Among those four Forsytes of the third, and, as one might say, fourth generation, at Wansdon under the Downs, a week-end prolonged unto the ninth day had stretched the crossing threads of tenacity almost to snapping-point. Never had Fleur been so "fine," Holly so watchful, Val so stable-secretive, Jon so silent and disturbed. What he learned of farming in that week might have been balanced on the point of a penknife and puffed off. He, whose nature was essentially averse from intrigue, and whose adoration of Fleur disposed him to think that any need for concealing it was "skittles," chafed and fretted, yet obeyed, taking what relief he could in the few moments when they were alone. On Thursday, while they were standing in the bay window of the drawing-room, dressed for dinner, she said to him:
"Jon, I'm going home on Sunday by the 3.40 from Paddington; if you were to go home on Saturday you could come up on Sunday and take me down, and just get back here by the last train, after. You were going home anyway, weren't you?"
"Anything to be with you," he said; "only why need I pretend--"
Fleur slipped her little finger into his palm:
"You have no instinct, Jon; you must leave things to me. It's serious about our people. We've simply got to be secret at present, if we want to be together." The door was opened, and she added loudly: "You are a duffer, Jon."
Something turned over within Jon; he could not bear this subterfuge about a feeling so natural, so overwhelming, and so sweet.
On Friday night about eleven he had packed his bag, and was leaning out of his window, half miserable, and half lost in a dream of Paddington station, when he heard a tiny sound, as of a finger-nail tapping on his door. He rushed to it and listened. Again the sound. It was a nail. He opened. Oh! What a lovely thing came in!
"I wanted to show you my fancy dress," it said, and struck an attitude at the foot of his bed.
Jon drew a long breath and leaned against the door. The apparition wore white muslin on its head, a fichu round its bare neck over a wine-coloured dress, fulled out below its slender waist.
It held one arm akimbo, and the other raised, right-angled, holding a fan which touched its head.
"This ought to be a basket of grapes," it whispered, "but I haven't got it here. It's my Goya dress. And this is the attitude in the picture. Do you like it?"
"It's a dream."
The apparition pirouetted. "Touch it, and see."
Jon knelt down and took the skirt reverently.
"Grape colour," came the whisper, "all grapes--La Vendimia--the vintage."
Jon's fingers scarcely touched each side of the waist; he looked up, with adoring eyes.
"Oh! Jon," it whispered; bent, kissed his forehead, pirouetted again, and, gliding out, was gone.
Jon stayed on his knees, and his head fell forward against the bed. How long he stayed like that he did not know. The little noises--of the tapping nail, the feet, the skirts rustling--as in a dream--went on about him; and before his closed eyes the figure stood and smiled and whispered, a faint perfume of narcissus lingering in the air. And his forehead where it had been kissed had a little cool place between the brows, like the imprint of a flower. Love filled his soul, that love of boy for girl which knows so little, hopes so much, would not brush the down off for the world, and must become in time a fragrant memory--a searing passion--a humdrum mateship--or, once in many times, vintage full and sweet with sunset colour on the grapes.
Enough has been said about Jon Forsyte here and in another place to show what long marches lay between him and his great-great- grandfather, the first Jolyon, in Dorset down by the sea. Jon was sensitive as a girl, more sensitive than nine out of ten girls of the day; imaginative as one of his half-sister June's "lame duck" painters; affectionate as a son of his father and his mother naturally would be. And yet, in his inner tissue, there was something of the old founder of his family, a secret tenacity of soul, a dread of showing his feelings, a determination not to know when he was beaten. Sensitive, imaginative, affectionate boys get a bad time at school, but Jon had instinctively kept his nature dark, and been but normally unhappy there. Only with his mother had he, up till then, been absolutely frank and natural; and when he went home to Robin Hill that Saturday his heart was heavy because Fleur had said that he must not be frank and natural with her from whom he had never yet kept anything, must not even tell her that they had met again, unless he found that she knew already. So intolerable did this seem to him that he was very near to telegraphing an excuse and staying up in London. And the first thing his mother said to him was:
"So you've had our little friend of the confectioner's there, Jon. What is she like on second thoughts?"
With relief, and a high colour, Jon answered:
"Oh! awfully jolly, Mum."
Her arm pressed his.
Jon had never loved her so much as in that minute which seemed to falsify Fleur's fears and to release his soul. He turned to look at her, but something in her smiling face--something which only he perhaps would have caught--stopped the words bubbling up in him. Could fear go with a smile? If so, there was fear in her face. And out of Jon tumbled quite other words, about farming, Holly, and the Downs. Talking fast, he waited for her to come back to Fleur. But she did not. Nor did his father mention her, though of course he, too, must know. What deprivation, and killing of reality was in his silence about Fleur--when he was so full of her; when his mother was so full of Jon, and his father so full of his mother! And so the trio spent the evening of that Saturday.
After dinner his mother played; she seemed to play all the things he liked best, and he sat with one knee clasped, and his hair standing up where his fingers had run through it. He gazed at his mother while she played, but he saw Fleur--Fleur in the moonlit orchard, Fleur in the sunlit gravel-pit, Fleur in that fancy dress, swaying, whispering, stooping, kissing his forehead. Once, while he listened, he forgot himself and glanced at his father in that other easy chair. What was Dad looking like that for? The expression on his face was so sad and puzzling. It filled him with a sort of remorse, so that he got up and went and sat on the arm of his father's chair. From there he could not see his face; and again he saw Fleur--in his mother's hands, slim and white on the keys, in the profile of her face and her powdery hair; and down the long room in the open window where the May night walked outside.
When he went up to bed his mother came into his room. She stood at the window, and said:
"Those cypresses your grandfather planted down there have done wonderfully. I always think they look beautiful under a dropping moon. I wish you had known your grandfather, Jon."
"Were you married to father when he was alive?" asked Jon suddenly.
"No, dear; he died in '92--very old--eighty-five, I think."
"Is Father like him?"
"A little, but more subtle, and not quite so solid."
"I know, from grandfather's portrait; who painted that?"
"One of June's 'lame ducks.' But it's quite good."
Jon slipped his hand through his mother's arm. "Tell me about the family quarrel, Mum."
He felt her arm quivering. "No, dear; that's for your Father some day, if he thinks fit."
"Then it was serious," said Jon, with a catch in his breath.
"Yes." And there was a silence, during which neither knew whether the arm or the hand within it were quivering most.
"Some people," said Irene softly, "think the moon on her back is evil; to me she's always lovely. Look at those cypress shadows! Jon, Father says we may go to Italy, you and I, for two months. Would you like?"
Jon took his hand from under her arm; his sensation was so sharp and so confused. Italy with his mother! A fortnight ago it would have been perfection; now it filled him with dismay; he felt that the sudden suggestion had to do with Fleur. He stammered out:
"Oh! yes; only--I don't know. Ought I--now I've just begun? I'd like to think it over."
Her voice answered, cool and gentle:
"Yes, dear; think it over. But better now than when you've begun farming seriously. Italy with you! It would be nice!"
Jon put his arm round her waist, still slim and firm as a girl's.
"Do you think you ought to leave Father?" he said feebly, feeling very mean.
"Father suggested it; he thinks you ought to see Italy at least before you settle down to anything."
The sense of meanness died in Jon; he knew, yes--he knew--that his father and his mother were not speaking frankly, no more than he himself. They wanted to keep him from Fleur. His heart hardened. And, as if she felt that process going on, his mother said:
"Good-night, darling. Have a good sleep and think it over. But it would be lovely!"
She pressed him to her so quickly that he did not see her face. Jon stood feeling exactly as he used to when he was a naughty little boy; sore because he was not loving, and because he was justified in his own eyes.
But Irene, after she had stood a moment in her own room, passed through the dressing-room between it and her husband's.
"He will think it over, Jolyon."
Watching her lips that wore a little drawn smile, Jolyon said quietly:
"You had better let me tell him, and have done with it. After all, Jon has the instincts of a gentleman. He has only to understand--"
"Only! He can't understand; that's impossible."
"I believe I could have at his age."
Irene caught his hand. "You were always more of a realist than Jon; and never so innocent."
"That's true," said Jolyon. "It's queer, isn't it? You and I would tell our stories to the world without a particle of shame; but our own boy stumps us."
"We've never cared whether the world approves or not."
"Jon would not disapprove of us!"
"Oh! Jolyon, yes. He's in love, I feel he's in love. And he'd say: 'My mother once married without love! How could she have!' It'll seem to him a crime! And so it was!"
Jolyon took her hand, and said with a wry smile:
"Ah! why on earth are we born young? Now, if only we were born old and grew younger year by year, we should understand how things happen, and drop all our cursed intolerance. But you know if the boy is really in love, he won't forget, even if he goes to Italy. We're a tenacious breed; and he'll know by instinct why he's being sent. Nothing will really cure him but the shock of being told."
"Let me try, anyway."
Jolyon stood a moment without speaking. Between this devil and this deep sea--the pain of a dreaded disclosure and the grief of losing his wife for two months--he secretly hoped for the devil; yet if she wished for the deep sea he must put up with it. After all, it would be training for that departure from which there would be no return. And, taking her in his arms, he kissed her eyes, and said:
"As you will, my love."
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