Awakening & To Let
Part 6 out of 7
"I shall never do it."
"All right." The cue struck, the ball rolled. "There!"
"Bad luck! Never mind!"
Then they saw him, and Soames said:
"I'll mark for you."
He sat down on the raised seat beneath the marker, trim and tired,
furtively studying those two young faces. When the game was over
Mont came up to him.
"I've started in, sir. Rum game, business, isn't it? I suppose you
saw a lot of human nature as a solicitor."
"Shall I tell you what I've noticed: People are quite on the wrong
tack in offering less than they can afford to give; they ought to
offer more, and work backward."
Soames raised his eyebrows.
"Suppose the more is accepted?"
"That doesn't matter a little bit," said Mont; "it's much more paying
to abate a price than to increase it. For instance, say we offer an
author good terms--he naturally takes them. Then we go into it, find
we can't publish at a decent profit and tell him so. He's got
confidence in us because we've been generous to him, and he comes
down like a lamb, and bears us no malice. But if we offer him poor
terms at the start, he doesn't take them, so we have to advance them
to get him, and he thinks us damned screws into the bargain.
"Try buying pictures on that system," said Soames; "an offer accepted
is a contract--haven't you learned that?"
Young Mont turned his head to where Fleur was standing in the window.
"No," he said, "I wish I had. Then there's another thing. Always
let a man off a bargain if he wants to be let off."
"As advertisement?" said Soames dryly.
"Of course it is; but I meant on principle."
"Does your firm work on those lines?"
"Not yet," said Mont, "but it'll come."
"And they will go."
"No, really, sir. I'm making any number of observations, and they
all confirm my theory. Human nature is consistently underrated in
business, people do themselves out of an awful lot of pleasure and
profit by that. Of course, you must be perfectly genuine and open,
but that's easy if you feel it. The more human and generous you are
the better chance you've got in business."
"Are you a partner?"
"Not for six months, yet."
"The rest of the firm had better make haste and retire."
"You'll see," he said. "There's going to be a big change. The
possessive principle has got its shutters up."
"What?" said Soames.
"The house is to let! Good-bye, sir; I'm off now."
Soames watched his daughter give her hand, saw her wince at the
squeeze it received, and distinctly heard the young man's sigh as he
passed out. Then she came from the window, trailing her finger along
the mahogany edge of the billiard-table. Watching her, Soames knew
that she was going to ask him something. Her finger felt round the
last pocket, and she looked up.
"Have you done anything to stop Jon writing to me, Father?"
Soames shook his head.
"You haven't seen, then?" he said. "His father died just a week ago
In her startled, frowning face he saw the instant struggle to
apprehend what this would mean.
"Poor Jon! Why didn't you tell me, Father?"
"I never know!" said Soames slowly; "you don't confide in me."
"I would, if you'd help me, dear."
"Perhaps I shall."
Fleur clasped her hands. "Oh! darling--when one wants a thing
fearfully, one doesn't think of other people. Don't be angry with
Soames put out his hand, as if pushing away an aspersion.
"I'm cogitating," he said. What on earth had made him use a word
like that! "Has young Mont been bothering you again?"
Fleur smiled. "Oh! Michael! He's always bothering; but he's such a
good sort--I don't mind him."
"Well," said Soames, "I'm tired; I shall go and have a nap before
He went up to his picture-gallery, lay down on the couch there, and
closed his eyes. A terrible responsibility this girl of his--whose
mother was--ah! what was she? A terrible responsibility! Help her--
how could he help her? He could not alter the fact that he was her
father. Or that Irene--! What was it young Mont had said--some
nonsense about the possessive instinct--shutters up--To let? Silly!
The sultry air, charged with a scent of meadow-sweet, of river and
roses, closed on his senses, drowsing them.
THE FIXED IDEA
"The fixed idea," which has outrun more constables than any other form
of human disorder, has never more speed and stamina than when it
takes the avid guise of love. To hedges and ditches, and doors, to
humans without ideas fixed or otherwise, to perambulators and the
contents sucking their fixed ideas, even to the other sufferers from
this fast malady--the fixed idea of love pays no attention. It runs
with eyes turned inward to its own light, oblivious of all other
stars. Those with the fixed ideas that human happiness depends on
their art, on vivisecting dogs, on hating foreigners, on paying
supertax, on remaining Ministers, on making wheels go round, on
preventing their neighbours from being divorced, on conscientious
objection, Greek roots, Church dogma, paradox and superiority to
everybody else, with other forms of ego-mania--all are unstable
compared with him or her whose fixed idea is the possession of some
her or him. And though Fleur, those chilly summer days, pursued the
scattered life of a little Forsyte whose frocks are paid for, and
whose business is pleasure, she was--as Winifred would have said in
the latest fashion of speech--"honest to God" indifferent to it all.
She wished and wished for the moon, which sailed in cold skies above
the river or the Green Park when she went to Town. She even kept
Jon's letters, covered with pink silk, on her heart, than which in
days when corsets were so low, sentiment so despised, and chests so
out of fashion, there could, perhaps, have been no greater proof of
the fixity of her idea.
After hearing of his father's death, she wrote to Jon, and received
his answer three days later on her return from a river picnic. It
was his first letter since their meeting at June's. She opened it
with misgiving, and read it with dismay.
"Since I saw you I've heard everything about the past. I won't tell
it you--I think you knew when we met at June's. She says you did.
If you did, Fleur, you ought to have told me. I expect you only
heard your father's side of it. I have heard my mother's. It's
dreadful. Now that she's so sad I can't do anything to hurt her
more. Of course, I long for you all day, but I don't believe now
that we shall ever come together--there's something too strong
pulling us apart."
So! Her deception had found her out. But Jon--she felt--had
forgiven that. It was what he said of his mother which caused the
guttering in her heart and the weak sensation in her legs.
Her first impulse was to reply--her second, not to reply. These
impulses were constantly renewed in the days which followed, while
desperation grew within her. She was not her father's child for
nothing. The tenacity which had at once made and undone Soames was
her backbone, too, frilled and embroidered by French grace and
quickness. Instinctively she conjugated the verb "to have" always
with the pronoun "I." She concealed, however, all signs of her
growing desperation, and pursued such river pleasures as the winds
and rain of a disagreeable July permitted, as if she had no care in
the world; nor did any "sucking baronet" ever neglect the business of
a publisher more consistently than her attendant spirit, Michael
To Soames she was a puzzle. He was almost deceived by this careless
gaiety. Almost--because he did not fail to mark her eyes often fixed
on nothing, and the film of light shining from her bedroom window
late at night. What was she thinking and brooding over into small
hours when she ought to have been asleep? But he dared not ask what
was in her mind; and, since that one little talk in the billiard-
room, she said nothing to him.
In this taciturn condition of affairs it chanced that Winifred
invited them to lunch and to go afterward to "a most amusing little
play, 'The Beggar's Opera'" and would they bring a man to make four?
Soames, whose attitude toward theatres was to go to nothing,
accepted, because Fleur's attitude was to go to everything. They
motored up, taking Michael Mont, who, being in his seventh heaven,
was found by Winifred "very amusing." "The Beggar's Opera" puzzled
Soames. The people were very unpleasant, the whole thing very
cynical. Winifred was "intrigued"--by the dresses. The music, too,
did not displease her. At the Opera, the night before, she had
arrived too early for the Russian Ballet, and found the stage
occupied by singers, for a whole hour pale or apoplectic from terror
lest by some dreadful inadvertence they might drop into a tune.
Michael Mont was enraptured with the whole thing. And all three
wondered what Fleur was thinking of it. But Fleur was not thinking
of it. Her fixed idea stood on the stage and sang with Polly
Peachum, mimed with Filch, danced with Jenny Diver, postured with
Lucy Lockit, kissed, trolled, and cuddled with Macheath. Her lips
might smile, her hands applaud, but the comic old masterpiece made no
more impression on her than if it had been pathetic, like a modern
"Revue." When they embarked in the car to return, she ached because
Jon was not sitting next her instead of Michael Mont. When, at some
jolt, the young man's arm touched hers as if by accident, she only
thought: 'If that were Jon's arm!' When his cheerful voice, tempered
by her proximity, murmured above the sound of the car's progress, she
smiled and answered, thinking: 'If that were Jon's voice!' and when
once he said, "Fleur, you look a perfect angel in that dress!" she
answered, "Oh, do you like it? thinking, 'If only Jon could see it!'
During this drive she took a resolution. She would go to Robin Hill
and see him--alone; she would take the car, without word beforehand
to him or to her father. It was nine days since his letter, and she
could wait no longer. On Monday she would go! The decision made her
well disposed toward young Mont. With something to look forward to
she could afford to tolerate and respond. He might stay to dinner;
propose to her as usual; dance with her, press her hand, sigh--do
what he liked. He was only a nuisance when he interfered with her
fixed idea. She was even sorry for him so far as it was possible to
be sorry for anybody but herself just now. At dinner he seemed to
talk more wildly than usual about what he called "the death of the
close borough"--she paid little attention, but her father seemed
paying a good deal, with the smile on his face which meant
opposition, if not anger.
"The younger generation doesn't think as you do, sir; does it,
Fleur shrugged her shoulders--the younger generation was just Jon,
and she did not know what he was thinking.
"Young people will think as I do when they're my age, Mr. Mont.
Human nature doesn't change."
"I admit that, sir; but the forms of thought change with the times.
The pursuit of self-interest is a form of thought that's going out."
"Indeed! To mind one's own business is not a form of thought, Mr.
Mont, it's an instinct."
Yes, when Jon was the business!
"But what is one's business, sir? That's the point. Everybody's
business is going to be one's business. Isn't it, Fleur?"
Fleur only smiled.
"If not," added young Mont, "there'll be blood."
"People have talked like that from time immemorial"
"But you'll admit, sir, that the sense of property is dying out?"
"I should say increasing among those who have none."
"Well, look at me! I'm heir to an entailed estate. I don't want the
thing; I'd cut the entail to-morrow."
"You're not married, and you don't know what you're talking about."
Fleur saw the young man's eyes turn rather piteously upon her.
"Do you really mean that marriage--?" he began.
"Society is built on marriage," came from between her father's close
lips; "marriage and its consequences. Do you want to do away with
Young Mont made a distracted gesture. Silence brooded over the
dinner table, covered with spoons bearing the Forsyte crest--a
pheasant proper--under the electric light in an alabaster globe. And
outside, the river evening darkened, charged with heavy moisture and
'Monday,' thought Fleur; 'Monday!'
The weeks which followed the death of his father were sad and empty
to the only Jolyon Forsyte left. The necessary forms and ceremonies-
-the reading of the Will, valuation of the estate, distribution of
the legacies--were enacted over the head, as it were, of one not yet
of age. Jolyon was cremated. By his special wish no one attended
that ceremony, or wore black for him. The succession of his
property, controlled to some extent by old Jolyon's Will, left his
widow in possession of Robin Hill, with two thousand five hundred
pounds a year for life. Apart from this the two Wills worked
together in some complicated way to insure that each of Jolyon's
three children should have an equal share in their grandfather's and
father's property in the future as in the present, save only that
Jon, by virtue of his sex, would have control of his capital when he
was twenty-one, while June and Holly would only have the spirit of
theirs, in order that their children might have the body after them.
If they had no children, it would all come to Jon if he outlived
them; and since June was fifty, and Holly nearly forty, it was
considered in Lincoln's Inn Fields that but for the cruelty of income
tax, young Jon would be as warm a man as his grandfather when he
died. All this was nothing to Jon, and little enough to his mother.
It was June who did everything needful for one who had left his
affairs in perfect order. When she had gone, and those two were
alone again in the great house, alone with death drawing them
together, and love driving them apart, Jon passed very painful days
secretly disgusted and disappointed with himself. His mother would
look at him with such a patient sadness which yet had in it an
instinctive pride, as if she were reserving her defence. If she
smiled he was angry that his answering smile should be so grudging
and unnatural. He did not judge or condemn her; that was all too
remote--indeed, the idea of doing so had never come to him. No! he
was grudging and unnatural because he couldn't have what he wanted be
cause of her. There was one alleviation--much to do in connection
with his father's career, which could not be safely entrusted to
June, though she had offered to undertake it. Both Jon and his
mother had felt that if she took his portfolios, unexhibited drawings
and unfinished matter, away with her, the work would encounter such
icy blasts from Paul Post and other frequenters of her studio, that
it would soon be frozen out even of her warm heart. On its old-
fashioned plane and of its kind the work was good, and they could not
bear the thought of its subjection to ridicule. A one-man exhibition
of his work was the least testimony they could pay to one they had
loved; and on preparation for this they spent many hours together.
Jon came to have a curiously increased respect for his father. The
quiet tenacity with which he had converted a mediocre talent into
something really individual was disclosed by these researches. There
was a great mass of work with a rare continuity of growth in depth
and reach of vision. Nothing certainly went very deep, or reached
very high--but such as the work was, it was thorough, conscientious,
and complete. And, remembering his father's utter absence of "side"
or self-assertion, the chaffing humility with which he had always
spoken of his own efforts, ever calling himself "an amateur," Jon
could not help feeling that he had never really known his father. To
take himself seriously, yet never bore others by letting them know
that he did so, seemed to have been his ruling principle. There was
something in this which appealed to the boy, and made him heartily
endorse his mother's comment: "He had true refinement; he couldn't
help thinking of others, whatever he did. And when he took a
resolution which went counter, he did it with the minimum of
defiance--not like the Age, is it? Twice in his life he had to go
against everything; and yet it never made him bitter." Jon saw tears
running down her face, which she at once turned away from him. She
was so quiet about her loss that sometimes he had thought she didn't
feel it much. Now, as he looked at her, he felt how far he fell
short of the reserve power and dignity in both his father and his
mother. And, stealing up to her, he put his arm round her waist.
She kissed him swiftly, but with a sort of passion, and went out of
The studio, where they had been sorting and labelling, had once been
Holly's schoolroom, devoted to her silkworms, dried lavender, music,
and other forms of instruction. Now, at the end of July, despite its
northern and eastern aspects, a warm and slumberous air came in
between the long-faded lilac linen curtains. To redeem a little the
departed glory, as of a field that is golden and gone, clinging to a
room which its master has left, Irene had placed on the paint-stained
table a bowl of red roses. This, and Jolyon's favourite cat, who
still clung to the deserted habitat, were the pleasant spots in that
dishevelled, sad workroom. Jon, at the north window, sniffing air
mysteriously scented with warm strawberries, heard a car drive up.
The lawyers again about some nonsense! Why did that scent so make
one ache? And where did it come from--there were no strawberry beds
on this side of the house. Instinctively he took a crumpled sheet of
paper from his pocket, and wrote down some broken words. A warmth
began spreading in his chest; he rubbed the palms of his hands
together. Presently he had jotted this:
"If I could make a little song
A little song to soothe my heart!
I'd make it all of little things
The plash of water, rub of wings,
The puffing-off of dandies crown,
The hiss of raindrop spilling down,
The purr of cat, the trill of bird,
And ev'ry whispering I've heard
>From willy wind in leaves and grass,
And all the distant drones that pass.
A song as tender and as light
As flower, or butterfly in flight;
And when I saw it opening,
I'd let it fly and sing!"
He was still muttering it over to himself at the window, when he
heard his name called, and, turning round, saw Fleur. At that
amazing apparition, he made at first no movement and no sound, while
her clear vivid glance ravished his heart. Then he went forward to
the table, saying, "How nice of you to come!" and saw her flinch as
if he had thrown something at her.
"I asked for you," she said, "and they showed me up here. But I can
go away again."
Jon clutched the paint-stained table. Her face and figure in its
frilly frock photographed itself with such startling vividness upon
his eyes, that if she had sunk through the floor he must still have
"I know I told you a lie, Jon. But I told it out of love."
"Yes, oh! yes! That's nothing!"
"I didn't answer your letter. What was the use--there wasn't
anything to answer. I wanted to see you instead." She held out both
her hands, and Jon grasped them across the table. He tried to say
something, but all his attention was given to trying not to hurt her
hands. His own felt so hard and hers so soft. She said almost
"That old story--was it so very dreadful?"
"Yes." In his voice, too, there was a note of defiance.
She dragged her hands away. "I didn't think in these days boys were
tied to their mothers' apron-strings."
Jon's chin went up as if he had been struck.
"Oh! I didn't mean it, Jon. What a horrible thing to say!" Swiftly
she came close to him. "Jon, dear; I didn't mean it."
She had put her two hands on his shoulder, and her forehead down on
them; the brim of her hat touched his neck, and he felt it quivering.
But, in a sort of paralysis, he made no response. She let go of his
shoulder and drew away.
"Well, I'll go, if you don't want me. But I never thought you'd have
given me up."
"I haven't," cried Jon, coming suddenly to life. "I can't. I'll try
Her eyes gleamed, she swayed toward him. "Jon--I love you! Don't
give me up! If you do, I don't know what--I feel so desperate. What
does it matter--all that past-compared with this?"
She clung to him. He kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. But
while he kissed her he saw, the sheets of that letter fallen down on
the floor of his bedroom--his father's white dead face--his mother
kneeling before it. Fleur's whispered, "Make her! Promise! Oh! Jon,
try!" seemed childish in his ear. He felt curiously old.
"I promise!" he muttered. "Only, you don't understand."
"She wants to spoil our lives, just because--"
"Yes, of what?"
Again that challenge in his voice, and she did not answer. Her arms
tightened round him, and he returned her kisses; but even while he
yielded, the poison worked in him, the poison of the letter. Fleur
did not know, she did not understand--she misjudged his mother; she
came from the enemy's camp! So lovely, and he loved her so--yet,
even in her embrace, he could not help the memory of Holly's words:
"I think she has a 'having' nature," and his mother's "My darling
boy, don't think of me--think of yourself!"
When she was gone like a passionate dream, leaving her image on his
eyes, her kisses on his lips, such an ache in his heart, Jon leaned
in the window, listening to the car bearing her away. Still the
scent as of warm strawberries, still the little summer sounds that
should make his song; still all the promise of youth and happiness in
sighing, floating, fluttering July--and his heart torn; yearning
strong in him; hope high in him yet with its eyes cast down, as if
ashamed. The miserable task before him! If Fleur was desperate, so
was he--watching the poplars swaying, the white clouds passing, the
sunlight on the grass.
He waited till evening, till after their almost silent dinner, till
his mother had played to him and still he waited, feeling that she
knew what he was waiting to say. She kissed him and went up-stairs,
and still he lingered, watching the moonlight and the moths, and that
unreality of colouring which steals along and stains a summer night.
And he would have given anything to be back again in the past--barely
three months back; or away forward, years, in the future. The
present with this dark cruelty of a decision, one way or the other,
seemed impossible. He realised now so much more keenly what his
mother felt than he had at first; as if the story in that letter had
been a poisonous germ producing a kind of fever of partisanship, so
that he really felt there were two camps, his mother's and his--
Fleur's and her father's. It might be a dead thing, that old tragic
ownership and enmity, but dead things were poisonous till time had
cleaned them away. Even his love felt tainted, less illusioned, more
of the earth, and with a treacherous lurking doubt lest Fleur, like
her father, might want to own; not articulate, just a stealing haunt,
horribly unworthy, which crept in and about the ardour of his
memories, touched with its tarnishing breath the vividness and grace
of that charmed face and figure--a doubt, not real enough to convince
him of its presence, just real enough to deflower a perfect faith.
And perfect faith, to Jon, not yet twenty, was essential. He still
had Youth's eagerness to give with both hands, to take with neither--
to give lovingly to one who had his own impulsive generosity. Surely
she had! He got up from the window-seat and roamed in the big grey
ghostly room, whose walls were hung with silvered canvas. This house
his father said in that death-bed letter--had been built for his
mother to live in--with Fleur's father! He put out his hand in the
half-dark, as if to grasp the shadowy hand of the dead. He clenched,
trying to feel the thin vanished fingers of his father; to squeeze
them, and reassure him that he-he was on his father's side. Tears,
prisoned within him, made his eyes feel dry and hot. He went back to
the window. It was warmer, not so eerie, more comforting outside,
where the moon hung golden, three days off full; the freedom of the
night was comforting. If only Fleur and he had met on some desert
island without a past--and Nature for their house! Jon had still his
high regard for desert islands, where breadfruit grew, and the water
was blue above the coral. The night was deep, was free--there was
enticement in it; a lure, a promise, a refuge from entanglement, and
love! Milksop tied to his mother's...! His cheeks burned. He shut
the window, drew curtains over it, switched off the lighted sconce,
and went up-stairs.
The door of his room was open, the light turned up; his mother, still
in her evening gown, was standing at the window. She turned and
"Sit down, Jon; let's talk." She sat down on the window-seat, Jon on
his bed. She had her profile turned to him, and the beauty and grace
of her figure, the delicate line of the brow, the nose, the neck, the
strange and as it were remote refinement of her, moved him. His
mother never belonged to her surroundings. She came into them from
somewhere--as it were! What was she going to say to him, who had in
his heart such things to say to her?
"I know Fleur came to-day. I'm not surprised." It was as though she
had added: "She is her father's daughter!" And Jon's heart hardened.
Irene went on quietly:
"I have Father's letter. I picked it up that night and kept it.
Would you like it back, dear?"
Jon shook his head.
"I had read it, of course, before he gave it to you. It didn't quite
do justice to my criminality."
'Mother!" burst from Jon's lips.
"He put it very sweetly, but I know that in marrying Fleur's father
without love I did a dreadful thing. An unhappy marriage, Jon, can
play such havoc with other lives besides one's own. You are
fearfully young, my darling, and fearfully loving. Do you think you
can possibly be happy with this girl?"
Staring at her dark eyes, darker now from pain, Jon answered
"Yes; oh! yes--if you could be."
"Admiration of beauty and longing for possession are not love. If
yours were another case like mine, Jon--where the deepest things are
stifled; the flesh joined, and the spirit at war!"
"Why should it, Mother? You think she must be like her father, but
she's not. I've seen him."
Again the smile came on Irene's lips, and in Jon something wavered;
there was such irony and experience in that smile.
"You are a giver, Jon; she is a taker."
That unworthy doubt, that haunting uncertainty again! He said with
"She isn't--she isn't. It's only because I can't bear to make you
unhappy, Mother, now that Father--" He thrust his fists against his
Irene got up.
"I told you that night, dear, not to mind me. I meant it. Think of
yourself and your own happiness! I can stand what's left--I've
brought it on myself."
Again the word "Mother!" burst from Jon's lips.
She came over to him and put her hands over his.
"Do you feel your head, darling?"
Jon shook it. What he felt was in his chest--a sort of tearing
asunder of the tissue there, by the two loves.
"I shall always love you the same, Jon, whatever you do. You won't
lose anything." She smoothed his hair gently, and walked away.
He heard the door shut; and, rolling over on the bed, lay, stifling
his breath, with an awful held-up feeling within him.
Enquiring for her at tea time Soames learned that Fleur had been out
in the car since two. Three hours! Where had she gone? Up to
London without a word to him? He had never become quite reconciled
with cars. He had embraced them in principle--like the born
empiricist, or Forsyte, that he was--adopting each symptom of
progress as it came along with: "Well, we couldn't do without them
now." But in fact he found them tearing, great, smelly things.
Obliged by Annette to have one--a Rollhard with pearl-grey cushions,
electric light, little mirrors, trays for the ashes of cigarettes,
flower vases--all smelling of petrol and stephanotis--he regarded it
much as he used to regard his brother-in-law, Montague Dartie. The
thing typified all that was fast, insecure, and subcutaneously oily
in modern life. As modern life became faster, looser, younger,
Soames was becoming older, slower, tighter, more and more in thought
and language like his father James before him. He was almost aware
of it himself. Pace and progress pleased him less and less; there
was an ostentation, too, about a car which he considered provocative
in the prevailing mood of Labour. On one occasion that fellow Sims
had driven over the only vested interest of a working man. Soames
had not forgotten the behaviour of its master, when not many people
would have stopped to put up with it. He had been sorry for the dog,
and quite prepared to take its part against the car, if that ruffian
hadn't been so outrageous. With four hours fast becoming five, and
still no Fleur, all the old car-wise feelings he had experienced in
person and by proxy balled within him, and sinking sensations
troubled the pit of his stomach. At seven he telephoned to Winifred
by trunk call. No! Fleur had not been to Green Street. Then where
was she? Visions of his beloved daughter rolled up in her pretty
frills, all blood and dust-stained, in some hideous catastrophe,
began to haunt him. He went to her room and spied among her things.
She had taken nothing--no dressing-case, no Jewellery. And this, a
relief in one sense, increased his fears of an accident. Terrible to
be helpless when his loved one was missing, especially when he
couldn't bear fuss or publicity of any kind! What should he do if
she were not back by nightfall?
At a quarter to eight he heard the car. A great weight lifted from
off his heart; he hurried down. She was getting out--pale and tired-
looking, but nothing wrong. He met her in the hall.
"You've frightened me. Where have you been?"
"To Robin Hill. I'm sorry, dear. I had to go; I'll tell you
afterward." And, with a flying kiss, she ran up-stairs.
Soames waited in the drawing-room. To Robin Hill! What did that
It was not a subject they could discuss at dinner--consecrated to the
susceptibilities of the butler. The agony of nerves Soames had been
through, the relief he felt at her safety, softened his power to
condemn what she had done, or resist what she was going to do; he
waited in a relaxed stupor for her revelation. Life was a queer
business. There he was at sixty-five and no more in command of
things than if he had not spent forty years in building up security-
always something one couldn't get on terms with! In the pocket of
his dinner-jacket was a letter from Annette. She was coming back in
a fortnight. He knew nothing of what she had been doing out there.
And he was glad that he did not. Her absence had been a relief. Out
of sight was out of mind! And now she was coming back. Another
worry! And the Bolderby Old Crome was gone--Dumetrius had got it--
all because that anonymous letter had put it out of his thoughts. He
furtively remarked the strained look on his daughter's face, as if
she too were gazing at a picture that she couldn't buy. He almost
wished the War back. Worries didn't seem, then, quite so worrying.
>From the caress in her voice, the look on her face, he became certain
that she wanted something from him, uncertain whether it would be
wise of him to give it her. He pushed his savoury away uneaten, and
even joined her in a cigarette.
After dinner she set the electric piano-player going. And he augured
the worst when she sat down on a cushion footstool at his knee, and
put her hand on his.
"Darling, be nice to me. I had to see Jon--he wrote to me. He's
going to try what he can do with his mother. But I've been thinking.
It's really in your hands, Father. If you'd persuade her that it
doesn't mean renewing the past in any way! That I shall stay yours,
and Jon will stay hers; that you need never see him or her, and she
need never see you or me! Only you could persuade her, dear, because
only you could promise. One can't promise for other people. Surely
it wouldn't be too awkward for you to see her just this once now that
Jon's father is dead?"
"Too awkward?" Soames repeated. "The whole thing's preposterous."
"You know," said Fleur, without looking up, "you wouldn't mind seeing
Soames was silent. Her words had expressed a truth too deep for him
to admit. She slipped her fingers between his own--hot, slim, eager,
they clung there. This child of his would corkscrew her way into a
"What am I to do if you won't, Father?" she said very softly.
"I'll do anything for your happiness," said Soanies; "but this isn't
for your happiness."
"Oh! it is; it is!"
"It'll only stir things up," he said grimly.
"But they are stirred up. The thing is to quiet them. To make her
feel that this is just our lives, and has nothing to do with yours or
hers. You can do it, Father, I know you can."
"You know a great deal, then," was Soames' glum answer.
"If you will, Jon and I will wait a year--two years if you like."
"It seems to me," murmured Soames, "that you care nothing about what
Fleur pressed his hand against her cheek.
"I do, darling. But you wouldn't like me to be awfully miserable."
How she wheedled to get her ends! And trying with all his might to
think she really cared for him--he was not sure--not sure. All she
cared for was this boy! Why should he help her to get this boy, who
was killing her affection for himself? Why should he? By the laws
of the Forsytes it was foolish! There was nothing to be had out of
it--nothing! To give her to that boy! To pass her into the enemy's
camp, under the influence of the woman who had injured him so deeply!
Slowly--inevitably--he would lose this flower of his life! And
suddenly he was conscious that his hand was wet. His heart gave a
little painful jump. He couldn't bear her to cry. He put his other
hand quickly over hers, and a tear dropped on that, too. He couldn't
go on like this! "Well, well," he said, "I'll think it over, and do
what I can. Come, come!" If she must have it for her happiness--she
must; he couldn't refuse to help her. And lest she should begin to
thank him he got out of his chair and went up to the piano-player--
making that noise! It ran down, as he reached it, with a faint buzz.
That musical box of his nursery days: "The Harmonious Blacksmith,"
"Glorious Port"--the thing had always made him miserable when his
mother set it going on Sunday afternoons. Here it was again--the
same thing, only larger, more expensive, and now it played "The Wild,
Wild Women," and "The Policeman's Holiday," and he was no longer in
black velvet with a sky blue collar. 'Profond's right,' he thought,
'there's nothing in it! We're all progressing to the grave!' And
with that surprising mental comment he walked out.
He did not see Fleur again that night. But, at breakfast, her eyes
followed him about with an appeal he could not escape--not that he
intended to try. No! He had made up his mind to the nerve-racking
business. He would go to Robin Hill--to that house of memories.
Pleasant memory--the last! Of going down to keep that boy's father
and Irene apart by threatening divorce. He had often thought, since,
that it had clinched their union. And, now, he was going to clinch
the union of that boy with his girl. 'I don't know what I've done,'
he thought, 'to have such things thrust on me!' He went up by train
and down by train, and from the station walked by the long rising
lane, still very much as he remembered it over thirty years ago.
Funny--so near London! Some one evidently was holding on to the land
there. This speculation soothed him, moving between the high hedges
slowly, so as not to get overheated, though the day was chill enough.
After all was said and done there was something real about land, it
didn't shift. Land, and good pictures! The values might fluctuate a
bit, but on the whole they were always going up--worth holding on to,
in a world where there was such a lot of unreality, cheap building,
changing fashions, such a "Here to-day and gone to-morrow" spirit.
The French were right, perhaps, with their peasant proprietorship,
though he had no opinion of the French. One's bit of land!
Something solid in it! He had heard peasant proprietors described as
a pig-headed lot; had heard young Mont call his father a pigheaded
Morning Poster--disrespectful young devil. Well, there were worse
things than being pig-headed or reading the Morning Post. There was
Profond and his tribe, and all these Labour chaps, and loud-mouthed
politicians and 'wild, wild women'! A lot of worse things! And
suddenly Soames became conscious of feeling weak, and hot, and shaky.
Sheer nerves at the meeting before him! As Aunt Juley might have
said--quoting "Superior Dosset"--his nerves were "in a proper
fautigue." He could see the house now among its trees, the house he
had watched being built, intending it for himself and this woman,
who, by such strange fate, had lived in it with another after all!
He began to think of Dumetrius, Local Loans, and other forms of
investment. He could not afford to meet her with his nerves all
shaking; he who represented the Day of Judgment for her on earth as
it was in heaven; he, legal ownership, personified, meeting lawless
beauty, incarnate. His dignity demanded impassivity during this
embassy designed to link their offspring, who, if she had behaved
herself, would have been brother and sister. That wretched tune,
"The Wild, Wild Women," kept running in his head, perversely, for
tunes did not run there as a rule. Passing the poplars in front of
the house, he thought: 'How they've grown; I had them planted!'
A maid answered his ring.
"Will you say--Mr. Forsyte, on a very special matter."
If she realised who he was, quite probably she would not see him.
'By George!' he thought, hardening as the tug came. 'It's a topsy-
The maid came back. "Would the gentleman state his business,
"Say it concerns Mr. Jon," said Soames.
And once more he was alone in that hall with the pool of grey-white
marble designed by her first lover. Ah! she had been a bad lot--had
loved two men, and not himself! He must remember that when he came
face to face with her once more. And suddenly he saw her in the
opening chink between the long heavy purple curtains, swaying, as if
in hesitation; the old perfect poise and line, the old startled dark-
eyed gravity, the old calm defensive voice: "Will you come in,
He passed through that opening. As in the picture-gallery and the
confectioner's shop, she seemed to him still beautiful. And this was
the first time--the very first--since he married her seven-and-thirty
years ago, that he was speaking to her without the legal right to
call her his. She was not wearing black--one of that fellow's
radical notions, he supposed.
"I apologise for coming," he said glumly; "but this business must be
settled one way or the other."
"Won't you sit down?"
"No, thank you."
Anger at his false position, impatience of ceremony between them,
mastered him, and words came tumbling out:
"It's an infernal mischance; I've done my best to discourage it. I
consider my daughter crazy, but I've got into the habit of indulging
her; that's why I'm here. I suppose you're fond of your son."
"It rests with him."
He had a sense of being met and baffled. Always--always she had
baffled him, even in those old first married days.
"It's a mad notion," he said.
"If you had only--! Well--they might have been--" he did not finish
that sentence "brother and sister and all this saved," but he saw her
shudder as if he had, and stung by the sight he crossed over to the
window. Out there the trees had not grown--they couldn't, they were
"So far as I'm concerned," he said, "you may make your mind easy. I
desire to see neither you nor your son if this marriage comes about.
Young people in these days are--are unaccountable. But I can't bear
to see my daughter unhappy. What am I to say to her when I go back?"
"Please say to her as I said to you, that it rests with Jon."
"You don't oppose it?"
"With all my heart; not with my lips."
Soames stood, biting his finger.
"I remember an evening--" he said suddenly; and was silent. What was
there--what was there in this woman that would not fit into the four
corners of his hate or condemnation? "Where is he--your son?"
"Up in his father's studio, I think."
"Perhaps you'd have him down."
He watched her ring the bell, he watched the maid come in.
"Please tell Mr. Jon that I want him."
"If it rests with him," said Soames hurriedly, when the maid was
gone, "I suppose I may take it for granted that this unnatural
marriage will take place; in that case there'll be formalities. Whom
do I deal with--Herring's?"
"You don't propose to live with them?"
Irene shook her head.
"What happens to this house?"
"It will be as Jon wishes."
"This house," said Soames suddenly: "I had hopes when I began it. If
they live in it--their children! They say there's such a thing as
Nemesis. Do you believe in it?"
"Oh! You do!"
He had come back from the window, and was standing close to her, who,
in the curve of her grand piano, was, as it were, embayed.
"I'm not likely to see you again," he said slowly. "Will you shake
hands"--his lip quivered, the words came out jerkily--"and let the
past die." He held out his hand. Her pale face grew paler, her eyes
so dark, rested immovably on his, her hands remained clasped in front
of her. He heard a sound and turned. That boy was standing in the
opening of the curtains. Very queer he looked, hardly recognisable
as the young fellow he had seen in the Gallery off Cork Street--very
queer; much older, no youth in the face at all--haggard, rigid, his
hair ruffled, his eyes deep in his head. Soames made an effort, and
said with a lift of his lip, not quite a smile nor quite a sneer:
"Well, young man! I'm here for my daughter; it rests with you, it
seems--this matter. Your mother leaves it in your hands."
The boy continued staring at his mother's face, and made no answer.
"For my daughter's sake I've brought myself to come," said Soames.
"What am I to say to her when I go back?"
Still looking at his mother, the boy said, quietly:
"Tell Fleur that it's no good, please; I must do as my father wished
before he died."
"It's all right, Mother."
In a kind of stupefaction Soames looked from one to the other; then,
taking up hat and umbrella which he had put down on a chair, he
walked toward the curtains. The boy stood aside for him to go by.
He passed through and heard the grate of the rings as the curtains
were drawn behind him. The sound liberated something in his chest.
'So that's that!' he thought, and passed out of the front door.
THE DARK TUNE
As Soames walked away from the house at Robin Hill the sun broke
through the grey of that chill afternoon, in smoky radiance. So
absorbed in landscape painting that he seldom looked seriously for
effects of Nature out of doors--he was struck by that moody
effulgence--it mourned with a triumph suited to his own feeling.
Victory in defeat. His embassy had come to naught. But he was rid
of those people, had regained his daughter at the expense of--her
happiness. What would Fleur say to him? Would she believe he had
done his best? And under that sunlight faring on the elms, hazels,
hollies of the lane and those unexploited fields, Soames felt dread.
She would be terribly upset! He must appeal to her pride. That boy
had given her up, declared part and lot with the woman who so long
ago had given her father up! Soames clenched his hands. Given him
up, and why? What had been wrong with him? And once more he felt
the malaise of one who contemplates himself as seen by another--like
a dog who chances on his refection in a mirror and is intrigued and
anxious at the unseizable thing.
Not in a hurry to get home, he dined in town at the Connoisseurs.
While eating a pear it suddenly occurred to him that, if he had not
gone down to Robin Hill, the boy might not have so decided. He
remembered the expression on his face while his mother was refusing
the hand he had held out. A strange, an awkward thought! Had Fleur
cooked her own goose by trying to make too sure?
He reached home at half-past nine. While the car was passing in at
one drive gate he heard the grinding sputter of a motor-cycle passing
out by the other. Young Mont, no doubt, so Fleur had not been
lonely. But he went in with a sinking heart. In the cream-panelled
drawing-room she was sitting with her elbows on her knees, and her
chin on her clasped hands, in front of a white camellia plant which
filled the fireplace. That glance at her before she saw him renewed
his dread. What was she seeing among those white camellias?
Soames shook his head. His tongue failed him. This was murderous
work! He saw her eyes dilate, her lips quivering.
"What? What? Quick, Father!"
"My dear," said Soames, "I--I did my best, but--" And again he shook
Fleur ran to him, and put a hand on each of his shoulders.
"No," muttered Soames; "he. I was to tell you that it was no use; he
must do what his father wished before he died." He caught her by the
waist. "Come, child, don't let them hurt you. They're not worth
your little finger."
Fleur tore herself from his grasp.
"You didn't you--couldn't have tried. You--you betrayed me, Father!"
Bitterly wounded, Soames gazed at her passionate figure writhing
there in front of him.
"You didn't try--you didn't--I was a fool! Iwon't believe he could--
he ever could! Only yesterday he--! Oh! why did I ask you?"
"Yes," said Soames, quietly, "why did you? I swallowed my feelings;
I did my best for you, against my judgment--and this is my reward.
With every nerve in his body twitching he went toward the door.
Fleur darted after him.
"He gives me up? You mean that? Father!"
Soames turned and forced himself to answer:
"Oh!" cried Fleur. "What did you--what could you have done in those
The breathless sense of really monstrous injustice cut the power of
speech in Soames' throat. What had he done! What had they done to
And with quite unconscious dignity he put his hand on his breast, and
looked at her.
"It's a shame!" cried Fleur passionately.
Soames went out. He mounted, slow and icy, to his picture gallery,
and paced among his treasures. Outrageous! Oh! Outrageous! She
was spoiled! Ah! and who had spoiled her? He stood still before the
Goya copy. Accustomed to her own way in everything. Flower of his
life! And now that she couldn't have it! He turned to the window
for some air. Daylight was dying, the moon rising, gold behind the
poplars! What sound was that? Why! That piano thing! A dark tune,
with a thrum and a throb! She had set it going--what comfort could
she get from that? His eyes caught movement down there beyond the
lawn, under the trellis of rambler roses and young acacia-trees,
where the moonlight fell. There she was, roaming up and down. His
heart gave a little sickening jump. What would she do under this
blow? How could he tell? What did he know of her--he had only loved
her all his life--looked on her as the apple of his eye! He knew
nothing--had no notion. There she was--and that dark tune--and the
river gleaming in the moonlight!
'I must go out,' he thought.
He hastened down to the drawing-room, lighted just as he had left it,
with the piano thrumming out that waltz, or fox-trot, or whatever
they called it in these days, and passed through on to the verandah.
Where could he watch, without her seeing him? And he stole down
through the fruit garden to the boat-house. He was between her and
the river now, and his heart felt lighter. She was his daughter, and
Annette's--she wouldn't do anything foolish; but there it was--he
didn't know! From the boat house window he could see the last acacia
and the spin of her skirt when she turned in her restless march.
That tune had run down at last--thank goodness! He crossed the floor
and looked through the farther window at the water slow-flowing past
the lilies. It made little bubbles against them, bright where a
moon-streak fell. He remembered suddenly that early morning when he
had slept on the house-boat after his father died, and she had just
been born--nearly nineteen years ago! Even now he recalled the
unaccustomed world when he woke up, the strange feeling it had given
him. That day the second passion of his life began--for this girl of
his, roaming under the acacias. What a comfort she had been to him!
And all the soreness and sense of outrage left him. If he could make
her happy again, he didn't care! An owl flew, queeking, queeking; a
bat flitted by; the moonlight brightened and broadened on the water.
How long was she going to roam about like this! He went back to the
window, and suddenly saw her coming down to the bank. She stood
quite close, on the landing-stage. And Soames watched, clenching his
hands. Should he speak to her? His excitement was intense. The
stillness of her figure, its youth, its absorption in despair, in
longing, in--itself. He would always remember it, moonlit like that;
and the faint sweet reek of the river and the shivering of the willow
leaves. She had everything in the world that he could give her,
except the one thing that she could not have because of him! The
perversity of things hurt him at that moment, as might a fish-bone in
Then, with an infinite relief, he saw her turn back toward the house.
What could he give her to make amends? Pearls, travel, horses, other
young men--anything she wanted--that he might lose the memory of her
young figure lonely by the water! There! She had set that tune
going again! Why--it was a mania! Dark, thrumming, faint,
travelling from the house. It was as though she had said: "If I
can't have something to keep me going, I shall die of this!" Soames
dimly understood. Well, if it helped her, let her keep it thrumming
on all night! And, mousing back through the fruit garden, he
regained the verandah. Though he meant to go in and speak to her
now, he still hesitated, not knowing what to say, trying hard to
recall how it felt to be thwarted in love. He ought to know, ought
to remember--and he could not! Gone--all real recollection; except
that it had hurt him horribly. In this blankness he stood passing
his handkerchief over hands and lips, which were very dry. By
craning his head he could just see Fleur, standing with her back to
that piano still grinding out its tune, her arms tight crossed on her
breast, a lighted cigarette between her lips, whose smoke half veiled
her face. The expression on it was strange to Soames, the eyes shone
and stared, and every feature was alive with a sort of wretched scorn
and anger. Once or twice he had seen Annette look like that--the
face was too vivid, too naked, not his daughter's at that moment.
And he dared not go in, realising the futility of any attempt at
consolation. He sat down in the shadow of the ingle-nook.
Monstrous trick, that Fate had played him! Nemesis! That old
unhappy marriage! And in God's name-why? How was he to know, when
he wanted Irene so violently, and she consented to be his, that she
would never love him? The tune died and was renewed, and died again,
and still Soames sat in the shadow, waiting for he knew not what.
The fag of Fleur's cigarette, flung through the window, fell on the
grass; he watched it glowing, burning itself out. The moon had freed
herself above the poplars, and poured her unreality on the garden.
Comfortless light, mysterious, withdrawn--like the beauty of that
woman who had never loved him--dappling the nemesias and the stocks
with a vesture not of earth. Flowers! And his flower so unhappy!
Ah! Why could one not put happiness into Local Loans, gild its
edges, insure it against going down?
Light had ceased to flow out now from the drawing-room window. All
was silent and dark in there. Had she gone up? He rose, and,
tiptoeing, peered in. It seemed so! He entered. The verandah kept
the moonlight out; and at first he could see nothing but the outlines
of furniture blacker than the darkness. He groped toward the farther
window to shut it. His foot struck a chair, and he heard a gasp.
There she was, curled and crushed into the corner of the sofa! His
hand hovered. Did she want his consolation? He stood, gazing at
that ball of crushed frills and hair and graceful youth, trying to
burrow its way out of sorrow. How leave her there? At last he
touched her hair, and said:
"Come, darling, better go to bed. I'll make it up to you, somehow."
How fatuous! But what could he have said?
UNDER THE OAK-TREE
When their visitor had disappeared Jon and his mother stood without
speaking, till he said suddenly:
"I ought to have seen him out."
But Soames was already walking down the drive, and Jon went upstairs
to his father's studio, not trusting himself to go back.
The expression on his mother's face confronting the man she had once
been married to, had sealed a resolution growing within him ever
since she left him the night before. It had put the finishing touch
of reality. To marry Fleur would be to hit his mother in the face;
to betray his dead father! It was no good! Jon had the least
resentful of natures. He bore his parents no grudge in this hour of
his distress. For one so young there was a rather strange power in
him of seeing things in some sort of proportion. It was worse for
Fleur, worse for his mother even, than it was for him. Harder than
to give up was to be given up, or to be the cause of some one you
loved giving up for you. He must not, would not behave grudgingly!
While he stood watching the tardy sunlight, he had again that sudden
vision of the world which had come to him the night before. Sea on
sea, country on country, millions on millions of people, all with
their own lives, energies, joys, griefs, and suffering--all with
things they had to give up, and separate struggles for existence.
Even though he might be willing to give up all else for the one thing
he couldn't have, he would be a fool to think his feelings mattered
much in so vast a world, and to behave like a cry-baby or a cad. He
pictured the people who had nothing--the millions who had given up
life in the War, the millions whom the War had left with life and
little else; the hungry children he had read of, the shattered men;
people in prison, every kind of unfortunate. And--they did not help
him much. If one had to miss a meal, what comfort in the knowledge
that many others had to miss it too? There was more distraction in
the thought of getting away out into this vast world of which he knew
nothing yet. He could not go on staying here, walled in and
sheltered, with everything so slick and comfortable, and nothing to
do but brood and think what might have been. He could not go back to
Wansdon, and the memories of Fleur. If he saw her again he could not
trust himself; and if he stayed here or went back there, he would
surely see her. While they were within reach of each other that must
happen. To go far away and quickly was the only thing to do. But,
however much he loved his mother, he did not want to go away with
her. Then feeling that was brutal, he made up his mind desperately
to propose that they should go to Italy. For two hours in that
melancholy room he tried to master himself, then dressed solemnly for
His mother had done the same. They ate little, at some length, and
talked of his father's catalogue. The show was arranged for October,
and beyond clerical detail there was nothing more to do.
After dinner she put on a cloak and they went out; walked a little,
talked a little, till they were standing silent at last beneath the
oak-tree. Ruled by the thought: 'If I show anything, I show all,'
Jon put his arm through hers and said quite casually:
"Mother, let's go to Italy."
Irene pressed his arm, and said as casually:
"It would be very nice; but I've been thinking you ought to see and
do more than you would if I were with you."
"But then you'd be alone."
"I was once alone for more than twelve years. Besides, I should like
to be here for the opening of Father's show."
Jon's grip tightened round her arm; he was not deceived.
"You couldn't stay here all by yourself; it's too big."
"Not here, perhaps. In London, and I might go to Paris, after the
show opens. You ought to have a year at least, Jon, and see the
"Yes, I'd like to see the world and rough it. But I don't want to
leave you all alone."
"My dear, I owe you that at least. If it's for your good, it'll be
for mine. Why not start tomorrow? You've got your passport."
"Yes; if I'm going it had better be at once. Only--Mother--if--if I
wanted to stay out somewhere--America or anywhere, would you mind
"Wherever and whenever you send for me. But don't send until you
really want me."
Jon drew a deep breath.
"I feel England's choky."
They stood a few minutes longer under the oak-tree--looking out to
where the grand stand at Epsom was veiled in evening. The branches
kept the moonlight from them, so that it only fell everywhere else--
over the fields and far away, and on the windows of the creepered
house behind, which soon would be to let.
The October paragraphs describing the wedding of Fleur Forsyte to
Michael Mont hardly conveyed the symbolic significance of this event.
In the union of the great-granddaughter of "Superior Dosset" with the
heir of a ninth baronet was the outward and visible sign of that
merger of class in class which buttresses the political stability of
a realm. The time had come when the Forsytes might resign their
natural resentment against a "flummery" not theirs by birth, and
accept it as the still more natural due of their possessive
instincts. Besides, they had to mount to make room for all those so
much more newly rich. In that quiet but tasteful ceremony in Hanover
Square, and afterward among the furniture in Green Street, it had
been impossible for those not in the know to distinguish the Forsyte
troop from the Mont contingent--so far away was "Superior Dosset"
now. Was there, in the crease of his trousers, the expression of his
moustache, his accent, or the shine on his top-hat, a pin to choose
between Soames and the ninth baronet himself? Was not Fleur as self-
possessed, quick, glancing, pretty, and hard as the likeliest
Muskham, Mont, or Charwell filly present? If anything, the Forsytes
had it in dress and looks and manners. They had become "upper class"
and now their name would be formally recorded in the Stud Book, their
money joined to land. Whether this was a little late in the day, and
those rewards of the possessive instinct, lands and money, destined
for the melting-pot--was still a question so moot that it was not
mooted. After all, Timothy had said Consols were goin' up. Timothy,
the last, the missing link; Timothy, in extremis on the Bayswater
Road--so Francie had reported. It was whispered, too, that this
young Mont was a sort of socialist--strangely wise of him, and in the
nature of insurance, considering the days they lived in. There was
no uneasiness on that score. The landed classes produced that sort
of amiable foolishness at times, turned to safe uses and confined to
theory. As George remarked to his sister Francie: "They'll soon be
having puppies--that'll give him pause."
The church with white flowers and something blue in the middle of the
East window looked extremely chaste, as though endeavouring to
counteract the somewhat lurid phraseology of a Service calculated to
keep the thoughts of all on puppies. Forsytes, Haymans, Tweetymans,
sat in the left aisle; Monts, Charwells; Muskhams in the right; while
a sprinkling of Fleur's fellow-sufferers at school, and of Mont's
fellow-sufferers in, the War, gaped indiscriminately from either
side, and three maiden ladies, who had dropped in on their way from
Skyward's brought up the rear, together with two Mont retainers and
Fleur's old nurse. In the unsettled state of the country as full a
house as could be expected.
Mrs. Val Dartie, who sat with her husband in the third row, squeezed
his hand more than once during the performance. To her, who knew the
plot of this tragi-comedy, its most dramatic moment was well-nigh
painful. 'I wonder if Jon knows by instinct,' she thought--Jon, out
in British Columbia. She had received a letter from him only that
morning which had made her smile and say:
"Jon's in British Columbia, Val, because he wants to be in
California. He thinks it's too nice there."
"Oh!" said Val, "so he's beginning to see a joke again."
"He's bought some land and sent for his mother."
"What on earth will she do out there?"
"All she cares about is Jon. Do you still think it a happy release?"
Val's shrewd eyes narrowed to grey pin-points between their dark
"Fleur wouldn't have suited him a bit. She's not bred right."
"Poor little Fleur!" sighed Holly. Ah! it was strange--this
marriage. The young man, Mont, had caught her on the rebound, of
course, in the reckless mood of one whose ship has just gone down.
Such a plunge could not but be--as Val put it--an outside chance.
There was little to be told from the back view of her young cousin's
veil, and Holly's eyes reviewed the general aspect of this Christian
wedding. She, who had made a love-match which had been successful,
had a horror of unhappy marriages. This might not be one in the end-
-but it was clearly a toss-up; and to consecrate a toss-up in this
fashion with manufactured unction before a crowd of fashionable free-
thinkers--for who thought otherwise than freely, or not at all, when
they were "dolled" up--seemed to her as near a sin as one could find
in an age which had abolished them. Her eyes wandered from the
prelate in his robes (a Charwell-the Forsytes had not as yet produced
a prelate) to Val, beside her, thinking--she was certain--of the
Mayfly filly at fifteen to one for the Cambridgeshire. They passed
on and caught the profile of the ninth baronet, in counterfeitment of
the kneeling process. She could just see the neat ruck above his
knees where he had pulled his trousers up, and thought: 'Val's
forgotten to pull up his!' Her eyes passed to the pew in front of
her, where Winifred's substantial form was gowned with passion, and
on again to Soames and Annette kneeling side by side. A little smile
came on her lips--Prosper Profond, back from the South Seas of the
Channel, would be kneeling too, about six rows behind. Yes! This
was a funny "small" business, however it turned out; still it was in
a proper church and would be in the proper papers to-morrow morning.
They had begun a hymn; she could hear the ninth baronet across the
aisle, singing of the hosts of Midian. Her little finger touched
Val's thumb--they were holding the same hymn-book--and a tiny thrill
passed through her, preserved--from twenty years ago. He stooped and
"I say, d'you remember the rat?" The rat at their wedding in Cape
Colony, which had cleaned its whiskers behind the table at the
Registrar's! And between her little and third forgers she squeezed
his thumb hard.
The hymn was over, the prelate had begun to deliver his discourse.
He told them of the dangerous times they lived in, and the awful
conduct of the House of Lords in connection with divorce. They were
all soldiers--he said--in the trenches under the poisonous gas of the
Prince of Darkness, and must be manful. The purpose of marriage was
children, not mere sinful happiness.
An imp danced in Holly's eyes--Val's eyelashes were meeting.
Whatever happened; he must not snore. Her finger and thumb closed on
his thigh till he stirred uneasily.
The discourse was over, the danger past. They were signing in the
vestry; and general relaxation had set in.
A voice behind her said:
"Will she stay the course?"
"Who's that?" she whispered.
"Old George Forsyte!"
Holly demurely scrutinized one of whom she had often heard. Fresh
from South Africa, and ignorant of her kith and kin, she never saw
one without an almost childish curiosity. He was very big, and very
dapper; his eyes gave her a funny feeling of having no particular
"They're off!" she heard him say.
They came, stepping from the chancel. Holly looked first in young
Mont's face. His lips and ears were twitching, his eyes, shifting
from his feet to the hand within his arm, stared suddenly before them
as if to face a firing party. He gave Holly the feeling that he was
spiritually intoxicated. But Fleur! Ah! That was different. The
girl was perfectly composed, prettier than ever, in her white robes
and veil over her banged dark chestnut hair; her eyelids hovered
demure over her dark hazel eyes. Outwardly, she seemed all there.
But inwardly, where was she? As those two passed, Fleur raised her
eyelids--the restless glint of those clear whites remained on Holly's
vision as might the flutter of caged bird's wings.
In Green Street Winifred stood to receive, just a little less
composed than usual. Soames' request for the use of her house had
come on her at a deeply psychological moment. Under the influence of
a remark of Prosper Profond, she had begun to exchange her Empire for
Expressionistic furniture. There were the most amusing arrangements,
with violet, green, and orange blobs and scriggles, to be had at
Mealard's. Another month and the change would have been complete.
Just now, the very "intriguing" recruits she had enlisted, did not
march too well with the old guard. It was as if her regiment were
half in khaki, half in scarlet and bearskins. But her strong and
comfortable character made the best of it in a drawing-room which
typified, perhaps, more perfectly than she imagined, the semi-
bolshevized imperialism of her country. After all, this was a day of
merger, and you couldn't have too much of it! Her eyes travelled
indulgently among her guests. Soames had gripped the back of a buhl
chair; young Mont was behind that "awfully amusing" screen, which no
one as yet had been able to explain to her. The ninth baronet had
shied violently at a round scarlet table, inlaid under glass with
blue Australian butteries' wings, and was clinging to her Louis-
Quinze cabinet; Francie Forsyte had seized the new mantel-board,
finely carved with little purple grotesques on an ebony ground;
George, over by the old spinet, was holding a little sky-blue book as
if about to enter bets; Prosper Profond was twiddling the knob of the
open door, black with peacock-blue panels; and Annette's hands, close
by, were grasping her own waist; two Muskhams clung to the balcony
among the plants, as if feeling ill; Lady Mont, thin and brave-
looking, had taken up her long-handled glasses and was gazing at the
central light shade, of ivory and orange dashed with deep magenta, as
if the heavens had opened. Everybody, in fact, seemed holding on to
something. Only Fleur, still in her bridal dress, was detached from
all support, flinging her words and glances to left and right.
The room was full of the bubble and the squeak of conversation.
Nobody could hear anything that anybody said; which seemed of little
consequence, since no one waited for anything so slow as an answer.
Modern conversation seemed to Winifred so different from the days of
her prime, when a drawl was all the vogue. Still it was "amusing,"
which, of course, was all that mattered. Even the Forsytes were
talking with extreme rapidity--Fleur and Christopher, and Imogen, and
young Nicholas's youngest, Patrick. Soames, of course, was silent;
but George, by the spinet, kept up a running commentary, and Francie,
by her mantel-shelf. Winifred drew nearer to the ninth baronet. He
seemed to promise a certain repose; his nose was fine and drooped a
little, his grey moustaches too; and she said, drawling through her
"It's rather nice, isn't it?"
His reply shot out of his smile like a snipped bread pellet
"D'you remember, in Frazer, the tribe that buries the bride up to the
He spoke as fast as anybody! He had dark lively little eyes, too,
all crinkled round like a Catholic priest's. Winifred felt suddenly
he might say things she would regret.
"They're always so amusing--weddings," she murmured, and moved on to
Soames. He was curiously still, and Winifred saw at once what was
dictating his immobility. To his right was George Forsyte, to his
left Annette and Prosper Profond. He could not move without either
seeing those two together, or the reflection of them in George
Forsyte's japing eyes. He was quite right not to be taking notice.
"They say Timothy's sinking;" he said glumly.
"Where will you put him, Soames?"
"Highgate." He counted on his fingers. "It'll make twelve of them
there, including wives. How do you think Fleur looks?"
Soames nodded. He had never seen her look prettier, yet he could not
rid himself of the impression that this business was unnatural--
remembering still that crushed figure burrowing into the corner of
the sofa. From that night to this day he had received from her no
confidences. He knew from his chauffeur that she had made one more
attempt on Robin Hill and drawn blank--an empty house, no one at
home. He knew that she had received a letter, but not what was in
it, except that it had made her hide herself and cry. He had
remarked that she looked at him sometimes when she thought he wasn't
noticing, as if she were wondering still what he had done--forsooth--
to make those people hate him so. Well, there it was! Annette had
come back, and things had worn on through the summer--very miserable,
till suddenly Fleur had said she was going to marry young Mont. She
had shown him a little more affection when she told him that. And he
had yielded--what was the good of opposing it? God knew that he had
never wished to thwart her in anything! And the young man seemed
quite delirious about her. No doubt she was in a reckless mood, and
she was young, absurdly young. But if he opposed her, he didn't know
what she would do; for all he could tell she might want to take up a
profession, become a doctor or solicitor, some nonsense. She had no
aptitude for painting, writing, music, in his view the legitimate
occupations of unmarried women, if they must do something in these
days. On the whole, she was safer married, for he could see too well
how feverish and restless she was at home. Annette, too, had been in
favour of it--Annette, from behind the veil of his refusal to know
what she was about, if she was about anything. Annette had said:
"Let her marry this young man. He is a nice boy--not so highty-
flighty as he seems." Where she got her expressions, he didn't know-
-but her opinion soothed his doubts. His wife, whatever her conduct,
had clear eyes and an almost depressing amount of common sense. He
had settled fifty thousand on Fleur, taking care that there was no
cross settlement in case it didn't turn out well. Could it turn out
well? She had not got over that other boy--he knew. They were to go
to Spain for the honeymoon. He would be even lonelier when she was
gone. But later, perhaps, she would forget, and turn to him again!
Winifred's voice broke on his reverie.
"Why! Of all wonders-June!"
There, in a djibbah--what things she wore!--with her hair straying
from under a fillet, Soames saw his cousin, and Fleur going forward
to greet her. The two passed from their view out on to the stairway.
"Really," said Winifred, "she does the most impossible things! Fancy
"What made you ask her?" muttered Soames.
"Because I thought she wouldn't accept, of course."
Winifred had forgotten that behind conduct lies the main trend of
character; or, in other words, omitted to remember that Fleur was now
a "lame duck."
On receiving her invitation, June had first thought, 'I wouldn't go
near them for the world!' and then, one morning, had awakened from a
dream of Fleur waving to her from a boat with a wild unhappy gesture.
And she had changed her mind.
When Fleur came forward and said to her, "Do come up while I'm
changing my dress," she had followed up the stairs. The girl led the
way into Imogen's old bedroom, set ready for her toilet.
June sat down on the bed, thin and upright, like a little spirit in
the sear and yellow. Fleur locked the door.
The girl stood before her divested of her wedding dress. What a
pretty thing she was
"I suppose you think me a fool," she said, with quivering lips, "when
it was to have been Jon. But what does it matter? Michael wants me,
and I don't care. It'll get me away from home." Diving her hand
into the frills on her breast, she brought out a letter. "Jon wrote
June read: "Lake Okanagen, British Columbia. I'm not coming back to
England. Bless you always. Jon."
"She's made safe, you see," said Fleur.
June handed back the letter.
"That's not fair to Irene," she said, "she always told Jon he could
do as he wished."
Fleur smiled bitterly. "Tell me, didn't she spoil your life too?"
June looked up. "Nobody can spoil a life, my dear. That's nonsense.
Things happen, but we bob up."
With a sort of terror she saw the girl sink on her knees and bury her
face in the djibbah. A strangled sob mounted to June's ears.
"It's all right--all right," she murmured, "Don't! There, there!"
But the point of the girl's chin was pressed ever closer into her
thigh, and the sound was dreadful of her sobbing.
Well, well! It had to come. She would feel better afterward! June
stroked the short hair of that shapely head; and all the scattered
mother-sense in her focussed itself and passed through the tips of
her fingers into the girl's brain.
"Don't sit down under it, my dear," she said at last. "We can't
control life, but we can fight it. Make the best of things. I've
had to. I held on, like you; and I cried, as you're crying now. And
look at me!"
Fleur raised her head; a sob merged suddenly into a little choked
laugh. In truth it was a thin and rather wild and wasted spirit she
was looking at, but it had brave eyes.
"All right!" she said. "I'm sorry. I shall forget him, I suppose,
if I fly fast and far enough."
And, scrambling to her feet, she went over to the wash-stand.
June watched her removing with cold water the traces of emotion.
Save for a little becoming pinkness there was nothing left when she
stood before the mirror. June got off the bed and took a pin-cushion
in her hand. To put two pins into the wrong places was all the vent
she found for sympathy.
"Give me a kiss," she said when Fleur was ready, and dug her chin
into the girl's warm cheek.
"I want a whiff," said Fleur; "don't wait."
June left her, sitting on the bed with a cigarette between her lips
and her eyes half closed, and went down-stairs. In the doorway of
the drawing-room stood Soames as if unquiet at his daughter's
tardiness. June tossed her head and passed down on to the half-
landing. Her cousin Francie was standing there.
"Look!" said June, pointing with her chin at Soames. "That man's
"How do you mean," said Francie, "fatal?"
June did not answer her. "I shan't wait to see them off," she said.
"Good-bye!" said Francie, and her eyes, of a Celtic grey, goggled.
That old feud! Really, it was quite romantic!
Soames, moving to the well of the staircase, saw June go, and drew a
breath of satisfaction. Why didn't Fleur come? They would miss
their train. That train would bear her away from him, yet he could
not help fidgeting at the thought that they would lose it. And then
she did come, running down in her tan-coloured frock and black velvet
cap, and passed him into the drawing-room. He saw her kiss her
mother, her aunt, Val's wife, Imogen, and then come forth, quick and
pretty as ever. How would she treat him at this last moment of her
girlhood? He couldn't hope for much!
Her lips pressed the middle of his cheek.
"Daddy!" she said, and was past and gone! Daddy! She hadn't called
him that for years. He drew a long breath and followed slowly down.
There was all the folly with that confetti stuff and the rest of it
to go through with yet. But he would like just to catch her smile,
if she leaned out, though they would hit her in the eye with the
shoe, if they didn't take care. Young Mont's voice said fervently in
"Good-bye, sir; and thank you! I'm so fearfully bucked."
"Good-bye," he said; "don't miss your train."
He stood on the bottom step but three, whence he could see above the
heads--the silly hats and heads. They were in the car now; and there
was that stuff, showering, and there went the shoe. A flood of
something welled up in Soames, and--he didn't know--he couldn't see!
THE LAST OF THE OLD FORSYTES
When they came to prepare that terrific symbol Timothy Forsyte--the
one pure individualist left, the only man who hadn't heard of the
Great War--they found him wonderful--not even death had undermined
To Smither and Cook that preparation came like final evidence of what
they had never believed possible--the end of the old Forsyte family
on earth. Poor Mr. Timothy must now take a harp and sing in the
company of Miss Forsyte, Mrs. Julia, Miss Hester; with Mr. Jolyon,
Mr. Swithin, Mr. James, Mr. Roger, and Mr. Nicholas of the party.
Whether Mrs. Hayman would be there was more doubtful, seeing that she
had been cremated. Secretly Cook thought that Mr. Timothy would be
upset--he had always been so set against barrel organs. How many
times had she not said: "Drat the thing! There it is again!
Smither, you'd better run up and see what you can do." And in her
heart she would so have enjoyed the tunes, if she hadn't known that
Mr. Timothy would ring the bell in a minute and say: "Here, take him
a halfpenny and tell him to move on." Often they had been obliged to
add threepence of their own before the man would go--Timothy had ever
underrated the value of emotion. Luckily he had taken the organs for
blue-bottles in his last years, which had been a comfort, and they
had been able to enjoy the tunes. But a harp! Cook wondered. It
was a change! And Mr. Timothy had never liked change. But she did
not speak of this to Smither, who did so take a line of her own in
regard to heaven that it quite put one about sometimes.
She cried while Timothy was being prepared, and they all had sherry
afterward out of the yearly Christmas bottle, which would not be
needed now. Ah! dear! She had been there five-and-forty years and
Smither three-and-forty! And now they would be going to a tiny house
in Tooting, to live on their savings and what Miss Hester had so
kindly left them--for to take fresh service after the glorious past--
No! But they would like just to see Mr. Soames again, and Mrs.
Dartie, and Miss Francie, and Miss Euphemia. And even if they had to
take their own cab, they felt they must go to the funeral. For six
years Mr. Timothy had been their baby, getting younger and younger
every day, till at last he had been too young to live.
They spent the regulation hours of waiting in polishing and dusting,
in catching the one mouse left, and asphyxiating the last beetle so
as to leave it nice, discussing with each other what they would buy
at the sale. Miss Ann's workbox; Miss Juley's (that is Mrs. Julia's)
seaweed album; the fire-screen Miss Hester had crewelled; and Mr.
Timothy's hair--little golden curls, glued into a black frame. Oh!
they must have those--only the price of things had gone up so!
It fell to Soames to issue invitations for the funeral. He had them
drawn up by Gradman in his office--only blood relations, and no
flowers. Six carriages were ordered. The Will would be read
afterward at the house.
He arrived at eleven o'clock to see that all was ready. At a quarter
past old Gradman came in black gloves and crape on his hat. He and
Soames stood in the drawing-room waiting. At half-past eleven the
carriages drew up in a long row. But no one else appeared. Gradman
"It surprises me, Mr. Soames. I posted them myself."
"I don't know," said Soames; "he'd lost touch with the family."
Soames had often noticed in old days how much more neighbourly his
family were to the dead than to the living. But, now, the way they
had flocked to Fleur's wedding and abstained from Timothy's funeral,
seemed to show some vital change. There might, of course, be another
reason; for Soames felt that if he had not known the contents of
Timothy's Will, he might have stayed away himself through delicacy.
Timothy had left a lot of money, with nobody in particular to leave
it to. They mightn't like to seem to expect something.
At twelve o'clock the procession left the door; Timothy alone in the
first carriage under glass. Then Soames alone; then Gradman alone;
then Cook and Smither together. They started at a walk, but were
soon trotting under a bright sky. At the entrance to Highgate
Cemetery they were delayed by service in the Chapel. Soames would
have liked to stay outside in the sunshine. He didn't believe a word
of it; on the other hand, it was a form of insurance which could not
safely be neglected, in case there might be something in it after
They walked up two and two--he and Gradman, Cook and Smither--to the
family vault. It was not very distinguished for the funeral of the
last old Forsyte.
He took Gradman into his carriage on the way back to the Bayswater
Road with a certain glow in his heart. He had a surprise in pickle
for the old chap who had served the Forsytes four-and-fifty years-a
treat that was entirely his doing. How well he remembered saying to
Timothy the day--after Aunt Hester's funeral: "Well; Uncle Timothy,
there's Gradman. He's taken a lot of trouble for the family. What
do you say to leaving him five thousand?" and his surprise, seeing
the difficulty there had been in getting Timothy to leave anything,
when Timothy had nodded. And now the old chap would be as pleased as
Punch, for Mrs. Gradman, he knew, had a weak heart, and their son had
lost a leg in the War. It was extraordinarily gratifying to Soames
to have left him five thousand pounds of Timothy's money. They sat
down together in the little drawing-room, whose walls--like a vision
of heaven--were sky-blue and gold with every picture-frame
unnaturally bright, and every speck of dust removed from every piece
of furniture, to read that little masterpiece--the Will of Timothy.
With his back to the light in Aunt Hester's chair, Soames faced
Gradman with his face to the light, on Aunt Ann's sofa; and, crossing
his legs, began:
"This is the last Will and Testament of me Timothy Forsyte of The
Bower Bayswater Road, London I appoint my nephew Soames Forsyte of
The Shelter Mapleduram and Thomas Gradman of 159 Folly Road Highgate
(hereinafter called my Trustees) to be the trustees and executors of
this my Will To the said Soames Forsyte I leave the sum of one
thousand pounds free of legacy duty and to the said Thomas Gradman I
leave the sum of five thousand pounds free of legacy duty."
Soames paused. Old Gradman was leaning forward, convulsively
gripping a stout black knee with each of his thick hands; his mouth
had fallen open so that the gold fillings of three teeth gleamed; his
eyes were blinking, two tears rolled slowly out of them. Soames read
"All the rest of my property of whatsoever description I bequeath to
my Trustees upon Trust to convert and hold the same upon the
following trusts namely To pay thereout all my debts funeral expenses
and outgoings of any kind in connection with my Will and to hold the
residue thereof in trust for that male lineal descendant of my father
Jolyon Forsyte by his marriage with Ann Pierce who after the decease
of all lineal descendants whether male or female of my said father by
his said marriage in being at the time of my death shall last attain
the age of twenty-one years absolutely it being my desire that my
property shall be nursed to the extreme limit permitted by the laws
of England for the benefit of such male lineal descendant as
Soames read the investment and attestation clauses, and, ceasing,
looked at Gradman. The old fellow was wiping his brow with a large
handkerchief, whose brilliant colour supplied a sudden festive tinge
to the proceedings.
"My word, Mr. Soames!" he said, and it was clear that the lawyer in
him had utterly wiped out the man: "My word! Why, there are two
babies now, and some quite young children--if one of them lives to be
eighty--it's not a great age--and add twenty-one--that's a hundred
years; and Mr. Timothy worth a hundred and fifty thousand pound net
if he's worth a penny. Compound interest at five per cent. doubles
you in fourteen years. In fourteen years three hundred thousand-six
hundred thousand in twenty-eight--twelve hundred thousand in forty-
two--twenty-four hundred thousand in fifty-six--four million eight
hundred thousand in seventy--nine million six hundred thousand in
eighty-four--Why, in a hundred years it'll be twenty million! And we
shan't live to use it! It is a Will!"
Soames said dryly: "Anything may happen. The State might take the
lot; they're capable of anything in these days."
"And carry five," said Gradman to himself. "I forgot--Mr. Timothy's
in Consols; we shan't get more than two per cent. with this income
tax. To be on the safe side, say eight millions. Still, that's a
Soames rose and handed him the Will. "You're going into the City.
Take care of that, and do what's necessary. Advertise; but there are
no debts. When's the sale?"
"Tuesday week," said Gradman. "Life or lives in bein' and twenty-one
years afterward--it's a long way off. But I'm glad he's left it in
The sale--not at Jobson's, in view of the Victorian nature of the
effects--was far more freely attended than the funeral, though not by
Cook and Smither, for Soames had taken it on himself to give them
their heart's desires. Winifred was present, Euphemia, and Francie,
and Eustace had come in his car. The miniatures, Barbizons, and J.
R. drawings had been bought in by Soames; and relics of no marketable
value were set aside in an off-room for members of the family who
cared to have mementoes. These were the only restrictions upon
bidding characterised by an almost tragic languor. Not one piece of
furniture, no picture or porcelain figure appealed to modern taste.
The humming birds had fallen like autumn leaves when taken from where
they had not hummed for sixty years. It was painful to Soames to see
the chairs his aunts had sat on, the little grand piano they had
practically never played, the books whose outsides they had gazed at,
the china they had dusted, the curtains they had drawn, the hearth-
rug which had warmed their feet; above all, the beds they had lain
and died in--sold to little dealers, and the housewives of Fulham.
And yet--what could one do? Buy them and stick them in a lumber-
room? No; they had to go the way of all flesh and furniture, and be
worn out. But when they put up Aunt Ann's sofa and were going to
knock it down for thirty shillings, he cried out, suddenly: "Five
pounds!" The sensation was considerable, and the sofa his.
When that little sale was over in the fusty saleroom, and those
Victorian ashes scattered, he went out into the misty October
sunshine feeling as if cosiness had died out of the world, and the
board "To Let" was up, indeed. Revolutions on the horizon; Fleur in
Spain; no comfort in Annette; no Timothy's on the Bayswater Road. In
the irritable desolation of his soul he went into the Goupenor
Gallery. That chap Jolyon's watercolours were on view there. He
went in to look down his nose at them--it might give him some faint
satisfaction. The news had trickled through from June to Val's wife,
from her to Val, from Val to his mother, from her to Soames, that the
house--the fatal house at Robin Hill--was for sale, and Irene going
to join her boy out in British Columbia, or some such place. For one
wild moment the thought had come to Soames: 'Why shouldn't I buy it
back? I meant it for my!' No sooner come than gone. Too lugubrious
a triumph; with too many humiliating memories for himself and Fleur.
She would never live there after what had happened. No, the place
must go its way to some peer or profiteer. It had been a bone of
contention from the first, the shell of the feud; and with the woman
gone, it was an empty shell. "For Sale or To Let." With his mind's
eye he could see that board raised high above the ivied wall which he
He passed through the first of the two rooms in the Gallery. There
was certainly a body of work! And now that the fellow was dead it
did not seem so trivial. The drawings were pleasing enough, with
quite a sense of atmosphere, and something individual in the brush
work. 'His father and my father; he and I; his child and mine!'
thought Soames. So it had gone on! And all about that woman!
Softened by the events of the past week, affected by the melancholy
beauty of the autumn day, Soames came nearer than he had ever been to
realisation of that truth--passing the understanding of a Forsyte
pure--that the body of Beauty has a spiritual essence, uncapturable
save by a devotion which thinks not of self. After all, he was near
that truth in his devotion to his daughter; perhaps that made him
understand a little how he had missed the prize. And there, among
the drawings of his kinsman, who had attained to that which he had
found beyond his reach, he thought of him and her with a tolerance
which surprised him. But he did not buy a drawing.
Just as he passed the seat of custom on his return to the outer air
he met with a contingency which had not been entirely absent from his
mind when he went into the Gallery--Irene, herself, coming in. So
she had not gone yet, and was still paying farewell visits to that
fellow's remains! He subdued the little involuntary leap of his
subconsciousness, the mechanical reaction of his senses to the charm
of this once-owned woman, and passed her with averted eyes. But when
he had gone by he could not for the life of him help looking back.
This, then, was finality--the heat and stress of his life, the
madness and the longing thereof, the only defeat he had known, would
be over when she faded from his view this time; even such memories
had their own queer aching value.
She, too, was looking back. Suddenly she lifted her gloved hand, her
lips smiled faintly, her dark eyes seemed to speak. It was the turn
of Soames to make no answer to that smile and that little farewell
wave; he went out into the fashionable street quivering from head to
foot. He knew what she had meant to say: "Now that I am going for
ever out of the reach of you and yours--forgive me; I wish you well."
That was the meaning; last sign of that terrible reality--passing
morality, duty, common sense--her aversion from him who had owned her
body, but had never touched her spirit or her heart. It hurt; yes--
more than if she had kept her mask unmoved, her hand unlifted.
Three days later, in that fast-yellowing October, Soames took a taxi-
cab to Highgate Cemetery and mounted through its white forest to the
Forsyte vault. Close to the cedar, above catacombs and columbaria,
tall, ugly, and individual, it looked like an apex of the competitive
system. He could remember a discussion wherein Swithin had advocated
the addition to its face of the pheasant proper. The proposal had
been rejected in favour of a wreath in stone, above the stark words:
"The family vault of Jolyon Forsyte: 1850." It was in good order.
All trace of the recent interment had been removed, and its sober
grey gloomed reposefully in the sunshine. The whole family lay there
now, except old Jolyon's wife, who had gone back under a contract to
her own family vault in Suffolk; old Jolyon himself lying at Robin
Hill; and Susan Hayman, cremated so that none knew where she might
be. Soames gazed at it with satisfaction--massive, needing little
attention; and this was important, for he was well aware that no one
would attend to it when he himself was gone, and he would have to be
looking out for lodgings soon. He might have twenty years before
him, but one never knew. Twenty years without an aunt or uncle, with
a wife of whom one had better not know anything, with a daughter gone
from home. His mood inclined to melancholy and retrospection.
This cemetery was full, they said--of people with extraordinary
names, buried in extraordinary taste. Still, they had a fine view up
here, right over London. Annette had once given him a story to read
by that Frenchman, Maupassant, most lugubrious concern, where all the
skeletons emerged from their graves one night, and all the pious
inscriptions on the stones were altered to descriptions of their
sins. Not a true story at all. He didn't know about the French, but
there was not much real harm in English people except their teeth and
their taste, which was certainly deplorable. "The family vault of
Jolyon Forsyte: 1850." A lot of people had been buried here since
then--a lot of English life crumbled to mould and dust! The boom of
an airplane passing under the gold-tinted clouds caused him to lift
his eyes. The deuce of a lot of expansion had gone on. But it all
came back to a cemetery--to a name and a date on a tomb. And he
thought with a curious pride that he and his family had done little
or nothing to help this feverish expansion. Good solid middlemen,
they had gone to work with dignity to manage and possess. "Superior
Dosset," indeed, had built in a dreadful, and Jolyon painted in a
doubtful, period, but so far as he remembered not another of them all
had soiled his hands by creating anything--unless you counted Val
Dartie and his horse-breeding. Collectors, solicitors, barristers,
merchants, publishers, accountants, directors, land agents, even
soldiers--there they had been! The country had expanded, as it were,
in spite of them. They had checked, controlled, defended, and taken
advantage of the process and when you considered how "Superior
Dosset" had begun life with next to nothing, and his lineal
descendants already owned what old Gradman estimated at between a
million and a million and a half, it was not so bad! And yet he
sometimes felt as if the family bolt was shot, their possessive
instinct dying out. They seemed unable to make money--this fourth
generation; they were going into art, literature, farming, or the
army; or just living on what was left them--they had no push and no
tenacity. They would die out if they didn't take care.
Soames turned from the vault and faced toward the breeze. The air up
here would be delicious if only he could rid his nerves of the
feeling that mortality was in it. He gazed restlessly at the crosses
and the urns, the angels, the "immortelles," the flowers, gaudy or
withering; and suddenly he noticed a spot which seemed so different
from anything else up there that he was obliged to walk the few
necessary yards and look at it. A sober corner, with a massive
queer-shaped cross of grey rough-hewn granite, guarded by four dark
yew-trees. The spot was free from the pressure of the other graves,
having a little box-hedged garden on the far side, and in front a
goldening birch-tree. This oasis in the desert of conventional
graves appealed to the aesthetic sense of Soames, and he sat down
there in the sunshine. Through those trembling gold birch leaves he
gazed out at London, and yielded to the waves of memory. He thought
of Irene in Montpellier Square, when her hair was rusty-golden and
her white shoulders his--Irene, the prize of his love-passion,
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