Halting the car suddenly in the by-road between Gage’s farm and the Robin Hill coppice, Fleur said:
“Jon, dear, I’ve got a whim. Let’s get out and go in there. The potentate’s in Scotland.” He did not move, and she added: “I shan’t see you again for a long time, now your picture’s finished.”
Jon got out, then, and she unlatched the footpath gate. They stood a minute within, listening for sounds of anyone to interrupt their trespass. The fine September afternoon was dying fast. The last “sitting” had been long, and it was late; and in the coppice of larch and birch the dusk was deepening. Fleur slid her hand within his arm.
“Listen! Still, isn’t it? I feel as if we were back seven years, Jon. Do you wish we were? Babes in the wood once more?”
Gruffly he answered:
“No good looking back — things happen as they must.”
“The birds are going to bed. Used there to be owls?”
“Yes; we shall hear one soon, I expect.”
“How good it smells!”
“Trees and the cow-houses!”
“Vanilla and hay, as the poets have it. Are they close?”
“Don’t let’s go further, then.”
“Here’s the old log,” said Jon. “We might sit down, and listen for an owl.”
On the old log seat they sat down, side by side.
“No dew,” said Fleur. “The weather will break soon, I expect. I love the scent of drought.”
“I love the smell of rain.”
“You and I never love the same thing, Jon. And yet — we’ve loved each other.” Against her arm it was as if he shivered.
“There goes the old clock! It’s awfully late, Fleur! Listen! The owl!”
Startlingly close through the thin-branched trees the call came. Fleur rose: “Let’s see if we can find him.”
She moved back from the old log.
“Aren’t you coming? Just a little wander, Jon.”
Jon got up and went along at her side among the larches.
“Up this way — wasn’t it? How quickly it’s got dark. Look! The birches are still white. I love birchtrees.” She put her hand on a pale stem. “The smoothness, Jon. It’s like skin.” And, leaning forward, she laid her cheek against the trunk. “There! feel my cheek, and then the bark. Could you tell the difference, except for warmth?”
Jon reached his hand up. She turned her lips and touched it.
“Jon — kiss me just once.”
“You know I couldn’t kiss you ‘just once,’ Fleur.”
“Then kiss me for ever, Jon.”
“No, no! No, no!”
“Things happen as they must — you said so.”
“Fleur — don’t! I can’t stand it.”
She laughed — very low, softly.
“I don’t want you to. I’ve waited seven years for this. No! Don’t cover your face! Look at me! I take it all on myself. The woman tempted you. But, Jon, you were always mine. There! That’s better. I can see your eyes. Poor Jon! Now, kiss me!” In that long kiss her very spirit seemed to leave her; she could not even see whether his eyes were open, or, like hers, closed. And again the owl hooted.
Jon tore his lips away. He stood there in her arms, trembling like a startled horse.
With her lips against his ear, she whispered:
“There’s nothing, Jon; there’s nothing.” She could hear him holding-in his breath, and her warm lips whispered on: “Take me in your arms, Jon; take me!” The light had failed completely now; stars were out between the dark feathering of the trees, and low down, from where the coppice sloped up towards the east, a creeping brightness seemed trembling towards them through the wood from the moon rising. A faint rustle broke the silence, ceased, broke it again, Closer, closer — Fleur pressed against him.
“Not here, Fleur; not here. I can’t — I won’t —”
“Yes, Jon; here — now! I claim you.”
* * * * *
The moon was shining through the tree stems when they sat again side by side on the log seat.
Jon’s hands were pressed to his forehead, and she could not see his eyes.
“No one shall ever know, Jon.”
He dropped his hands, and faced her.
“I must tell her.”
“You can’t unless I let you, and I don’t let you.”
“What have we done? Oh, Fleur, what HAVE we done?”
“It was written. When shall I see you again, Jon?”
He started up.
“Never, unless she knows. Never, Fleur — never! I can’t go on in secret!”
As quickly, too, Fleur was on her feet. They stood with their hands on each other’s arms, in a sort of struggle. Then Jon wrenched himself free, and, like one demented, rushed back into the coppice.
She stood trembling, not daring to call. Bewildered, she stood, waiting for him to come back to her, and he did not come.
Suddenly, she moaned, and sank on her knees; and again she moaned. He must hear, and come back! He could not have left her at such a moment — he could not!
“Jon!” No sound. She rose from her knees, and stood peering into the brightened dusk. The owl hooted; and, startled, she saw the moon caught among the tree tops, like a presence watching her. A shivering sob choked in her throat, became a whimper, like a hurt child’s. She stood, listening fearfully. No rustling; no footsteps; no hoot of owl — not a sound, save the distant whir of traffic on the London road! Had he gone to the car, or was he hiding from her in that coppice, all creepy now with shadows?
“Jon! Jon!” No answer! She ran towards the gate. There was the car — empty! She got into it, and sat leaning forward over the driving wheel, with a numb feeling in her limbs. What did it mean? Was she beaten in the very hour of victory? He could not — no, he could not mean to leave her thus? Mechanically she turned on the car’s lights. A couple on foot, a man on a bicycle, passed. And Fleur still sat there, numbed. This — fulfilment! The fulfilment she had dreamed of? A few moments of hasty and delirious passion — and this! And, to her chagrin, her consternation, were added humiliation that, after such a moment, he could thus have fled from her; and the fear that in winning him she had lost him!
At last she started the engine, and drove miserably on, watching the road, hoping against hope to come on him. Very slowly she drove, and only when she reached the Dorking road did she quite abandon hope. How she guided the car for the rest of the drive, she hardly knew. Life seemed suddenly to have gone out.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08