When Fleur left him Jon stared at the Austrian. She was a thin woman with a dark face and the concerned expression of one who has watched every little good that life once had slip from her, one by one.
“No tea?” she said.
Susceptible to the disappointment in her voice, Jon murmured:
“No, really; thanks.”
“A lil cup — it ready. A lil cup and cigarette.”
Fleur was gone! Hours of remorse and indecision lay before him! And with a heavy sense of disproportion he smiled, and said:
“Well — thank you!”
She brought in a little pot of tea with two cups, and a silver box of cigarettes on a little tray.
“Sugar? Miss Forsyte has much sugar — she buy my sugar, my friend’s sugar also. Miss Forsyte is a veree kind lady. I am happy to serve her. You her brother?”
“Yes,” said Jon, beginning to puff the second cigarette of his life.
“Very young brother,” said the Austrian, with a little anxious smile, which reminded him of the wag of a dog’s tail.
“May I give you some?” he said. “And won’t you sit down?”
The Austrian shook her head.
“Your father a very nice man — the most nice old man I ever see. Miss Forsyte tell me all about him. Is he better?”
Her words fell on Jon like a reproach. “Oh! I think he’s all right.”
“I like to see him again,” said the Austrian, putting a hand on her heart; “he have veree kind heart.”
“Yes,” said Jon. And again her words seemed to him a reproach.
“He never give no trouble to no one, and smile so gentle.”
“Yes! doesn’t he?”
“He look at Miss Forsyte so funny sometimes. I tell him all my story; he so sympatisch. Your mother — she nice and well?”
“He have her photograph on his dressing-table. Veree beautiful.”
Jon gulped down his tea. This woman, with her concerned face and her reminding words, was like the first and second murderers.
“Thank you,” he said; “I must go now. May — may I leave this with you?”
He put a ten-shilling note on the tray with a doubting hand and gained the door. He heard the Austrian gasp, and hurried out. He had just time to catch his train, and all the way to Victoria looked at every face that passed, as lovers will, hoping against hope. On reaching Worthing he put his luggage into the local train, and set out across the Downs for Wansdon, trying to walk off his aching irresolution. So long as he went full bat, he could enjoy the beauty of those green slopes, stopping now and again to sprawl on the grass, admire the perfection of a wild rose, or listen to a lark’s song. But the war of motives within him was but postponed — the longing for Fleur, and the hatred of deception. He came to the old chalk-pit above Wansdon with his mind no more made up than when he started. To see both sides of a question vigorously was at once Jon’s strength and weakness. He tramped in, just as the first dinner-bell rang. His things had already been brought up. He had a hurried bath and came down to find Holly alone — Val had gone to Town and would not be back till the last train.
Since Val’s advice to him to ask his sister what was the matter between the two families, so much had happened — Fleur’s disclosure in the Green Park, her visit to Robin Hill, today’s meeting — that there seemed nothing to ask. He talked of Spain, his sunstroke, Val’s horses, their father’s health. Holly startled him by saying that she thought their father not at all well. She had been twice to Robin Hill for the week-end. He had seemed fearfully languid, sometimes even in pain, but had always refused to talk about himself.
“He’s awfully dear and unselfish — don’t you think, Jon?”
Feeling far from dear and unselfish himself, Jon answered: “Rather!”
“I think, he’s been a simply perfect father, so long as I can remember.”
“Yes,” answered Jon, very subdued.
“He’s never interfered, and he’s always seemed to understand. I’ve not forgotten how he let me go out to South Africa in the Boer War when I was in love with Val.”
“That was before he married Mother, wasn’t it?” said Jon suddenly.
“Oh! nothing. Only, wasn’t she engaged to Fleur’s father first?”
Holly put down the spoon she was using, and raised her eyes. Her stare was circumspect. What did the boy know? Enough to make it better to tell him? She could not decide. He looked strained and worried, altogether older, but that might be the sunstroke.
“There WAS something,” she said. “Of course we were out there, and got no news of anything. “She could not take the risk. It was not her secret. Besides, she was in the dark about his feelings now. Before Spain she had made sure he was in love; but boys were boys; that was seven weeks ago, and all Spain between.
She saw that he knew she was putting him off, and added:
“Have you heard anything of Fleur?”
His face told her more than the most elaborate explanations. He had not forgotten!
She said very quietly: “Fleur is awfully attractive, Jon, but you know — Val and I don’t really like her very much.”
“We think she’s got rather a ‘having’ nature.”
“‘Having?’ I don’t know what you mean. She — she —” he pushed his dessert plate away, got up, and went to the window.
Holly, too, got up, and put her arm round his waist.
“Don’t be angry, Jon dear. We can’t all see people in the same light, can we? I believe each of us only has about one or two people who can see the best that’s in us, and bring it out. For you I think it’s your mother. I once saw her looking at a letter of yours; it was wonderful to see her face. I think she’s the most beautiful woman I ever saw — Age doesn’t seem to touch her.”
Jon’s face softened, then again became tense. He recognised the intention of those words. Everybody was against him and Fleur! It all strengthened her appeal:
“Make sure of me — marry me, Jon!”
Here, where he had passed that wonderful week with her — the tug of her enchantment, the ache in his heart increased with every minute that she was not there to make the room, the garden, the very air magical. Would he ever be able to live down here, not seeing her? And he closed up utterly, going early to bed. It would not make him healthy, wealthy, and wise, but it closeted him with memory of Fleur in her fancy frock. He heard Val’s arrival — the Ford discharging cargo, then the stillness of the summer night stole back — with only the bleating of very distant sheep, and a night-jar’s harsh purring. He leaned far out. Cold moon — warm air — the Downs like silver! Small wings, a stream bubbling, the rambler roses! God-how empty all of it without her! In the Bible it was written: Thou shalt leave father and mother and cleave to — Fleur!
Let him have pluck, and go and tell them! They couldn’t stop him marrying her — they wouldn’t want to stop him when they knew how he felt. Yes! He would go! Bold and open — Fleur was wrong!
The night-jar ceased, the sheep were silent; the only sound in the darkness was the bubbling of the stream. And Jon in his bed slept, freed from the worst of life’s evils — indecision.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54