’ and he said: “You haven’t played me ‘Che faro.’”
She did not answer; did not move. He was conscious of something — some strange upset. Suddenly he saw her rise and turn away, and a pang of remorse shot through him. What a clumsy chap! Like Orpheus, she of course — she too was looking for her lost one in the hall of memory! And disturbed to the heart, he got up from his chair. She had gone to the great window at the far end. Gingerly he followed. Her hands were folded over her breast; he could just see her cheek, very white. And, quite emotionalized, he said:
“There, there, my love!” The words had escaped him mechanically, for they were those he used to Holly when she had a pain, but their effect was instantaneously distressing. She raised her arms, covered her face with them, and wept.
Old Jolyon stood gazing at her with eyes very deep from age. The passionate shame she seemed feeling at her abandonment, so unlike the control and quietude of her whole presence was as if she had never before broken down in the presence of another being.
“There, there — there, there!” he murmured, and putting his hand out reverently, touched her. She turned, and leaned the arms which covered her face against him. Old Jolyon stood very still, keeping one thin hand on her shoulder. Let her cry her heart out — it would do her good.
And the dog Balthasar, puzzled, sat down on his stern to examine them.
The window was still open, the curtains had not been drawn, the last of daylight from without mingled with faint intrusion from the lamp within; there was a scent of new-mown grass. With the wisdom of a long life old Jolyon did not speak. Even grief sobbed itself out in time; only Time was good for sorrow — Time who saw the passing of each mood, each emotion in turn; Time the layer-to-rest. There came into his mind the words: ‘As panteth the hart after cooling streams’— but they were of no use to him. Then, conscious of a scent of violets, he knew she was drying her eyes. He put his chin forward, pressed his moustache against her forehead, and felt her shake with a quivering of her whole body, as of a tree which shakes itself free of raindrops. She put his hand to her lips, as if saying: “All over now! Forgive me!”
The kiss filled him with a strange comfort; he led her back to where she had been so upset. And the dog Balthasar, following, laid the bone of one of the cutlets they had eaten at their feet.
Anxious to obliterate the memory of that emotion, he could think of nothing better than china; and moving with her slowly from cabinet to cabinet, he kept taking up bits of Dresden and Lowestoft and Chelsea, turning them round and round with his thin, veined hands, whose skin, faintly freckled, had such an aged look.
“I bought this at Jobson’s,” he would say; “cost me thirty pounds. It’s very old. That dog leaves his bones all over the place. This old ‘ship-bowl’ I picked up at the sale when that precious rip, the Marquis, came to grief. But you don’t remember. Here’s a nice piece of Chelsea. Now, what would you say this was?” And he was comforted, feeling that, with her taste, she was taking a real interest in these things; for, after all, nothing better composes the nerves than a doubtful piece of china.
When the crunch of the carriage wheels was heard at last, he said:
“You must come again; you must come to lunch, then I can show you these by daylight, and my little sweet — she’s a dear little thing. This dog seems to have taken a fancy to you.”
For Balthasar, feeling that she was about to leave, was rubbing his side against her leg. Going out under the porch with her, he said:
“He’ll get you up in an hour and a quarter. Take this for your protegees,” and he slipped a cheque for fifty pounds into her hand. He saw her brightened eyes, and heard her murmur: “Oh! Uncle Jolyon!” and a real throb of pleasure went through him. That meant one or two poor creatures helped a little, and it meant that she would come again. He put his hand in at the window and grasped hers once more. The carriage rolled away. He stood looking at the moon and the shadows of the trees, and thought: ‘A sweet night! She. . . . ..!’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08