John Galsworthy.

Jocelyn online

. (page 9 of 14)
Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 9 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


aside her thoughts.

" Let us go out — I want air. I can't breathe

in here, come ! " The words were wild, but

she was surprised at the even tones of her

own voice. She had thought, if she once

opened her lips, she must scream. She took

185



1 86 JOCELYN

her hat from the table and put it on, even
glancing in the glass to set it straight. Her
face seemed to her very much the same as
usual — that was curious !

She led the way from the room, and into the
hotel garden. Legard followed, bewildered and
heavy at heart. Jocelyn walked swiftly, taking
a little, stony path which ran winding upwards
from the garden. Walls hemmed it in, and it
was rutted where the water coursed down it in
the heavy rains. It led to terraces of olive and
almond trees sloping up the hill. She stopped
in the shade of an old tree ; she felt giddy
and faint, and was glad to sit down. Giles
threw himself beside her, waiting for her to
speak. The brown lizards chased each other
among the stones. Bees, hovering over the
wild thyme, drummed softly with their wings ;
a cicala churred harshly from a branch above,
and from far away came the faint, shrill strains
of a goatherd's pipe. A thin, brown haze of
heat hung over the white buildings of the town
below, and the sunlight threw delicate shadows
from the trees on to the stone-strewn banks of
rough grass.



JOCELYN 187

Presently Jocelyn raised her arm and rested it
against the mossy stem of the oHve tree. She
looked dazed, like one who had received a heavy
blow, and she kept glancing from side to side, as
if trying to find the way out of some unfamiliar
place.

" When did Irma die ? " she said suddenly.

Legard winced, he tried to answer steadily
and without emotion, but there was fear in his
heart, fear of her reading that which lay between
him and his conscience.

" On Tuesday afternoon."

" What did she die of, it was very sudden ?
Mr. Nielsen told me that — that — she took an
overdose of morphia." She spoke with hesita-
tion, but hurriedly, as if afraid to give him time
to deceive her. " Was it true ? " she said, with-
out looking at him.

" Yes," muttered Giles. He also looked away.
The mind of each of them was fixed solely upon
its own grim terror, neither saw the spectre
imaged in the thoughts of the other.

" She knew — everything ? " Jocelyn said. It
sounded like the expression of a conviction rather
than a question.



1 88 JOCELYN

" I don't know — perhaps — I think so," and
he looked at her swiftly with a catch in his
breath, for the spectre of her thoughts had
peeped out at him, and he was very frightened.

" Look at me, darling ! " he said pleadingly.

She looked at him, and across his mind fell
the shadow of what lay before him.

" Good God ! what are you thinking ? "

" I am thinking," said Jocelyn simply, " that
I killed her — that's all."

It was not her words that frightened him so
much as her face. There was a dead look upon
it, a dreadful, weary look, of something more
than ordinary despair, of something fundamental,
the expression of that hopeless taint of inherited
fatalism, which he recognised dimly, and feared,
as children fear the dark. For he could not
comprehend it, his whole nature revolted — it was
the point at which their individualities diverged.
His instinct was to fight for his happiness, to
fight for it with pain and trouble — hers to fold
her hands, and let it drift to her or away.

It flashed across his mind that he had seen
the same face somewhere, graven in stone, dead,
immutable, the face of an image. Where, he



JOCELYN 189

could not say, but he had seen it. The thought
frightened him the more. He was hke a man
fighting a nightmare, knowing all the time that
it was something unreal, and suffering just the
same. He felt that somewhere there must be
the words, the words to break the despair of
her face, to bring it back to life, to wrest the
shadows from below the brown eyes that stared
before them, large, lustreless, and pitifully hope-
less, if only he could find them. Every man
knows that feeling, that desperate search for just
the right words, and sometimes they do not
exist. He wracked his reason.

" My darling," he cried, " it's not true. Do
you hear me, it's not true — don't yield to such a
feeling, it's dreadful. Fight against it, for God's
sake."

He took her in his arms, she lay passively in
them. He kissed her lips, her eyes, her hair
— she yielded soft and unresponsive. Her face
never changed.

" It was an accident. I know it, she would
never have committed suicide ! never ! She had
strong views about that — she was too religious,
besides — " The fatuity of his words choked his



190 JOCELYN

utterance. Words ! words ! of what use were
words against the whole bent of a nature ? and
he clenched his hands in despair. He would
have given anything to penetrate for one moment
the mystery of her being, to enter in, and share
its isolation, to know the very springs of its
instincts, that he might learn how to fight them.

In the stillness of the waning day he sat with
his head in his hands, thinking, always thinking.
The bees droned their dreamy song, and the
world was flooded with a mellow, evening light.

It was no help to him that he was fighting
an unreality, it only maddened him, made him
desperate. In some moments if a man be tender-
hearted, everything else goes by the board. He
could not bear the sight of her suffering, he felt
that he must pierce through that terrible calm,
make her feel, it seemed to him a matter of life
or death. He saw that there was one chance,
suicidal and desperate, a chance that might mean
the destruction of her love for him. He would
have to take it, he could not sit there looking
at the weary despair of that beloved face, feeling
the tragedy she would carry away in her heart.
He must tell her the truth. Half truths were no



JOCELYN 191

good. He must show her the whole, naked,
sordid truth. The truth which he had intended
should go down with him to the grave. Perhaps
she would believe that.

Two lizards, meeting suddenly, began to fight
furiously in the sunlight within three paces of
them ; he noticed them, and wondered dully
which would win. Then he began to speak in
a low matter of fact voice.

If he must tell her, he thought it should be
in a way that would carry conviction. The sun
glared into his eyes, and he pulled his hat low
upon his forehead, with a feeling that he would,
at all events, hide from her the foreboding of
defeat that was in them.

" Are you listening to me ? " he said.

She bent her head, and he went on —

" I'll tell you the truth. I never meant to
tell you, but I must, because of this dreadful
idea you have in your head." Something
clicked in his throat, but he threw up his head
and that freed his voice. " D'you remember
my leaving you on the road last Tuesday ? I
was going back then — to see — if I had killed
her."



192 JOCELYN

Jocelyn shivered and made a motion as if
she would have stopped him, but he went on
speaking fast and evenly.

" That afternoon about three o'clock I went
into her room. She was asleep — you know she
took morphia every day to make her sleep.
Every day, when she woke, she had to take
a dose of another medicine, I've seen it dozens
of times. She used to put the morphia under
her cushions before going to sleep, for fear of
taking it by mistake, I've seen that too. She
always woke dazed, you see ; she knew the
danger of taking the wrong ; I remember her
telling me of it once." His voice sounded to
himself brutally matter of fact. He stared
straight in front of him, plucking up the stiff
grass by handfuls. " By some accident that
day she left the morphia bottle on the table by
her side, and" — he cleared his throat — " the other
medicine wasn't there." Even the humming of
the bees seemed to him to have ceased ; he must
speak the words into the silence of a breathless
world. The lizards still fought in the sunshine.

" I — I saw what would happen — I knew it
would kill her. I did nothing, I walked out



JOCELYN 193

of the room — I left her to die. Then I met
you — you remember ? " He forced himself to
look at her face. There was no sign in it that
she had even heard him.

'' Don't you see ? " he cried, " I killed her — "
And he thought, " Have I gone through this for
nothing ? "

If she would only speak — move — do some-
thing !

" Don't you believe me ? "

" Yes." The yellow sunlight played upon
her face through the leaves, but its expression
was unchanged.

He had a sudden, sickening foretaste of the
knowledge that the real suffering of man must
be worked through in an isolation grim as the
grave itself. He had robbed himself for ever
of any claim to her respect, to her love, and —
for no use. He wondered that she did not
shrink from him ; he would have rather she
did — it would have shown him that her will
was still struggling for existence. " Jocelyn,"
he cried, " for God's sake, say something."

'' You did it for me," she said at last, " it is
all the same, you see ; she died because of our

N



194 JOCELYN

sin, what does it matter whether it was by her
own act, or by yours, or by mine ? The shadow
will always be there — always — always between
us, setting us apart."

It was a relief to hear her voice, even though
the words were dreadful to hear. He got upon
his feet, and paced to and fro, his face lined and
twisted with thought, his lips quivering below
the line of his dark moustache. The lizards,
always fighting, darted between the stones.

"What is to be done, then?" he said, stopping
in front of her, his tall, black figure between her
and the sunlight.

" You must let me go, and forget me," she
said.

" My God ! I can't," and he threw himself at
her feet, his hands clasped on her knees, his
eyes fixed on hers with a wild, despairing en-
treaty. "Jocelyn — darling — I can't — I canH!"
and the goatherd's pipe sent back a faint echo
to that bitter cry.

She shivered, and her eyes contracted as if
with unbearable pain ; then she put out her
hand, and touched his hair, it calmed him at
once, but he clung to her.



JOCELYN 195

" If you love me," she said in a half choked
voice, " be brave. I can't bear any more. I
can't face it — I must hide. I must go away,
and hide from it."

" My darhng, you promised not to shut me
away."

" I can't help it, I can't share suffering, it's
not in me. I must bear it by myself — I
know it."

He would have cried again in words of en-
treaty and reasoning, but she stopped him,
rising to her feet.

" Give me an address, 1 will write to you. I
promise to let you know what becomes of me."

** You promise to tell me truly of yourself
— everything — " his voice failed him. There
was a film over his eyes, and he staggered from
giddiness as he got up.

" Yes — everything," she said very low, and
the words seemed hardly to escape the barrier
of her lips.

" Am I never to see you, never ? My God !
that is hard — "

" I must be away from everything that re-
minds. I must hide. I will forget. Can't



196 JOCELYN

you see that I shall go mad ? I juust have
time." Her voice rose hysterically for the
first time, and she twisted her hands.

" Yes, sweet ! I know, I know — " He soothed
her like a child, and, with the need for that
soothing, he felt some strength returning to
him. He knew that he must use it quickly
before it left him again.

" I will send you my address to-night," he
said, '' I shall go away to-morrow. You pro-
mise to write. Go, dear, I won't come with
you."

He caught her suddenly in his arms, and
held her face to his, kissing it passionately.
The tears ran down his face and wetted her
cheeks — her eyes were dry.

"God keep you — remember I am always
yours, to do as you please with."

She did not speak. Her mournful eyes were
lifted for a moment to his, the shadow of a smile
quivered pitifully on the curve of her lips, and
she was gone from his arms.

He flung himself upon the ground, and buried
his face in the grass.



PART III

CHAPTER XIX

It was the last clay of March in the following
year. A day when spring drew its breath even
in London streets. The evening was drawing
in, but the daylight still crept colourless into a
pretty room high up in some mansions over-
looking the river. Jocelyn Ley sat in front of
the fireplace, her elbows resting upon her knees
and her chin sunk in her hands. Between her
arms a grey kitten lay on its back, blinking its
dubious eyes, and clawing the air vaguely with
one paw. The spitting flames of a wood fire
leaped joyfully in a deepening blaze, and there
was a scent in the room, sweet and pungent, of
burnt pastilles.

At a little table, where she could catch a full
light from the bay window, Mrs, Travis bent
over the skeleton of a garment.



198 JOCELYN

" If I take it in in the neck, I must let it out
under the arms, and that means taking the sleeves
out," she was saying plaintively.

Jocelyn, from her chair, murmured, " Poor
dear ! " She always treated her aunt with com-
placent tenderness, as if she were some kind of
elderly child. At the same time, if there were
anything to be decided upon, she invariably
deferred to her opinion, not from respect, but
from an inherent dislike of making herself un-
pleasant — which her aunt by no means shared.
Jocelyn was always plastically under the domi-
nation of the nearest personality.

" That comes of not being in Paris," she went
on. " You know you can't get a jacket in Lon-
don for that price, which doesn't want altering.
I'll do it for you presently when the puss is
asleep."

Mrs. Travis, turning the garment this way and
that, and screwing up her eyes, broke into frag-
mentary praise of Parisian dressmakers. They
were so smart — so cheap, considering — so c/u'c,
pronouncing it so as to leave upon the mind an
impression of yellow fluff and broken egg-shell.
Jocelyn stroked the kitten's furry chest softly.



JOCELYN 199

"Why aren't we in Paris?" she sighed. '* I
can't think what made you take this flat for so
long ! Chelsea's nice for London, but I'm so
sick of London ! "

Mrs. Travis sat back in her chair with a faint
rustling of silk and a creaking of stays. She
said " Oh ! " in a funny little voice, fidgeted her
hands once or twice on the table, and then
folded them over the garment upon her lap.
She was not really thick-skinned. If people
differed or found fault with her, she suffered
severely, until she had time to see that her own
view was the right one. She never admitted
herself in the wrong. There was no credit due
to her for that, she had simply never learned
how. Things might seem against her — in fact,
they frequently did — but she was always inwardly
convinced that she was in the right. If it had
appeared to her that the world was flat, she
would have admitted the imparted knowledge
that it was round, with a complacent " Yes — it
may be so," but she would have known it to be
flat all the same.

She had a queer method of argument too.
She would admit everything with a tentative



200 jOCELYN

" Yes," propose some remedy that wildly ex-
ceeded necessity ; and when this was rejected
she would fall back upon things as they were.
She had a really fine turn of obstinacy, bone-
obstinacy. As to the after effect upon her of
argument, there was none.

A short and significant silence followed, while
her skin hardened.

" You know I haven't got any money," she
began at last in a smoothly injured voice. '' I
can't bear owing anything. I wasn't brought
up to it, and I can't do it." Her green eyes
seemed to deprecate the possibility of disbelief,
but there was nothing except the back of
Jocelyn's head to deprecate, as she leant for-
ward in her chair, and gazed at the fire with
moody eyes.

The flames licked the logs, and an occasional
red spark darted forth, trying to reach her out-
stretched feet. The kitten purred softly. Joce-
lyn's silence was discomfiting to Mrs. Travis ;
her eloquence felt faint for lack of contradic-
tion. She began to fan herself slowly with a
newspaper and to get a little red.

" You should think more of other people,"



JOCELYN 20I

she began again. " You know I can't afford to
go abroad. That horrid place has ruined me.
I've never had any money, to spare, since."
When Mrs. Travis lost all her money, her Puritan
education enabled her to see that gambling
was immoral — until she had some more. Just
now she had some more, but not quite enough
— a tight place for her principles.

" It's not like it used to be there. They try
to get everything they can out of one. / dorCt
think it's right!' These words with her con-
veyed the acme of disapproval. She began to
enlarge upon the possibility of corrupt croupiers,
weighted tables, pre-arranged cards — devices
with refutation writ large upon their faces — but
very dear to her. She pouted her lips as she
spoke, her hands moved restlessly, and her green
eyes kept glancing from the back of Jocelyn's
head to her own lap — sure signs that she was
agitated. She ended by declaring with decision
that she would never go near the place again.

" I am glad of that," said Jocelyn quietly.
She frowned, as she gazed at the dull glow
playing fitfully on the charring logs. There
was a minute or two of silence. A hundred



202 JOCELYN

memories were thronging in the girl's mind,
ghosts of long hours when the sun had blazed,
mocking the torment of her spirit, when the
star-flecked vault of the heavens had looked
down, cold and pitiless, upon her shame and
misery. She put her hands over her face.

Presently there came a sudden, uneasy creak
from the chair where Mrs. Travis was sitting —
one would not have, ventured to predict its
meaning — and she began to speak.

" You've not been looking very well lately, my
dear," she said with a little tentative cough. " I
think perhaps we ought to go south for Easter.
' Monte ' is nice, then, just for a week."

Jocelyn did not speak for a minute. She
could not control her voice, and it trembled
when she answered —

" You can go, of course, if you want to, I
shall stay here. I hate the place." She got up.
" I thought you said just now you were never
going there again ! " As she spoke, she walked
across to the window. Throwing it open, she
stood leaning against it, looking out over the
river.

Mrs. Travis sniffed subduedly with surprise



JOCELYN 203

and anger. It was unlike her niece to oppose
her, it was unlike her to speak with emotion.
She collected herself in her chair. On this
occasion, it must be confessed, it took her while
a person might count ten to see that she had
not contradicted herself. Then she rose from
her seat, the uncompleted garment in her hand.
Throwing her feet out well in front of her, she
walked to the door, an imposing figure in black
silk.

" It was entirely on your account," she said
with dignity, opening the door, and going out
with a rustle of offended petticoats.

Jocelyn, left alone, shrugged her shoulders.
The grey kitten had followed her across the
room, and was rubbing its arched back against
her dress. She stooped, and picked it up.

She felt very lonely. The soft west wind
driving the broken sky over the grey, untroubled
river, was sweet with the mysterious scent of
growing things, of the sap in the trees, of the
earth after rain, of the flow of life ; the spring
scent that seems to tell us to begin again, stirs
the blood to vague, unimaged longing, grips our
hearts with a sweet aching.



204 JOCELYN

It was the meeting of the lights — the buildings
and chimneys loomed from across the river like
shadowy monsters, peering into the dusk with
reddening eyes. The lighted lamps on the
steadfast bridges seemed to her to fling their
greetings from one to the other, daring in linked
chains the gathering gloom. She counted three
barges, huge, amphibious beasts, creeping, black
and sluggish, up river against the ebbtide. The
dull hoot of a distant steamer, plying westwards,
was carried now and again to her ears on the
wind. The streets murmured ceaselessly from
the back, roosting sparrows twittered sleepily
in the trees, and from the square tower of the
old church came a chime of Lenten bells. She
leaned over the balcony. The bare boughs of
the trees in the garden below swayed slowly.
One by one the lamps of the embankment flared
up ; and beyond, under the drift of the restless
sky, under the breath of the homeless wind,
the river flowed, grey and untroubled, to the
sea. The river, grey with the knowledge of the
meanness and tragedy of life, untroubled in its
strength and in its constancy ; a philosopher to
whom men confide all secrets, the recoil of the



JOCELYN 205

fainting spirit, the stirring of great endeavours ;
an image of human hfe, unceasing in the ebbing
and flowing tides of surface emotion, whereon
the traffic of Hving shifts to and fro, resistless in
its unseen stream which is ever compelled to
that mysterious sea where truth lies hidden,
where life ends and life begins. Tears started
into the girl's eyes. The vague solemnity of
the evening, the soft breath of spring in the air,
bewildered her. She had a longing to know
what it all meant, to feel the life stirring in that
width of darkened water, in the flashing, yellow
lights, in the wind that fanned her flushed face.
She stretched out her arms with a sudden move-
ment, and thought, "Ah ! not to be so terribly
alone ! " Surely, all that she saw, felt, heard,
could give her some companionship !

The wind fanned and passed her by, the lamps
shone with a hard light, the river flowed cold and
relentless. No truth, no life, no solace ! She
was alone ! She turned away with an aching,
as if some one had struck her in the chest.

She sat down at her piano, and began to
play, a rhapsody of Brahms. The chords rang
full and true under her slender fingers, the



2o6 JOCELYN

passionate throb of unending life seemed to beat
in them. It was as though Nature were singing
a song of full rejoicing, in the echoes of lofty
mountains, in the rustling of yellow cornfields,
in the medley of river torrents, and the hush of
the unstained sea.

She played with her head bent a little forward,
and with parted lips, and her dark eyes seemed
trying to reach, beyond the music of the notes,
a secret, mysterious and unfathomable. She
was lost in the melody which swelled quivering
into the room. When she had played the last
bar, she left her hands nerveless and cold upon
the keys. Suddenly, she bent her head down
upon them in an uncontrollable burst of weep-
ing. It seemed to her that all around the pulse
of life was throbbing, in herself alone it stood
still. . . .

A long ten months of a struggle to forget,
spent in the daily society of a lady, kind-hearted,
but to whom an inscrutable Providence had
given as much spiritual insight as to a sack of
potatoes, had told upon her strength and her
nerves. She had had no support except in her
own indomitable pride. Of acquaintances she had



JOCELYN 207

many ; of friends, from the wandering manner
of her life, few, and those not at hand. Religion
was an empty word with her, she had never
come into contact with it. She had, indeed, a
love for art, but neither energy nor strength of
will to study consistently.

From time to time she gave herself up to
music, working from morning till night at
Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, or Bach to the
great discomfort of her aunt, who fidgeted in
her seat at Brahms or Chopin, well-nigh howled
at Bach, and would plaintively murmur requests
for "The Bee's Wedding," upon which she had
been brought up. She went to as many con-
certs as she could, and even once persuaded
Mrs. Travis to accompany her. That lady sat
through a magnificent performance with resigned
placidity, saying from time to time " Very nice "
in a drooping voice ; and as they came out,
gathered her black silk skirts vigorously in both
hands, and^stepping, large and brisk, through the
crowd, remarked with relief, "There'll be just
time to call at Louise's about my new bonnet ! "

Jocelyn had never the heart to ask her to
go again. All the same, a few days afterwards



2o8 JOCELYN

Mrs. Travis had suddenly passed a criticism
upon an intricate passage of the music — a criti-
cism which just missed being masterly. An
astounding lady !

At first, it seemed long ago now, when memory
was roused in her, Jocelyn had shrunk from the
violent despair of her own moods ; they were


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 9 of 14)