“That little affair of your father-in-law and your Aunt Irene, Val—it’s old as the hills, of course, Fleur need know nothing about it—making a fuss. Your Uncle Soames is very particular about that. So you’ll be careful.”
“Yes! But it’s dashed awkward—Holly’s young half-brother is coming to live with us while he learns farming. He’s there already.”
“Oh!” said Winifred. “That is a gaff! What is he like?”
“Only saw him once—at Robin Hill, when we were home in 1909; he was naked and painted blue and yellow in stripes—a jolly little chap.”
Winifred thought that “rather nice,” and added comfortably: “Well, Holly’s sensible; she’ll know how to deal with it. I shan’t tell your uncle. It’ll only bother him. It’s a great comfort to have you back, my dear boy, now that I’m getting on.”
“Getting on! Why! you’re as young as ever. That chap Profond, Mother, is he all right?”
“Prosper Profond! Oh! the most amusing man I know.”
Val grunted, and recounted the story of the Mayfly filly.
“That’s so like him,” murmured Winifred. “He does all sorts of things.”
“Well,” said Val shrewdly, “our family haven’t been too lucky with that kind of cattle; they’re too light-hearted for us.”
It was true, and Winifred’s blue study lasted a full minute before she answered:
“Oh! well! He’s a foreigner, Val; one must make allowances.”
“All right, I’ll use his filly and make it up to him, somehow.”
And soon after he gave her his blessing, received a kiss, and left her for his bookmaker’s, the Iseeum Club, and Victoria station.
Mrs. Val Dartie, after twenty years of South Africa, had fallen deeply in love, fortunately with something of her own, for the object of her passion was the prospect in front of her windows, the cool clear light on the green Downs. It was England again, at last! England more beautiful than she had dreamed. Chance had, in fact, guided the Val Darties to a spot where the South Downs had real charm when the sun shone. Holly had enough of her father’s eye to apprehend the rare quality of their outlines and chalky radiance; to go up there by the ravine-like lane and wander along toward Chanctonbury or Amberley, was still a delight which she hardly attempted to share with Val, whose admiration of Nature was confused by a Forsyte’s instinct for getting something out of it, such as the condition of the turf for his horses’ exercise.
Driving the Ford home with a certain humouring, smoothness, she promised herself that the first use she would make of Jon would be to take him up there, and show him “the view” under this May-day sky.
She was looking forward to her young half-brother with a motherliness not exhausted by Val. A three-day visit to Robin Hill, soon after their arrival home, had yielded no sight of him—he was still at school; so that her recollection, like Val’s, was of a little sunny-haired boy, striped blue and yellow, down by the pond.