John Galsworthy.

Jocelyn online

. (page 11 of 14)
Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 11 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

them from the brig, and shouting in a babel
of uncouth words. Legard, with his hands in
his pockets, and his cap drawn over his eyes,
turned his back against the rail, and watched
them idly.

They strained on the rope, laughing and talk-
ing in a strange medley of words and dialects.
Then, as if by consent, they ceased hauling, and
paused in relaxed attitudes, shouting irrelevantly
at the brig a jumble of foreign words. A bearded
man, in a peaked cap, standing on the poop, put
his hand to his mouth, and the hail came with a
steady ring over the water, " Pillley ! Hauley !"

The words had an inflection, as of a man
speaking to children, a kind of compassionate
superiority. The chain of men strained forward
again upon the rope, and, with a clatter of feet
and voices, went surging up the pier.

" Pulley ! Hauley ! " Words comprehended
of every nation under the sun, words by the aid
of which men make shift to go through the
business of life. They struck a chord in Legard's


heart that had not sounded for many years.
They roused in him a longing for action, and a
feehng of pride, such as one has when one reads
of some gallant feat done by a countryman.
He watched the Union Jack stream out in the
wind as the brig cleared the end of the jetty
with a queer feeling, that made him shuffle his
feet on the tarred boards, and swear softly to
himself. Then he took out a cigar, and bit
the end very hard, looking into the distance
over the sea.

The men, broken up now into groups, lolled
on the jetty sides, or lounged back up the pier
talking and spitting. They looked at him as
they passed, with dark eyes, curious or indiffe-
rent, and exchanged remarks in low voices. He
was a strange bird to them ; an English traveller
did not often find his way to their town.

Gradually, under the brassy sun, the jetty
resumed its look of desolation.

Giles took his cap off, and wiped his forehead.
His face, which was tanned a deep sallow brown,
had somewhat hardened and set ; the features
looked as if always held in a vice of constraint.
There was no trace of the old languor in his


eyes, they looked up clear and straight from
under his brows, but they had a rather wistful
expression, as if always seeking for something.
His dark hair had grown very grey at the sides
of his head and on his temples. In his thin
flannel suit his tall figure looked lean to emacia-
tion, but his muscles, from constant hard exer-
cise, were like whipcord. He had that day
returned to the town, whence he had started a
month before on a restless wander through a
wild part of Spain.

He replaced his cap, and began to pace un-
easily up and down the jetty, stopping every
now and then to take a long look under his
hand towards the town. He muttered to him-
self at intervals. He had begun rather to have
the habit of talking to himself — a habit which
tells of much loneliness. . . .

The test of a man's temperament is the way
in which he manages himself under trouble.
Legard had managed himself in solitude. A
hundred times in those ten months he had been
impelled to seek distraction in society, dissipa-
tion, excitement — to try and forget, for it was
his nature to fly from pain ; but something in


him had always revolted at the last moment, and
he had shrunk back. He had, deeply rooted,
the feeling that if he even tried to rid himself of
his suffering and his desolation, he would lose
loyalty, the one thing which remained to him.
If he gave that up, he felt that he must go under
— irretrievably under. It was not choice so
much as instinct that compelled him to hold on
to his bitter, regretful longing ; and with his grip
fast on that plank, he felt his head still above
water. Of the memory of his wife's death he
tried not to be mindful. At times a sudden
spasm of self-loathing and of superstitious horror
caught him, as it were, by the throat, but there
was a certain gravity in his mind which helped
him — the ballast of his own egotism, his matter-
of-fact conviction of the futility of regret, and
his feeling for what was of use in the future.
That same feeling of loyalty, to which he clung
so tenaciously, blunted, even at times negatived,
the bite of remorse. It became a sort of painful
pleasure to him to reason the thing out with a
grim analysis. The evil did not seem to him
to lie in the wrong he had done to the woman
he loved, nor in the guilty inaction by which he


had sought to repair that wrong, it lay further
back, in the fibre of his own nature and the
infirmity of his will — he felt that he had suffered
for it, was always suffering. If repentance be
suffering — he repented ; if it be knowledge of
self — he repented, for he was getting to know
his own limitations as he had never known
them before ; but if it be that feeling which says,
" Give me the past again, that I may act other-
wise ! " he did not repent, for he was not sure
that he would act differently. The thing was
over and done with, he had behaved like a
coward and a scoundrel, but regret was of no
use — he looked to the future, to the time, if it
ever came, when he should see Jocelyn again ;
and in long reveries over smoky camp fires, on
the decks of ships under starry skies, beneath
the burning sun of the desert, and the unfallen
snow-clouds of mountains, his face became gra-
dually and indelibly stamped with that drawn
expression of constraint. He had wandered
about unceasingly, in the Austrian highlands, in
Turkey, Algeria, Spain, anywhere, indeed, where
he could get hard physical exertion, and be un-
likely to meet people. He would have gone to


the East, or to South Africa, but he would not
put himself out of reach of his letters. Time
would surely have done more for him, if he
would have cut himself completely adrift, but he
would not. Every month he received a letter
from Jocelyn ; it was never anything but a bare
record of doings, smelling of violets, scanty and
formal, and very precious to him. It began
without any prefix, ended simply " Jocelyn " —
it would be hard to say the amount of comfort
he derived from that solitary and dumb confes-
sion of a link between them. . . .

At this moment, as he strode across and across
the jetty gnawing his moustache, the cigar, still
unlit, between his fingers, he was waiting for
Jacopo's return from the post-office. It was
nine weeks since he had received a letter, and
even he had not realised how much they meant
to him, till they had ceased to come. He had
put off the day of his return to the coast, in
sheer dread of not getting one, and now he had
not had the courage to go and see for himself.
He felt sick with suspense. He threw away his
cigar unsmoked. Two seagulls swooped on it,
shrieking discordantly. A faint, muffled sound


of voices came down to him from a group of
men and women at the far end of the jetty, and
the salt wind fanned his cheek gently. He
gazed towards the shore, where the world seemed
to stand still in hot, hard lines.

A figure presently detached itself at the end
of the jetty, and came towards him. He recog-
nised Jacopo by his light clothes and wide-
brimmed hat, and by the dog with him.

He forced himself to stand still and wait, his
hands crossed behind his back, his limbs and
every feature of his face quivering with the
strain of repression. He was thinking : sup-
posing there were no letter ! — what then ? There
must be one !

Jacopo was walking fast. In the same breath
he seemed to Giles to be years arriving, and to
come with the swiftness of a wind. When he
was within fifty yards the boy's hand went to
his pocket, and the dog, breaking from him, ran
to his master and thrust his pointed nose up
against his legs.

In spite of himself he turned away, grasped
the jetty rail hard, and stood, looking, with eyes
that saw nothing, at the horizon.


Jacopo came up to him, cool and silent.

'' Well ? " said Giles without turning.

"There are letters, Signore — three."

Still leaning over the rail, Legard put out his
hand, his fingers closed on the letters, and he
said —

" Thank you, Jacopo, you have been rather
long." He spoke with the idea of gaining time.

"Si, Signore, the man at the post was very

" You are sure these are all ? "

" Si, Signore, sure."

" Thank you, wait at the end of the pier till
I call you."

Jacopo moved away ; Giles, clutching the
letters, looked blankly after his retreating figure.
Shikari rubbed a wet nose suddenly against his
hand, and then stretched his body at full length,
placing his forepaws on the rail, and working
his nostrils from side to side with a snuffle at
the unconscious sea. Giles bit his lips, raised
his hand quickly, and without glancing at the
outsides tore open the letters one by one. He
dropped them unread into his pocket, lifted his
cap, and ran his hand through his hair.


Nothing ! He took a rapid turn across the
jetty and back again, followed solemnly by the
dog. Nothing ! He muttered to himself one
or two commonplaces. " Very awkward thing !
Odd ! Very odd ! " Words absolutely inexpres-
sive of his feelings, but somehow comforting.

He took Shikari's forepaws, and drew them
on to his chest, put them down again, and took
another turn across the jetty. He stood, and
looked out on the other side, and said, " My
God ! " in a low voice. He drew another cigar
out of his case, bit it, and put it back again.

Nothing. Nine weeks ! She had ceased to
write ! What did it mean ? Was she ill ?

He called suddenly " Jacopo ! "

The boy came quickly, his slight figure in its
nankeen suit, at once alert and watchful.

" Go, and find out when there is a train to
join the main line for England. Get a carriage
and horses ; have the things ready — we shall
start for it at the earliest minute, do you under-
stand ? "

" Si, Signore ! " The boy whistled to Shikari,
and vanished down the pier at a long stealthy



Giles crammed his cap down over his eyes,
as if he were riding at a fence, and shut his
teeth together with a snap. He must act ! He
must know. Phew ! That was a rehef. He
twisted the shght ends of his dark moustache
fiercely upwards, and took a glance all round

Westwards the brig's sails were glistening
under the sun like the snow of a mountain

Thrusting his hands into the pockets of his
coat he walked rapidly down the pier.


Travelling night and day, Legard arrived in
London late on Wednesday afternoon. Except
upon one occasion, for a few days, he had not
been in England for twelve years. It was
strange to him that every one should talk his
own language ; the feel of the air, the grey irre-
gular streets, the soberness of costume were
strange. He drove straight to the Langham
Hotel. He had a friendly recollection of it
from days when he used to come up from Eton
and stop there with his mother to see the match
at Lords. It was very much the same, inside
and out — quite immutable apparently — only it
seemed to him, like everything else, exceedingly

After he had seen to the necessities of his
servant and his dog, he dined ; and when he
came out into the hall it was already nine o'clock.
He lit a cigar, but he found it quite impossible


to sit and smoke it quietly. He was very tired
from his long journey, but he could not sit still.
He was possessed by that feeling of restlessness
which haunts one who has come a long way for
a certain purpose, and finds at the end a gap of
inaction intervening. He walked out of the
hotel, and stood on the pavement staring blankly
up the lighted avenue of Portland Place.

The restless roar of traffic from Regent Street
attracted him, it was companionable — it suited
his mood. He began to walk slowly towards it.
The warm air was full of the smell of tobacco
smoke and patchouli, and of other odours. On
either hand of the street the lamps sent forth
shafts of white or golden light upon the con-
stant streams of passengers, motley and white-
faced, who thronged the pavements. The curve
of the quadrant bent in a clear-cut line against
the impalpable loom of the purple heavens ;
and, through the streets, the traffic ran like
blood through the veins of a strong man.

Giles walked on slowly, smoking. The elec-
tricity in the air, the intense stir of life around
him, made upon his tired and unaccustomed
faculties a profound impression. He felt be-


numbed, like a man in a nightmare. At Picca-
dilly Circus he stopped, and stood, staring about
him. A brake filled with a pleasure party passed
close. Girls leaning out of it swung in their
hands coloured lanterns, which lit up their
flushed faces and disordered hair. It was gone
in a medley of song-snatches, rattling hoofs,
empty laughter, and twinkling lights. A string
of policemen filed by, solemn and bulky, each
one a ridiculous embodiment of the earnestness
of life. Out of the blare and turmoil of the
street a fire-engine charged towards him, sway-
ing from side to side, with the thunder of wheels
and a harsh incessant shouting.

As he stood there a woman touched him on
the arm and leered up at him ; some one blew
a whiff of tobacco in his face ; black-hatted,
shiny-booted men languidly held the pavement
with gingerly steps ; in front of him the coloured
letters of an advertisement went in and out ;
newspaper men, like ghouls battening meagrely
upon the misfortunes of other people, yelled
dismally ; and the bells of cabs and bicycles
sounded swiftly, vanishing into chaos on this
side and that. Coming after the silence of


lonely places, it was strange. Every one had
something to do, and was doing it with solemn
fury ; even the drunken man lurching at the
gutter was earnestly drunk. It was curious
after the south ; yet instinctively, and without
thinking about it, he understood it very well,
much better than all that he had lived with for
so many years. At this moment, with nothing
to do but wait, kill time, and deaden the sus-
pense in his mind, he was waiting very earnestly.
He was of the same blood and the same grain
as all that mass of humanity around him, which
surged ceaselessly to and fro upon its business.

With an effort he roused himself, and made
his way across Piccadilly. He formed the reso-
lution, suddenly, to put an end to his suspense.
It would be too late to see Jocelyn in any event,
but he could at least find out something about
her, where she was, perhaps how she was. At
all events it would kill some time. He chose
the slowest means of progression, and climbed
on to a Chelsea omnibus. He sat in front,
leaning forward, with his long legs drawn back
under the seat, his shoulders high and square,
and his soft felt hat covering his forehead. As


the 'bus rumbled along Piccadilly in the stream
of the traffic, past a narrow red streak of
stationed cab lights and the overhanging trees
of the Green Park, the driver, a man with a
permanent cold, looked round at him curiously.
The tanned, drawn face, with its thin, black
moustache above the set jaw, had a queer look
to his insular eyes. He would have volunteered
remarks, but, as he afterwards observed hoarsely
to his mate —

"That furrin' lookin' gent as sat be'ind o'
me lawst trip 'ad a mug on 'im as dried the
words in yer mouth. Looked as if 'e were
kind o' settin' on 'ot bricks, 'e did, and knowed
it too ; a rum bird 'e was."

" Right," returned the mate, a cockney, " 'e
was English, though — asked me the w'y to
Cheeyne Walk an' giv' me a bob — quite the
gent — there ain't too many of 'is sort abaout."

" Oh ! ay ! A right eno' gent — 'igher rup ! "

When Giles reached the Mansions he hesi-
tated for some minutes before he found the
courage to go in. At the sound of his foot-
steps upon the tiled floor, the porter, a large
personage in blue, with a stolid red face, and


an evening paper in his hand, appeared from
a corner and stood under the hanging lamp,
an ilhiminated image of matter-of-fact civility.

" What name, sir ? " He had a voice that
leapt out of him with unexpected brevity, and
a habit of twitching one eyelid.

Giles felt suddenly cool, and unemotional,
with the calmness peculiar to nervous organisa-
tions in critical moments.

" Does Mrs. Travis live here ? " he said.

" Yes, sir, number three."

" And, Miss Ley ? "

" Yes, sir, same number."

" Ah ! " He gave his moustache a twist, but
he was not conscious of any particular feeling
of relief, or indeed of any feeling except a slight
surprise at himself.

" The ladies are well, I hope ? "

" Quite well, thank'ee, sir. Do you wish me
to send up your name ? "

"No, thank you — er — that is — I should like to
write a note. Can you give me a sheet of paper
and an envelope ? "

" Cert'nly, sir." The porter, disappearing into
a decorative sentry-box, emerged with pen and


paper. He set them down upon a table. Giles
wrote these words upon a sheet of paper : —
" Langham Hotel, Wednesday. — May I come
and see you to-morrow at 4 o'clock ? G. L."
folded it, closed it in an envelope, and addressed
it, " Miss Jocelyn Ley." Then he stood, and
looked at the porter, whose eyelid went up and
down with regularity, giving the impression that
he was continually endeavouring to relieve the
stolidity of his visage with a wink.

'' You will see Miss Ley to-morrow morning?"

" I can see her, if you wish, sir."

" Give her this, not to-night, you understand,
to-morrow morning."

'' Yes, sir."

" Here's something for your trouble." He
pulled out a coin, handed it to the porter, and
turned on his heel. The porter's voice pursued
him abruptly.

'' Beg y'r pardon, sir, you giv' me a sov'reign,

" Oh ! did I ? All right ! "

The rustling in the trees outside was refresh-
ing, the river consolingly dark and profound.
He muttered irrelevantly to himself : " Here


endeth the first lesson," and leant against the
stone parapet of the embankment, looking at
the rows of lighted windows, and wondering
which was hers. The dark figure of the porter,
legs apart, was still outlined in the lighted cave
of the open doorway. With a feeling of being
" moved on," Giles set his face eastwards by the
side of the quiet river. Over the busy part of
the town the dark vault of the sky was powdered
with innumerable gold specks, and there was
a hum, as of gigantic insects, in the air. He
walked a few paces, and became suddenly con-
scious of the fact that he was dog-tired. Hailing
a " hansom " he drove home in it, more than
half asleep.

When he came out of the hotel the next day, a
bright sun was staining wet patches of the pave-
ment a ruddy orange, the air was clear, and the
streets had a freshly-washed appearance. He
had some matters of business to attend to, and
he forced himself to go about them. He found
nevertheless, in the afternoon, that he was at the
Mansions fully half-an-hour too soon, and he
paced restlessly backwards and forwards along
the embankment until the appointed time.


When four o'clock sounded at last, he walked
into the hall of the Mansions. As he mounted
the stairs his sensations were not enviable.

Would she be in ? Would she see him ? Alone ?
He felt that he would almost rather not see her
at all than in the presence of other people.
His heart beat till he felt sick, and he paused
for some minutes, outside the door, before ring-
ing the bell.

" Is Miss Ley at home ? "

The maid, a rosy-cheeked damsel with a fresh
and wholesome face, answered, " Yes, sir."

He felt dismay and intense relief at the same
moment. He pulled himself together with an
effort, and followed her.

" What name, sir ? "

" Legard."

The door was thrown open, and he heard his
name pronounced into a room which he could


scarcely see from a feeling of giddiness that
came over him. The door closed behind. There
was a faint scent of violets, and he was conscious
of the rustle of a skirt. He stood within the
room twisting his moustache, and staring about
him with uncertain eyes. Jocelyn had risen
from a chair near the window. He took a step
forward and stopped. Her face was white, then
crimson, then white again ; her hands gripped
the back of the chair from which she had risen.
Neither offered to move, or to speak ; they stood
still, and looked fixedly at each other, an unspar-
ing space of conventional carpet between them.

After the first sign of emotion, Jocelyn's face
wore a mask of discouragement. It showed
dark and mysterious against the bright sunlight
behind her, and reproach seemed to be looking
out of her eyes. Giles, clutching the fold of his
coat across his chest, gazed at her with a coun-
tenance from which hunger had suddenly driven
every other emotion.

Jocelyn spoke, and her voice sounded dull
and expressionless.

" Why ? " she said. " What was the good ? "

Giles involuntarily took a half-step forward.


" Why ? " he repeated. " Why ? You stopped
writing — I didn't know — how could I "

" Didn't I write long enough ? " she said
wearily. " It didn't seem any use going on.
I wanted to forget. I didn't know where you
were — you might have been dead." A sudden
ring of irritability, telling of shaken nerves, came
into the tone of her voice. Giles had a swift
sense of injustice ; he remembered the misery
it had cost him not to answer those letters.

** I obeyed you, I would have given the world
to write."

" You should have gone on obeying me. Why
have you come back ? Why ? " She spoke as
if under the spur of some unbearable thought.
She stamped her foot on the soft carpet, and her
dark eyes were full of resentment. Giles winced,
his head dropped upon his chest. This was the
other side of the question ; she made him feel
guilty of an act of brutality. He asked himself
why he had come back to torture her ? Because
he, a strong man, could not bear pain ! The
poorness of the reason struck him for the first
time. As always, he admitted the other side at
its full value without question.


" I love you," was all he found to say.

" You love me ! But you don't care how
you hurt me." She pressed her lips tightly
together. He could not help the swift thought,
" She is cruel," and hated himself for it in the
same breath. He put his clenched hands against
his forehead, and the words escaped him —

" Is that all ? All — after "

" What more do you want ? What more do
you expect ? "

He gazed long and fixedly at her with the
searching, upward look in his eyes peculiar to
them. He could see nothing behind the mask
of her resentful face. It fixed a barrier between
them — impenetrable. Through the half-open
window a puff of wind strayed in, and the petals
of some flowers upon the table stirred ; he heard
the sheets of the open music on the piano rust-
ling, and the clock ticking very solemnly. During
a moment of numbness he had no other sensa-
tion. Then his mind leaped suddenly back to
painful consciousness. How beautiful she was ;
standing, slender and motionless, between him
and the light ! How pitiless ! So ! It was all
over ! He had only exchanged the uncertainty


of misery for the certainty of it ! He made a
movement with his mouth, a movement of dumb
pain, and in the spasmodic motion which in-
tolerable suffering exacts, strode past her to the
window, and stood there, with his back to her,
and his hands over his eyes. He tried to reason.
" After all," he thought, " a man has some pride
— I'd better get away." The subtle fragrance in
the room tortured his senses — her fragrance.
He stood motionless while long seconds crept
by, and found — that he had no pride. He
suffered so keenly that his reason refused to
come to his aid. He could not think of the
why or the wherefore of anything, of what it
meant or did not mean ; he could only feel ; and
he seemed to have no tongue with which to
plead for himself. It was all over ! He choked
back a sob rising in his throat. . . .

He had not heard any movement in the
room, but he suddenly felt fingers pulling at
his hands. Jocelyn was standing beside him,
looking at him with pitying and mournful eyes.

" Don't ! " she said, " don't grieve so ! I'm
not worth it."

He knelt down, and clasping her knees looked


up at her. She put a hand over her eyes, with
a soft movement.

" I'm not worth it," she repeated.

Suddenly his tongue was loosed, a pent-up

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14

Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 11 of 14)