Indian Summer of A Forsyte by John Galsworthy
"And Summer's lease hath all
too short a date."
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 aver-sion 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
Tines, 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; some-thing
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, caus-ing 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 some-thing
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 remem-
bered, 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
irk 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
"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
"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
"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
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
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 visit-ation; 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
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 Johan-nisberg 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 mirac-ulously 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
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 ...!'
Two days of rain, and summer set in bland and sunny. Old Jolyon
walked and talked with Holly. At first he felt taller and full of a
new vigour; then he felt restless. Almost every afternoon they would
enter the coppice, and walk as far as the log. 'Well, she's not
there!' he would think, 'of course not!' And he would feel a little
shorter, and drag his feet walking up the hill home, with his hand
clapped to his left side. Now and then the thought would move in
him: 'Did she come--or did I dream it?' and he would stare at space,
while the dog Balthasar stared at him. Of course she would not come
again! He opened the letters from Spain with less excitement. They
were not returning till July; he felt, oddly, that he could bear it.
Every day at dinner he screwed up his eyes and looked at where she
had sat. She was not there, so he unscrewed his eyes again.
On the seventh afternoon he thought: 'I must go up and get some
boots.' He ordered Beacon, and set out. Passing from Putney towards
Hyde Park he reflected: 'I might as well go to Chelsea and see her.'
And he called out: "Just drive me to where you took that lady the
other night." The coachman turned his broad red face, and his juicy
lips answered: "The lady in grey, sir?"
"Yes, the lady in grey." What other ladies were there! Stodgy chap!
The carriage stopped before a small three-storied block of flats,
standing a little back from the river. With a practised eye old
Jolyon saw that they were cheap. 'I should think about sixty pound a
year,' he mused; and entering, he looked at the name-board. The
name 'Forsyte' was not on it, but against 'First Floor, Flat C' were
the words: 'Mrs. Irene Heron.' Ah! She had taken her maiden name
again! And somehow this pleased him. He went upstairs slowly,
feeling his side a little. He stood a moment, before ringing, to
lose the feeling of drag and fluttering there. She would not be in!
And then Boots! The thought was black. What did he want with boots
at his age? He could not wear out all those he had.
"Your mistress at home?"
"Say Mr. Jolyon Forsyte."
"Yes, sir, will you come this way?"
Old Jolyon followed a very little maid--not more than sixteen one
would say--into a very small drawing-room where the sun-blinds were
drawn. It held a cottage piano and little else save a vague
fragrance and good taste. 'He stood in the middle, with his top hat
in his hand, and thought: 'I expect she's very badly off!' There was
a mirror above the fireplace, and he saw himself reflected. An
old-looking chap! He heard a rustle, and turned round. She was so
close that his moustache almost brushed her forehead, just under her
"I was driving up," he said. "Thought I'd look in on you, and ask
you how you got up the other night."
And, seeing her smile, he felt suddenly relieved. She was really
glad to see him, perhaps.
"Would you like to put on your hat and come for a drive in the Park?"
But while she was gone to put her hat on, he frowned. The Park!
James and Emily! Mrs. Nicholas, or some other member of his precious
family would be there very likely, prancing up and down. And they
would go and wag their tongues about having seen him with her,
afterwards. Better not! He did not wish to revive the echoes of the
past on Forsyte 'Change.' He removed a white hair from the lapel of
his closely-buttoned-up frock coat, and passed his hand over his
cheeks, moustache, and square chin. It felt very hollow there under
the cheekbones. He had not been eating much lately--he had better
get that little whippersnapper who attended Holly to give him a
tonic. But she had come back and when they were in the carriage, he
"Suppose we go and sit in Kensington Gardens instead?" and added with
a twinkle: "No prancing up and down there," as if she had been in the
secret of his thoughts.
Leaving the carriage, they entered those select precincts, and
strolled towards the water.
"You've gone back to your maiden name, I see," he said: "I'm not
She slipped her hand under his arm: "Has June forgiven me, Uncle
He answered gently: "Yes--yes; of course, why not?"
"And have you?"
"I? I forgave you as soon as I saw how the land really lay." And
perhaps he had; his instinct had always been to forgive the
She drew a deep breath. "I never regretted--I couldn't. Did you
ever love very deeply, Uncle Jolyon?"
At that strange question old Jolyon stared before him. Had he? He
did not seem to remember that he ever had. But he did not like to
say this to the young woman whose hand was touching his arm, whose
life was suspended, as it were, by memory of a tragic love. And he
thought: 'If I had met you when I was young I--I might have made a
fool of myself, perhaps.' And a longing to escape in generalities
"Love's a queer thing," he said, "fatal thing often. It was the
Greeks--wasn't it?--made love into a goddess; they were right, I dare
say, but then they lived in the Golden Age."
"Phil adored them."
Phil! The word jarred him, for suddenly--with his power to see all
round a thing, he perceived why she was putting up with him like
this. She wanted to talk about her lover! Well! If it was any
pleasure to her! And he said: "Ah! There was a bit of the sculptor
in him, I fancy."
"Yes. He loved balance and symmetry; he loved the whole-hearted way
the Greeks gave themselves to art."
Balance! The chap had no balance at all, if he remembered; as for
symmetry--clean-built enough he was, no doubt; but those queer eyes
of his, and high cheek-bones--Symmetry?
"You're of the Golden Age, too, Uncle Jolyon.
Old Jolyon looked round at her. Was she chaffing him? No, her eyes
were soft as velvet. Was she flattering him? But if so, why? There
was nothing to be had out of an old chap like him.
"Phil thought so. He used to say: 'But I can never tell him that I
Ah! There it was again. Her dead lover; her desire to talk of him!
And he pressed her arm, half resentful of those memories, half
grateful, as if he recognised what a link they were between herself
"He was a very talented young fellow," he murmured. "It's hot; I
feel the heat nowadays. Let's sit down."
They took two chairs beneath a chestnut tree whose broad leaves
covered them from the peaceful glory of the afternoon. A pleasure to
sit there and watch her, and feel that she liked to be with him. And
the wish to increase that liking, if he could, made him go on:
"I expect he showed you a side of him I never saw. He'd be at his
best with you. His ideas of art were a little new--to me "--he had
stiffed the word 'fangled.'
"Yes: but he used to say you had a real sense of beauty." Old Jolyon
thought: 'The devil he did!' but answered with a twinkle: "Well, I
have, or I shouldn't be sitting here with you." She was fascinating
when she smiled with her eyes, like that!
"He thought you had one of those hearts that never grow old. Phil
had real insight."
He was not taken in by this flattery spoken out of the past, out of a
longing to talk of her dead lover--not a bit; and yet it was precious
to hear, because she pleased his eyes and heart which quite true!--
had never grown old. Was that because--unlike her and her dead
lover, he had never loved to desperation, had always kept his
balance, his sense of symmetry. Well! It had left him power, at
eighty-four, to admire beauty. And he thought, 'If I were a painter
or a sculptor! But I'm an old chap. Make hay while the sun shines.'
A couple with arms entwined crossed on the grass before them, at the
edge of the shadow from their tree. The sunlight fell cruelly on
their pale, squashed, unkempt young faces. "We're an ugly lot!" said
old Jolyon suddenly. "It amazes me to see how--love triumphs over
"Love triumphs over everything!"
"The young think so," he muttered.
"Love has no age, no limit; and no death."
With that glow in her pale face, her breast heaving, her eyes so
large and dark and soft, she looked like Venus come to life! But
this extravagance brought instant reaction, and, twinkling, he said:
"Well, if it had limits, we shouldn't be born; for by George! it's
got a lot to put up with."
Then, removing his top hat, he brushed it round with a cuff. The
great clumsy thing heated his forehead; in these days he often got a
rush of blood to the head--his circulation was not what it had been.
She still sat gazing straight before her, and suddenly she murmured:
"It's strange enough that I'm alive."
Those words of Jo's 'Wild and lost' came back to him.
"Ah!" he said: "my son saw you for a moment--that day."
"Was it your son? I heard a voice in the hall; I thought for a second
Old Jolyon saw her lips tremble. She put her hand over them, took it
away again, and went on calmly: "That night I went to the Embankment;
a woman caught me by the dress. She told me about herself. When one
knows that others suffer, one's ashamed."
"One of those?"
She nodded, and horror stirred within old Jolyon, the horror of one
who has never known a struggle with desperation. Almost against his
will he muttered: "Tell me, won't you?"
"I didn't care whether I lived or died. When you're like that, Fate
ceases to want to kill you. She took care of me three days--she
never left me. I had no money. That's why I do what I can for them,
But old Jolyon was thinking: 'No money!' What fate could compare
with that? Every other was involved in it.
"I wish you had come to me," he said. "Why didn't you?" But Irene
did not answer.
"Because my name was Forsyte, I suppose? Or was it June who kept you
away? How are you getting on now?" His eyes involuntarily swept her
body. Perhaps even now she was--! And yet she wasn't thin--not
"Oh! with my fifty pounds a year, I make just enough." The answer
did not reassure him; he had lost confidence. And that fellow
Soames! But his sense of justice stifled condemnation. No, she
would certainly have died rather than take another penny from him.
Soft as she looked, there must be strength in her somewhere--strength
and fidelity. But what business had young Bosinney to have got run
over and left her stranded like this!
"Well, you must come to me now," he said, "for anything you want, or
I shall be quite cut up." And putting on his hat, he rose. "Let's
go and get some tea. I told that lazy chap to put the horses up for
an hour, and come for me at your place. We'll take a cab presently;
I can't walk as I used to."
He enjoyed that stroll to the Kensington end of the gardens--the
sound of her voice, the glancing of her eyes, the subtle beauty of a
charming form moving beside him. He enjoyed their tea at Ruffel's in
the High Street, and came out thence with a great box of chocolates
swung on his little finger. He enjoyed the drive back to Chelsea in
a hansom, smoking his cigar. She had promised to come down next
Sunday and play to him again, and already in thought he was plucking
carnations and early roses for her to carry back to town. It was a
pleasure to give her a little pleasure, if it WERE pleasure from an
old chap like him! The carriage was already there when they arrived.
Just like that fellow, who was always late when he was wanted! Old
Jolyon went in for a minute to say good-bye. The little dark hall of
the fiat was impregnated with a disagreeable odour of patchouli, and
on a bench against the wall--its only furniture--he saw a figure
sitting. He heard Irene say softly: "Just one minute." In the
little drawing-room when the door was shut, he asked gravely: "One of
"Yes. Now thanks to you, I can do something for her."
He stood, staring, and stroking that chin whose strength had
frightened so many in its time. The idea of her thus actually in
contact with this outcast, grieved and frightened him. What could
she do for them? Nothing. Only soil and make trouble for herself,
perhaps. And he said: "Take care, my dear! The world puts the worst
construction on everything."
"I know that."
He was abashed by her quiet smile. "Well then--Sunday," he murmured:
She put her cheek forward for him to kiss.
"Good-bye," he said again; "take care of yourself." And he went out,
not looking towards the figure on the bench. He drove home by way of
Hammersmith; that he might stop at a place he knew of and tell them
to send her in two dozen of their best Burgundy. She must want
picking-up sometimes! Only in Richmond Park did he remember that he
had gone up to order himself some boots, and was surprised that he
could have had so paltry an idea.
The little spirits of the past which throng an old man's days had
never pushed their faces up to his so seldom as in the seventy hours
elapsing before Sunday came. The spirit of the future, with the
charm of the unknown, put up her lips instead. Old Jolyon was not
restless now, and paid no visits to the log, because she was coming
to lunch. There is wonderful finality about a meal; it removes a
world of doubts, for no one misses meals except for reasons beyond
control. He played many games with Holly on the lawn, pitching them
up to her who was batting so as to be ready to bowl to Jolly in the
holidays. For she was not a Forsyte, but Jolly was--and Forsytes
always bat, until they have resigned and reached the age of
eighty-five. The dog Balthasar, in attendance, lay on the ball as
often as he could, and the page-boy fielded, till his face was like
the harvest moon. And because the time was getting shorter, each day
was longer and more golden than the last. On Friday night he took a
liver pill, his side hurt him rather, and though it was not the liver
side, there is no remedy like that. Anyone telling him that he had
found a new excitement in life and that excitement was not good for
him, would have been met by one of those steady and rather defiant
looks of his deep-set iron-grey eyes, which seemed to say: 'I know my
own business best.' He always had and always would.
On Sunday morning, when Holly had gone with her governess to church,
he visited the strawberry beds. There, accompanied by the dog
Balthasar, he examined the plants narrowly and succeeded in finding
at least two dozen berries which were really ripe. Stooping was not
good for him, and he became very dizzy and red in the forehead.
Having placed the strawberries in a dish on the dining-table, he
washed his hands and bathed his forehead with eau de Cologne. There,
before the mirror, it occurred to him that he was thinner. What a
'threadpaper' he had been when he was young! It was nice to be slim-
-he could not bear a fat chap; and yet perhaps his cheeks were too
thin! She was to arrive by train at half-past twelve and walk up,
entering from the road past Drage's farm at the far end of the
coppice. And, having looked into June's room to see that there was
hot water ready, he set forth to meet her, leisurely, for his heart
was beating. The air smelled sweet, larks sang, and the Grand Stand
at Epsom was visible. A perfect day! On just such a one, no doubt,
six years ago, Soames had brought young Bosinney down with him to
look at the site before they began to build. It was Bosinney who had
pitched on the exact spot for the house--as June had often told him.
In these days he was thinking much about that young fellow, as if his
spirit were really haunting the field of his last work, on the chance
of seeing--her. Bosinney--the one man who had possessed her heart,
to whom she had given her whole self with rapture! At his age one
could not, of course, imagine such things, but there stirred in him a
queer vague aching--as it were the ghost of an impersonal jealousy;
and a feeling, too, more generous, of pity for that love so early
lost. All over in a few poor months! Well, well! He looked at his
watch before entering the coppice--only a quarter past, twenty-five
minutes to wait! And then, turning the corner of the path, he saw
her exactly where he had seen her the first time, on the log; and
realised that she must have come by the earlier train to sit there
alone for a couple of hours at least. Two hours of her society
missed! What memory could make that log so dear to her? His face
showed what he was thinking, for she said at once:
"Forgive me, Uncle Jolyon; it was here that I first knew."
"Yes, yes; there it is for you whenever you like. You're looking a
little Londony; you're giving too many lessons."
That she should have to give lessons worried him. Lessons to a
parcel of young girls thumping out scales with their thick fingers.
"Where do you go to give them?" he asked.
"They're mostly Jewish families, luckily."
Old Jolyon stared; to all Forsytes Jews seem strange and doubtful.
"They love music, and they're very kind."
"They had better be, by George!" He took her arm--his side always
hurt him a little going uphill--and said:
"Did you ever see anything like those buttercups? They came like
that in a night."
Her eyes seemed really to fly over the field, like bees after the
flowers and the honey. "I wanted you to see them--wouldn't let them
turn the cows in yet." Then, remembering that she had come to talk
about Bosinney, he pointed to the clock-tower over the stables:
"I expect be wouldn't have let me put that there--had no notion of
time, if I remember."
But, pressing his arm to her, she talked of flowers instead, and he
knew it was done that he might not feel she came because of her dead
"The best flower I can show you," he said, with a sort of triumph,
"is my little sweet. She'll be back from Church directly. There's
something about her which reminds me a little of you," and it did not
seem to him peculiar that he had put it thus, instead of saying:
"There's something about you which reminds me a little of her." Ah!
And here she was!
Holly, followed closely by her elderly French governess, whose
digestion had been ruined twenty-two years ago in the siege of
Strasbourg, came rushing towards them from under the oak tree. She
stopped about a dozen yards away, to pat Balthasar and pretend that
this was all she had in her mind. Old Jolyon who knew better, said:
"Well, my darling, here's the lady in grey I promised you."
Holly raised herself and looked up. He watched the two of them with
a twinkle, Irene smiling, Holly beginning with grave inquiry, passing
into a shy smile too, and then to something deeper. She had a sense
of beauty, that child--knew what was what! He enjoyed the sight of
the kiss between them.
"Mrs. Heron, Mam'zelle Beauce. Well, Mam'zelle--good sermon?"
For, now that he had not much more time before him, the only part of
the service connected with this world absorbed what interest in
church remained to him. Mam'zelle Beauce stretched out a spidery
hand clad in a black kid glove--she had been in the best families--
and the rather sad eyes of her lean yellowish face seemed to ask:
"Are you well-brrred?" Whenever Holly or Jolly did anything
unpleasing to her--a not uncommon occurrence he would say to them:
"The little Tayleurs never did that--they were such well-brrred
little children." Jolly hated the little Tayleurs; Holly wondered
dreadfully how it was she fell so short of them. 'A thin rum little
soul,' old Jolyon thought her--Mam'zelle Beauce.
Luncheon was a successful meal, the mushrooms which he himself had
picked in the mushroom house, his chosen strawberries, and another
bottle of the Steinberg cabinet filled him with a certain aromatic
spirituality, and a conviction that he would have a touch of eczema
After lunch they sat under the oak tree drinking Turkish coffee. It
was no matter of grief to him when Mademoiselle Beauce withdrew to
write her Sunday letter to her sister, whose future had been
endangered in the past by swallowing a pin--an event held up daily in
warning to the children to eat slowly and digest what they had eaten.
At the foot of the bank, on a carriage rug, Holly and the dog
Balthasar teased and loved each other, and in the shade old Jolyon
with his legs crossed and his cigar luxuriously savoured, gazed at
Irene sitting in the swing. A light, vaguely swaying, grey figure
with a fleck of sunlight here and there upon it, lips just opened,
eyes dark and soft under lids a little drooped. She looked content;
surely it did her good to come and see him! The selfishness of age
had not set its proper grip on him, for he could still feel pleasure
in the pleasure of others, realising that what he wanted, though
much, was not quite all that mattered.
"It's quiet here," he said; "you mustn't come down if you find it
dull. But it's a pleasure to see you. My little sweet's is the only
face which gives me any pleasure, except yours."
>From her smile he knew that she was not beyond liking to be
appreciated, and this reassured him. "That's not humbug," he said.
"I never told a woman I admired her when I didn't. In fact I
don't know when I've told a woman I admired her, except my wife in
the old days; and wives are funny." He was silent, but resumed
"She used to expect me to say it more often than I felt it, and there
we were." Her face looked mysteriously troubled, and, afraid that
he had said something painful, he hurried on: "When my little sweet
marries, I hope she'll find someone who knows what women feel. I
shan't be here to see it, but there's too much topsy-turvydom in
marriage; I don't want her to pitch up against that." And, aware
that he had made bad worse, he added: "That dog will scratch."
A silence followed. Of what was she thinking, this pretty creature
whose life was spoiled; who had done with love, and yet was made for
love? Some day when he was gone, perhaps, she would find another
mate--not so disorderly as that young fellow who had got himself run
over. Ah! but her husband?
"Does Soames never trouble you?" he asked.
She shook her head. Her face had closed up suddenly. For all her
softness there was something irreconcilable about her. And a glimpse
of light on the inexorable nature of sex antipathies strayed into a
brain which, belonging to early Victorian civil-isation--so much
older than this of his old age--had never thought about such
"That's a comfort," he said. "You can see the Grand Stand to-day.
Shall we take a turn round?"
Through the flower and fruit garden, against whose high outer walls
peach trees and nectarines were trained to the sun, through the
stables, the vinery, the mushroom house, the asparagus beds, the
rosery, the summer-house, he conducted her--even into the kitchen
garden to see the tiny green peas which Holly loved to scoop out of
their pods with her finger, and lick up from the palm of her little
brown hand. Many delightful things he showed her, while Holly and
the dog Balthasar danced ahead, or came to them at intervals for
attention. It was one of the happiest afternoons he had ever spent,
but it tired him and he was glad to sit down in the music room and
let her give him tea. A special little friend of Holly's had come
in--a fair child with short hair like a boy's. And the two sported
in the distance, under the stairs, on the stairs, and up in the
gallery. Old Jolyon begged for Chopin. She played studies,
mazurkas, waltzes, till the two children, creeping near, stood at the
foot of the piano their dark and golden heads bent forward,
listening. Old Jolyon watched.
"Let's see you dance, you two!"
Shyly, with a false start, they began. Bobbing and circling,
earnest, not very adroit, they went past and past his chair to the
strains of that waltz. He watched them and the face of her who was
playing turned smiling towards those little dancers thinking:
'Sweetest picture I've seen for ages.'
A voice said:
"Hollee! Mais enfin--quest-ce que tu fais la--danser, le dimanche!
But the children came close to old Jolyon, knowing that he would save
them, and gazed into a face which was decidedly 'caught out.'
"Better the day, better the deed, Mam'zelle. It's all my doing.
Trot along, chicks, and have your tea."
And, when they were gone, followed by the dog Balthasar, who took
every meal, he looked at Irene with a twinkle and said:
"Well, there we are! Aren't they sweet? Have you any little ones
among your pupils?"
"Yes, three--two of them darlings."
Old Jolyon sighed; he had an insatiable appetite for the very young.
"My little sweet," he said, "is devoted to music; she'll be a
musician some day. You wouldn't give me your opinion of her playing,
"Of course I will."
"You wouldn't like--" but he stifled the words "to give her lessons."
The idea that she gave lessons was unpleasant to him; yet it would
mean that he would see her regularly. She left the piano and came
over to his chair.
"I would like, very much; but there is--June. When are they coming
Old Jolyon frowned. "Not till the middle of next month. What does
"You said June had forgiven me; but she could never forget, Uncle
Forget! She must forget, if he wanted her to.
But as if answering, Irene shook her head. "You know she couldn't;
one doesn't forget."
Always that wretched past! And he said with a sort of vexed finality:
"Well, we shall see."
He talked to her an hour or more, of the children, and a hundred
little things, till the carriage came round to take her home. And
when she had gone he went back to his chair, and sat there smoothing
his face and chin, dreaming over the day.
That evening after dinner he went to his study and took a sheet of
paper. He stayed for some minutes without writing, then rose and
stood under the masterpiece 'Dutch Fishing Boats at Sunset.' He was
not thinking of that picture, but of his life. He was going to leave
her something in his Will; nothing could so have stirred the stilly
deeps of thought and memory. He was going to leave her a portion of
his wealth, of his aspirations, deeds, qualities, work--all that had
made that wealth; going to leave her, too, a part of all he had
missed in life, by his sane and steady pursuit of wealth. All! What
had he missed? 'Dutch Fishing Boats' responded blankly; he crossed
to the French window, and drawing the curtain aside, opened it. A
wind had got up, and one of last year's oak leaves which had somehow
survived the gardener's brooms, was dragging itself with a tiny
clicking rustle along the stone terrace in the twilight. Except for
that it was very quiet out there, and he could smell the heliotrope
watered not long since. A bat went by. A bird uttered its last
'cheep.' And right above the oak tree the first star shone. Faust
in the opera had bartered his soul for some fresh years of youth.
Morbid notion! No such bargain was possible, that was real tragedy!
No making oneself new again for love or life or anything. Nothing
left to do but enjoy beauty from afar off while you could, and leave
it something in your Will. But how much? And, as if he could not
make that calculation looking out into the mild freedom of the
country night, he turned back and went up to the chimney-piece.
There were his pet bronzes--a Cleopatra with the asp at her breast; a
Socrates; a greyhound playing with her puppy; a strong man reining in
some horses. 'They last!' he thought, and a pang went through his
heart. They had a thousand years of life before them!
'How much?' Well! enough at all events to save her getting old before
her time, to keep the lines out of her face as long as possible, and
grey from soiling that bright hair. He might live another five
years. She would be well over thirty by then. 'How much?' She had
none of his blood in her! In loyalty to the tenor of his life for
forty years and more, ever since he married and founded that
mysterious thing, a family, came this warning thought--None of his
blood, no right to anything! It was a luxury then, this notion. An
extravagance, a petting of an old man's whim, one of those things
done in dotage. His real future was vested in those who had his
blood, in whom he would live on when he was gone. He turned away
from the bronzes and stood looking at the old leather chair in which
he had sat and smoked so many hundreds of cigars. And suddenly he
seemed to see her sitting there in her grey dress, fragrant, soft,
dark-eyed, graceful, looking up at him. Why! She cared nothing for
him, really; all she cared for was that lost lover of hers. But she
was there, whether she would or no, giving him pleasure with her
beauty and grace. One had no right to inflict an old man's company,
no right to ask her down to play to him and let him look at her--for
no reward! Pleasure must be paid for in this world. 'How much?'
After all, there was plenty; his son and his three grandchildren
would never miss that little lump. He had made it himself, nearly
every penny; he could leave it where he liked, allow himself this
little pleasure. He went back to the bureau. 'Well, I'm going to,'
he thought, 'let them think what they like. I'm going to!' And he
'How much?' Ten thousand, twenty thousand--how much? If only with his
money he could buy one year, one month of youth. And startled by
that thought, he wrote quickly:
'DEAR HERRING,--Draw me a codicil to this effect: "I leave to my
niece Irene Forsyte, born Irene Heron, by which name she now goes,
fifteen thousand pounds free of legacy duty."
When he had sealed and stamped the envelope, he went back to the
window and drew in a long breath. It was dark, but many stars shone
He woke at half-past two, an hour which long experience had taught
him brings panic intensity to all awkward thoughts. Experience had
also taught him that a further waking at the proper hour of eight
showed the folly of such panic. On this particular morning the
thought which gathered rapid momentum was that if he became ill, at
his age not improbable, he would not see her. From this it was but a
step to realisation that he would be cut off, too, when his son and
June returned from Spain. How could he justify desire for the
company of one who had stolen--early morning does not mince words--
June's lover? That lover was dead; but June was a stubborn little
thing; warm-hearted, but stubborn as wood, and--quite true--not one
who forgot! By the middle of next month they would be back. He had
barely five weeks left to enjoy the new interest which had come into
what remained of his life. Darkness showed up to him absurdly clear
the nature of his feeling. Admiration for beauty--a craving to see
that which delighted his eyes.
Preposterous, at his age! And yet--what other reason was there for
asking June to undergo such painful reminder, and how prevent his son
and his son's wife from thinking him very queer? He would be reduced
to sneaking up to London, which tired him; and the least
indisposition would cut him off even from that. He lay with eyes
open, setting his jaw against the prospect, and calling himself an
old fool, while his heart beat loudly, and then seemed to stop
beating altogether. He had seen the dawn lighting the window chinks,
heard the birds chirp and twitter, and the cocks crow, before he fell
asleep again, and awoke tired but sane. Five weeks before he need
bother, at his age an eternity! But that early morning panic had
left its mark, had slightly fevered the will of one who had always
had his own way. He would see her as often as he wished! Why not go
up to town and make that codicil at his solicitor's instead of
writing about it; she might like to go to the opera! But, by train,
for he would not have that fat chap Beacon grinning behind his back.
Servants were such fools; and, as likely as not, they had known all
the past history of Irene and young Bosinney--servants knew
everything, and suspected the rest. He wrote to her that morning:
"MY DEAR IRENE,--I have to be up in town to-morrow. If you would
like to have a look in at the opera, come and dine with me quietly
But where? It was decades since he had dined anywhere in London save
at his Club or at a private house. Ah! that new-fangled place close
to Covent Garden....
"Let me have a line to-morrow morning to the Piedmont Hotel whether
to expect you there at 7 o'clock."
She would understand that he just wanted to give her a little
pleasure; for the idea that she should guess he had this itch to see
her was instinctively unpleasant to him; it was not seemly that one
so old should go out of his way to see beauty, especially in a woman.
The journey next day, short though it was, and the visit to his
lawyer's, tired him. It was hot too, and after dressing for dinner
he lay down on the sofa in his bedroom to rest a little. He must
have had a sort of fainting fit, for he came to himself feeling very
queer; and with some difficulty rose and rang the bell. Why! it was
past seven! And there he was and she would be waiting. But suddenly
the dizziness came on again, and he was obliged to relapse on the
sofa. He heard the maid's voice say:
"Did you ring, sir?"
"Yes, come here"; he could not see her clearly, for the cloud in
front of his eyes. "I'm not well, I want some sal volatile."
"Yes, sir." Her voice sounded frightened.
Old Jolyon made an effort.
"Don't go. Take this message to my niece--a lady waiting in the
hall--a lady in grey. Say Mr. Forsyte is not well--the heat. He is
very sorry; if he is not down directly, she is not to wait dinner."
When she was gone, he thought feebly: 'Why did I say a lady in grey--
she may be in anything. Sal volatile!' He did not go off again, yet
was not conscious of how Irene came to be standing beside him,
holding smelling salts to his nose, and pushing a pillow up behind
his head. He heard her say anxiously: "Dear Uncle Jolyon, what is
it?" was dimly conscious of the soft pressure of her lips on his
hand; then drew a long breath of smelling salts, suddenly discovered
strength in them, and sneezed.
"Ha!" he said, "it's nothing. How did you get here? Go down and
dine--the tickets are on the dressing-table. I shall be all right in
He felt her cool hand on his forehead, smelled violets, and sat
divided between a sort of pleasure and a determination to be all
"Why! You are in grey!" he said. "Help me up." Once on his feet he
gave himself a shake.
"What business had I to go off like that!" And he moved very slowly
to the glass. What a cadaverous chap! Her voice, behind him,
"You mustn't come down, Uncle; you must rest."
"Fiddlesticks! A glass of champagne'll soon set me to rights. I
can't have you missing the opera."
But the journey down the corridor was troublesome. What carpets they
had in these newfangled places, so thick that you tripped up in them
at every step! In the lift he noticed how concerned she looked, and
said with the ghost of a twinkle:
"I'm a pretty host."
When the lift stopped he had to hold firmly to the seat to prevent
its slipping under him; but after soup and a glass of champagne he
felt much better, and began to enjoy an infirmity which had brought
such solicitude into her manner towards him.
"I should have liked you for a daughter," he said suddenly; and
watching the smile in her eyes, went on:
"You mustn't get wrapped up in the past at your time of life; plenty
of that when you get to my age. That's a nice dress--I like the
"I made it myself."
Ah! A woman who could make herself a pretty frock had not lost her
interest in life.
"Make hay while the sun shines," he said; "and drink that up. I want
to see some colour in your cheeks. We mustn't waste life; it doesn't
do. There's a new Marguerite to-night; let's hope she won't be fat.
And Mephisto--anything more dreadful than a fat chap playing the
Devil I can't imagine."
But they did not go to the opera after all, for in getting up from
dinner the dizziness came over him again, and she insisted on his
staying quiet and going to bed early. When he parted from her at the
door of the hotel, having paid the cabman to drive her to Chelsea, he
sat down again for a moment to enjoy the memory of her words: "You
are such a darling to me, Uncle Jolyon!" Why! Who wouldn't be! He
would have liked to stay up another day and take her to the Zoo, but
two days running of him would bore her to death. No, he must wait
till next Sunday; she had promised to come then. They would settle
those lessons for Holly, if only for a month. It would be something.
That little Mam'zelle Beauce wouldn't like it, but she would have to
lump it. And crushing his old opera hat against his chest he sought
He drove to Waterloo next morning, struggling with a desire to say:
'Drive me to Chelsea.' But his sense of proportion was too strong.
Besides, he still felt shaky, and did not want to risk another
aberration like that of last night, away from home. Holly, too, was
expecting him, and what he had in his bag for her. Not that there
was any cupboard love in his little sweet--she was a bundle of
affection. Then, with the rather bitter cynicism of the old, he
wondered for a second whether it was not cupboard love which made
Irene put up with him. No, she was not that sort either. She had,
if anything, too little notion of how to butter her bread, no sense
of property, poor thing! Besides, he had not breathed a word about
that codicil, nor should he--sufficient unto the day was the good
In the victoria which met him at the station Holly was restraining
the dog Balthasar, and their caresses made 'jubey' his drive home.
All the rest of that fine hot day and most of the next he was content
and peaceful, reposing in the shade, while the long lingering
sunshine showered gold on the lawns and the flowers. But on Thursday
evening at his lonely dinner he began to count the hours; sixty-five
till he would go down to meet her again in the little coppice, and
walk up through the fields at her side. He had intended to consult
the doctor about his fainting fit, but the fellow would be sure to
insist on quiet, no excitement and all that; and he did not mean to
be tied by the leg, did not want to be told of an infirmity--if there
were one, could not afford to hear of it at his time of life, now
that this new interest had come. And he carefully avoided making any
mention of it in a letter to his son. It would only bring them back
with a run! How far this silence was due to consideration for their
pleasure, how far to regard for his own, he did not pause to
That night in his study he had just finished his cigar and was dozing
off, when he heard the rustle of a gown, and was conscious of a scent
of violets. Opening his eyes he saw her, dressed in grey, standing
by the fireplace, holding out her arms. The odd thing was that,
though those arms seemed to hold nothing, they were curved as if
round someone's neck, and her own neck was bent back, her lips open,
her eyes closed. She vanished at once, and there were the
mantelpiece and his bronzes. But those bronzes and the mantelpiece
had not been there when she was, only the fireplace and the wall!
Shaken and troubled, he got up. 'I must take medicine,' he thought;
'I can't be well.' His heart beat too fast, he had an asthmatic
feeling in the chest; and going to the window, he opened it to get
some air. A dog was barking far away, one of the dogs at Gage's farm
no doubt, beyond the coppice. A beautiful still night, but dark. 'I
dropped off,' he mused, 'that's it! And yet I'll swear my eyes were
open!' A sound like a sigh seemed to answer.
"What's that?" he said sharply, "who's there?"
Putting his hand to his side to still the beating of his heart, he
stepped out on the terrace. Something soft scurried by in the dark.
"Shoo!" It was that great grey cat. 'Young Bosinney was like a
great cat!' he thought. 'It was him in there, that she--that she
was--He's got her still!' He walked to the edge of the terrace, and
looked down into the darkness; he could just see the powdering of the
daisies on the unmown lawn. Here to-day and gone to-morrow! And
there came the moon, who saw all, young and old, alive and dead, and
didn't care a dump! His own turn soon. For a single day of youth he
would give what was left! And he turned again towards the house. He
could see the windows of the night nursery up there. His little
sweet would be asleep. 'Hope that dog won't wake her!' he thought.
'What is it makes us love, and makes us die! I must go to bed.'
And across the terrace stones, growing grey in the moonlight, he
passed back within.
How should an old man live his days if not in dreaming of his
well-spent past? In that, at all events, there is no agitating
warmth, only pale winter sunshine. The shell can withstand the
gentle beating of the dynamos of memory. The present he should
distrust; the future shun. From beneath thick shade he should watch
the sunlight creeping at his toes. If there be sun of summer, let
him not go out into it, mistaking it for the Indian-summer sun! Thus
peradventure he shall decline softly, slowly, imperceptibly, until
impatient Nature clutches his wind-pipe and he gasps away to death
some early morning before the world is aired, and they put on his
tombstone: 'In the fulness of years!' yea! If he preserve his
principles in perfect order, a Forsyte may live on long after he is
Old Jolyon was conscious of all this, and yet there was in him that
which transcended Forsyteism. For it is written that a Forsyte shall
not love beauty more than reason; nor his own way more than his own
health. And something beat within him in these days that with each
throb fretted at the thinning shell. His sagacity knew this, but it
knew too that he could not stop that beating, nor would if he could.
And yet, if you had told him he was living on his capital, he would
have stared you down. No, no; a man did not live on his capital; it
was not done! The shibboleths of the past are ever more real than
the actualities of the present. And he, to whom living on one's
capital had always been anathema, could not have borne to have
applied so gross a phrase to his own case. Pleasure is healthful;
beauty good to see; to live again in the youth of the young--and what
else on earth was he doing!
Methodically, as had been the way of his whole life, he now arranged
his time. On Tuesdays he journeyed up to town by train; Irene came
and dined with him. And they went to the opera. On Thursdays he
drove to town, and, putting that fat chap and his horses up, met her
in Kensington Gardens, picking up the carriage after he had left her,
and driving home again in time for dinner. He threw out the casual
formula that he had business in London on those two days. On
Wednesdays and Saturdays she came down to give Holly music lessons.
The greater the pleasure he took in her society, the more
scrupulously fastidious he became, just a matter-of-fact and friendly
uncle. Not even in feeling, really, was he more--for, after all,
there was his age. And yet, if she were late he fidgeted himself to
death. If she missed coming, which happened twice, his eyes grew sad
as an old dog's, and he failed to sleep.
And so a month went by--a month of summer in the fields, and in his
heart, with summer's heat and the fatigue thereof. Who could have
believed a few weeks back that he would have looked forward to his
son's and his grand-daughter's return with something like dread!
There was such a delicious freedom, such recovery of that
independence a man enjoys before he founds a family, about these
weeks of lovely weather, and this new companionship with one who
demanded nothing, and remained always a little unknown, retaining the
fascination of mystery. It was like a draught of wine to him who has
been drinking water for so long that he has almost forgotten the stir
wine brings to his blood, the narcotic to his brain. The flowers
were coloured brighter, scents and music and the sunlight had a
living value--were no longer mere reminders of past enjoy-ment.
There was something now to live for which stirred him continually to
anticipation. He lived in that, not in retrospection; the difference
is considerable to any so old as he. The pleasures of the table,
never of much consequence to one naturally abstemious, had lost all
value. He ate little, without knowing what he ate; and every day
grew thinner and more worn to look at. He was again a 'threadpaper';
and to this thinned form his massive forehead, with hollows at the
temples, gave more dignity than ever. He was very well aware that he
ought to see the doctor, but liberty was too sweet. He could not
afford to pet his frequent shortness of breath and the pain in his
side at the expense of liberty. Return to the vegetable existence he
had led among the agricultural journals with the life-size mangold
wurzels, before this new attraction came into his life--no! He
exceeded his allowance of cigars. Two a day had always been his
rule. Now he smoked three and sometimes four--a man will when he is
filled with the creative spirit. But very often he thought: 'I must
give up smoking, and coffee; I must give up rattling up to town.'
But he did not; there was no one in any sort of authority to notice
him, and this was a priceless boon.
The servants perhaps wondered, but they were, naturally, dumb.
Mam'zelle Beauce was too concerned with her own digestion, and too
'wellbrrred' to make personal allusions. Holly had not as yet an eye
for the relative appearance of him who was her plaything and her god.
It was left for Irene herself to beg him to eat more, to rest in the
hot part of the day, to take a tonic, and so forth. But she did not
tell him that she was the a cause of his thinness--for one cannot see
the havoc oneself is working. A man of eighty-five has no passions,
but the Beauty which produces passion works on in the old way, till
death closes the eyes which crave the sight of Her.
On the first day of the second week in July he received a letter from
his son in Paris to say that they would all be back on Friday. This
had always been more sure than Fate; but, with the pathetic
improvidence given to the old, that they may endure to the end, he
had never quite admitted it. Now he did, and something would have to
be done. He had ceased to be able to imagine life without this new
interest, but that which is not imagined sometimes exists, as
Forsytes are perpetually finding to their cost. He sat in his old
leather chair, doubling up the letter, and mumbling with his lips the
end of an unlighted cigar. After to-morrow his Tuesday expeditions
to town would have to be abandoned. He could still drive up,
perhaps, once a week, on the pretext of seeing his man of business.
But even that would be dependent on his health, for now they would
begin to fuss about him. The lessons! The lessons must go on! She
must swallow down her scruples, and June must put her feelings in her
pocket. She had done so once, on the day after the news of
Bosinney's death; what she had done then, she could surely do again
now. Four years since that injury was inflicted on her--not
Christian to keep the memory of old sores alive. June's will was
strong, but his was stronger, for his sands were running out. Irene
was soft, surely she would do this for him, subdue her natural
shrinking, sooner than give him pain! The lessons must continue; for
if they did, he was secure. And lighting his cigar at last, he began
trying to shape out how to put it to them all, and explain this
strange intimacy; how to veil and wrap it away from the naked truth--
that he could not bear to be deprived of the sight of beauty. Ah!
Holly! Holly was fond of her, Holly liked her lessons. She would
save him--his little sweet! And with that happy thought he became
serene, and wondered what he had been worrying about so fearfully.
He must not worry, it left him always curiously weak, and as if but
half present in his own body.
That evening after dinner he had a return of the dizziness, though he
did not faint. He would not ring the bell, because he knew it would
mean a fuss, and make his going up on the morrow more conspicuous.
When one grew old, the whole world was in conspiracy to limit
freedom, and for what reason?--just to keep the breath in him a
little longer. He did not want it at such cost. Only the dog
Balthasar saw his lonely recovery from that weakness; anxiously
watched his master go to the sideboard and drink some brandy, instead
of giving him a biscuit. When at last old Jolyon felt able to tackle
the stairs he went up to bed. And, though still shaky next morning,
the thought of the evening sustained and strengthened him. It was
always such a pleasure to give her a good dinner--he suspected her of
undereating when she was alone; and, at the opera to watch her eyes
glow and brighten, the unconscious smiling of her lips. She hadn't
much pleasure, and this was the last time he would be able to give
her that treat. But when he was packing his bag he caught himself
wishing that he had not the fatigue of dressing for dinner before
him, and the exertion, too, of telling her about June's return.
The opera that evening was 'Carmen,' and he chose the last entr'acte
to break the news, instinctively putting it off till the latest
She took it quietly, queerly; in fact, he did not know how she had
taken it before the wayward music lifted up again and silence became
necessary. The mask was down over her face, that mask behind which
so much went on that he could not see. She wanted time to think it
over, no doubt! He would not press her, for she would be coming to
give her lesson to-morrow afternoon, and he should see her then when
she had got used to the idea. In the cab he talked only of the
Carmen; he had seen better in the old days, but this one was not bad
at all. When he took her hand to say good-night, she bent quickly
forward and kissed his forehead.
"Good-bye, dear Uncle Jolyon, you have been so sweet to me."
"To-morrow then," he said. "Good-night. Sleep well." She echoed
softly: "Sleep welll" and from the cab window, already moving away,
he saw her face screwed round towards him, and her hand put out in a
gesture which seemed to linger.
He sought his room slowly. They never gave him the same, and he
could not get used to these 'spick-and-spandy' bedrooms with new
furniture and grey-green carpets sprinkled all over with pink roses.
He was wakeful and that wretched Habanera kept throbbing in his head.
His French had never been equal to its words, but its sense he knew,
if it had any sense, a gipsy thing--wild and unaccountable. Well,
there was in life something which upset all your care and plans--
something which made men and women dance to its pipes. And he lay
staring from deep-sunk eyes into the darkness where the unaccountable
held sway. You thought you had hold of life, but it slipped away
behind you, took you by the scruff of the neck, forced you here and
forced you there, and then, likely as not, squeezed life out of you!
It took the very stars like that, he shouldn't wonder, rubbed their
noses together and flung them apart; it had never done playing its
pranks. Five million people in this great blunderbuss of a town, and
all of them at the mercy of that Life-Force, like a lot of little
dried peas hopping about on a board when you struck your fist on it.
Ah, well! Himself would not hop much longer--a good long sleep would
do him good!
How hot it was up here!--how noisy! His forehead burned; she had
kissed it just where he always worried; just there--as if she had
known the very place and wanted to kiss it all away for him. But,
instead, her lips left a patch of grievous uneasiness. She had never
spoken in quite that voice, had never before made that lingering
gesture or looked back at him as she drove away.
He got out of bed and pulled the curtains aside; his room faced down
over the river. There was little air, but the sight of that breadth
of water flowing by, calm, eternal, soothed him. 'The great thing,'
he thought 'is not to make myself a nuisance. I'll think of my
little sweet, and go to sleep.' But it was long before the heat and
throbbing of the London night died out into the short slumber of the
summer morning. And old Jolyon had but forty winks.
When he reached home next day he went out to the flower garden, and
with the help of Holly, who was very delicate with flowers, gathered
a great bunch of carnations. They were, he told her, for 'the lady
in grey'--a name still bandied between them; and he put them in a
bowl in his study where he meant to tackle Irene the moment she came,
on the subject of June and future lessons. Their fragrance and
colour would help. After lunch he lay down, for he felt very tired,
and the carriage would not bring her from the station till four
o'clock. But as the hour approached he grew restless, and sought the
schoolroom, which overlooked the drive. The sun-blinds were down,
and Holly was there with Mademoiselle Beauce, sheltered from the heat
of a stifling July day, attending to their silkworms. Old Jolyon had
a natural antipathy to these methodical creatures, whose heads and
colour reminded him of elephants; who nibbled such quantities of
holes in nice green leaves; and smelled, as he thought, horrid. He
sat down on a chintz-covered windowseat whence he could see the
drive, and get what air there was; and the dog Balthasar who
appreciated chintz on hot days, jumped up beside him. Over the
cottage piano a violet dust-sheet, faded almost to grey, was spread,
and on it the first lavender, whose scent filled the room. In spite
of the coolness here, perhaps because of that coolness the beat of
life vehemently impressed his ebbed-down senses. Each sunbeam which
came through the chinks had annoying brilliance; that dog smelled
very strong; the lavender perfume was overpowering; those silkworms
heaving up their grey-green backs seemed horribly alive; and Holly's
dark head bent over them had a wonderfully silky sheen. A marvellous
cruelly strong thing was life when you were old and weak; it seemed
to mock you with its multitude of forms and its beating vitality. He
had never, till those last few weeks, had this curious feeling of
being with one half of him eagerly borne along in the stream of life,
and with the other half left on the bank, watching that helpless
progress. Only when Irene was with him did he lose this double
Holly turned her head, pointed with her little brown fist to the
piano--for to point with a finger was not 'well-brrred'--and said
"Look at the 'lady in grey,' Gran; isn't she pretty to-day?"
Old Jolyon's heart gave a flutter, and for a second the room was
clouded; then it cleared, and he said with a twinkle:
"Who's been dressing her up?"
"Hollee! Don't be foolish!"
That prim little Frenchwoman! She hadn't yet got over the music
lessons being taken away from her. That wouldn't help. His little
sweet was the only friend they had. Well, they were her lessons.
And he shouldn't budge shouldn't budge for anything. He stroked the
warm wool on Balthasar's head, and heard Holly say: "When mother's
home, there won't be any changes, will there? She doesn't like
strangers, you know."
The child's words seemed to bring the chilly atmosphere of opposition
about old Jolyon, and disclose all the menace to his new-found
freedom. Ah! He would have to resign himself to being an old man at
the mercy of care and love, or fight to keep this new and prized
companionship; and to fight tired him to death. But his thin, worn
face hardened into resolution till it appeared all Jaw. This was his
house, and his affair; he should not budge! He looked at his watch,
old and thin like himself; he had owned it fifty years. Past four
already! And kissing the top of Holly's head in passing, he went
down to the hall. He wanted to get hold of her before she went up to
give her lesson. At the first sound of wheels he stepped out into
the porch, and saw at once that the victoria was empty.
"The train's in, sir; but the lady 'asn't come."
Old Jolyon gave him a sharp upward look, his eyes seemed to push away
that fat chap's curiosity, and defy him to see the bitter
disappointment he was feeling.
"Very well," he said, and turned back into the house. He went to his
study and sat down, quivering like a leaf. What did this mean? She
might have lost her train, but he knew well enough she hadn't.
'Good-bye, dear Uncle Jolyon.' Why 'Good-bye' and not 'Good-night'?
And that hand of hers lingering in the air. And her kiss. What did
it mean? Vehement alarm and irritation took possession of him. He
got up and began to pace the Turkey carpet, between window and wall.
She was going to give him up! He felt it for certain--and he
defenceless. An old man wanting to look on beauty! It was
ridiculous! Age closed his mouth, paralysed his power to fight. He
had no right to what was warm and living, no right to anything but
memories and sorrow. He could not plead with her; even an old man
has his dignity. Defenceless! For an hour, lost to bodily fatigue,
he paced up and down, past the bowl of carnations he had plucked,
which mocked him with its scent. Of all things hard to bear, the
prostration of will-power is hardest, for one who has always had his
way. Nature had got him in its net, and like an unhappy fish he
turned and swam at the meshes, here and there, found no hole, no
breaking point. They brought him tea at five o'clock, and a letter.
For a moment hope beat up in him. He cut the envelope with the
butter knife, and read:
"DEAREST UNCLE JOLYON,--I can't bear to write anything that may
disappoint you, but I was too cowardly to tell you last night. I
feel I can't come down and give Holly any more lessons, now that June
is coming back. Some things go too deep to be forgotten. It has
been such a joy to see you and Holly. Perhaps I shall still see you
sometimes when you come up, though I'm sure it's not good for you; I
can see you are tiring yourself too much. I believe you ought to
rest quite quietly all this hot weather, and now you have your son
and June coming back you will be so happy. Thank you a million times
for all your sweetness to me.
"Lovingly your IRENE."
So, there it was! Not good for him to have pleasure and what he
chiefly cared about; to try and put off feeling the inevitable end of
all things, the approach of death with its stealthy, rustling
footsteps. Not good for him! Not even she could see how she was his
new lease of interest in life, the incarnation of all the beauty he
felt slipping from him.
His tea grew cold, his cigar remained unlit; and up and down he
paced, torn between his dignity and his hold on life. Intolerable to
be squeezed out slowly, without a say of your own, to live on when
your will was in the hands of others bent on weighing you to the
ground with care and love. Intolerable! He would see what telling
her the truth would do--the truth that he wanted the sight of her
more than just a lingering on. He sat down at his old bureau and
took a pen. But he could not write. There was some-thing revolting
in having to plead like this; plead that she should warm his eyes
with her beauty. It was tantamount to confessing dotage. He simply
could not. And instead, he wrote:
"I had hoped that the memory of old sores would not be allowed to
stand in the way of what is a pleasure and a profit to me and my
little grand-daughter. But old men learn to forego their whims; they
are obliged to, even the whim to live must be foregone sooner or
later; and perhaps the sooner the better.
"My love to you,
'Bitter,' he thought, 'but I can't help it. I'm tired.' He sealed
and dropped it into the box for the evening post, and hearing it fall
to the bottom, thought: 'There goes all I've looked forward to!'
That evening after dinner which he scarcely touched, after his cigar
which he left half-smoked for it made him feel faint, he went very
slowly upstairs and stole into the night-nursery. He sat down on the
window-seat. A night-light was burning, and he could just see
Holly's face, with one hand underneath the cheek. An early
cockchafer buzzed in the Japanese paper with which they had filled
the grate, and one of the horses in the stable stamped restlessly.
To sleep like that child! He pressed apart two rungs of the venetian
blind and looked out. The moon was rising, blood-red. He had never
seen so red a moon. The woods and fields out there were dropping to
sleep too, in the last glimmer of the summer light. And beauty, like
a spirit, walked. 'I've had a long life,' he thought, 'the best of
nearly everything. I'm an ungrateful chap; I've seen a lot of beauty
in my time. Poor young Bosinney said I had a sense of beauty.
There's a man in the moon to-night!' A moth went by, another,
another. 'Ladies in grey!' He closed his eyes. A feeling that he
would never open them again beset him; he let it grow, let himself
sink; then, with a shiver, dragged the lids up. There was something
wrong with him, no doubt, deeply wrong; he would have to have the
doctor after all. It didn't much matter now! Into that coppice the
moon-light would have crept; there would be shadows, and those
shadows would be the only things awake. No birds, beasts, flowers,
insects; Just the shadows--moving; 'Ladies in grey!' Over that log
they would climb; would whisper together. She and Bosinney! Funny
thought! And the frogs and little things would whisper too! How the
clock ticked, in here! It was all eerie-out there in the light of
that red moon; in here with the little steady night-light and, the
ticking clock and the nurse's dressing-gown hanging from the edge of
the screen, tall, like a woman's figure. 'Lady in grey!' And a very
odd thought beset him: Did she exist? Had she ever come at all? Or
was she but the emanation of all the beauty he had loved and must
leave so soon? The violet-grey spirit with the dark eyes and the
crown of amber hair, who walks the dawn and the moonlight, and at
blue-bell time? What was she, who was she, did she exist? He rose
and stood a moment clutching the window-sill, to give him a sense of
reality again; then began tiptoeing towards the door. He stopped at
the foot of the bed; and Holly, as if conscious of his eyes fixed on
her, stirred, sighed, and curled up closer in defence. He tiptoed on
and passed out into the dark passage; reached his room, undressed at
once, and stood before a mirror in his night-shirt. What a
scarecrow--with temples fallen in, and thin legs! His eyes resisted
his own image, and a look of pride came on his face. All was in
league to pull him down, even his reflection in the glass, but he was
not down--yet! He got into bed, and lay a long time without
sleeping, trying to reach resignation, only too well aware that
fretting and disappointment were very bad for him. He woke in the
morning so unrefreshed and strengthIess that he sent for the doctor.
After sounding him, the fellow pulled a face as long as your arm, and
ordered him to stay in bed and give up smoking. That was no
hardship; there was nothing to get up for, and when he felt ill,
tobacco always lost its savour. He spent the morning languidly with
the sun-blinds down, turning and re-turning The Times, not reading
much, the dog Balthasar lying beside his bed. With his lunch they
brought him a telegram, running thus:
'Your letter received coming down this afternoon will be with you at
Coming down! After all! Then she did exist--and he was not
deserted. Coming down! A glow ran through his limbs; his cheeks and
forehead felt hot. He drank his soup, and pushed the tray-table
away, lying very quiet until they had removed lunch and left him
alone; but every now and then his eyes twinkled. Coming down! His
heart beat fast, and then did not seem to beat at all. At three
o'clock he got up and dressed deliberately, noiselessly. Holly and
Mam'zelle would be in the schoolroom, and the servants asleep after
their dinner, he shouldn't wonder. He opened his door cautiously,
and went downstairs. In the hall the dog Balthasar lay solitary,
and, followed by him, old Jolyon passed into his study and out into
the burning afternoon. He meant to go down and meet her in the
coppice, but felt at once he could not manage that in this heat. He
sat down instead under the oak tree by the swing, and the dog
Balthasar, who also felt the heat, lay down beside him. He sat there
smiling. What a revel of bright minutes! What a hum of insects, and
cooing of pigeons! It was the quintessence of a summer day. Lovely!
And he was happy--happy as a sand-boy, what-ever that might be. She
was coming; she had not given him up! He had everything in life he
wanted--except a little more breath, and less weight--just here! He
would see her when she emerged from the fernery, come swaying just a
little, a violet-grey figure passing over the daisies and dandelions
and 'soldiers' on the lawn--the soldiers with their flowery crowns.
He would not move, but she would come up to him and say: 'Dear Uncle
Jolyon, I am sorry!' and sit in the swing and let him look at her and
tell her that he had not been very well but was all right now; and
that dog would lick her hand. That dog knew his master was fond of
her; that dog was a good dog.
It was quite shady under the tree; the sun could not get at him, only
make the rest of the world bright so that he could see the Grand
Stand at Epsom away out there, very far, and the cows crop-ping the
clover in the field and swishing at the flies with their tails. He
smelled the scent of limes, and lavender. Ah! that was why there
was such a racket of bees. They were excited--busy, as his heart was
busy and excited. Drowsy, too, drowsy and drugged on honey and
happiness; as his heart was drugged and drowsy. Summer--summer--they
seemed saying; great bees and little bees, and the flies too!
The stable clock struck four; in half an hour she would be here. He
would have just one tiny nap, because he had had so little sleep of
late; and then he would be fresh for her, fresh for youth and beauty,
coming towards him across the sunlit lawn--lady in grey! And
settling back in his chair he closed his eyes. Some thistle-down
came on what little air there was, and pitched on his moustache more
white than itself. He did not know; but his breathing stirred it,
caught there. A ray of sunlight struck through and lodged on his
boot. A bumble-bee alighted and strolled on the crown of his Panama
hat. And the delicious surge of slumber reached the brain beneath
that hat, and the head swayed forward and rested on his breast.
Summer--summer! So went the hum.
The stable clock struck the quarter past. The dog Balthasar
stretched and looked up at his master. The thistledown no longer
moved. The dog placed his chin over the sunlit foot. It did not
stir. The dog withdrew his chin quickly, rose, and leaped on old
Jolyon's lap, looked in his face, whined; then, leaping down, sat on
his haunches, gazing up. And suddenly he uttered a long, long howl.
But the thistledown was still as death, and the face of his old
Summer--summer--summer! The soundless footsteps on the grass!